One of the hardest things for people to deal with is chronic pain. This is not like acute pain, where you get the occasional headache or your wrist hurts from spraining it. Chronic pain is a type of ongoing pain that may or may not be triggered by something. Instead of taking pill after pill let’s see how to manage chronic pain through your diet.
There are many conditions that can cause chronic pain, but these are some of the most common sources:
Other autoimmune conditions
Irritable bowel disease/irritable bowel syndrome
Migraines and headaches
This information is going to go over some important dietary changes for managing your chronic pain. What you choose to eat can greatly impact your pain, so it is essential that you learn how to eat better, particularly with conditions like Crohn’s, arthritis and fibromyalgia, which are impacted by your diet.
Basic Diet Tips
Before getting into specific diets for the different types of chronic pain, let’s first discuss some general diet tips. These are nutritional tips that can help you no matter what source of chronic pain you have. They all have one thing in common; helping with inflammation. Managing chronic pain through your diet is like adding another layer of relief.
So many different areas of chronic pain come directly from inflammation or are worsened by certain foods, which is why this is a good list for just about everyone. Try to follow these important diet tips whenever possible:
Eat Whole and Fresh Foods
This rings true for most types of inflammation or sources of chronic pain. When you start eating a lot of preservatives, chemicals, and additives, it irritates your stomach and can bring on flare-ups with conditions like Crohn’s or IBS. Even if you are eating ‘healthy’ options from processed foods, they are still processed, and your stomach might react differently to them. A better option is to always go for foods that are fresh and whole, like fresh produce, fresh herbs, whole blocks of cheese you shred yourself, and organic meats.
Get Your Healthy Fats
This is another diet tip that is good for just about everyone, whether you have chronic pain related to what you eat, or you are trying to lose weight. Healthy fats, particularly with omega-3s, can help fight the pain and naturally reduce inflammation. A super easy way to get more omega-3s in your diet is by having fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and mackerel. Avocados are great as well!
Reduce Your Dairy Consumption
This is one of the harder things for people to do, but it can really help you a lot. You might not have full lactose intolerance, but many people have sensitivity to lactose, which may be causing a lot of issues, not to mention the hormones in dairy products. This is really common among people with fibromyalgia, one of the top conditions that causes chronic pain. Try to eat less dairy, which includes milk, cheese, ice cream, and coffee creamer.
Now that you know some of the more basic diet tips for chronic pain flare-ups, you can choose some anti-inflammatory foods. These are not just foods that are safe because they don’t increase inflammation in your body, but they can actually help to fight inflammation from other foods. These are some of the best foods to add to your diet if you struggle with pain as a result of inflammation, such as with Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestion issues, and even arthritis.
If you have ever read a list of the healthiest foods to add to your diet, you have probably seen green, leafy vegetables on the list. These are a powerful, superfoods that is allowed on just about every diet out there, from keto and low-carb diets, to vegetarian, vegan, low-fat, low-calorie and yes, even anti-inflammation diets.
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens are packed with nutrients, but they also help to fight inflammation in your body. They are low in carbs, fat, and calories, have lots of antioxidants, and are easy to add to different types of meals. You will get plenty of vitamins A, C, and K.
Another vegetable to consider adding to your diet to help fight inflammation is beets. Sure, these might not sound like the most appetizing, but give them a try! Far too many people give up on liking beets, but that is only because you haven’t eaten them in the right way. These deep pink vegetables are actually sweet and delicious, plus they also contain a lot of antioxidants that can help to reduce inflammation and the resulting pain.
One more vegetable on this list is broccoli. Luckily, you are probably already familiar with broccoli and all the ways you can add it to your diet. But did you know broccoli is an anti-inflammatory food? Start piling up your plate with this nutritious superfood, whether you have it in your salad, on the side of salmon for those extra omega-3s, or you make a Chinese-inspired dish of beef and broccoli.
