Our local co-op was full of beautiful, fresh foods today. I brought home several bags full of organic fruits and vegetables and made lunch. I have a weakness for commercial salad dressing, but otherwise my lunch was about as healthy as food gets. I try not to take for granted how lucky I am to live a life that allows me daily access to clean food. Today’s veggies were too pretty to keep to myself!
Some of y’all asked what I’m eating these days. I thought it’d be easier to show some pictures with captions rather than making a boring list. I’m a true believer in fighting chronic pain and fibromyalgia with whole foods as the primary weapon. I stay away from processed food and almost never eat refined sugar. I don’t adhere to one specific diet but instead choose foods that make me feel good rather than those that make me sick. I almost never go out to eat, but when I do, I’m finicky about which restaurants and what I order. In general, I stay away from wheat, dairy, added sugar, and processed meat.
I’m about to travel to Boston soon, and I’m super excited. I love Boston and will get to spend time with a much-loved friend from college days. However, chronic conditions threaten to put a kink in my travel plans, and I’ve been running around town and spending lots of time on the internet trying to make my travels as smooth as possible.
One of my concerns, secondary to my chronic neck and back pain, is psoriasis. I’ve been dealing with an outbreak of guttate psoriasis for almost two months now, and it’s tedious to say the least. It’s currently under control on my limbs, but my torso is covered in angry red patches. My insurance company—this makes me so freakin’ furious I almost can’t see straight—is attempting to deny coverage for the topical medication my doctor prescribed to rid me of the psoriasis outbreak, so I’m walking around itchy and feeling gross. The medicine would be $800+ if I paid out of pocket, and not only can I not afford that, but I absolutely refuse to pay out of pocket for something insurance should cover. We pay more than $1,000 per month for the married couple’s policy, yet it doesn’t cover the one prescription medication I’ve needed in a long time.
I’m trying to deal with the psoriasis without prescriptions and so far haven’t gotten good results at all. Gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free diet—yes. Scent-free hypoallergenic bath soap—yes. While a restrictive, healthy diet and organic soap likely help my overall health, the psoriasis persists. I’m very lucky that it’s only guttate and not a more serious form, but it still sucks. I don’t want to compound the discomfort of travel by itching like hell, but it looks like I may not have a choice.
What really worries me about travel is my insomnia and chronic pain. I still can’t sit on a soft surface, despite experience massive improvement in pelvic stability since dedicating myself to a challenging core workout routine. I’ve even returned to running—a huge, happy milestone—but sitting on a soft surface (like a plane seat) is almost impossible. Something about cushioned seating makes my pelvis shift, which causes instant misery. I plan to stand as much as possible and kneel in my seat if I have too. I’m a small person, so hopefully I can do what I need to do without bothering my fellow travelers. If not, I guess I’ll probably end up inspiring someone’s bitchy Facebook post about a squirming seatmate. Sorry in advance.
I always worry about an impending attack of cervical dystonia, and change is my enemy as far as muscle spasms are concerned. I’m going to try to fit my cervical pillow into my suitcase so at least I’ll have a familiar place to rest my head and neck at night. Flying up the coast and sleeping in an unfamiliar bed worry me, but I refuse to let my sketchy health rule my life.
I bought some homeopathic zinc lozenges today and will use Counter Attack supplements to try to help my body through the germs it’ll encounter in airports and new cities. I also bought some hypoallergenic cleansing wipes and will make sure to scrub my phone with wipes, too. I’m not paranoid, just realistic, and I imagine anyone with chronic pain and/or chronic disease can relate.
I work multiple jobs, none of which provide benefits of any kind—no insurance, no paid days off, no freebies. Other than health insurance, groceries can be my largest bill if I’m not careful. I’m a major believer in health food and clean eating, and over the years I’ve figured out what works best for my body. I stay away from gluten, processed foods, and added sugar. I’ve done Whole30 (a month-long challenge to go very strict paleo), been vegan, and been vegetarian. After all is said and done, I realized I function best on a mixture of the three. That may sound crazy—mixing paleo and vegan—but some of the basics are the same. Only whole foods. No crap. Vegan is a lot easier on a budget than paleo, and the extra carbs in vegan meals help fuel my long runs and hikes. Here’s how I eat clean, healthy foods on a very small budget:
Bulk bins are your friend. I got a hearty, organic soup mix full of barley and beans for only a couple bucks. If the same soup mix had been pre-packaged, I’d have paid a lot more. I added my own seasonings and the result was fantastic.
