Pain is inevitable, but that doesn't mean we have to suffer. As much as possible, we try to avoid it. Better yet, reduce the feeling when it does strike us. How can we do that? Pamela Wirth interviews Pain Reduction Coach Fran Garton about how to live pain-free. In this episode, she dives deep into the 4-step pain reduction process, giving tips on inflammation, diet, stress, and mindset. Fran's passion is advocating for inclusive movement practices, body acceptance, stress reduction, and learning to love movement. Tune in to this conversation to learn how she does that, reducing pain in your life.
In this episode, I have Fran Garton and she is a Pain Reduction Coach. Fran, thank you for being here. There are so many other things that you do, so if you wouldn't mind expanding on that.
Thanks for having me. It's great to be here. I'm a Pain Reduction Coach. I am also a body-positive personal trainer and I am a Fibromyalgia warrior. I have lots of certifications and stuff like we all do. Those are the main things that I do.
That's pretty amazing. Tell me a little bit about where you spend a lot of focus, where you tend to start with folks, how you get to help them understand what the root of the problem is and where to go next, and how to help them in this journey.
There are a lot of things when it comes to pain. There are many things that cause pain. That's probably one of the starting points for people to be open and receptive to the idea that pain is not a physical sensation in the body. It's not the body telling the brain that we have pain. It's the brain telling the body that we have pain and that there are so many sources of pain. We often think about injury or we break a bone or something like that but there are so many other sources. That's one of the first things that we do. I work on a four-part system.
The first one is about triggers, identifying your triggers, and tracking things. Triggers can be anything from food, the people that you are around, emotions, what's your movement pattern on a daily basis, and how much you are moving. There are so many things that could be triggering your pain. The first step is to track it and listen to your body and be aware of what is happening and how your body's responding.
We then work on inflammation and reducing inflammation. Inflammation causes pain in the body. Knowing what causes the inflammation. Listen to your body, what's happening with the gut, and with your digestion. In the inflammation part, I focus a lot on food. There are foods that are very inflammatory, so gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and sugar. Those are the big five.
When I say that, people are like, “I can't eat anything.” I always guide people to give up sugar or reduce their sugar to 20 grams a day max and let's start with that. Sometimes when I say all those five food groups, people think, “I can't eat anything,” and they get overwhelmed. Let's look at the sugar and reduce the sugar that you have in your day. That will work to reduce a lot of the pain.
The third thing we look at is the mindset in the sense of one, as I mentioned before, being open to changes and shifting your perspective, and looking at things from a different way. Everything that we've been doing up until this point has gotten us to this point. Opening your minds to maybe there's a different way or there's a different way of looking at something or doing it might be helpful.
Also, the mindset piece of negativity. There are a lot of people that have a negative mindset. If you're sitting in a negative state, then that's where you're going to stay. That's what you're going to attract and you're not going to get out of it. It becomes this vicious circle. Focusing on what people want for the future, what they want to change, and their ability to do that.
It's not about dedication or commitment. It's about consistency and desire. That's what I have experienced myself and with my clients. That's what makes the difference. You can say you want to be pain-free every day. You can say that to yourself but until you take action until you're consistent with the changes that you're making, desire them, and commit to them, they're not going to happen. Mindset is a huge piece.
You can say you want to be pain-free, but until you take action and be consistent with the changes you're making, they will not happen.
The fourth thing that we work on is stress reduction because stress causes pain in the body. It's interesting because 9 out of 10 people that I work with, they'll say, “I don't have any stress. I don't feel stressed.” The thing is that they are in chronic stress but when we think about it at a level, let's say we're up here at stress. We always live at that point, so there's never any reduction in it.
It doesn't come and go like waves, highs and lows. We don't have highs and lows. We're just high. We're in stress mode all the time. It becomes our equilibrium. It becomes our status quo and we don't realize that we have stress because there's never a moment that we come down from it. Identify what the stressors are. How are we going to manage those and learn some tools and strategies for that? Those are the four main things that I work with when I work with my clients and things that I did myself to get under the pain cycle.
It sounds simple but there are lots of steps to it. Each one is inter interlaced and they overlap each other. The process though is that hopefully, each person will have one little thing that they'll go, “A-ha, that's the thing.” That's that moment that they hear it and they go, “I can do that. That seems like a simple solution. I can commit to that.” Little by little, they move forward in their journey.
What do you find is the timeframe that you typically work with folks before they start? It's hard to get a new habit in place and all these things require new habits and behaviors. How long do you touch base, nudge, and push?