Now for the anti-inflammatory fruit. Two fruits we want to tell you about are blueberries and pineapples. Blueberries (wild ones are the best), as you might know, are one of the healthiest superfoods you can find. They have so many antioxidants and other nutrients, and are also high on the list of anti-inflammatories. Blueberries are often recommended for people who have irritable bowel disease and can help with colon damage done from various inflammatory diseases.
Pineapple is also really good for you and helps to fight inflammation in your body. Pineapple can be used in a smoothie, added to your healthy pizza or salad, or just eaten alone as a snack.
Foods to Avoid
You are now aware of the foods that can help reduce inflammation in your body, leading to flare-ups and worsening chronic pain. It is also important to know about the types of foods that can trigger those pain flares. This is true for many types of chronic pain, from migraines and headaches, to pain from your autoimmune disease.
Here are some foods to make sure you avoid or at least reduce considerably.
Yes, you will need to cut back on sugar. For some people, this can be one of the hardest changes to make, but it is important if you want to reduce your chronic pain. Sugar can do a number on your body, leading to a lot of digestion issues, and can also cause more inflammation. Some people are more sensitive to it than others, so if you don’t notice much of a change, perhaps just reducing your sugar by a small amount is all that is needed.
The next area of food you will need to reduce in your diet is the fried food. This includes food like French fries and onion rings, fried chicken, and just about anything you are cooking in oil. It also includes a lot of the food options at fast food and take-out restaurants. Fried food is extremely harsh on your digestive system, so it should be more of an occasional treat if you just must have it.
Vegetable and Canola Oil
Not only is vegetable oil often used for fried food, but in general, it can be hard on your body. It tends to trigger pain flare-ups for people with Crohn’s disease and other autoimmune conditions, and isn’t that good for you anyway. Try to use a healthier oil for cooking and baking, such as olive oil and coconut oil.
Your refined carbs are also going to be reduced if you want to get a better handle on your chronic pain. Many of them also consist of the sweets and fried foods you are trying to avoid, so you should naturally be eating less refined carbs. Here are some refined carbs you need to reduce:
- White bread
- White pasta and rice
- Starchy vegetables
Pay attention to the ingredients list on everything you eat and see if there are additives you don’t recognize. Artificial sweeteners are often found in anything that is “low fat” or “sugar-free” so be extra careful with these. Additives and preservatives are frequently found in frozen and processed food, which is why whole and fresh food is recommended.
How to Handle Cravings
When you start making these important dietary changes to help reduce inflammation and help with your chronic pain, you might have some cravings. The more fried foods, sugar, and inflammatory foods you ate before, the harder it is going to be in terms of cravings. Luckily, there are several things that can help you deal with them.
Drink More Water
Any time you have a craving for something that you shouldn’t have, try drinking a full glass of water first. Water can help to fill you up and also satiate the need you think you have. In many cases, you aren’t really in need of the food or drink you are craving, but you are just dehydrated. Try drinking water that is infused with fruits, vegetables, or herbs to add flavor, and it will also help tremendously with your cravings.
Plan and Organize Your Meals
If you don’t have a solid plan for all your meals and snacks, it is a lot easier to grab a candy bar from the vending machine at work or drive through a fast food joint after you pick your kids up from soccer practice. These are ‘convenience’ situations where you tend to order something not on the approved anti-inflammatory list. To avoid these cravings trips, instead make sure you are fully prepared. Have every meal and snack accounted for, make freezer meals and do meal prep over the weekend, and have healthy snacks in your purse or in the car for when you need them.
Load Up on Protein
When you are busy planning your meals and snacks for the week, consider the food options that are going to help with your pain, but also help with the cravings. Protein is a good place to start because it fills you up, keeping you from craving a lot of other food. Some healthy sources of protein that won’t cause more pain or inflammation in your body include poultry and fish like grilled chicken or salmon, vegetables, nuts and seeds (if allowed by your doctor), beans and legumes.