Communicate. Get to know the produce person in your market, and talk with the store manager. Ask them to split a head of cabbage if it’s priced by the pound, then only buy half since that’s all most people can use anyway. Find out what days certain foods are most likely to be discounted. I’ve saved a ton this way. My local co-op often has half-price produce on Sundays, and I get lots of organic mushrooms and salad greens for cheap.
Check for matching grants. Some local farmers’ markets get grants that double food stamp dollars. That means every EBT dollar buys $2 worth of food at a matching farmers’ market. You can eat clean, local food without blowing your entire month’s benefit on one shopping trip.
Don’t ignore frozen food. Frozen broccoli is some of the nastiest food I’ve ever put in my mouth, but other frozen veggies and fruits are delicious. I can usually buy frozen, organic strawberries for way less money than their fresh counterparts.
Use salad bars for meat. Organic salad bars often have cooked chicken breast as a salad topping. Organic meat is super expensive, but if you add some on top of a salad at a pay-by-the-pound bar, you can come out with a great meal for just a few bucks. I once calculated that I got a huge salad with lots of fancy toppings like red bell peppers and chicken breast for less money that I would’ve spent on one organic bell pepper. No kidding.
I felt exhausted yesterday after a two-and-a-half-hour workout that included an hour of very challenging physical therapy for my back and hip. Dealing with chronic pain is a fulltime job. Workouts geared toward rehab aren’t hard like a long run, but they’re very fatiguing and difficult in their own way. When I got home, I felt like I needed a nutritional boost ASAP. I raided the fridge and decided to make miso soup with fresh vegetables.
You can use whatever vegetables you have on hand, and if they’re from an Asian market, even better. I wish I’d had shitake mushrooms, but white button did fine. The one thing I wouldn’t compromise on is organic miso. I’ve read scary things about conventional soy products. This is how I made my miso soup:
- 1 quart water
- 1 head broccoli
- 2 medium carrots
- 2 large mushrooms
- 2 large pieces of wakame (sea vegetable)
- organic white miso to taste
- Chop vegetables while water boils in a pot.
- Add carrots to boiling water for a minute or two, then add remaining vegetables.
- Use a ladle to remove some of your boiling water into a large glass measuring cup. Once water in cup is hot but not boiling, add miso and whisk until it moves freely.
- Boil veggies only a couple of minutes to keep them firm, then remove pot from heat.
- Add miso broth back to soup pot and stir.
- Serve warm.
My brother-in-law loves miso soup and often adds fresh corn, Brussels sprouts, and other goodies. I was fascinated the first time I saw miso soup because it looked like it was alive. When the miso disperses in the warm water, it looks unlike anything else I’ve ever eaten. I’m used to it now, but still enjoy the show when I stir my soup.
I’ve been taking 20mg of piroxicam for a couple of months. The only side effect I’d noticed is sun sensitivity. No matter how much sunscreen I wear, my face always looks a little burned at night if I’ve been outside most of the day. I wasn’t happy about that, but the medicine was helping with my chronic pain and stiffness and I felt like I could deal with the sunburn. But last week, I started having stomach pain.
At first I blamed the stomach pain on a few slipups in my usually perfect diet. I’d allowed a little cheese here and there and eaten some wheat-based crackers and cereal. I’d had peanut butter instead of almond butter on my apple at breakfast, and figured the combination of dietary sins was to blame for my stomach pain.
I cleaned up my diet again, and the stomach pain got worse. A couple of nights ago I couldn’t sleep because I felt like I was hugely bloated and my stomach burned bad. I felt nauseous after eating and my morning chem-free decaf coffee felt like acid in my stomach. I picked up the Walgreens handout that came with the piroxicam, and, like all NSAIDS, can cause major stomach problems.
