Lesson 8 of 10
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8) Food, Relationships, and Work

I-Engage May 3, 2021

In this lesson, you will learn about food, relationships, and work, in relation to the quality of your life and ability to manage pain.

Prioritizing good nutrition will help you to achieve better health and cope well with pain.

Connecting with other people is likely to improve your mood and distract you from focusing on your pain.

Staying at work, returning to work, or finding a new endeavor, can give your life routine, structure, and purpose.

**Note before beginning the following section: Your worth in this world is not tied to your body size. All body sizes are beautiful – each person is unique and special. Additionally, health is not always associated with body weight. Further, we are not suggesting that you drop extreme amounts of weight. Before losing weight, you should talk with your doctor. They may have some additional resources or recommend against it based on your own personal health. Lastly, weight-loss should not be your primary goal. Focus on increasing your activity and eating healthier foods; then, weight loss will naturally follow. We certainly do not condone or recommend unhealthy routes of weight loss**

Healthy eating and nutrition for chronic pain:

Your nutrition can affect your chronic pain. When you eat, you’re introducing various compounds into your body. Some give you energy, some hydrate you, however, some can affect you poorly.

For example, some ingredients in food cause inflammation. Inflammation is a common source of pain. Conversely, some ingredients can fight inflammation. They are anti-inflammatory. These are usually foods that have antioxidants.

antioxidant-rich foods with a sign that says "antioxidants". There are plums, carrots, peppers, red wine, eggplants, oranges, walnuts, green tea, garlic, grapes, and more.

Additionally, some foods can cause you to gain weight if eaten regularly. Or, they can cause a temporary spike in blood sugar. Both can have long-term and short-term effects on pain, respectively.

Moreover, extra body weight increases pressure on the body’s frame. Studies suggest that dropping just one pound can reduce up to four pounds of pressure on the knees. Further, for those with arthritis, pain relief and daily functioning improves as more weight is lost. For fibromyalgia, migraines, and some bone or muscle disorders, weight loss has been shown to reduce pain and improve quality of life. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of what you’re eating when you have chronic pain

Here are some general tips you can follow:

1)Avoid fad diets that focus on quick weight lossRapid weight loss can be dangerous and traumatic for your body and mind. It can also negatively affect your metabolism. If you are interested in losing weight, consult your doctor or a nutritionist first. They can help you lose weight in a healthy way that considers your medical conditions.
2)Assess your medicationsSome medications can cause weight gain. This might make managing pain more difficult, outweighing the benefits. So, a review of your medications with your doctor or pharmacist may be helpful.
3)Eat a healthy, balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, and proteinsEat healthy, natural foods like fish, lentils, chicken, vegetables and fruits. These may help joints, muscles, and nerves function better. Use olive oil as your main cooking oil. A helpful tip is to stick to foods that have a short list of ingredients that you can pronounce. And, shop from the perimeter of the grocery store. 
Check out the eLearning course: Nutrition for Chronic Pain: Making Healthy Choices to Control Pain.
4)Don’t only eat healthy for weight loss.Know that healthy eating can also reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, cancer, digestive disorders, and even depression and anxiety. Prioritizing nutrition can have a wide range of benefits.
5)Get your Vitamin DLow vitamin D levels are common in people with chronic pain. Daily supplements might help, but sunlight is the best source. Sun exposure helps your body produce Vitamin D (but, be sure to practice sun safety). Getting enough sun is difficult in winter or if you’re indoors a lot. Check with your doctor before taking supplements.
6)Eat breakfast, as this reduces stress, fatigue, and painDon’t skip breakfast as it boosts your metabolism and provides you with energy to start your day. If you do skip breakfast, eating very small portions is a good way to get back into eating breakfast regularly. Make sure to get hydration in the morning, too! Water is the healthiest option. If you prefer juice, pick options without a lot of added sugar.
7)Eat regular meals with small portions if you are inactive.If you are generally inactive, eat regular meals with smaller portions. Avoid eating a lot of carb- and sugar-dense snacks. If you need a snack, choose a healthy option like fruit or a handful of nuts.
friends cooking some food from the mediterranean diet

Additionally, for more in-depth information on Nutrition, please look for the “Nutrition and Chronic Pain: Making Healthy Choices to Control Pain” eLearning course on the eLearning page.


Explaining your experience to others

It can help to let the people in your life know how the pain affects you. Other people can’t see the invisible effects of pain, so they may not understand without you being open about it. Talk to them about ways they can support or help you. People are natural problem solvers; they will be happy to help you by offering assistance or emotional support.

Additionally, you might be in a situation where your family member is in a caregiver role. For younger family members, this might be an adjustment. To make sure they are getting the support and knowledge they need, there are organizations that can help. For instance, young caregivers associations might be a good resource for them!

Seek help for difficult relationships

There are organizations that can help you if you are experiencing problems with people in your life. Partners and family members can be sources of help and comfort. However, they can also be the source of trauma and tension.

Unfortunately, living with a chronic condition can make it easy for others to take advantage of you. But, this is not okay! If you suspect someone in your life is trying to harm or take advantage of you, then please seek help.

There are couple/family counsellors you can contact. Although, in extreme cases, you can contact the authorities or an organization that specializes in helping people escape from domestic abuse. 

We want to make it clear that having a chronic condition does not mean you need put up with people who make you feel like a burden. You are not a burden; above all, you deserve love and support.


Staying or returning to work

Indeed, having chronic pain can make working difficult. You may have had to take time off, adjust your work schedule, or resign due to your pain.

However, know that this is not forever. You can make a plan to return to work. Whether that means returning to your old job, finding a new job, or creating a new endeavor for yourself.

Furthermore, working can be a good way to establish routines and connect with other people. Others who have returned to work found they coped well with most difficulties. New coping skills used to manage pain helped at work, especially pacing the workload and managing moods, like frustration.

Here are some tips:
  • Think about what needs to happen for you to return to or stay at work and build it into your goals.
  • Be flexible on when you might work and where. For example, volunteering lets you explore new possibilities without the same level of demands as a paid job.
  • Ask your employer for a phased return to work. If you can, start with two or three hours per day for the first week and then steadily build up from there. You can work the details out with your employer.
  • Seek support or training. Contact your human resources department (if that exists) to see what kind of support might be available to you. For instance, they may have programs or people you can contact for help. If this isn’t something that is available through your work, check to see if your city offers any community support programs.
  • Get professional support. Work with your doctor or other health care providers to see if there’s anything they can do to make your transition back to work effective.
An older woman working on her laptop and tablet at a desk while enjoying a coffee.

In the next lesson, you will learn about relaxation and mindfulness, and how they can soothe pain and tension.