How to Make Great Lifestyle Choices with Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia: Making Great Food and Exercise Choices May Reduce Symptoms
Fibromyalgia and Traditional Chinese Medicine
Fibromyalgia is a debilitating medical condition with a wide range of symptoms including widespread pain, fatigue and cognitive problems such as “foggy” thinking, difficulty concentrating as well as problems with other mental processes such as memory. A diagnosis of fibromyalgia can only be made when all of these symptoms are present and it has been confirmed that no other underlying condition may be causing them.
In addition to these three major symptoms, fibromyalgia sufferers may also experience muscle and joint stiffness, headaches, digestive issues, urinary problems, irregular periods and PMS, jaw pain, eye problems and dry skin. These affect individuals to varying degrees and a diagnosis of fibromyalgia will mean very different things to different people.
From a western medical point of view, the exact cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown, meaning it is difficult to treat, and medication is geared towards managing pain and other symptoms. In contrast, Chinese medicine views fibromyalgia as any one of several syndromes which are diagnosed according to an individual’s symptoms. The therapy is holistic, aimed at treating the root cause of the disease and restoring balance to the whole system by using acupuncture, herbs and making positive lifestyle changes.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the reason that people suffer from different medical conditions is that we all have different organs or meridians out of balance. We can use our body shape as one indicator of which meridians might be imbalanced and make better lifestyle choices accordingly. Making the right decisions about what to eat and what exercise to do can act as an everyday remedy, helping the energy to flow better in the meridians, reducing symptoms and achieving an overall state of health and harmony throughout the entire body.
Prenatal and Postnatal Energy’s Influence on Your Constitution
Everyone is familiar with the old saying “you are what you eat.” This has been one of the key principles of Asian philosophy since ancient times. But does it still hold true in a modern, western society?
In Chinese medicine, your constitution is considered to be made up of two components; prenatal and postnatal energy. Your prenatal energy is formed before you are born and it depends on a number of factors including your parents’ health and age when you were conceived. This can be compared to genetics. Your postnatal energy is formed from everything that comes after birth – the nutrition that you take in from food and supplements, the exercise that you do, trauma (physical or emotional) which can affect your whole body, and excessive work, study or worry which all have a draining effect on your energy.
Having this prenatal energy means that you may be predisposed to certain illnesses. No matter what you do, since the day that you were born some of your organs have been weaker than others. As you grow older, even more imbalances occur due to bad habits or dietary choices that you might make, further weakening your postnatal energy. The good news is that this is where you can take control! You can positively influence your postnatal energy through your everyday lifestyle choices and improving your general health. But where do you begin?
Addressing Imbalances with Food and Exercise
First, you need to know which organs or meridians are out of balance. People get discomfort, pain or other symptoms according to where they have weaknesses, but this is not always easy to diagnose without the help of a trained Chinese medicine practitioner. However, there is one simple way of telling which organs are deficient and need support in order to reach optimum health. All you need to do is look in the mirror!
Your body shape can tell you a lot about the health of your internal organs and what you need to do in order to rectify any imbalances. Today, I would like to share the “tonification method” which is a method of supporting weakened organs and meridians by eating and exercising appropriately for your body shape.
What is Your Body Shape?
So, what’s your body shape?
Which of your organs and meridians are imbalanced and what can you do to help?
The three main body shapes are as follows:
- You are well spread and well built, your upper and lower body are equally strong or weak.
- Your upper body and shoulders are stronger or bigger.
- Your lower body, hips and lower belly are stronger or bigger.
Body shape 1 : Heart and Lung meridians need to be tonified.
Your upper and lower body are fairly even and well built. You may be prone to swelling, feeling heavy and having difficulty getting out of bed and have a dry complexion in the morning.
Exercise : Do more cardiovascular work so you can strengthen your heart and lung function. Having strong heart and lung function means that your metabolism and circulation is working efficiently, and reducing the level of toxins in your body.