I decided to stop taking it immediately even though I was fearful of severe muscle spasms returning and chronic pain worsening. The burning in my stomach was too much to ignore, so I also picked up some generic Prevacid at the pharmacy.
I’ve been two days without piroxicam, and so far my muscles aren’t any sorer than usual and my back isn’t aching worse than usual. I managed a 20-minute run and hour-long walk yesterday. My hot tub and a bottle of Two Old Goats lotion are doing the trick so far.
I’m becoming more and more convinced that our western approach to medicine often creates more problems than it solves, especially when dealing with chronic health conditions. It sometimes seems like one pill begets another. We’ve come a long way in medicine, but we still have a long way to go. I’m going to stay off of all prescriptions as long as possible and keep my diet perfect again and see what happens.
“The psychology of guilt and illness—consuming sugar increases inflammation, but constant denial doesn’t feel good, either.” I wrote that note to myself during my lunch break at work last week. I’d been craving a Milky Way bar for three weeks without giving in to temptation. As the forth week loomed, I caved and bought the last Milky Way in the vending machine (which I took as a sign from the food gods, that it was there just for me).
I never eat sugar except the kind that naturally occurs in whole foods. I love sweet foods, but because of fibromyalgia, quite some time ago I committed to avoiding processed sugar. Why would I contribute to added pain and inflammation in my body? That’s a healthy, responsible mindset, but sometimes the guilt that comes with it is daunting.
It’s hard to watch my friends and family eat ice cream, cake, and brownies like it’s no big deal. I don’t begrudge them, but I’m jealous. My hardline thinking about food keeps me as healthy as possible in the face of chronic pain, but it can also imprison me with guilt. If I choose to live by normal social standards and have occasional birthday cake, I immediately feel at fault for the pain in my body.
My reasoning broke down on Thursday. Three weeks of wanting a Milky Way—and I have no idea why I specifically wanted that candy bar—and my back was killing me whether I ate one or not. I realized that my fit, healthy friends indulge quite often and don’t notice adverse side effects, and that it’s unreasonable for me to live in American society and completely forgo all culinary treats.
With way too much on my mind, I took the walk of shame to the vending machine. As I pushed my quarters into the coin slot, I remembered riding my bike to Tom Thumb as a kid and gorging on candy and soda. It was normal life then to eat candy, and I want a normal life again.
The Milky Way was better than I’d imagined. A coworker convinced me to avoid looking at the list of ingredients and just enjoy it. Every bite was delicious, and I wished it were king size.
Every time guilt crept up—I’m eating candy and my back hurts, therefore it’s my fault that my back hurts—I reminded myself that my back was hurting way before the Milky Way fantasy even crossed my mind. Enjoying occasional unhealthy snacks should not bring such guilt, and I know that. But it’s a daily struggle to not feel responsible for the pain, like if I had just eaten a head of broccoli instead of a candy bar, I’d feel better.
But in truth, I’ve lived in complete abstinence from sugar, and while it’s helped me overall, it wasn’t a cure. Just like sugar abstinence isn’t a cure, occasional sugar indulgence isn’t a cause of chronic pain. But I still feel guilty, and I won’t touch sugar again for a very long time.
Has anybody tried probiotics to help with the myriad symptoms of fibromyalgia? I’ve been enjoying ½ a bottle of GT’s Kombucha every night for a while now, and I’m feeling a bit better in general. I definitely swear by the magnesium supplements that I started taking a few weeks ago, and I’m pretty sure the combination of kombucha and magnesium is a good one.
Flavor-wise, I’m definitely a huge fan of Gingerade. It’s delicious. I tried Original and thought it tasted like watered-down apple cider vinegar. Stawberry Serenity was good but a little too sweet-tasting, and Gingerberry just made me wish I’d bought Gingerade. But seriously… this stuff is raw and organic, theoretically good for us, and tastes great. Any kombucha users out there?
