Ok, I’ve been on the supplements and diet from the naturopath for a few weeks now. Let’s review.
Every week for the last three weeks I’ve increased my number of work hours and I am nearly at full time levels! And for the last two weeks I’ve spent 3 days actually in an office. This is really exciting! I no longer have to choose between going out and working, I can comfortably leave the house and work! Consistently!
On the other hand, I have been doing a lot of sleeping. On Tuesday I lay down on the couch at 7.30, was barely awake an hour later when Will shifted me to the bed, and next thing I knew it was 6 o’clock the next morning! I had no idea I was that tired! Every night since I have been falling asleep at 9 and have been sleeping very deeply. It’s strange, I’ve never needed this much sleep before! I am actually really enjoying it though. CFS makes you feel just constantly under the weather, but now there is finally two distinct parts of my day: awake and asleep - no crossover between the two! I love it!
So basically, things are going well. Although I’m still trying to make sure that I keep a good balance between work and rest, so recipes on here are coming in bursts. I added six or so a couple of weeks ago and I’ll probably do the same next weekend. I don’t quite have the energy to plan for new recipes during the week, it’s a lot easier to plan the recipes and food shopping on a Friday, cook and photograph on Saturday, and add them on a Sunday. That way I can just focus on rest at the end of the work day, and work on Hayley’s Health Foods at a leisurely pace on my spare weekends.
In terms of actual activity levels - they are on the rise! On the weekends and work from home days I try to start the day with a short walk. The naturopath thinks that I’ll be back to running in a few months, but I think it will be a longer journey than that. I was actually half way through sorting out knee injuries and I can’t run again until I’ve done that. Fixing that involves starting up physio sessions and regular workouts. I am not ready for that yet, but I have, rather optimistically, started paying attention to what gyms and other facilities are near us. I’ll give it a couple months before I start seriously looking into that though.
Everyday life here is great. I’ve started making friends, both in and out of the tech community. Also I’ve learned that basically everyone here has a dog. I don’t know what it is about Perth, but people just love their dogs here. It explains a lot about Will to be honest, when we first got together I just knew that he was going to want a dog one day. We will be getting at least one eventually, probably not while we are in a small apartment as we think that’s a bit unfair to the dog. In the meantime we visit Izzy and Archie (his parents dogs) very regularly, in fact we are going there tonight and even got them a fancy dinner, and sometimes I get them little dog coats!
I’ve also been shopping lately (my mum will read this and be appalled, she already thinks I have too many clothes). Honestly it’s done wonders for my mental health (probably an expensive lesson to reinforce however). When I was sick just getting dressed was an achievement, and no thought or effort went into the outfit, the goal was just for it to be not PJs. So now that I am feeling a lot better I like to be able to think about what clothes to wear each day. Also since I dropped like two dress sizes in the last year I culled a lot of my clothes when I moved to Perth. But that meant that suddenly didn’t have as many options anymore. It was bothering me so much for a good two months that eventually I suddenly went out to the outlet mall (which is dangerously close to our apartment) and replenished my wardrobe. I honestly did not realise how much it was weighing on my mind until I got home with 4 shopping bags and it’s like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Now, in the morning instead of having a panic because there are too few options, I have a panic because there are too many :P It’s a fun problem and I feel so much better for it. I’m sure I sound crazy, but hey, we all have our own things that make us a little bit weird!
Every time I sit down to write these posts I look at the last one again, and it makes me realise just how much can happen in such a short period of time. To me it seems like my life is wildly different every time I write a new post. Hopefully things will settle down soon, being in a routine for the last two weeks has certainly felt good but who knows what the next two weeks will bring. In the meantime I’ll get on to photographing and adding the next couple of recipes….smoothie bowl anyone?
I mentioned in my last post that I was going to see a naturopath, but as per usual, it’s been a busy time, so 3 weeks post that appointment I finally have a moment to write about it.
I went into the naturopath’s office feeling hesitant. There was a strong sense of optimism coming from Will, but to be honest I am just too tired to carry that weight around these days, I am a bit more of a realist, and I wanted to go in with healthy skepticism. The appointment was really tough, mostly just from the point of view that I am tired of “telling my story” (she says as she willingly continues to write about it in her blog posts, yes, I see the irony). I explained how I got sick, that I stayed sick until I saw the herbalist, and that things have kind of stalled since then.
He then ran a series of tests, which included the standard taking my measurements (weight, height, etc) and then also measuring my… I don’t know what to call it, hydration levels? I told him “oh they are probably going to be low, I haven’t had much water today and I feel quite thirsty” and he confidently replied “oh you’d be surprised.” Wrong, we both were. “You would be classed as clinically dehydrated right now.” I knew I was thirsty, but not that thirsty. I was completely confused and said that I drink loads of water most days, but he said that to get to this level of dehydration this would have been compounding for quite some time. He explained that it seemed that although I was drinking lots of water, my cells aren’t actually using it, it’s just sitting there between them. So that was an interesting discovery.