Deal With Stress Naturally
Stress is not only a major contributor to your pain flare-ups, but it can also affect your cravings. If you are under a lot of stress, it makes it a lot harder to not eat the fried foods or chocolate that you often want when you’re feeling down. Try to find more natural ways to help with stress, like going for a walk, enjoying a movie with family or friends, or taking a long bubble bath.
Also make sure you are avoiding the source of your cravings by not keeping these foods in the house and trying to avoid the break room or areas where there might be donuts or vending machines.
Diet For Arthritis Pain
One of the more common conditions that leads to chronic pain is arthritis. With arthritis, you have inflammation and swelling in your joints, which can then cause a lot of severe pain. This makes it difficult to move, from standing and walking, to just getting up and down out of a chair or the bed. Luckily, there are dietary changes that can help reduce that inflammation and start to help you feel better. Here are some dietary tips to follow when you have arthritis.
Fish and Olive Oil
As mentioned in a previous section, you want to have more omega-3s in your diet. These are anti-inflammatory nutrients, often found in fish and olive oil. They are often recommended to people who have arthritis because of how well they help to fight off the inflammation that leads to your pain.
Fish – With the fish, you want to go for seafood that has a lot of those helpful omega-3s. This includes salmon, tuna, and mackerel. Try to aim for 3-4 ounces per meal, about 2-3 times a week if you can. This is easy to do, whether you have a nice 4-ounce salmon fillet with a side of veggies and brown rice for dinner, or you add some tuna to your salad at lunch. Some other alternative types of fish you can also try are herring and sardines. However, be mindful of the mercury that may be in fish. Try to choose fish with little to no mercury. Always go for wild caught fish as well instead of farm-raised.
Olive oil – Olive oil is also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, plus it has anti-inflammatory properties on its own. There are so many healthy fats in olive oil, that you really should try to use it in your food daily. There are many ways to do this, from adding olive oil and vinegar to your salad in place of other salad dressing, to sauteeing veggies on the stove for a healthy lunch or dinner. Coconut is another great option. Cold-pressed, unrefined, organic coconut is best.
The next category of food that is great for arthritis sufferers is fresh produce. You already know that you should have more fresh fruit and veggies in general, but it is even more important when you suffer from this condition. Have as many fresh fruits and vegetables as you can during the day; they are good for you, contain a lot of nutrients, and many of them can help reduce inflammation.
Go for vegetables like your leafy greens, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, spinach, and green beans. With fruit, most types of berries and cherries are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants, plus pineapple can be excellent for inflammation. Citrus fruits can also help reduce inflammation, so don’t be scared of adding lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits to your diet.
Finally, try to add more whole grains to your diet if you have arthritis. About 4-6 ounces a day of whole grains is good to start with. Whole grains contain a good amount of fiber, which can help with inflammation and also reduce your weight, helping to keep some of that extra pressure off your joints. Good whole grains include quinoa, rye, tef, wild rice, kamut, and spelt.
Diet For Fibromyalgia
Now let’s move on to another condition that often causes chronic pain, which is fibromyalgia. This is a type of condition affecting the musculoskeletal system in the body. It can lead to extreme fatigue alongside the moderate to severe pain in the joints and other parts of the body.
If you have fibromyalgia, you need to eat a balanced diet for many reasons. First of all, inflammation can make the condition a lot more painful. It also helps to manage your weight through healthy eating in order to reduce the pressure on your joints. Here are some basic dietary tips to help you if you have fibromyalgia.
Aim For a Balanced Diet
It can sometimes be difficult to figure out what ‘healthy’ eating actually means, since it varies based on your needs. If you have a hard time figuring it out, aside from looking for those anti-inflammatory foods, try to just aim for a balanced diet. Your meal should not consist of only the lean protein or only the type of vegetable you like. You want to have a good balance of nutrients, by getting enough fruits and veggies, lean protein, carbs, fat, and calories in each meal. As long as you look for this healthy balance and avoid inflammatory foods, you will be on the right track to eating healthy for fibromyalgia.