If you're starting to work with me, I have a twelve-week program. That's how we do it. We hit those four things that I mentioned to you already in that twelve-week period. It depends on where you are on your journey. Are you starting out? Probably. You're not going to achieve all the things that you want in twelve weeks. It always depends on the person. This is a very difficult question and that’s the answer.
Where you are in your journey, how much you're putting into it, how committed you are to changing and committing to the process, and how open you are to it will determine what's going on. The people that are around you and how they're influencing you, that might make it quicker or longer for you. I've been with clients who in the twelve weeks have made massive changes on their own. They've learned some tools and they go on their own. They use those tools and keep implementing them. They come back to me and do another twelve weeks.
I also have clients that have been with me for a year because they've got a lot of stuff that they're working through. It depends on what it is that you are having to repattern because that's what we're doing. We're re-patterning the brain. We're re-patterning our movement, our food. We're healing our gut. There are a lot of pieces.
However, I have also had clients that have given up sugar. This is a good example and I like using this. They gave up sugar for one week and this is a very specific client I'm thinking of. She had bad arthritis in her hands and she couldn't move her hands without pain. In one week, she was able to make a fist and open and close her hands without massive pain. She still has pain but it wasn't like before. Before, she wasn't moving her hands at all. In a week, she committed. She was in 100%. She gave up all sugar of any kind. That was her commitment level. If you don't do that, then you might not get the same results. That doesn't mean that there won't be an impact.
Giving up sugar in our house was huge. When you say giving up sugar, do you mean giving up sugary things or anything that may metabolize the sugar in your body?
You got it, like bread, rice, noodles, potatoes, all those kinds of things. The other thing too is that I say to people when they're tracking and looking at things. If you're not going to give up sugar completely, I say, “That's fine. How about 20 grams a day of sugar?” Track that. Look at some of the things that you eat, especially if you eat things that are in a package, sauces, or salad dressings. White bread has two grams of sugar. Why? That's two grams. If I eat bread three times a day, that's six grams of sugar if I'm only having one slice. Peanut butter has sugar in it.
It's hard to find peanut butter and pasta sauce without sugar sometimes.
It is. Ideally, in a perfect world, give it up completely but if you're only having 20 grams a day, for many people, that's a huge departure from what they're normally eating. There will be a significant impact by changing those things.
There's been a lot of discussions even in our family around testing for food allergies. Do you find that you like some more than others? Whether it's the back scratch or the blood tests, do you find them helpful? There are a lot of contradictory results, even in our own family when we ran the blood test versus the scratch. There were different results that were wild. It's like, “Which one do you follow? Which one's real? Was it because of something you ate in the last so many days that triggers something else?” I find it hard to follow some of those tests unless it's consistently run and you get the same consistent result.
Testing is helpful. I'll use myself as an example. I had a friend. She said, “I think you have a gluten allergy.” I went and did the blood test for celiac and paid for that. I'm not celiac but I'm very sensitive to gluten. I've also had the scratch test. Nothing came out. Is that because my body changed? It's possible. The testing is great. It gives you some guidelines. It gives you some things that you can say, “Maybe I'm very allergic or reactive to XYZ. Let's take it out of my rotation of eating and see what happens.” The testing is great as a guide. If you don't know what to do, it's fantastic because then you have something written that you can look at.
The other thing I would say on the flip side as a compliment or even in the same waiting is, “What is happening with your body?” When you take things out, that's the key. To remove things, keep them out of the system for a little bit, then re-introduce them because then you can see what is happening. This is where it's interesting because some people will say, “I don't have any reaction to gluten. Have you ever not eaten it?” “No, because I'm fine.”
It takes four days for the average person to digest and eliminate gluten. That's if you have no allergy and you have nothing going on. The body takes that long to process it. If you have some bread, noodles, or whatever on Monday, that's not going to be out of your system until the end of the day on Thursday or Friday morning. That's almost the whole week. Tuesday, you also had a bagel.
You're compounding the amount of gluten that's in your body, so you never have it out of your system. How do you know that it's causing anything? The way you feel is normal. People say bloating is normal. Constipation is normal. It's not. You shouldn't be bloated. You shouldn't have constipation. If you do, something is happening. It could be food, poor sleep, hydration, an allergic reaction, or stress. There are a lot of things that could cause those symptoms and those things to happen in the body. You have to narrow it down.