Next we talked about my diet, I proudly exclaimed that I eat a nutritious diet, he then put me in my place and said that I do eat plenty of vegetables, but I am not getting enough whole grains. To be honest, I should have seen this coming. For the last couple of months it’s just felt like nothing has sat well in my stomach aside from my standard chicken and vegetables, so that’s what I’ve been sticking too. I would eat whole grains occasionally, but I certainly wouldn’t call it balanced. Honestly I was just so tired of manipulating my diet that I just wanted to keep things stable for a while. But now that I was in a naturopaths office, it was time to manipulate again on his advice.
I left the office with instructions to order two different supplements. One was a highly concentrated turmeric tablet, the other was some probiotics. His theory is that I am not getting enough fibre, and so I may have successfully cultivated some excellent gut bacteria with my dietary changes last year, but I failed to feed that bacteria sufficiently, and as a result it’s not working so optimally for me. The probiotics and instructions to eat more legumes, beans, rice, grainy crackers, etc would help this. The concentrated turmeric tablet was to help my energy (after all, I was there for CFS) and also to help my mood (this is a whole story in itself, it’s no secret that I suffer from anxiety and depression from time to time, but the latest development has been a short temper, Will would probably happily tell you that it seems to have subsided even since started these turmeric pills).
Now, before I even started on the supplements, something happened. Let me remind you that last year I had vertigo for a couple of months. In that time, I didn’t throw up once (round of applause, please). That even includes the most turbulent flight of my life, with vertigo. In fact I haven’t thrown up since I was like 8 years old. But here I was three days after the naturopath, before I had even started the new diet or supplements, and I suddenly had the worst stomach pain of my life to the point where I threw up, even with my seriously strong stomach. I knew my stomach had felt off for the last couple months, and here was my evidence. I actually went to a doctor about it, but comprehensive blood tests and two ultrasounds revealed absolutely nothing of concern. Fast forward three weeks and I think I still have the same discomfort in my stomach that I’d had for the previous two months, but I am just more aware of it now. I thought maybe the new diet would help, it seems to be making no difference.
However, I think the turmeric pills are helping my energy levels. I do think I am having more good days than not, but I can’t celebrate it because I am just so distracted by whatever is going on in my stomach. The doctor asked if I wanted to be referred to a specialist, but I am just so tired of all the different health professionals in my life that I couldn’t take another one right now. Instead I am going back to the naturopath and am going to see if this can be tackled with diet. Honestly, I am convinced that I am intolerant to some food that I just can’t put my finger on so hopefully he can help me work out what it is.
For now, I’ll just add this stomach issue as another item on my ever growing list of health issues. I still think that I will get better, I do. I think that my energy is on the rise after starting these tablets, so much so that I’ll actually be working nearly full time starting next week (that’s a bit scary putting that in writing!!), but I wish I could recognise that for the achievement that it is without this other issue getting in the way.
Hopefully I can check in soon with some more news, sorry if this one was another downer. On the bright side I am already feeling so settled in Perth. I’ve got friends here, favourite cafes to work in, an apartment that is feeling more and more homely each day, Will’s family has the cutest dogs ever who I visit regularly, and I’ve even started adding recipes here again.
Keep sending in the feedback, I love receiving it and knowing that people actually read this!
Now that we are FINALLY totally settled in our apartment, I spent the last couple of week seriously looking for a job (you can check out my portfolio here if you are interested in what I do). As a software developer, I’m pretty lucky in that I can look for contract work. There are plenty of jobs in software at the moment so you don’t have to look too far, as long as you are willing to put the effort in.
Career opportunities will appear through luck throughout your life, but if you want to make them pop up more frequently, then you have got to network. Since I am new to Perth, I really wanted to meet people, not only to find friends, but also to build a professional network. My strategy has been to go to Meetups. I have been to A LOT of them lately. This has been pretty tough in itself, for every 2 I went to I think I had to skip another. They can sometimes take a lot out of me (just because I am an introvert, never mind the CFS) and I obviously have to ration my energy. But it has been so much fun. I have met some awesome people, and as a result, I have been to meetings over coffee nearly every day for the last 2 weeks looking for job opportunities. As a result, I already have work lined up for the next little while, and I am pretty excited about it! Time to learn some new skills and work with new people!
I am still working part time for my old workplace back in NZ, but starting this week I am working another part time job. This is entirely on purpose and is hopefully what I am going to be doing for the rest of the year. There are a few reasons for this arrangement, and it all comes back to this damn illness of mine.
I just do not feel comfortable to get a permanent full time job. I just don’t. I am scared that it will be too much for me and after three months I would have worked myself into the ground, or more realistically, into bed. I’m scared of working too hard given my illness and ending up just as sick as I was last year. By doing part time short term contracts instead, if or when I feel that it is getting too much, I can simply insert a break between contracts. This is the ideal scenario of course, let’s see how this really turns out….
