Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME
In order to maintain optimum health, the body requires a balance of healthy foods. If you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome/ME and are unsure of what and when you should be eating, you may benefit from the additional help and support of a qualified nutrition professional who is experienced in the management of CFS/ME.
If you have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), there is much you can do in terms of diet and lifestyle to help manage symptoms. A nutrition professional will work with you to develop strategies and create a personalised diet plan. These strategies aim to minimise any related complications such as nausea, eating and swallowing problems or difficulties buying and preparing food.
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How can nutrition help manage symptoms of CFS?
Symptoms will vary from person to person and may fluctuate in severity. There may be times where symptoms improve. At other times, they may worsen, making daily tasks difficult. A nutrition professional can help make these activities easier by creating a CFS diet plan.
Where can I find a nutritionist near me?
When looking for a nutritionist, it is important to find someone who resonates with you and who is sufficiently experienced. On Nutritionist Resource, we have a proof policy that ensures everyone we list has provided proof of qualifications and insurance, or membership with a professional body. We also encourage our members to provide as much information on their profiles as possible. This way you can learn more about the way they work and what they can help with.
You can use our advanced search tool to find a nutritionist near you. When you find someone you think could help you, simply send them an email to set up an initial consultation.
Common dietary issues
It is common for people with CFS/ME to seek professional nutrition advice due to weight change. Many CFS sufferers can gain weight as a result of exercising less due to exhaustion, muscle pain or other CFS symptoms. A person may also gain weight as a result of eating more than before. They may experience food cravings, turn to comfort eating, need an energy-boost or eat more as a result of medication.
Some sufferers will lose weight. They may have lost their appetite, feel nauseous or lack energy to buy and prepare meals. A nutrition professional will help you to manage these symptoms and discuss strategies that will help to maintain weight and ensure a nutritious diet.
People with CFS may also experience symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including wind, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you may benefit from following an IBS diet plan (low FODMAP diet).
Chronic fatigue syndrome diet
The body needs a balanced diet to improve strength, keep it functioning and maintain good health. Many people with CFS/ME find eating little and often helpful, aiming to eat every three to four hours. A nutritionist will help you create a CFS diet plan tailored to easing symptoms and boosting well-being.
What can I eat?
While everyone is different, there are some common food groups that can be effective in managing symptoms of CFS/ME. Starchy food - particularly slow releasing types with a low GI (glycaemic index) - are recommended as these help to keep energy levels stable. This includes porridge, potato, rice and wholegrain pasta and bread.
A balanced diet includes plenty of fruit and vegetables (aim to get at least five portions a day), dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt, as well as meat, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and pulses.
Restrictive diets are not recommended unless there is evidence of specific food allergy or intolerance and then it should be under the care of a dietitian or healthcare professional.
Many people with CFS/ME also suffer from irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, and can see an improvement with removal of problem foods. One way to identify problem foods is by following an elimination or exclusion diet under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
Some people with CFS suffer from food intolerances. Rashes, heart palpitation, migraines and muscle weakness are some of the symptoms associated with food sensitivity.
The first thing to do is visit your GP, where they may refer you to a nutrition professional. A dietitian may suggest changing your diet to help learn which foods are causing the sensitivity. An assessment will be made using a food and symptom diary, as well as your medical history, to aid the identification of possible food intolerances. It is usually recommended that you remove a suspected food for a limited period of time, followed by a ‘challenge’ of the food to gauge tolerance. Your nutrition professional will ensure you are getting all the nutrition you need during any periods of food exclusions.
What is CFS/ME?
Chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) is a serious condition that causes persistent exhaustion. It can affect a sufferer’s everyday life and can lead to long-term illness and disability. Yet, many people (children and young people in particular) find symptoms improve over time.
Treatment will depend on how CFS affects the individual. CFS can last a long time, which is why maintaining good health and seeking nutritional advice can be beneficial. There are other treatment options however, which can control and manage certain symptoms.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can help manage the condition by changing the way you think and behave. It aims to reduce the severity of symptoms and distress related to CFS by breaking problems down into more manageable parts. The treatment will often be tailored to your needs. A CBT session may include:
- Discussing the diagnosis.
- Accepting the diagnosis.
- Recognising feelings that may prevent recovery.
- Working to increase control over symptoms.
Another treatment option is graded exercise therapy (GET). This is a structured exercise programme that aims to gradually increase your physical activity levels. It will usually involve moderate exercise that raises your heart rate, such as walking or swimming. You will have developed your own exercise plan with the help of a professional. Over a few weeks, you will increase the length of time you take part in exercise and the intensity. It may seem slow at first, but setting goals will help you see the progress you are making.
Sufferers with CFS/ME have reported pacing to be effective in managing symptoms. It involves balancing periods of rest and periods of activity. Pacing focuses on knowing your limits and not pushing yourself further than able. Over time, you will gradually increase the periods of activity, while ensuring they are balanced with rest periods.
Pacing involves you learning how to make the most of your energy levels. Recognising how much you can do can help you to arrange your daily activities around these times. Despite insufficient evidence on the benefits of this treatment, it is often recommended for CFS.
Content reviewed by dietitian, Sarah Danaher. All content displayed on Nutritionist Resource is provided for general information purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for advice given by your GP or any other healthcare professional.
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