Eating well is harder for me during the winter than any other time of the year. Because it’s cold, all I want is hot drinks and comfort foods. The idea of comfort foods is that they’re going to make you feel better, but the reality is that those are the very foods that can make you feel worse. When we think of comfort food, it’s usually those foods that are loaded with fat and/or sugar, and lots of empty calories, and they can make us feel much worse, especially those of us who live with fibromyalgia or other chronic illnesses. Not much comfort in that, is there?
I never thought of myself as an emotional eater, because I don’t eat if I’m upset or sad, but I have noticed that when I’m in pain, the foods I turn to are the ones that are that may not be as beneficial. As I mentioned in my post For The Love Of Food, I don’t believe foods are “good” or “bad”; they’re just food. We do know, however, that some foods have a higher nutritional value than others and provide better fuel for our bodies.
There are many diets out there that claim to have the key to exactly what you should eat, and there have been studies conducted that show certain diets may be better for chronic pain patients. These are a great starting point for us, but the truth is, nobody knows your body better than you. Now you may have lost touch with it — your pain may be blinding you to all the subtle signals your body sends you each day — but we have a tool that can help us keep track of what our bodies are telling us about what we’re eating.
If you’ve heard the words food journal, it may have been in the context of a weight-loss program. At its most basic, it’s a place to record what you’ve eaten throughout the day. You simply record everything you eat and drink, and it gives you a better idea of what and how much you’re actually eating. Now this was a great tool for my weight-loss clients because it helped them see what they were eating, and where they could make small changes to improve how they were fuelling their bodies. For those of us with chronic pain, though, it has an even bigger application.
If we add a couple of steps to the basic food journal format, we can have a record of how our bodies are feeling about what we’re putting in them. A food journal can be very simple, even with the couple of extra steps. All you need is a notebook and pen, or if you prefer, you can keep your journal electronically. Here are the things I keep track of in mine:
- Food/drink consumed.
- Time of day – I don’t know about you, but my body reacts to the same foods differently at different times of the day.
- How you feel immediately after you eat – Do you feel comfortable, bloated, nauseated?
- How you feel 30 minutes/an hour after you eat – keeping track of this helps you become aware of how your body is feeling in relation to what you’ve eaten.
- Pain level for the day – this could be helpful when you look back at your journal. If you notice that every time you eat _______ you have more pain the next day, it may give you a clue that that particular thing is causing issues for you.
Of course, just keeping track of what we’re eating isn’t enough; we have to go back and look at our journal to see if we see any patterns and decide what to do with the information we’ve gained. We can see which foods seem to give us more energy and which cause us to feel more sluggish. We can see which foods seem to reduce our pain levels and which seem to increase them, and of course, we can see which ones just make us feel bad in general. This can help us eat more of the foods that make us feel the best and limit those that don’t seem as beneficial.
Having this written record can also be extremely helpful when discussing our treatment plans with our medical teams. As always, I recommend you discuss dietary changes with your doctor or nutritionist. This is especially important if you are on medication, as what we eat can affect how our medications work and sometimes cause unwanted reactions.
Have you used a food journal to figure out the best foods for you? How did it work for you? Please share!