Eliminating is the easiest way to identify whether it's affecting you. Testing is good but also looking at your body and listening to it. Sometimes people forget to do that. They're like, “I'm just always bloated.” You shouldn't be. There's a reason that you're bloated. What's going on in the stomach? What's going on in the intestines? What's happening here that you're bloated all the time because you shouldn’t be?
Let's talk about triggers and inflammation because, in my understanding, inflammation is the cause of all diseases. Getting rid of inflammation is nearly impossible but reducing it is certainly possible. We even went to the extent of removing the carpet from our house. It was one more thing that we could potentially control. Tell me a little bit about some of the things that you work with folks on in terms of identifying things in their environment or their diet that could be causing inflammation and how they can start to remove some of those.
When it comes to inflammation, I speak of it as a fibromyalgia person and someone who has osteoarthritis as well. Inflammation causes pain in the body. The more we can manage and reduce it, the more we can manage and reduce our pain. We look at food. Stress causes inflammation as well in the body. What are your stressors?
Inflammation causes pain in the body. The more we can manage and reduce it, the more we can manage and reduce our pain.
The activity I give my clients is to think about all the things that stress them out. Write them down. I want you to think about stress in two categories, internal stressors, and external stressors. There's lots of other research but I make it simple, internal, and external. Internal are the things you can control, your movements, your thoughts, your food, your mindset, your actions, or whatever.
External stressors are everybody else. This show is an external stressor. I'm not stressed to be here at all because I'm coming here to help share some information with your audience. I hope that it's helpful for them. I'm giving everything that I can to your audience and to you. In the end, the people that are your readers and your viewers will either like me or don't like me. They'll think it's a great episode or a horrible waste of time but I have no control over them and you.
All I can do is control what I give when I'm here. As far as stress, I don't have any stress to be on this show because I can't control the outcome of the viewers and readers. I can only control myself. Once you have your list, then you're going to go through it. You're going to write beside it an I if it's internal and an E if it's external. Many times, we think external stressors are internal stressors like my spouse or my children. COVID is a good example of something that's a stressor but I don't control that. All I can control are my actions.
Go through your list and label it internal or external. When you do that, you're going to cross off all the external stressors. Take them off the list, then you get to rewrite your list and you have an internal stressors list, which is going to be significantly smaller. I'm 100% confident of that but then you started with. Focus on reducing and making decisions about what you can control. I can't control my coworkers. I can't control my kids. I can guide them. I can give them some information to make the best choices possible but unfortunately, they're their own people. They're going to make their own choices.
I say it in a very simplistic way and I know it's not. When we can shift our perspective on looking at, “That's an external stressor, so why am I getting stressed about it?” I can't control the outcome. When you get that shift happening, then you can look at managing a little bit better. That, in turn, will reduce your inflammation because the cortisol is not being released all the time. You hopefully then will go into those highs and lows of your stressors. You'll go, “I am stressed,” because you have the moments where you're at the low end and you feel good.
When it spikes, you're like, “Okay.” That's what we need. We need to have that differentiation between the highs and lows, whether it's the stress or the inflammation or constipation or whatever we're talking about and measuring. You have to have the difference. Unless you have that, you can't really track it or measure it and make any changes.
Stress can largely be a lot bigger in folks that are used to controlling their environment. They like to operate at a very high level all the time and they're not used to not operating at a high level. Carving out quiet time for yourself or forcing yourself to have some downtime is pretty hard.
It is. I spent four months in bed with a migraine and vision loss due to stress from work because I was one of those people. I was a typical type A personality, controlled everything, stressed about everything that even things I knew I couldn't control, still worried about them, and tried to manage stuff. I ended up losing my vision and having a migraine for four months. I spent four months in bed because of it.
After that, I was like, “There is nothing in the world that is worth that.” It's not worth it because stress can cause so many problems in the body. When I work with clients, honestly, that's probably one of the biggest and hardest things we work on because as you said, you're used to controlling everything.
How in the world do you help people through? Is it meditation, writing it down, or forcing yourself to have no electronics, a walk, or nature? What is it that you can help drive people?
One, as I said, I'm making that internal-external list. That's one thing that we do for stress reduction. The other thing, I like meditation a lot. Most people are like, “I can't meditate because it's hard.” I used to think that as well. My goal is not to be an expert meditator. My goal is to carve out five minutes in my day when I can sit down and breathe.