Consider Going Vegetarian
This is something fairly new to the fibromyalgia world. Many people have discovered that a vegetarian diet has helped them tremendously. It is not for everyone and definitely not required to help with your chronic pain, but it is something to consider trying out. There have been some studies, including one by the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, that found people on a vegetarian diet had reduced pain. This is from having a lot of produce with a high amount of antioxidants and other nutrients, and cutting out red meat and fried foods often associated with meat-based options. Talk to your doctor first before switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet if you have fibromyalgia.
Try to Eat For Energy
With fibromyalgia, having low energy is a major concern. Even when you don’t have the severe chronic pain, you may have very low energy and no motivation to get anything done. Instead of just trying to have sweets or caffeine for a boost, look for healthier ways to get more energy. Go for foods with protein to help give you some more energy, like your veggies, nuts, and lean meats like turkey or chicken. Some good options for energy include whole grain bread, almonds, broccoli, and oatmeal.
Diet For Crohn’s Disease
When talking about chronic pain, it is also important to cover conditions like Crohn’s disease. This is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that is chronic and can cause ongoing pain. You may suffer on a daily basis, with the pain worsening due to various flare-up triggers. What you eat or don’t eat is often what leads to these flare-ups, since Crohn’s affects the lining of your digestive tract. Here are some dietary tips for managing chronic pain from this disease.
Reduce Caffeine and Alcohol
Like many other inflammatory-related conditions and diseases, both alcohol and caffeine can affect you. Caffeine is a little too hard on your digestion, and can lead to a lot of pain-related problems with Crohn’s disease. This might not be what you want to hear, but it is time to reduce your caffeine intake, including with coffee, tea, and soft drinks. Coffee can also promote gas, which is not good for you when you have Crohn’s. Try drinking tea, but a caffeine-free version, like with herbal tea or green tea. Plenty of water is really the best beverage for you.
Be Careful With Foods Causing Gas
You also need to watch out for foods that can cause a lot of gas. While this might seem good for you, it can actually cause more pain when you have Crohn’s disease. This means avoiding beans and some veggies, or at least reducing how often you eat them. Here are some foods that may cause gas:
Avoid Raw Foods
With a raw vegan diet might be good for people who have fibromyalgia, it isn’t recommended if you have Crohn’s disease. Raw foods, including fruits and vegetables, are a little harder to digest. When you have this disease, it makes it even harder to digest them, so when you want your produce, get it fresh, but cook it first. Even if you just steam your carrots in the microwave, it is better than just eating it raw. Wait until you get better to re-introduce these foods back into your diet.
Go For a Bland Diet
With Crohn’s disease, spicy foods or strong seasonings can also trigger your pain flares. To make it easier, just try to eat a blander diet, reducing how often you use spices and seasonings in your dishes. This can take some getting used to, but ultimately you will be glad to have some pain relief.
Tip: If you have Crohn’s, IBS, or any other digestive issue try juicing 8 ozs of organic celery each morning when you wake up and drink it first thing in the morning. Do not drink or eat anything else for about an hour. Drink the celery juice on an empty stomach. In addition to this, take a good probiotic. You will be surprised at what doing these two things can do for you. Be consistent, and give it time! Depending on the severity of your gut issues, it may take some months to see improvement.
Keeping a Food and Pain Journal
The last bit of advice that can help you make the right dietary changes for managing your chronic pain is to keep a journal. Journaling is really important when you have chronic pain and need to change your diet, because it helps you to notice different patterns and track what does or does not help.
Benefits of Keeping a Journal
First of all, let’s go over some of the main benefits of keeping a food and pain journal. You will soon realize that it might be what has been missing from your life when trying to figure out how to help with your chronic pain.
