If you follow me on social media, then you know I’ve struggled with fibromyalgia and chronic pain for years. You also know that in the last couple of months, I’ve instituted a major life-change in an attempt to beat it.
And it’s working.
Family and friends have all reached out asking me about this, but since there isn’t an online plan, I haven’t known quite what to tell them. I’ve cobbled together what I’m doing after tons of research, after compiling both other people’s personal experience and scientific studies, and I am well aware that what I’m doing may not work for everyone.
But I will say that I haven’t had a single fibro flare since I started this. For that alone, on the chance it might help someone else, it’s worth sharing.
So here we go: my personalized plan to reach health and beat my fibromyalgia.
BEFORE WE BEGIN: check with your doctor. I’m sharing things that worked for me, but you are responsible for your health choices, and your body may need something different. Make sure your doctor approves of this stuff before you try it.
Step One: The Principles
These are the rules to live by from now on. You’re not going on a diet; you’re changing your life.
- Avoid added sugar. I’ll go into this more later, but this is permanent, and at first, it’s hard to do – but it’s worth it.
- The Glycemic Index is your friend. Sugar in the body causes inflammation, even when it comes from natural sources like pineapple. Thus, check everything you eat with the glycemic index. That’s how I learned, for example, that potatoes wouldn’t work on this, and neither would corn, delicious as they both are. (Happily, I can eat sweet potatoes.)
- Avoid white flour and most grain products in general. They cause inflammation. I limit myself to maybe an organic tortilla for dinner, or a single piece of ancient-grain bread (not white flour) at breakfast.
- Count your calories. Yes, even if you’re trying not to lose weight. Here’s why: when you count calories (I use Cronometer), you also will be tracking things like protein, fiber, and natural sugar that comes in everything. This is crucial.
- Learn how much you’re supposed to get of various nutrients. For example, here’s a protein calculator, found via Google. Here’s a fiber calculator, found via Google. You may be surprised that you’re low in calcium, magnesium, fiber, etc. – or, like me, discover you’re eating too much of something (I was WAY over in protein, which strains your kidneys).
- Remember that you’re retraining your palate. You do not have to suffer on this once you’ve adjusted. Food is comforting to me, so if I couldn’t enjoy my food, I couldn’t do this plan.
- Add a good, refrigerated, highly-rated probiotic like this one or this one, which you’ll need to pick up locally – if it’s shipped to you, chances are, it wasn’t kept cold. Your gut doesn’t work right. You just don’t know it yet.
- As your body detoxes and freaks out on you, you may find yourself constipated. I suggest either senna, which is all natural, or this stuff – neither of which have addictive properties (and many of them do).
- DRINK WATER. Here’s the calculator to figure out how much you should drink. If you can’t handle the taste, slice a lime or a lemon and just put those slices or their juice in it. NO added sugar.
- Choose the thing you won’t give up – just make sure it isn’t sugar. No soda. No candy. No doughnuts or chocolates. For me, that was coffee with either dairy or dairy substitute. I started with lattes. More on that later.
Those are the basics. Now it’s time to get specific.
Step One: Cut the Sugar
Month one is the most strict. I even avoided fruit during that first month. This means living largely on clean meats and vegetables.
This is by far the hardest part.
- Yes, you will go through withdrawal. No, do not listen to those other reports that try to tell you this is exaggerated. It is not. Those first few weeks are hell, and the cravings will test every last shred of your will.
- Yes, this means cooking at home for all three meals. Meal planning is essential – but it doesn’t have to be complicated. It just means, for example, making sure you have enough vegetables for three meals at home.
- It means no sauces or dressings at first, no relying on canned things or pre-made foods. Sugar is in just about everything. Yes, including that “healthy” jar or bottle of sauce. Ketchup has 4 grams of sugar, on average.
- It means at first, no restaurants, no eating out, no take-out. If you cannot verify the ingredients personally, do not eat it. Some places like Chipotle will give you this info, but for month one, eat at home. You’re learning new habits, remember.
- It means checking ingredients even in the spices in your cabinet – and you might be unpleasantly surprised how many have added sugar.
- It means no fruit juice. No honey. No agave.
- What to look for in ingredients:
- Syrup (corn syrup, rice syrup, etc.)
- Any word ending in “ose” (fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose, etc.)
- And of course, “sugar” in any form (raw sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, confectionery sugar, doesn’t matter – it’s off the list).
