Convenience Isn’t Healthy: Chronic Illness and Diet

When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia three years ago, my diet was all about convenience. I came to the conclusion that eating healthily was just a luxury that I could no longer have. I tried to generally to choose healthier convenience food options. For example, a whole-grain cereal instead of refined grain, or a low-fat frozen lasagna instead of full-fat. A typical day looked like this:

Breakfast: Multigrain Cheerios with a banana (251 Calories)

Snack: Yogurt (115 Calories)

Lunch: sandwich with deli meat, granola bar, carrot sticks (348 Calories)

Snack: Trail mix (352 Calories)

Dinner: Spaghetti (store bought pasta sauce) (344 Calories)

Snack: Slice of Toast (69)

Total: 1538 Calories (Calculated at Super Tracker

So, calorie-wise not so bad. However, as any nutritionist can tell you, calories are only a small part of the nutrition story. If I ate 1500 calories in chocolate, it would only be delicious, not healthful.

What was wrong with my diet?

  • Grain heavy: I had a total of 240 g of grains, which is over the USDA recommendation of 170g or 6 oz for a woman my age. While grains provide benefits like fiber, eating too much of this food group can lead to weight gain.
  • Protein policy: in total, 16% of my food intake was protein. While this is within the acceptable range set by the USDA, dieticians recommend your protein daily allowance should be calculated using this formula: 0.8 x weight in kg (easily converted using any online converter). For me, this comes to 52 g per day. Protein should be distributed between all meals to help sustain energy. In my case, breakfast and dinner were primarily carb based.
  • Sugar high: in total, I had over 90 g of sugar! The World Health Organization recommends that less than 10% of your daily energy consumption should come from sugar, with added health benefits coming from less than 5%, or approximately 25 g. My sugar total was almost 4 times that much! This is bad news for my blood sugar levels and weight management, never mind long-term health consequences.
  • Nutrition deficient: I had less than four servings of fruits and vegetables (banana, carrots, raisins, tomato sauce). This means I was getting an inadequate amount of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and losing out on the many other benefits of these healthy foods such as antioxidants and fiber. Furthermore, the servings I did have were primarily starchy vegetables or high glycemic fruits, which only added to my blood sugar concerns and weight gain.

Overall, I gained 20 pounds in a year and went up a dress size. I was also permanently fatigued. For anyone coping with chronic illness, sustained energy is a significant challenge. Balancing macronutrients – carbs, protein and fat – along with factors such as fiber and sugar, is important for preventing spikes in blood sugar that inevitably lead to energy crashes. According to the Mayo Clinic, based on a 2000 calorie/day diet, the total daily allowances should be:


Nutrient Percentage Grams
Carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, grains) 45-65% 225-325
Fiber   Female: 22-28; Male 28-34
Sugar   Female: 24g; Male: 36
Protein 10-35% 50-175
Fat 20-35% 44-78
Saturated Fat 7-10% 16-22

Maximizing micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) is also key healthy eating. Adequate intake of nutrients like Iron and B vitamins have been linked to improved energy levels, while others like Vitamin D and Magnesium help reduce chronic pain. In addition, chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia have been linked to high rates of oxidation, so eating antioxidants is important to counteract these effects.

The USDA recommends at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables per day for women and 3 cups for men, and 1 ½ cups of fruit per day for women and 2 cups for men. The USDA recommendations have been critiqued, which is another post altogether, but provide guidelines that are much healthier than the Standard American Diet

6 thoughts on “Convenience Isn’t Healthy: Chronic Illness and Diet

  1. sarcoidosissoldier says:

    A healthy diet is so important for anyone but when you are chronically ill, it makes such a huge difference to figure out your food triggers and make positive changes away from processed foods to whole foods. With my disease to much Vit D can lead to trouble…so it’s really important to do your research and figure out what diet is best for your given situation…it takes some effort but as your blog points out…it’s well worth it!

    • Katarina says:

      Absolutely! It’s a topic I’m really interested in and have personally benefited a lot from cutting out food intolerances and triggers too. Thank you for pointing out that not all recommendations are good for everybody, like vitamin D. I will be mindful of saying that if I blog about diet again.

  2. Heather says:

    Hi there, Just came upon your blog amidst my own health and nutrition research in the wake of a recent CFS diagnosis. Thanks for writing — it’s so helpful to read about other peoples’ experiences with chronic illness and their recovery. There’s a lot here for me to pore over, which I’m looking forward to doing.

    I had a comment on the Mayo Clinic’s nutritional guidelines: I’ve been doing a lot of reading on health and nutrition recently, and I thought I’d share an observation I’ve made. There are some prominent voices in recent years that indicate the mainstream American dietary recommendations are completely out of whack. In particular, the recommendations on carbohydrates are promoting obesity and all around ill health for those who follow them. I’d highly recommend reading Dr. David Perlmutter’s book _Grain Brain_ and _Wheat Belly_ by Dr. William Davis. I personally am following the recommendations of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of _GAPS/Gut and Psychology Syndrome_ to help address my impossible-to-manage food and chemical sensitivities and other issues through gut healing. There’s some divergence in their recommendations, but all of them encourage a radically different approach from the Standard American Diet and the dietary recommendations of health experts. Perlmutter recommends 10-20% of calories come from carbs:

    On my to-read list is also Nina Teicholz’s book _The Big Fat Surprise_, which also addresses the “healthy whole grain” recommendations that Davis and Perlmutter credit with the exponential rise in diabetes in the US.

    Anyway, in the end, everyone’s body is different, and I’m very happy for you if you’re finding your way toward recovery through diet and other means. But it might be worth reading some of these sources that challenge dietary guidelines like those you’ve listed above.

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