Holidays, Food Sensitivities and Fibromyalgia/Chronic Fatigue syndrome

It's the Most Dangerous Time of the Year

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A lot of us who have fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS) also have food sensitivities. They may be a just minor annoyance, or they could make life really difficult. During the holiday season, with all of the parties and traditional holiday foods, those of us who pay consequences for eating the wrong things face special challenges.

Food sensitivities can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Digestive or intestinal problems,
  • Inflammation,
  • Fatigue,
  • Immune system abnormalities,
  • Headaches,
  • Depression,
  • Muscle pain,
  • Coordination problems,
  • Cognitive issues.

Sound familiar? That's right – those are symptoms of FMS, ME/CFS, and other conditions linked to central sensitization. As with so many other things, food sensitivities can make our symptoms worse.

For some, it's a little worse. When I eat a lot of sugar, for instance, I get some inflammation and water retention that make my muscles ache more. However, if I eat too much, especially after going a long time without eating, my irritable bowel syndrome flares up and I get stabbing intestinal pains, bloating, gas, reflux, etc.

The first step toward managing your food sensitivities is to identify them. Symptom journaling and/or an elimination diet can make that a lot easier. After that, it's all about avoidance, and that's especially difficult during the holidays. A few simple tricks can help you resist temptation:

  • Going to a a party or event? Eat before you go so you don't arrive hungry! If you stick to just nibbling a little, you're less likely to eat too much of your problem foods. Yes, it stinks to pass by the wonderful smelling stuff, but if you find yourself tempted, just think back to the last time you really paid for eating the wrong thing.
  • If possible, take a day or two to recover from big events like holiday parties. (This is a good habit to get into even if you don't have food sensitivities!)
  • Make sure your friends and family know about your food issues and, if they're willing, work with them alternatives. Not everyone is willing to alter Grandma Myrle's recipe to suit one person, though. In that case, let them know you don't expect them to tailor their dishes to you – they just need to let you know what in them.
  • Find alternative recipes for your favorite things and take them along. That allows you to safely indulge.

The more severe your sensitivity, the more you may want to consider always having your own food on hand. I know a woman with Celiac disease who takes a cooler of food with her everywhere so she doesn't have to worry about hidden sources of gluten or cross-contamination.

There are extensive resources for people dealing with food sensitivities. Here's a selection to get you started:

If you suspect you have a food-related health issue, be sure to talk to your doctor about it. Proper diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference.

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