You can find your pain triggers – This is one of the top reasons to have a journal when you struggle with chronic pain. You need to figure out exactly what is causing your pain flare-ups, whether it is food related or not. In many cases, you will find that what you eat or don’t eat is leading to the pain triggers, while in other causes, it is things like physical activity or lack of it, stress, and various other sources.
It helps your doctor find treatment options – You can also bring your pain journal to your doctor, who is able to see what you’re eating, but also look at your levels of pain. Try to journal daily and definitely when you have a lot of pain. Mark it on a level of 1-10, and what you were doing shortly before the pain started. Even if you can’t see a pattern, your doctor might be able to.
It is easier to see what you are eating – Changing your diet is a little easier when you are recording what you are eating. The journal can be used when organizing your meals for the week, as well as seeing what types of food are causing your flare-ups. This is really important information to learn.
Journaling can distract you – Also don’t underestimate how powerful just writing in a journal can be. Even when you aren’t recording your pain level for the day or what you ate, you can still just write regular journal entries. This is similar to a diary where you are just writing how you feel or what you are doing. Writing can help to focus your mind on the topic at hand, and a little less on the pain. This can be a cathartic experience, while also helping to distract you from that pain.
Finding Your Pain Triggers
When you are journaling in order to figure out what triggers your pain, first understand that you won’t always notice a pattern. Some types of chronic pain is completely random, but there may also be certain things to worsen the pain or cause a higher frequency of pain flare-ups. This is what you are looking for.
Keep journaling every day, marking the pain you feel, when you feel it, and what you were doing that day and shortly before the pain started. Also make a note of when the pain stopped and what you did to try to make it stop. This can also be used for your benefit in the future.
Recording Your Diet Regularly
The other part of this journal is going to be your diet journal. This is when you record absolutely everything you eat or drink, regardless of what it is. This isn’t a test and can be something only you see, so don’t try to fabricate your diet journal. Even if you didn’t stick to the plan laid out by your doctor, still record what you eat. This is meant to help you with your chronic pain, so lying or exaggerating things is not going to be helpful.
When you see what you eat and how much of it, it can be helpful when determining if your diet might be causing your pain, or if it is something else entirely that is triggering it. You may miss some days, but just try to keep the journal with you at all times and write what you eat as often as you can.
Managing chronic pain is an ongoing process, and not something you can resolve in a single day. Be patient with yourself, make small changes, and you will be on your way to managing it better.
Holistic remedies for chronic pain, specifically the herbal varieties, can help with pain.
Here are a few of them:
Herbal Holistic Remedies for Chronic Pain
Turmeric – Turmeric is a wonderful herb and a superfood. It is a type of spice often used in food, but it can also help with your chronic pain. Turmeric is best for relieving heartburn, inflammation for people with arthritis, and providing anti-inflammatory properties.
Ginger – You can also try ginger if you have joint or muscle pain. It is used most often by people who struggle with arthritis as the source of their chronic pain.
Ginseng – If your chronic pain comes from fibromyalgia, you might want to start taking ginseng on a regular basis. However, talk to your doctor about the quantity that is safe for you.
Valerian Root – Valerian root is an excellent holistic herb when used for muscle cramps and muscle spasms. This can occur as a result of a previous surgery or injury, or with conditions like fibromyalgia and restless leg syndrome.
Feverfew – Finally, if your chronic pain is from migraines or rheumatoid arthritis, try using feverfew for the pain.
For today’s assignment, choose one of these herbal holistic remedies and use it for your chronic pain. With ginger and turmeric, you can try cooking a dish with them. The other herbs are available in powder or supplement form, making it easy for you to use them. Be sure to choose a quality herb. All herbs and supplements are not created equal.
Another tip: Sometimes inflammation can be from mineral and nutritional deficiencies. Consider getting tested for vitamin deficiencies, especially Vitamin C, D, and B12. Hormonal imbalances can also be the cause of chronic pain.
Remember to always check with your doctor when taking or starting any supplements, vitamins, or herbs to make sure they are right for you.