You're as Healthy as the Food You Eat

By Barby Ingle, PNN Columnist  

It’s important that patients with chronic pain conditions maintain a healthy lifestyle, including getting enough sleep, exercising and eating healthy foods. I know this is so much easier said than done.

You are what you eat, right? We hear this often growing up, but what does it really mean? If I have a cupcake or a slice of cheesecake, am I going to live through the night? Over course I am. But day after day of poor eating will have long-term health consequences. And when our health is poor, other aspects of life are also likely to suffer.

Patients with chronic pain and illness typically lead a more sedentary lifestyle. Because we are less active and burn off fewer calories, we are at greater risk for developing other medical problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. I myself have been dealing with poor posture and sudden weight gain and loss. I fall easily and have trouble gripping and holding onto things. 

One area we have more control over is what we eat and who we are eating with. When I’m at home, my spouse cooks meals for me. I used to just let him choose what he wanted to make because I was just happy to have a meal prepared for me.

I have been really working on my eating habits since being diagnosed as "skinny fat" last year. I had to change where I am eating, how I am eating and what I am eating. Although my husband doesn’t eat the same food as me most of the time, my healthier habits have rubbed off on him.

I make a grocery list for what I want to eat, instead of just eating what he prepares for himself. I also now eat about 6 times a day instead of 3 bigger meals and a snack. 


Hopefully those around you are supportive of you making changes in your diet. When they see you make a conscious effort to choose your own meal and set your own portion limits, they may be empowered to pay attention to their own habits. You don’t have to say “no” to everything, just keep indulgences under control, eat smaller portions and be mindful of what you are eating.  

As a former athlete, I know nutrition is crucial for good performance outcomes. But when I got sick, I let all of that go. I had more important challenges to focus on, or so I thought.

Nutrition plays a role in chronic pain and how we prepare our bodies to cope with the stress.  Make sure your doctor is doing frequent blood testing to check for any deficiencies you may develop. A friend of mine developed Hypokalemia, a potassium deficiency that led to a psychological breakdown and two mental hospital stays.

Medications can also affect your liver, kidneys and digestive system. Blood testing can help prevent this from getting out of control and let you know if dietary supplements are needed to counter poor vitamin absorption.  

Maintaining good nutrition and hygiene may be difficult, but are very important. My new reality is that I am disabled and need to ask for help. I have to pay attention to what I eat, my hormones, my vitamins and everything I put on and in my body.

Eating is an important part of our lives and healing is a process. I have to control the parts of my life that I can to be able to live the life that I want.  

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics. More information about Barby can be found at her website.  

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.