I like guided meditation. If people are having trouble with meditating, I like to listen to something that guides me through it. Whether it's walking in the fort and I'm listening to someone walk me through a forest and what they see. If you're worried about not being able to meditate, it's not about stopping your brain. It's about focusing on something else. It's about letting those thoughts pass through and not holding on to those worrisome thoughts.
If you're worried about not being able to meditate, it's not about stopping your brain; it's about focusing on something else.
When the thought comes through, you say, “Thank you very much and I'll think about that later,” and let it move on by like a cloud. Breathwork is important. Honestly, if you sit and breathe and focus on your breath, even for one minute, it brings all of that heightened emotional state and feeling. It brings everything down. It lowers everything and gives you a little bit of a break.
That's something that we do as well. I have an It Would Be Nice list. We are surrounded in life by all the things we should do and we make these lists. I don't know if you're a list maker but many of us are list makers. You love the list. There are two things about the list. You get three things on your list every day. That's it. That's what I did.
I love sticky notes.
I love sticky notes too. This is the thing. This is the reasoning behind it, let me explain. All you list are three things. Let's imagine. I'm an entrepreneur. I have a big project that I'm working on. One of the things on my list is something, a small thing, not the project. It's one small thing that will move me forward in that big project. That's one of my things, and then I have two small things. It doesn't matter what they're. It's irrelevant.
When I get those three things done, I am free to do anything else that I want that's on my list. When I have a big long list and I've got ten items on it, at the end of the day, I've only done two things, I feel defeated. I have three things on my list and then I have my It Would Be Nice list. It's a different list. I did my three things. I'm like, “It's only 2:00. I got time. I can do other things.” I go to my It Would Be Nice list. “Are there things on here that I could do because I have time?” and then I can finish those and cross them off.
At the end of the day, I've done my three. I’m like, “I've done two things from It Would Be Nice,” and I can move on with the next day. It’s the same thing. Three things and I have my It Would Be Nice list. Let's be clear. It’s gigantic. It's a running list and there's always something on it but when I have time if I finish those three things, great. I can pick something else.
We sometimes put everything on the list. When it comes to the list, so this is my next tip. I have what's called the three Ds, Decide, Delegate, or Delete. That's what you're going to do with your to-do list. You're going to decide that you are going to do it. It's your responsibility and you're not giving it away to somebody else.
Number two, you're going to delegate. Ask your kids, “Bring the laundry basket to the laundry room.” Honestly, sometimes we don't get our family members involved and we feel that we have to take everything on. We can't do it forever. We're exhausted and eventually, you're going to be like, “I'm done. I'm out of the family. You guys figure it out. Mama's going away for a week and I don't care what happens.”
You're tired of doing everything and you can't do it, so delegate. Ask for help. Give it to someone else. My husband, bless his soul, does the grocery shopping. I hate grocery shopping. It's a waste of time. I know I have to eat but I don't want to grocery shop, so he does it. It's lovely because I don't have to worry about that. He has the list. We make the list together. We decide what we're going to eat together but he goes and does all of the shopping and then brings everything. I put it away. My job is to put it away. His job is to get the food. That is something that while he's doing that, then I'm free to do something else and I don't have to take that on, so delegate.
The third thing is to delete it completely. I have curtains in my studio. For the longest time, I had on my It Would Be Nice list to have the curtains hemmed. I'm like, “I'm going to hem the curtains.” I don't know when I'm even going to have time. Anyway, it stayed on my list for a very long time, then finally, I was like, “They don't have to be hemmed.” It doesn't have to be done. It would be lovely if it were done but I am not going to do it. I took it off my list. The interesting thing that happened is that I have a friend who is a sewer. She was here one day and came to the studio.
She goes, “Do you need your curtains hemmed?” I'm like, “I do.” She's like, “I can do that.” I said, “Fantastic. How about I trade you a session for doing my curtains?” She goes, “I'll take a coaching session.” She did all my curtains and I gave her a coaching session. Now it's not on any of my lists but that whole releasing it. Somebody came in because it was something that I wanted to be done but I didn't worry about it. When the time was right, I got them done. Things like that happen.
Some of the best advice I ever got was to think about your life and what stresses you out. For me, it was driving my kids around when they were younger. I said, “That stressed me out.” A friend of mine says, “Hire somebody else to do it.” I'm like, “No, the money.” She said, “Do the kids care that you're driving them around?” I said, “I don't know. I would think that they'd be upset if their mother weren’t with them driving them to their activity.” She said, “Do me a favor, hire somebody from Care.com for two weeks. Try it out.”