I keep bouncing around as to whether I am happy with this or not. I think the answer is yes. I am a very ambitious kind of person, so it does feel a bit weird not looking for the perfect permanent full time role with the intention of climbing up the ladder. But in saying that, I am really excited for the opportunities that await in terms of just developing my skills. Who knows what could happen, but I could end up working with 6 different teams on 6 entirely different projects this year, what a cool experience to learn different things and with different people! Or maybe I’ll find that I’m doing really well and I feel ready to get a more permanent position.
Regardless, I think I see a few more interviews over coffee in my future. In tech (and most industries I imagine), it is a lot easier to find a full time contract rather than part time, so already my options are limited. But on top of this I am super picky about the culture of the team and workplace that I am applying for. I believe in transparency (and also I’ve kind of forced my own hand by having this blog... ) which means that I announce up front that I have an unpredictable illness and an employer needs to be ok with this. The tech industry is pretty progressive so I am yet to come across anyone who considers this an issue, but still, it’s not fun having to tell someone who’s contemplating hiring you that you’ve been really sick before and they need to be aware that some days you just won’t be able to leave the house to come to the office. So far, I don’t think this has been an issue, and in fact I know it’s not at all for the work that I have lined up. But it is obviously something I wish I didn’t have to worry about.
I’m pretty nervous about working close to full time again, with my two part time jobs. But I’ve done everything I can to put myself in a pretty flexible position in terms of the amount of hours I need to work and where I need to do them.
I guess seeing as this is a recipe site I should probably talk about food for a moment… I’m doing my gut health program, again (this is the third time now I think?). There were a few false starts but I’m properly back into it and going really well. I absolutely feel better for it, but I really miss nuts and grains - I get them back in a couple weeks! I am also going to a naturopath in a few days. Will has a couple of family members who swear by him so I am going to see if he can offer any further wisdom. I am still sooooo much better than I was before I saw the herbalist way back in November, which I blogged about here. In fact I even did sweat therapy again a couple weeks ago as a bit of a reboot. It was someone even more terrible than I remember, and I was a zombie the next day, but after that I really did feel a whole lot better again. But still, I don’t quite live a normal life again yet and I am still living in hope that I’ll be able to run a half marathon one day, so hopefully the naturopath visit is useful, watch this space!
This time I am writing from Will and I’s apartment - our own place! (Well, we rent it, but still, first place where it’s just him and I!). I love it, we’re close to transport, we’re close to shops, we’re close to cafes… You get the picture, we’re in a very convenient location. The part I love the most is being so close to the CBD. I grew up in a rural area, it was just a 10 minute drive from Palmerston North, but on a 100km/hr road - so it would take more than an hour to walk and you definitely would not want to walk on that road… I always felt very isolated and at the mercy of my parents schedules, and as a result I never wanted to live rurally again. I want to live in the heart of a city with public transport all around me, so basically, here I am living the dream :P
Moving in was really tough. Turns out when you lie in bed for most of a year and actively avoid spending energy you lose a lot of muscle, i.e. strength. Fortunately, Will’s friend helped us move, which meant I didn’t have to struggle with moving furniture up stairs, but maybe I owe someone dinner and a box of beers… It was pretty overwhelming unpacking everything and getting settled. There was a lot to sort out, and we still don’t have internet (how did people used to live like this?!) but it is so nice finally having a place that feels like it could be home for some time (again, jury is still out, not sure how I will survive a 40 degree week next summer).
Meanwhile I’ve finally started meeting people (shout out to www.meetup.com - a great resource if you are new somewhere or just want to meet cool people!). And I’ve been working on growing my professional network too. Like I said in my last post, I’m hoping to do some freelancing work, but it’s a pretty challenging task starting to work for yourself when you don’t even know anyone in your city (again, shameless plug, get in touch if you want a website made: www.hayleyavw.com) But I’m seeing it as a good thing, it’s forcing me to put myself out there and meet people! I used to go to conferences and meetups with the Software Developer community all the time, so it’s nice to get involved with it again.
It’s pretty scary starting a new life in a new city. Will is happy to be home again, but I still have plenty of life admin things to do (I have been putting off going to the licencing centre….) and work to find. Overall I think this change is really good for me, it’s a chance to start fresh and work out what systems what best for me in terms of managing my energy. Lessons have most definitely been learned, despite feeling like I want to spend all day everyday looking for work, I know that I need to rest regularly otherwise I will burn out before I’ve even done anything!
So what about Hayley’s Health Foods you may be wondering? Don’t worry, I’m going to be getting back into my cooking very soon! In fact, I’ve just acquired 30 recipe magazines and 10 recipe books for inspiration! And they are currently sprawled across the table so there is no way I can forget about them! I need to feel totally settled before I can really get back into writing recipes, and I think that will still be another week away, but I am starting to feel that itch - particularly as I want to properly test out our new kitchen!