I had the awesome experience of living like a normal, fibromyalgia-free person over the weekend. Two friends and I went overnight backpacking on The Florida Trail, and I’d been a nervous wreck before the trip. In my younger, healthier days, I’d have packed my old backpack full of necessities and luxuries without a lot of thought to total pack weight. Sure, the lighter the better, but there wouldn’t have been scales involved. For this trip, because of the toll fibromyalgia has taken on my body over the years, I used both a luggage scale and a kitchen scale to drop every last unnecessary ounce from my pack weight.
While it seems ludicrous to weigh shirts and record their ounces in a notebook, I persisted. I popped off every removable item on my backpack until it was pared down to little more than a giant stuff sack with a hipbelt and shoulder straps. I chose calorically dense, lightweight foods like dried coconut and Chomps grassfed beef jerky. (Yes, I’m still adhering to Whole30 and getting great results.)
The payoff was an overnight trip that exceeded my expectations. The section of the Florida Trail that we hiked was flooded by the recent massive storm that hit this area, and some of the trail was underwater up to my thighs. The hiking was at times hot, hard, and challenging, and despite carrying 16 pounds in my backpack, I had an almost otherworldly awesome time.
Maybe it was the diet—Whole30 is powerful medicine. Maybe it was my determination—I haven’t given up from pain when many times it seemed like the best option. Maybe it was the friendship— support is a great thing. Realistically, it was probably all three. Without clean eating habits, strong willpower, and love, I’d probably have been home in bed or dead.
When I think about my incredible weekend hike, it’s hard to imagine that at times I’m in misery, homebound and unable to stand my own body. We walked roughly 16 miles, maybe a few more—a feat that would be challenging to somebody who doesn’t have fibromyalgia. Before the trip, I was terrified that I’d end up in so much pain that I couldn’t complete the hike, and worst of all, become a burden on my friends. The confidence I got from an almost pain-free experience in the wilderness is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Fibromyalgia so often tells us we can’t, but this weekend, I told my body yes, we can.
Going vegan was a great decision that began to improve my painful fibromyalgia symptoms, but it wasn’t quite the right fit. A clean diet isn’t a cure-all. But for me, changing my eating habits to follow Whole30 principals and paying closer attention to how food effects my body has been better than any prescription drug.
Day seven of Whole30 has been the best day yet. My carb flu is receding, and the debilitating hip pain that had me yelling and crying on the floor two nights ago is almost gone. Today is also the first day I’ve almost caved to an unapproved item—wine. I have a hard time relaxing because so many things hurt, and while I’ve been a light drinker for years, I found myself really wanting a glass of white wine tonight. I even went so far as to smell some freshly poured wine. But I abstained, and I’m glad I haven’t blurred the lines of the program.
Today’s exercise: 45 minute run; 15 minute walk; 15 minute self-massage and stretching routine.
Breakfast: Almond butter and half an apple before workout, then 2 scrambled eggs and coconut water after workout.
Lunch: Grill time—hamburger over lettuce, tomato, and cilantro with sweet potato and onion.
Snack: Nothing today, probably because I ate a big lunch.
Dinner: Baked chicken with homemade pesto and raw cabbage and carrots, finished with a frozen banana and frozen blueberries blended with almond butter.
General Feelings So Far: Like the designers of Whole30 say, it’s not hard to follow their plan. Living with fibromyalgia is hard. Eating healthy food can be frustrating, inconvenient, and time-consuming, but it isn’t hard.
I don’t have any new aches and pains, just a few standard ones, but I’m starting to feel better overall. I was even able to fasten my backpacking pack today and walk around the yard for a little while without intense pain, and I was able to sit through both lunch and dinner without having to stand mid-meal to relieve hip pain. When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t move my head at all because of neck spasms. I laid in bed and gently pushed my head from side to side with my hands, then progressed to turning it (supported on the mattress) slowly without my hands. After a few minutes of that routine I could turn further and was able to get up. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless. My hopes are still high that Whole30 will help me beat fibromyalgia.