- I advise avoiding sugar substitutions. The reason is simple: this is a life-change, not a temporary diet, and you need to retrain your palate. If you keep eating artificially sweet things, you will be less likely to stay the course.
- You are more used to things with added sugar than you know. At first, you won’t enjoy anything you eat – but that will change. You just need to keep going.
Step Two: Avoid Most Grains
This is hard just because we’re used to padding meals with wheat products, from cereals to biscuits to buns to pasta. At the beginning, you want to drop all of these because they’re known to cause inflammation, and most of them include added sugars. When you add bread back, read the ingredients first and find one with the least added sugar you can find. Ancient Grains is my personal favorite.
Yes, you’ll have pasta, etc. again eventually – but month one, you are retraining your palate and resetting your entire digestive system. If you need more to eat, fill that space with vegetables, and after month one, with fruit.
I’ll say that again: if you’re still hungry, go for fruit and vegetables. Eventually, they will satisfy you, I promise.
Step Three: Focus on Nutrition
You don’t have to memorize it, but you need to have some idea of what you should be eating every day. I, for example, as a woman of my age with my activity level, should have between 55 an 150 grams of protein a day. More than that can strain my kidneys. That adds up quickly if I’ve had some eggs and then chicken or fish for dinner.
Fiber is super-important. You can get this if you focus on certain veggies and fruits, but at first, it’s easy to find yourself really low. As a woman of my age, I should have 25 grams of fiber a day. Black beans are a super-easy way to reach that with 8.7 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup. Avocados have an average of 10 grams of fiber, and raspberries 8 grams per cup.
Step Four: Activity Levels
This will be very personal depending on your ability and any challenges you face, but it is my belief that everyone can do something. Even if all you do is hold a can of beans and raise that over your head for 20 reps, that’s something.
If you can do more, do more.
Check with your doctor, of course.
I started on the treadmill. You can also walk outside. You don’t have to plunge right into Crossfit; if you’re like me, the pain and chronic weariness kept you from moving much at all. It’s time for that to change.
This is something you’ll have to research. Go on Google, read up at the Mayo clinic, and figure out what activities you can do multiple times a week, even if you’re on bed-rest or in a wheelchair. Then do that thing.
I’m telling you, exercise can ease pain. Don’t give up. It will help if you keep going.
After Month One Until Forever
After the first month, I began adding some things back in – namely VERY limited wheat products (I like these tortillas) and fruit. The fruit tastes AMAZING after a month so strict.
Keep track of your weight. If you’re at a healthy one, you don’t want it to fluctuate too much. If you start to gain weight, check your nutrition – maybe you’re getting too much protein, or too many carbs, or maybe you’re eating too much fruit.
Again, keep track of your nutrition. This is a life-change, not a temporary diet.
Do not add in sugary drinks. Not even fruit juice; 1 cup of fruit juice has 23 grams of sugar on average. Yikes.
It will take time for you to see results. This isn’t like taking a magic pill; it may be a couple of months before you see and feel the difference. This is normal. Stay the course.
- Raw sliced bell pepper with just a pinch of salt or spice of your choice; two eggs, prepared however you like (I enjoy over-medium with garlic and paprika – very tasty); coffee without added sugar.
- An avocado (spices make it taste amazing – experiment and find what you like); tomato, sliced; one cup of raspberries
- Oatmeal (follow serving sizes) WITHOUT added sweetener; berries or apple slices; if you’re still hungry, one single egg
- Isopure plant-based protein drink; mix with 1 tablespoon of chia seeds, soaked then blended.
- Boiled eggs, sprinkled with garlic and paprika or some other spice; 1 cup of blackberries; 1 cup of mushrooms, sliced and sauteed
- 2 Scrambled eggs; a sliced apple or an orange; sliced zucchini with spices.
- Raw vegetables – I like baby carrots, or sliced tomatoes, or a bell pepper with just a pinch of salt or spice of your choice
- Watch your protein! If you chose to avoid protein in breakfast, try 3 ounces of drained tuna, which has 22 grams
- A few slices of cheese (check nutrition facts – portions matter); a pear; 6 baby carrots
- Maybe an avocado, or an egg; tomato, sliced; one cup of raspberries
- Nuts are a great way to get protein and fiber; you can add an apple on the side
- Isopure plant-based protein drink; mix with 1 tablespoon of chia seeds, soaked then blended.