That’s all for now, it’s currently only 7pm but to me it feels like midnight. I wish I could blame it on the jet lag but that excuse is a good 6 weeks old now! Regardless, time for bed!
Sorry for the radio silence lately, it’s been a very busy time. I am currently writing this from Will’s parent’s place, in Perth. We moved here 3 weeks ago, after doing a 2 week road trip around the North Island of New Zealand. It has been busy.
Our road trip was awesome. I really wanted to enjoy New Zealand one last time, and I wanted Will to see it, before we moved to Perth. So we did a whirlwind tour of the North Island. It was madness. We were away for 16 days and these are the places we stayed: Picton, Wellington, Palmerston North, Havelock North, Taupo, Hamilton, Coromandel, Auckland, Whangarei, Kaitaia, New Plymouth…. And obviously there were stops at many of the towns in between.
I love New Zealand, I really do, so to me it felt like the perfect way to say goodbye, particularly as I saw so many friends and family along the way. The best part was seeing Cape Reinga and Spirit’s Bay, the tippy top of the North Island. At Cape Reinga you can see the two seas meet (Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea). It’s wild, windy, untouched and beautiful. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a spiritual person, but I do appreciate connecting with nature and this sure was the place to be for this. Even the drive there was incredible, we pulled over at one point and in a 360 degree turn we saw the ocean, plains, forest, sand dunes, lakes and red dirt. It was truly magical, that is the only way to describe it. If you are every lucky enough to get a chance to drive to Cape Reinga, you should definitely do it, I don’t think you will be disappointed.
Immediately after our holiday we were flying to Perth, where Will has lived his whole life. I’ve lived in many different places since moving out of home, but everywhere I’ve been has always been temporary, this was the first time I was moving away to somewhere that could be my new permanent home (the jury is still out, waiting to see how I handle a week of over 40 degree days next summer!). On top of this is the fact that moving house is never easy, never mind trying to move overseas. For the Kiwis and Australians reading this thinking “it’s not a big deal, it’s just across the ditch” I invite you to sit on the 7.5 hour flight between Perth and NZ and then you’ll see why the airlines consider it long haul!
Since we were flying out immediately after our road trip it meant that we had to be packed before the holiday, and I decided that rather than shipping all our stuff over to Perth we decided to start fresh (ok, well not entirely, we did bring 5 large suitcases…), this was not the easiest of the two options. Since I’ve been a student for a while all my stuff has been hand me downs (possibly several times over) so I just did not feel enthused to bring it all with me, instead I wanted to finally pick the contents of my house myself. Fortunately, Will couldn’t care less and has given me total control of all furnishings (hurrah!). However, have you ever tried getting rid of a house load of stuff all at once? It is not easy. We left our flat at the end of January, but I started selling and throwing out stuff way back in October. That sounds unnecessary but I assure you it paid off.
For now we are living with Will’s family but we move into our own apartment next weekend (hype hype hype!). It’s been busy, furnishing a whole new place is a big task, particularly as I am cursed with always wanting to feel prepared, which means I want everything ready before we move in. And I mean EVERYTHING, I literally have a bottle of orange-infused vinegar (excellent non-toxic cleaner) brewing ready to clean the place the day we move in (if necessary). But this level of preparedness comes at the cost of requiring a lot of energy, as does living in an unfamiliar environment, moving countries, going on holiday, saying goodbye to friends and family, and packing up your whole life.
I think you can see where I am going with this: earlier this week I utterly and completely crashed. No energy left. I had been living on adrenaline for a long time and the moment I took a deep breath and thought “I’m settled again” I felt like I was hit by a bus and spent a whole day in bed, and then another day, and another and another. I hit the ground running, wanted to get all the life admin sorted. On top of all of this I decided that I wanted to start working as a freelance software developer rather than having fixed hours at my usual job (which I am still doing part time). There were various reasons for this decision, that I am too tired to go into now, but basically I felt it would be a good way to work given that sometimes I randomly need to take a week off work to rest - tough to do that when you are on a fixed term contract! This is the best option for me but it means that my income is minimal while I get started, and that would add a layer of stress for anyone. (So shameless self plug: I’m looking for work! Check out my portfolio at: www.hayleyavw.com)
Life with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is difficult. It is challenging, it is frustrating and quite frankly, at times it is depressing. I am not the same person that I used to be, I used to thrive in these busy times and now I just find myself missing the excitement of it all as that’s now been replaced with fear of burning out. I am looking forward to moving into our own place next week, then I can hopefully properly feel settled and like I have a permanent home. I’m expecting to sleep for a week and then restart my gut health program and ease into my new life here in Perth. I truly do believe that I can beat this illness, or at least get to a stage where it’s not so present anymore. I like to think that one day I’ll be able to run 10km events again, but baby steps.
