Diet & Chronic Pain

Pain and weight gain is about so much more than food – It is a complex mix of our biology and biography.

Sadly to add insult to injury often with a chronic pain, fatigue or stress illness there can be problems being and maintaining your ideal weight. The biological mechanism for this is due to the stress response. When the body feels under threat it produces cortisol which allows the body to release enough energy to fight or flee which would then be used up if we had to run away from the danger, however with our modern day stress we are not able to run away from it. This cortisol then stays raised in our blood stream and amongst other actions increases appetite to ensure that we have enough energy on board to react to the next danger. However, because we actually haven’t needed to physically escape this leaves the body with excess glucose circulating through the blood stream that eventually the body stores as fat. To make matters worse it often stores it as belly fat which adds to the distress.

If you are struggling to diet, one of the greatest things you can do for your body today is to stop dieting. Just for now. It is incredibly hard but one of our biggest self-induced stressors is the judgemental voice within our own heads and dieting is such a judgmental activity. We have to live inside our bodies and if we are persistently depriving it of food and saying nasty things to ourselves our body just perceives this as further threat and perpetuates the stress cycle and this increases the pain, the fatigue and the weight gain. The brain doesn’t distinguish between judgement from others or your own internal words so even if it is just for today try to give yourself a break.

To stabilise your bodies stress response eating regularly and reducing stimulants will help.

  • Switch to decaffeinated tea or coffee and try not to drink carbonated drinks.
  • Cut out sugar and sugary foods – if you need a treat try a very dark chocolate.
  • Add some protein to every meal – nuts, cheese, meat, eggs.
  • Eat regularly and don’t let yourself get beyond hungry.
  • Fats are not the enemy – avoid low fat replacements as they often are high in sugar.
  • Eat mindfully – slow and conscious eating.

If you are someone who wants the support of a sensible food program to lose or control weight with no sense of deprivation then the Harcombe diet is a good plan. It is eating real food and is based on 3 basic principles; Reducing candida, removing food intolerances and stabilising your blood sugar levels using a simple food combining technique. There is no calorie counting. It has 3 stages: Phase 1 lasts 5 days and gets you started with cutting out all processed foods and sugars, Phase 2 concentrates on not eating fats and carbohydrates together and Phase 3 is for maintenance.

See below for details of The Harcombe Diet and Dr Marilyn Glenville’s nutritional supplements for ‘Fat Around The Middle’.

Two other important factors when it comes to food are fatigue and emotional eating:


With fatigue a major factor is the need to eat more regularly to maintain any sort of energy. It also produces craving for readily accessible calories from carbohydrate rich foods such as sugar and bread and also, understandably, from foods that require no preparation biscuits for instance.

When you are in pain, stressed or fatigued preparing healthy food can be a daunting task. It can help prepare food in advance .

Snack Planning

  • Have a healthy snack of chopped vegetables to have with hummus in the fridge.
  • Prepare portions of nuts, cheese or hard boil eggs.
  • Natural yogurt with berries.
  • Dark chocolate – over 70% for if you need a small treat.

Meal Planning

  • Plan your menu – if you do a 3 or 4 week plan you only need to do it once.
  • Get shopping delivered.
  • Cook earlier in the day if that is when you are less fatigued.
  • Batch cook and freeze once or twice a week for the rest of the week.
  • Pre-prepare ingredients and freeze for meals to go in the slow cooker (See below).
  • Have a few healthy, shop-bought ready meals in the freezer.
  • Frozen vegetables are a useful addition to the freezer.
  • Collect a selection of recipes for one pot meals.

If you are struggling to get enough fruit and vegetables on board then a smoothie or juice can be effective.  See our Eat A Rainbow page.

Eating as an Emotional Response

This is a hard one because when you are stressed, in pain or tired you are already having a hard time and for many food brings comfort or distraction.

When you want food try to check in with yourself and how you feel before eating.

We have produced a download to help. It is back to our theme of pausing but this time it is to help you pause before eating.

When you want to eat just remember to pause and reflect before you do.

  • Check whether you are actually thirsty. Drink a small cup of water and if you are still hungry afterwards then eat. It will help your hydration as well.
  • Pause and check whether you are physically hungry or emotionally hungry.
  • If you are physically hungry then eat.
  • If you are emotionally hungry, pause again and check the emotion, then eat.

Eventually you will become more aware of the emotions and may be able to try an alternative activity from the toolkit to help clear it, such as journaling. As long as you know why you are eating is the important part for now.

Other Nutritional Consideration Toolkits

You may be interested in our other ‘Nutritional Consideration’ chapters within the Mindbody Toolkit: