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Food and Chronic Pain

fruit(Wo)Man cannot live without food.  For anyone living with chronic pain, food can either be a friend, or an enemy.  Food can contribute to healing, provide energy and sustain life.  Food can also be a source of comfort in a negative way, wherein it is used as a pain killer, an anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety “drug.”

For years I used food in a negative way.  Truth be told, I still do not have a “healthy” relationship with food.  It is not to say I am anorexic or bulimic, but I do not enjoy food fully.  For years food was used as an anti-depressant.  I was unhappy and lonely so I would eat.  Then I would worry that I was overweight, so I would eat to soothe the anxiety.  When the pain began, after the first surgery, the food was my only comfort.  The pain was out of control, doctors didn’t yet believe that anything was wrong with me, so I ate to stop the pain.

I feel fortunate and blessed that I was able to take off the weight and begin to take control of my weight and I have told my weight loss story before, but this is not about the weight loss as much as it is about food itself.   I was watching the Divorcee’s Survival Guide, “Eat Pray Love” last night and Liz was talking about how she has spent her whole life counting calories so she knew how much self-loathing to bring into the shower with her the next morning and it really resonated with me because I have done this for most of my life, even when I was morbidly obese.

I always equated being thin with being healthy.  I am 10 pounds away from being the correct weight for my age and height, which in itself is a miracle for me, but I still do not have a healthy relationship with food, especially not in connection to my pain.

Food used to be a substitute for loneliness, happiness, calm…now it is a substitute for control.  I cannot control my pain and my health, but I can control my weight and what I eat.  Like Liz, I haven’t let a day go by in a year and a half where I can’t tell you exactly what I ate and how many calories it totaled.  Bad relationships with food are hard to break.  Living with chronic pain I feel like it is even harder to break because, food has become one aspect of life I can CONTROL, unlike so many other things in my life that are spinning out of control, even as we speak.

But how do you go about having a healthy relationship with food?  I think it starts with balance.  I can’t throw all caution to the wind and stop counting all calories and watching what I eat because I will end up right back where I started.  But at the same time food is, at this point, only a source of survival and sustenance.  There is no JOY in eating, no passion, no happiness in eating a meal because even if I tell myself, “today I am not going to count calories,” inevitably I still do and then I do not fully enjoy the food.

Like everything else there needs to be a happy medium.  I need to learn to enjoy food again without overindulging, however that is difficult. An alcoholic can live the rest of their life without a drink.  Someone who struggled with food issues cannot abstain from their “drug,” and must learn to live with it.  Learning to take nourishment and enjoyment from something that once did you so much harm can be very difficult.  This is made even more difficult by the fact that being in pain messes with you head (that is the technical psychological term) and sometimes it feels like food is a fix, sometimes it feels like control is a fix.

Has anyone else experienced this?

Fruit image available from Shutterstock.

Food and Chronic Pain


Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

My name is Tracy and I am a licensed social worker. I was working as a Social Worker, when an emergency spinal surgery 2 years ago changed my life and my career. I live with chronic pain and, as a result, I have taken my social work and writing skills, and made them into this blog. This blog is a humorous, informative, no-holds barred honest look at life with chronic pain, depression and disability.”


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APA Reference
Rydzy MSW, T. (2013). Food and Chronic Pain. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/chronic-pain/2013/09/food-and-chronic-pain/

 

Last updated: 2 Sep 2013
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