If I could give you just one tiny piece of advice based on my experiences from the last two months of my life, it would be: go on holiday in your own country just before you move. Just before I sat down to write this I thought the advice I was going to give was going to be the opposite: definitely do not go on holiday just before you move to countries, but honestly, it was the perfect way to say goodbye to New Zealand, the country I so fondly call home and am so proud to come from.
I don’t think there will be much action on Hayley’s Health Foods for the next couple weeks while I adjust to our new home (i.e. hibernate for a few days!), but then new recipes will hopefully start coming again - especially since I’ll be redoing the program - I need some new recipes to keep it interesting! In the meantime I love the feedback and support I get from some of you, keep it coming :)
I obviously eat of a lot of meat and vegetables, with some fruit sprinkled here and there. Lately I’ve been wondering, how big is the range fruit and vegetables that I eat though? Am I eating the same thing everyday, or am I getting a good varied diet. I decided to track my meals for a week to see just how varied my diet really is….
I’m doing really well! Over the week I bought one smoothie and went out for three other meals, so I’ve excluded those from the results. The graph below shows the number of fruit and vege I ate each day, with the lighter, thinner lines show the number of those fruit and vege that were unique for that day.
As you can see from the graph, I did pretty well! Thursday was a particularly good day, I’ll thank the nachos for that! The blue lines show that on just about every day I ate entirely unique types of fruit, that means that I’m not doubling up on anything, so I am getting a bit of variety in. The vegetables did have a bit more doubling up, but I also ate more of them, so I’d still consider that a win.
Over the course of the week I ate 51 fruit or vegetables, and of that, 24 were unique, that’s about 3.5 different fruit/vege a day, I’d say I’m doing pretty well, but I think there is room for improvement.
I also kept track of how much this all cost, and I’ve compiled it into the graph below.
As you can see, it is far more economical to eat homemade meals rather than going out, but that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. What was a surprise was that I spent about $150 in food, and half of that was spent eating out — woah! To be fair, I went out far more than I would usually in this week, so that’s not helping the stats too much!
I worked out that the average cost of my homemade meals to be $3.93, at this price it would cost $82.53 to eat per week, once you’ve included snacks and the basics (herbs and spices, oil, etc) we can probably round that up to $90. Admittedly, this is a bit more than I would have guessed, but I still prefer this way of eating by far. Eating junk food (food loaded with excess sugar, salt, preservatives) does nothing good for your insides, and in fact it genuinely makes me sick. There is a noticeable difference in my energy levels and brain fog if I stray from good clean eating too many meals in a row, so if I have to add a few extra dollars to my food each week in order to maintain good health, then so be it. I think that is the true cost of food, and the tinned, plastic wrapped and/or lab created junk is not fit for humans, it might be cheaper, but it’s harming your quality of life and how long you might live.
At the moment I am not eating too many nuts, seeds and grains, and these are all excellent sources of vitamins and minerals, which I am currently replacing with vegetables and multivitamin supplements. Once I properly re-introduce these foods to my diet I wonder how these stats will change….might have to do another food diary in a couple months time!
I hope you found this interesting, it certainly was from my point of view and I am interested to see how these results compare to another food diary later in the year. Particularly as food in New Zealand seems quite expensive (I guess because a lot of it has to travel further to get to us). I am moving to Australia next month (!!!) so I am keen to see how the price of food compares, as well as what foods are available since obviously seasonal fruit and vege vary from place to place.
Only a short blog this week, I have suitcases to pack!
There was a lot of interest in my last blog/vlog (which you can catch up on here) about prepping for repeating the gut health program, so I thought that I might do a follow up. All cards on the table, I actually filmed this a good month ago, but have had to take some time off to rest - but I’ve finally got to it now! You can check the vlog below:
Just a reminder, there are three parts to this gut health program: detox, rest, maintain, and this is my second time going through it. The detox stage is basically just cutting out processed foods, since I already don’t tend to eat processed foods, this wasn’t much of a shock to the system. The vlog above shows a day on stage two, which is the toughest part of the program, this is when you live by a very strict food list and rules about what to eat when. The final stage is called maintenance because the goal is to teach you how to eat for the rest of your life, which I know sounds a bit daunting, but I can put you in touch with thousands of people who will tell they felt so good once they finished the program that there was no way they were ever going back - I am certainly one of them!
Anyway, back to stage two. The vlog shows you the vast array of supplements I choose to take, along with some example meals. What it doesn’t show you is why I do it. A lot of people do this program to lose weight, but for me that’s just a fun side effect (especially given how easy it is to put the weight on when you’re stuck in bed most of the time!), I did this to clear my brain fog. The first time round it only took 5 days, and it was a dramatic improvement. This time round I was already coming into it from a much better place, so the change wasn’t so obvious. In the couple of weeks before I started it again though I really noticed my short term memory starting to fade again, along with falling into a bit of a state of confusion when trying to organise things (e.g. just packing my bag in the morning was becoming a struggle). After just a few days into round 2 of the program these symptoms were gone.