- Roasting vegetables is super-easy. Cube them; put them in a big bowl and toss them with olive oil, salt, garlic powder, any other spice you like; lay them flat on a cookie sheet and roast them in the oven at 350 degrees for half an hour. Boom, done.
- You can roast just about any vegetables; just be sure to check the Glycemic Index for each one. I do this with tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, broccoli – the possibilities are endless.
- You can roast Brussels sprouts the same way. Just cut them in half before you put toss them.
- Chicken breast, prepared in the oven or on the stove. Stovetop is INCREDIBLY easy. Roasted is easy, too.
- Fish is prepared almost exactly the same way. The big key is to cook it skin-down, and not flip it until it moves freely in the pan. If it sticks, it’s not cooked yet on that side.
- Brown rice has a lot of calories, but is very healthy for you. I make a cup of rice (measured dry), then add 3 limes and a chopped head of cilantro when it’s done. That lasts for several meals. (I find 1/2 cup cooked is plenty.)
- Beans are super easy. If dry, soak overnight, then cook them in water. Bring to a boil first (or else the skins can get tough); then when they’re soft, add salt and garlic and cumin and a hint of ancho or chipotle powder. If you start with canned (no need to soak!), add a can of water, bring to a boil, then add those spices. Cook until the water has thickened and it tastes good.
- Salsa – again, easy. Chop up 2 bell peppers, 5 tomatoes, a tablespoon of garlic, 1 anaheim or cubanella pepper, 1 jalapeno, the juice of 3 limes, 1 head of cilantro, and salt to taste.
- Steak (one way to cook; another way to cook); sliced zucchini squash, lightly sauteed in butter or olive oil.
- A sweet potato, stabbed with a fork, rubbed in olive oil and Kosher salt, in the oven at 425 degrees until tender, about 45 minutes; chicken breast
- Dessert needed? Enjoy some fruit. An apple, an orange, 1 cup of berries.
Spices make the difference with all these things. I choose to cook with butter; olive oil is also good, and avocado oil has tons of benefits.
I enjoyed lattes for a while, and then – because milk has 13 grams of sugar per cup – I switched to almond-milk lattes. That took time to adjust, but it’s absolutely delicious to me now.
Note: get used to raw veggies. They’re the best for you. If you can, DO NOT add sauces or dips; if you’re desperate, ranch dressing has a little sugar in it, but for transitioning, it may help you. Just know there’s 1 gram of sugar per every 2 tablespoons.
That fruit will taste like heaven soon enough. Keep chomping. Ask Google to teach you how to tell if it’s ripe.
Check the glycemic index for everything. Watermelon is out. Pineapple is out. Corn is out, or at least limited.
The idea with this plan is not to lock yourself into any one thing. The major principle of avoiding sugar is permanent, but it does NOT limit you.
Allow yourself a “cheat” once in a while; I had pasta last weekend, and it was fabulous. I also ate part of a piece of tiramisu (gasp). However, I went back on no-sugar immediately after.
Weirdly enough, you may find your “cheat” food isn’t as satisfying as you once thought. That’s okay. Pick something that is satisfying. Cheating makes no sense if you don’t enjoy it.
Cheats don’t last more than one meal. Once you’ve been on this for a while, you’ll find more will make you sick.
Learning to do this takes time, but once you’ve gotten into the rhythm, it’s not only easy, it’s less expensive. Beans, for example, are packed with protein and fiber – and they are way cheap. Fruit and veggies, even organic, aren’t going to break the bank – and you’ll find the amount you need to eat is less than you may have been eating.
Give it time.
Give it time.
Give it time.
Seriously. It may take months for you to see results – but you will see them. You have a human body, no matter how odd it may be, and it will respond well. For me, the results are incredible. My skin cleared up. My pain levels decreased dramatically, and I haven’t had a flare. I’m sleeping better. I’m able to exercise. My weight dropped an average of 5 lbs a month – which wasn’t the goal, but it’s a very good thing for me.
My husband is doing this with me. Having support really helps.
I am not a doctor, and can only speak to my limited research and experience, but I will answer anything to the best of my ability. Obviously, your doctor’s word takes precedent over mine.
However, I will say the benefits of this have changed the quality of my life so powerfully that I have no intention of ever changing back. I hope the best for you, as well. Live on and live well!