Why you should care about the chronic pain diet
Have you piled on the pounds since living with chronic pain?
Chronic pain can really mess with your weight….
& with the Holiday season soon upon us – it might be even harder to avoid the increasing inches around your middle.
Whatever your weight is doing (up or down) – if you are living with chronic pain there is a good chance it is affecting your weight.
People with chronic pain are more likely to be overweight than those without pain. A study found that 60% of women with fibromyalgia are overweight.
Also, around two-thirds of people with rheumatoid arthritis are overweight.
There are physiological, psychological & social reasons that chronic pain can impact your weight because pain impacts your…
body, mind & social well-being
Body – there are a large number of physical factors that contribute to an increase in weight gain & they include:
- Less active – it can be very difficult to exercise when you are in constant pain
- Excess cortisol – chronic pain causes excess production of the stress hormone, cortisol, this can cause unstable blood sugar levels
- Side-effects of medication – pain medication (especially opioids) was found to destabilize blood sugar & cause a “sugar desire effect” which makes people crave sugars & starches
Mind – living with chronic pain can be extremely distressing – so many people turn to comfort eating.
If you are feeling distressed – you might like to check out our article 7 Surprising Signs of Depression.
Social – Pain can impact your ability to work or help out around the home. To relieve the additional workload on spouses & loved ones – many families choose the cheaper & easier meal options – such as fast-food or ready-meals.
It is easy to understand why the scales start to creep up when you are living with chronic pain….
But there is a nasty two-way relationship between pain & weight gain.
Just as chronic pain can impact on your weight – your weight can impact on your pain.
Scientific studies have shown that the likelihood of suffering from chronic pain increases with a person’s body mass index (BMI).
A study of 1 million Americans found that people that were overweight were 20% more likely to have chronic pain…
That figure sky-rocketed to 254% more likely to live with chronic pain if the person was morbidly obese.
So what’s going on? Why does an increase in weight cause an increase in pain?
One reason is that carrying too much weight can cause additional stress on joints – which can make conditions like arthritis worse.
Similarly, being overly heavy can compress the discs in the spine which can exacerbate lower back pain.
In addition to the to the physics of excess weight on your joints, there are also biochemical reasons that excess weight leads to an increased pain….
Obesity has been linked to increased inflammation in the body which can amplify the feelings of pain.
Scientific studies even suggest that the fat tissue itself may produce chemicals that increase the perception of pain.
The good news is that shedding even a couple of pounds can relieve some of the stress on joints & ease other forms of chronic pain.
Whichever way you cut it up – if you are living with chronic pain you should be very conscious about the food you eat.
So what is the chronic pain diet?
What should you be eating & what should you be avoiding?
We run you through the 8 Secrets of the Chronic Pain Diet:
1. Eat protein
Protein contains amino acids which the brain needs to produce pain relieving, feel-good chemicals – endorphins.
Avoid processed red meat though, which has been linked to increased inflammation.
Opt for leaner protein choices like fish, chicken, shellfish, chickpeas, nuts & lentils.
2. Lots of plant-based foods
Fruits & vegetables are high in antioxidants that inhibit MAO (monoamine oxidase) & free radicals – enzymes that break down your pain relieving, feel-good body chemicals.
When possible, opt for organic varieties – organic is not just for hippies, it is food the way nature intended – chemical free.
A study found organic fruits & vegetables contain up to 60% more antioxidants than non-organic varieties.
Even more alarming – pesticides have actually been linked to the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
3. Eat the rainbow
You need a whole variety of nutrients to stay happy, healthy & pain-free.
To source all of those nutrients you need to eat a wide variety of foods.
If you look in your shopping basket & you can see a rainbow of fresh produce – you’re on the right track to fuelling your body with everything you need to thrive.
4. Beat inflammation
Chronic inflammation can increase pain, cause swelling, stiffness, fatigue & even depression.
Eat plenty of inflammation beating foods like tomatoes, turmeric, oily fish, nuts, berries & leafy greens.
5. Spice it up
Chillies, ginger, saffron & turmeric stimulate your body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals.
Although the spicy taste is actually a feeling of pain – the body’s reaction is to release endorphins – which relieve pain & make us happy.
Capsaicin in chilli has also been proven to speed up metabolism.
No wonder spicy food is so popular!
6. Nourish your gut
Probiotics have an enormous number of health benefits including:
- Improving digestive function
- Boosting immune system
- Preventing & treating UTIs
- Healing IBS & other inflammatory bowel conditions
- Fighting food-borne illness
- Managing & preventing eczema in children
Probiotics can even lift your mood.
Top up on good gut bacteria with fibrous vegetables (celery, asparagus & green beans) leafy greens, live yoghurt, kefir & fermented foods like miso or sauerkraut.
You can also add a supplement to your diet with probiotics like the ones found here
7. Curb your sweet tooth
It is really important for people living with chronic pain to maintain steady blood sugar levels.
Excessive amounts of sugar & sugary foods (chocolate, cakes, soft-drinks) can cause spikes & drops in blood sugar levels, which can contribute to unpleasant mood swings.
Experts suspect pain flares coincide with sugar spikes in the blood.
Avoid sugary drinks & cut out added sugar.
Don’t turn to artificial sweeteners as an alternative – they are even worse!
Aspartame – an artificial sweetener commonly found in diet soft-drink, has even been found to cause fibromyalgia!
If you need sweet treat – opt for dark chocolate with nuts or small amounts of natural sweeteners such as honey, coconut sugar or stevia.
8) Ditch processed
The more steps your dinner has taken to get to your plate – the more likely it is to increase your pain.
Preservatives, such as nitrates can trigger headaches, fatigue & inflammation.
Processed white flour is also high in gluten which causes inflammation.
Science has also proven that people who eat processed foods (white bread, ready meals) have a 58% higher risk of depression.
Keep a Food / Pain Dairy
As with everything in life…
there is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to diet.
We are all unique & so too are our guts & our food sensitivities.
Some people find that gluten – found in wheat products like bread or pasta can increase their pain – while others may be able to enjoy bread with no problem at all.
Others report that dairy products such as milk or cheese increase their pain.
It is important to be aware that certain types of food may act as a trigger for your pain.
Keep a food diary & compare what you eat each day with your pain.
You may start to notice certain patterns & be able to isolate the offending foods.
What is true for everyone… is that excess weight is not good for our overall health – and very often will lead to an increase in pain…
That is why it is so important to follow the secrets of the chronic pain diet.
Chronic pain can really mess with your weight.
People with chronic pain are far more likely to be overweight than those living without pain.
The unfortunate thing is that weight & pain, pain & weight are a vicious cycle.
The more weight a person carries – the worse their pain is likely to be.
It is important to be aware that you may have food sensitivities that trigger pain flares…
So try to identify the offending items & isolate these foods from your diet.
The universal rule for us all is that excess weight is bad for our health.
Excess weight is also very likely to lead to increased pain.
Follow the 8 secrets to a chronic pain diet & you are on the right track to shedding a few pounds & fuelling your body with everything it needs to heal.
If you would like to learn more about holistic strategies to heal chronic pain click here.