At the moment it is a bit of a mystery as to what is actually happening in my body to cause this illness. But what I can tell you, is that everything has a much more exaggerated effect than it used to. Usually I say that in the context of too much noise, or walking for longer than 10 minutes at a time, but this rule also seems to apply to food, specifically, gluten, even a tiny bit of it. This program is completely gluten free, and if I hadn’t of done it, I wouldn’t have known that my body doesn’t like gluten! Generally the only way to find out if you have an intolerance is to avoid that food for 6 weeks or so, and then try eating it and seeing what happens. That’s effectively what I’ve done (twice now) and sure enough, gluten is out. I have no idea how long I have had this intolerance for, and I can’t believe I didn’t find it until now! Sadly, I love Italian food, and that’s not exactly a gluten-free friendly cuisine (pizza and pasta, gluten and more gluten), but I’m happy to give up pasta if it means I feel better, which I do!
Fortunately, I seem to be just as sensitive to the food that is good for me! I follow the same basic pattern everyday: chicken for breakfast, fruit for a snack, protein and veggies for lunch, fruit for a snack, protein and veggies for dinner. If I follow that pattern everyday, the brain fog stays away. But it doesn’t necessarily give me enough energy, especially if the gap between snacks/meals is longer than expected. That is where Low GI foods come in. GI is a measure of how quickly carbohydrates are digested. Low GI foods are digested slowly, which means they slowly release glucose (a type of sugar) into the bloodstream. I find that if I regularly incorporate wow GI foods into my diet, my energy levels are noticeably higher, and if I don’t get enough low GI foods in multiple days in a row, I’ll have a couple of very low energy days. Fascinating, isn’t it?? It’s things like this that I never would have picked up on if it wasn’t for this gut health program.
Obviously everyone works a little differently and everyone has a different experience with this program, but I think my experience demonstrates just how much of an influence the state of our gut microbiome (the bacteria living in our gut) has on our overall level of health. This is still a new field of study and there is plenty of studies being done, and plenty more to do, because there is just so much we don’t know about the gut. But personally, I just don’t think you can do as much harm by caring about the foods you consume compared to eating whatever looks good and is easily available. Sure, deep fried foods can smell enticing and ice cream is refreshing on a hot day, but those foods are not going to do you any favours on the inside.
Let me just warn you that this blog post is not a happy one, it’s a snippet of what it is like to live with a chronic illness.
The main reason I made this website was because I wanted to have a place for my healthy recipes. As I was putting together this website though I realised that it is a great opportunity to raise awareness of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS for short. I obviously live in a bubble where CFS is my life, so I truly have no idea if you, my lovely reader, are sick of hearing about it or still feel like you don’t quite understand what it is. Honestly, if you are sick of it, tough, go read the blog of someone who has energy to travel the world, renovate their house, train their dog, or just generally spend their abundant supplies of energy.
I’ll give a shout out to my sister here who so bitterly said “you go on about CFS all the time.” I see my sister about 3 times a year, so yes, in that time she is likely to hear about the biggest thing happening in my life, which is unfortunately an illness that is still new to me.
Christmas was not so enjoyable for me this year, that’s sad for me to say because I am generally someone who LOVES a good commercial Christmas. I usually describe it like if you entered my house in December, you would immediately be hit in the face by Christmas, probably in the form of tinsel with cheesy carols in the background. This year we had one decoration, an advent calendar sent to us from Will’s family. This was largely because we are moving to Perth in February, so now is not the time to purchase far too many decorations, but also because I simply don’t have any energy to spare to put into making it a festive season.
We travelled to my parent’s place on December 23rd to spend a week with my family, and this is roughly where things started to go wrong for me. Right from the get go we had a problem: my intense anxiety around flying. I have been on more flights than I can count in the last 5 years, and used to thoroughly enjoy the experience. But way back in March/April 2018, when I had vertigo, I went on my most turbulent flight yet, by quite a margin. Needless to say it was not an enjoyable experience, and ever since then I have had severe anxiety about flying, to the point where I can’t do it without medication. The medication I use makes me sleepy, which works in my favour while we are in the air, but to then have it immediately be followed by somewhere where I have no routine and am surrounded in completely different people, smells and sounds was overwhelming.
Fast forward to Christmas day and there were 19 people in the house. People started arriving at 12.30pm and I had my first of 3 power naps at 1.15pm. I was exhausted.
A couple of days after Christmas is when the weather finally cleared up. My luck had turned! After it raining so hard on Christmas that there was minor flooding in the paddocks, I might actually be able to go out for walks in the sun as planned - something I desperately needed to do because you would not believe how pale I was, seriously, I did not need a blood test to know that I was Vitamin D deficient. But here’s the thing. I get serious hay fever in rural Manawatu, where my parent’s house is. When it is rainy and sad, plants don’t release as much pollen. But, when it is rainy with a thunderstorm and high humidity, the plants release all the pollen like a lovely little firework of sniffly nostrils and itchy eyes. So the thunderstorm of Christmas came to an end and the sun came out, and these two factors resulted in several days of terrible hayfever for me. That meant I had to start taking my antihistamines again, something I was super happy to be rid of just a couple months earlier thanks to the herbalist. So even though it was completely unrelated to my CFS (I think), it still felt like a step backwards to have to use them again.