Diet direction : For this constitutional type, the energy burning and circulation rate is low. Anything that you eat is hard to burn and you can put on weight easily. Reduction of calories is key to your healthy eating habits.
Great choice : Substitute the sugar in your recipes for stevia. Use half the amount of oil in your dressing.
Body Shape 2 : Kidney and Urinary Bladder meridians need to be tonified.
You are slender or thin with a bigger upper body. You may have a quick temper and have good speed but low endurance. You are easily tired, and more productive at night than in the morning.
Upper body dominance is due to an imbalance in Yin and Yang, the two opposing forces which in Chinese medicine are responsible for our health. Yin is water, coolness, night-time, stillness, rest. Yang is fire, heat, day-time, dynamic, activity. When these two forces are in harmony, the body is healthy. When they get out of balance, illness occurs.
In this body type, Yin is weakened and unable to control Yang. This results in weak kidneys, bladder and reproductive organs due to deficient Yin, along with symptoms of heat due to hyperactive Yang.
Exercise : Cycling, stepper, and lower body strengthening workouts. Tai Chi would be good if you have weak knees. Saunas and hot baths are not recommended.
Diet direction : Avoid salt and add more vinaigrette/acid as seasoning instead. Eat more cooling foods such as leafy, green vegetables and seafood. If you eat meat, it’s best cooked slowly, on the bone.
Recommended: Getting enough sleep is very important for this constitutional type.
Body Shape 3: Stomach and Spleen meridians need to be tonified.
Your lower belly and hips are heavy. You may suffer from indigestion, cold hands, feet and lower belly, dizziness and motion sickness, low energy.
Your stomach and spleen are considered as the engine to your body system. They are in charge of burning the fuel, generating energy and spreading it throughout the body. If your Yang is low, your engine cannot work properly. Yang deficiency results in coldness of the lower abdomen and low stomach and spleen function. You can not utilize the fuel properly, and it sits stagnant in the middle of your body resulting in digestive problems.
Exercise : You do not want to exert yourself by doing too much strenuous exercise since your energy levels are already low. Low impact exercise such as yoga and stretching help to improve Qi and blood circulation and are a better choice until you have more Yang energy built up.
Diet direction : Eat food that is easy to digest. Avoid cold or raw food, flour, noodles and greasy food. Cook vegetables by sautéing or steaming. Soups, stews and porridge are ideal foods for this constitutional type.
General Good Eating Habits Guidance
You might also want to follow some general guidance on good eating habits which applies to people of all body shapes:
- Try and stick to a routine of eating at around the same time each day and avoid eating late at night. A large and nutritious breakfast is ideal as the stomach and spleen function best in the morning allowing you to get the most out of this meal.
- Eat appropriate portion sizes according to the amount of physical activity that you do and stop eating just before you feel full. It takes around 20 minutes for your body to register how much you have eaten, and overeating can leave you feeling bloated and unwell as well as leading to weight gain.
- Eat slowly, chewing each mouthful properly and not eating too much at any one time. Try and make time to sit and enjoy your food, avoid distractions or eating on the go as this can hinder your digestion.
- Include all of the five flavors in your diet. Sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent (this includes stronger tasting foods such as spices and cheese). A small quantity of sweet food after a meal can actually aid digestion, but avoid refined sugars and stick to naturally sweet fruit instead.
- Finally, keep a positive attitude towards food. Allow yourself occasional treats and try not to feel guilty about what you’ve eaten as this will only make it more difficult for your body to process and digest. Whilst it is important to eat the right foods for your body shape, you should be able to enjoy eating too!
In our hectic daily lives, it can be easy to forget about the importance of good nutrition. However, the ancient belief that “you are what you eat” still holds true, and in order to maintain health we all need to pay more attention to eating and exercising correctly for our body type, but especially those suffering from chronic health conditions such as fibromyalgia. Once we achieve balance in our weakened organs and meridians, we feel the benefits throughout our whole system and can begin to enjoy the rewards of living a healthy and balanced life.