Eating to Fight Chronic Pain

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.

food for chronic pain patient
I like hardboiled eggs and raw veggies for lunch.
healthy dinner
A few nights ago I baked chicken, a Korean sweet potato, carrots, and green beans for dinner.
healthy restaurant food
During a rare visit to a restaurant, I ordered stir-fried chicken breast with Chinese broccoli. It was delicious!

Core Workout to Combat Chronic Pain

core workout for chronic back pain
I do a core workout almost every day to fight chronic pain.

Keeping my core muscles strong has been a lifesaver. Not only am I able to run again, but I’ve started sleeping again because I’m not in as much pain when I lie down. My low back and pelvis and hips were in so much pain for more than a year that I was terrified it would become a lifetime issue.

I already deal with chronic pain and felt like I couldn’t stand a new addition to my pain resume’. The core exercises help my pelvis stay in proper alignment, which relieves the once-constant pain in my back and hips. The picture of my notebook shows what a daily core workout looks like for me. I change things up each day but always do the basics.

Traveling with Chronic Medical Conditions

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.

Five Ways to Eat Well on a Micro Budget

organic bean soup
Lots of organic beans, veggies, and barley for very little money.

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.

Custom Bicycle for Painless Cycling

bike handlebar extender
Tall handlebars and a parrot horn. Yes!

I sold my road bike several years ago and bought a grandma cruiser. Cervical dystonia and three herniated discs made it impossible for me to comfortably get into an aerodynamic cycling position, but I didn’t want to give up biking after already sacrificing so much to chronic pain. The cruiser I bought is a hybrid bike with plenty of gear choices, and I added some skull stickers to make me feel better about riding a dorky bike. I love it, but until recently, the positioning was still off.

My neck gets very angry if I have any weight come through my left arm for an extended period of time, and the factory setup of the cruiser had me leaning forward too much. I raised the handlebars and lowered the seat as much as safely possible, but still no dice. The local bike shop fixed me up with a custom handlebar extender, and now I’m a much happier cyclist.

extended handlebars
Look how high the handlebars are in relation to the seat.

The extension piece itself is simple—a metal tube that allows the bike’s handlebars to sit up taller than they normally could. Unfortunately, the installation wasn’t so simple. All of the cables on the front of the bike were too short to accommodate the taller handlebars, so the bike technician had to put in all new cables. The labor took about an hour, but when the tech was done, I finally had a bike I could ride comfortably.

Exercising with fibromyalgia and chronic pain takes a bit of creativity, but if you’re committed, there’s usually an answer to most problems. I now sit so upright on my bike that it’s probably comical for people who see me pedal by, but I don’t care. I can ride without neck pain, and that’s worth the dork factor.

Cupping for Pain Relief

cupping bruise
It’s like a circular hickey on my calf.

Try to imagine giant leeches sucking your legs for five minutes, and you’ll get the general idea of what goes on during cupping. I tried cupping to help increase circulation and aid healing in my damaged leg muscles, and for a week I sported round bruises on my calves and thighs.

I’m always up for trying a new way to relieve chronic pain, even if the treatment leaves me looking like I was attacked by an octopus. My back and hip are still giving me fits, despite having had some recent good results with specialized physical therapy. I guess this is the nature of fibromyalgia—a few steps forward and at least one step backward.

The actual cupping experience was a lot more painful than I imagined it would be, but after a minute, the pain eased up a bit. I stayed still on a treatment table for five minutes while the cups did their magic, and by the final minute, my legs were still uncomfortable, but not nearly as bad as the first minute.

When the PT opened his case and showed me rows of cups and an apparatus to make them suction to my legs, I knew I was in for a unique experience. I didn’t get the results I’d hoped for—mainly reduced pain—but at least I tried. I’ve heard that some people swear by cupping, but it’s not for me. My favorite healing tool is a lot more soothing—soaking in the hot tub.

Recipe: Miso Soup with Vegetables

miso soup
Broccoli is my favorite vegetable.

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:

Ingredients

  • 1 quart water
  • 1 head broccoli
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 large mushrooms
  • 2 large pieces of wakame (sea vegetable)
  • organic white miso to taste

Directions

  • 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.

 

 

 

Foundation Training

foundation training
DVD cover image of Foundation Training (pic from Amazon).

I recently read Foundation Training: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence, and started the basic exercises the next day. While my back pain didn’t magically disappear (of course), I feel stronger and more confident already. I’ve only been doing the exercises for a few days and started a little more conservatively than the book recommends. My body tends to react poorly to new exercises if I start them too intensely.

I enjoyed the philosophy of the book enough to do something I almost never do—order fitness DVDs. The Foundation DVDs have updated exercises and arrived in my mailbox today. I’m very excited to watch them this evening. I don’t see how strengthening the lower back, gaining flexibility, and keeping good posture can do anything but great things for the unwell body.

Fibromyalgia, chronic pain, low back pain, etc. all tend to push western medicine practitioners toward prescribing pills and/or surgery. I don’t want any of those drastic measures. I appreciate an approach that involves self-motivation and control, which is what Foundation training allows. I can do these exercises and give them a shot rather than wallowing in the bottom of a pill bottle. Giving a sense of empowerment to chronic pain patients is priceless.

I highly recommend checking out Foundation Training. It might not be right for you, but it’s worth at least investigating it as an option. Let me know how it goes!

Fibromyalgia Sucks!

fibromyalgia sucksFibromyalgia sucks. It really does. I decided to start using Mondays as an opportunity to create some smiles, because we all need humor whether we have chronic illnesses or not.

Otis, my sweet beagle (or at least he’s mostly beagle) always helps me feel better no matter what’s wrong. He’s been my loving companion for 9 ½ years and is the gentlest little guy I know. In the spirit of sharing, I hope this picture makes your day better!

Fibromyalgia sucks. Dogs rule. Have a great day, friends!

Creative Visualization

fibromyalgia creative visualization
Think it, then do it.

Has anyone tried creative visualization? As best as I understand it, focusing on something that you want is supposed to help make it happen. It’s a lot like envisioning how you want your life to be, focusing on that vision, and making it happen.

My visualization of my life has always included sports and outdoor activities. Fibromyalgia has tried very hard to take that vision away. Lately, in part thanks to awesome words from a reader (thanks Stephanie AC), I’m trying creative visualization for the first time. Rather than just imagining something and feeling defeated because it can’t happen, I’m going to imagine it as an attainable reality.

My (hopefully) attainable reality is returning to running. I don’t even have to close my eyes to imagine what it will be like to return to the freedom of moving quickly on my own two feet. Earlier today I drove over the bayou bridge near my house and could almost feel what it would be like to run across that bridge like I did for years. I imagined the salty smell, the hard wind, and the sound of seagulls. I imagined the childlike joy of running so fast down the hill before the bridge that it would feel like flying.

I’m shifting those visions that I’ve always had into energy toward reality rather than disappointment. We’re having almost spring-like weather in northwest Florida right now, and I would love—no, I WILL love to go outside and run in the sun.