Over the week I visited some family, did some baking for this site, did some shopping, went for some short walks, but I was running on nothing. My energy reserves were gone by day 2. There was basically just a week of running on adrenaline. A healthy human cannot sustain this, an unhealthy human is crippled by this.
So when I got home I was shattered, I felt like I was right back at day 1 of being diagnosed. When you are tired it is hard to make the right decisions. It’s had to sit upright at a desk with screens instead of in bed with your laptop, it is hard to pick that green apple over that dark chocolate, it is hard to go to bed at 10.30pm like always instead of 1am because your computer game is just getting good, it is hard to go and sit in the sun because then you should get changed out of your PJs. The whole time you are making decisions like this you feel like crap because you know that they aren’t helping you physically, but sometimes you need to nurture your soul instead and hope that you can come out of it sometime soon.
Everything went wrong. Today was my first day that I felt semi-ok since before Christmas, some 2 weeks ago. But the damage is much greater than 2 weeks. I am out of my routine, I was in a good place now I am in a bad place. I cancelled my contract with work early in order to take this month off. Something I was devastated to do, but had no choice because with everyday I spend overexerting myself now, the bigger the crash will be. My back is sore everyday because my body's too fatigued to support a good posture. My knees are aching because I had an injury that I was only half way through recovering from before I fell ill.
This is my life now. This is what people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome go through every single day. This is why we are known as the #MillionsMissing. Because the only way to recover is to completely withdraw ourselves from society in order to rest. If you know someone with CFS go round to their house with a pre-made meal and ask them how they are doing, and more importantly, what can you do for them, do some laundry, clean some dishes and/or vacuum their house. Chances are Christmas and New Years was a tough time for them and they need some help. But more than anything, they need to know you are thinking of them and are still there for them.
A few months ago I did a gut health program, with great success. I had severe brain fog when I started, but after 5 days it was gone. So, surprise surprise, the change in my diet had a massive improvement on my physical health. I think that this is something everyone knows, but sometimes is pushed down pretty deep because cake just tastes so good. I completely understand, because after all, cake is delicious. That’s probably why so often it takes a health crises before you realise that you have to make a change. For me it was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, an illness so mysterious that there is no prognosis that can be given to you, but anecdotal evidence has taught me that the prognosis is not good. That’s why I decided to give the gut health program a go, modern medicine couldn’t help me so maybe good old fashioned eating well could.
I’ve talked about this extensively already in previous blog posts, so let’s fast forward. About 4 months after completing the gut health program I decided to repeat. There were several reasons for this. When I finished the program I went through a phase of testing out different foods, nuts and seeds were fine, dairy (aside from milk) was fine, but gluten wasn’t fine. But I was stubborn, was pretending it was ok, but it really wasn’t. Gluten was upsetting my body and it took me far too many attempts at eating it before I finally admitted it. So just like that, after all that hard work to repair my gut, I felt like I had done some serious damage all over again. After cutting out gluten I was still making less than ideal decisions and as a result the quality of my diet had slipped. I had got a bit lazy and as a result wasn’t sticking to the recommended food as I knew I should. I still felt like my body was better off since the program, but it was not functioning nearly as well as I would have liked it to be. The tipping point was my memory. Eventually I found myself saying “sorry, remind me what I was meant to do again, my memory is no good”. Having a terrible short term memory is one of the most frustrating things to live with. You know when you walk into a room to pick something up but then when you get there you’ve completely forgotten what you came in for? That’s what my memory was like, but for every single task I was doing.
So, I ordered a fresh lot of supplements and made a couple of trips to the health foods store. This time my partner actually decided he was going to do the program with me. He is perfectly healthy (as far as we know…) but has been listening to me going on about how important it is to look after your insides for a long time. Although, the tipping point for him was actually a short documentary. I was watching something on the TV about what happens to your body after eating wheat, and how the effects accumulate over time (the short version is: less than ideal things, you can research that in your own time), and when the show ended he turned to me and said “I don’t want to eat wheat anymore.” Honestly, at first I was just mad “I’ve been talking about the importance of eating nutritiously for how many months now?! And it was a TV PROGRAM that turned you???!!?!?!?!” But that anger quickly passed and turned into excitement, and before he could say no he was starting the gut health program :D
A few days in the program and Will was hungry and in all kinds of confusion as he learned to listen to his body, which was complaining about the sudden lack of Weetbix, bread and pasta. Meanwhile I was feeling better already, my memory was back to normal, and in fact my brain was functioning a lot better overall. I think some brain fog had slowly crept in that I hadn’t identified just yet, so it wasn’t until it was gone that I noticed.