I never went back. It was the best thing ever. That means no more arguing, no more fighting the traffic, no more whatever. I would meet them at the activity, then I would take them home and we'd have dinner and it's all fine. It's funny how you get so caught up in what I should be doing that you don't think about, “Is that going to make me happy?” It doesn't make a difference.
It's so true. We use money or lack of money as an excuse for not doing things a lot of the time. “I can't afford that,” but have you looked at that? What is your time worth? That's the other thing too. When you're not sitting in traffic to take the kids, again, you're trading your time to be able to do something else while someone is taking your kids to the activity then you go afterward. Considering how much time that takes from traffic and driving then the activity itself, you could free up 1 hour, 1.5 hours, or sometimes 2 hours.
You can get a lot of stuff done in two hours when you don't have to be there, go through the traffic and sit while they're doing the whole activity because we want to be there for our kids. Do you have to be there every single time they're at the practice or whatever? You don't. They're busy doing their thing. They're happy when they see you at the end of the day, at the end of that activity, and mom or dad is there to pick them up. That's what they're happy about. They're like, “This is what happened.” That's what they want you there for.
You can sometimes be there but free up your time. Hire it out. Get a meal delivery service. Get a grocery delivery service. Grocery shopping takes up a lot of time. Laundry service, if you like. You don't have to do it all the time. It can be once a week or twice a week. It doesn't have to be all the time. There are ways. Sometimes we think about it as an all-or-nothing thing. It doesn't have to be all the time. It can be once a week and that gives you that little break from whatever that activity is.
Do you have any favorite supplements or recipes that you like to follow in terms of things that you think are great for anti-inflammatory and for the gut?
I'm big on like eating the rainbow. It’s important. Peppers are great. Berries are great. I can only speak from my experience. I am gluten-free. Gluten is unreal for me. It's bad, so I stay away from that. I stay away from dairy because dairy causes inflammation and lots of digestive issues for me. Supplements, I'm a big believer in magnesium. Everybody should be taking magnesium. We create magnesium but we also burn it off as the first thing when we feel stressed. If you're under any chronic stress, you need magnesium.
It's great to help with sleep as well. Vitamin D is great. The B-complex is good as well as Zinc. Those are my big supplements if you're going to take something. When it comes to recipes and things like that, I'm a put-everything-together-in-the-pot girl. If you have a slow cooker, an instapot, or even a sheet pan right in the oven, all the vegetables, all the meat, all the things go on one pan and you stick it in the oven.
You can make food flavorful with different spices. I don't have to make it super fancy to make it delicious. I think that the easier you can make it as far as ingredients and things. I have very simple ingredients. I don't have a lot of fancy sauces or anything like that because oftentimes, there's a lot of sugar that triggers my inflammation but I don't like it.
They're that bonus too. If you don't like something, then you don't have to worry about it. Sheet pan things, casseroles, and things like that are comfort food as well but you can put everything in them. I find too with things like that or stews or soups or things that you put lots, you can get your family to eat vegetables because it's in the thing. There's also other stuff in there, so they're not eating just broccoli. They're eating it with other spices and foods. It blends together a little bit better. It hides it is the best way to say it, then they'll eat it. They're more likely to eat it.
That's super. Any last words of advice for folks? How do they find out more about you, anything in terms of aging adults, children, or anybody in between?
If you want to find me, you can find me on Instagram. FranGartonPainCoach is where I am. You can check my website, FranGartonCoaching.com. I'm happy to chat with you about anything. There are a couple of things that I would say to people. Number one, it doesn't have to be perfect. It never has to be perfect. It should never be your goal to be perfect. I'm not perfect and that should never be the goal. The goal is to make tomorrow better than today, whatever that looks like for you.
Everybody's journey is different. Even though there are many components that are the same, we look at the same things the way that we work together or the way that we move forward will be different for me than it is for you because we are in our own individual situations. Don't compare yourself to everybody else because you might be comparing yourself to someone who's been on a journey for five years.
They are way farther ahead of you because they've been doing it for five years. Think about yourself and how you can make your life better. The one question that I would ask people to ask themselves is, “If nothing changes in your life from how it is now, are you happy? Is that enough for you?” If the answer is no, then there needs to be something that changes. Pick one thing now, a small thing, and make that your consistent change for the next month.
I love that. Thank you, Fran.
Thank you so much for being with us. We truly appreciate you.