I will confess that there was actually an attempt about 2 months earlier to do a short version of the program again to help my gut heal from the gluten. This attempt completely failed. It was at a time of significant stress (exams). Stress has adverse effects on anyone, but for my CFS it absolutely crippled me all over again. I was just as tired as I was at my worst, and when you are tired you just cannot make good decisions (to really illustrate what I mean for you, at one point Will and I literally had a biscuit feast….).
I wasn’t equipped to go through the program again for some time, mentally I just could not do it. My favourite quote from Dr Libby is “Sometimes you feed your body and sometimes you feed your soul” and that is what I had to do - my soul was so tired that it needed to be able to just pull anything out of the fridge and eat it! It didn’t have energy to plan meals or prepare the week’s breakfasts! So instead I put the idea of redoing the program aside for a few weeks until I felt ready to go through it again.
My body was not happy with the stress I put it through after coming off the program, particularly in the form of gluten, and as a result I felt like I needed to do another quick reset. But it also wasn’t ready for that mental challenge, first I needed to be in a more relaxed situation (i.e. no uni, and in a routine with work). So far this has proven to be much more successful and I am glad that I made that decision.
The moral of this blog post is that you should listen to your body. It will tell you when it is sick, and it will tell you when it is happy. If you have a shocking short term memory like I did, then that is not just something annoying to deal with, it is your body telling you that something is not working right and you should probably give it some attention. Meanwhile if you are waking up each day full of life and sing with the birds as you walk out your gate, then your body is working well and you should appreciate that feeling!
In my last blog post I talked about my trip to the herbalist, along with a theory I had finally put together that explained how and why I got sick. Fast forward three weeks to my second herbalist visit, and I cannot believe the difference in my health. It is honestly astounding, so enough chit chat, I’ll let you see for yourself.
Above are two pictures. These pictures are taken from a microscope looking at a sample of my blood. Now you don’t have to be a haematologist to know that blood is not supposed to look like that, like, at all.
Let me just explain what we are looking at (if you read my last blog post, then maybe skip this paragraph). The worm-like things are red blood cells clumped together. The little specks floating around are pieces of food (how cool is that?! I could literally see my lunch!). In the second picture, just below the middle and slightly to the right, there is a little ball - that’s a white blood cell and it’s in a bad way, and there were not many of them. The biggest thing to take away from these pictures however, is that there are threads EVERYWHERE. All of those little threads are not supposed to be there, at all. In a healthy person it would be a real struggle to find them.
These threads are caused by the liver not winning at its job. The liver’s job is to filter blood coming in from the digestive system before it is passed to the rest of the body. When the liver is under stress (has too much work to do) it outputs different proteins, these proteins can then get stuck together and form those awful little threads that can be seen in the picture above. Since in my blood there were HEAPS of threads, that was a big indicator that my liver was not working well.
So with that in mind, let me show you my the images of my blood sample taken just 3 weeks after the first one shown above. In that three weeks I drunk a lot of “mud” (immune and liver supporting herbs), a couple other vitamins and herbs, and did two rounds of sweat therapy. Here’s the result:
(I hope the reaction you just had was shock) - I know right?!?!?!?!?! They look completely different!!!! The red blood cells have separated from each other (and I could even see them moving!), there were loads of healthy white blood cells (see that sparkly thing in the top left - that’s what they are meant to look like), and most importantly, there are NO THREADS! WOOHOO! I couldn’t believe the difference. That mud suddenly tastes pretty sweet now that I know just how well it was working for me.
So what does this mean? The most simple way to think about blood is that it’s your body’s delivery system for nutrients, hormones, proteins, oxygen, and many many other things that need to get to different parts of the body. It does a lot for you, so if it is in a bad way, then those things are not getting to their destination as easily (or perhaps at all) so you’re not going to feel great. Looking at the state of my blood now it’s no wonder that I felt like my recovery had stalled! There was just so much crap in my blood that it couldn’t get anything done.
So how did this happen? The fix for me was giving my immune system the fright of its life (sweat therapy) while also feeding it immune and liver supporting herbs, this way it was forced to wake up and actually start fighting the thing that kicked off this year of bad health, and it had help to do it. Once the immune system was up and operating, this gave the liver a chance to clear the backlog of crap, therefore resulting in some nice healthy blood circulating my body, yay!
Basically, I feel great, and it’s really exciting to see some concrete proof that I am actually getting better. The herbalist was ready to give me another lecture about making sure I take it easy, but I assured him that there is no way I am ever going to push myself past my limits ever again.
What I want to leave you with, dearest reader, is this: many people say to me “just make sure to not push yourself too hard, we don’t want you to get sick again.” And while that message comes from a place of love and I do deeply appreciate that person’s concern for me, I am not the person who needs to hear it. I have well and truly learned my lesson, and I will never be this sick again in my life. I now have the knowledge and tools to manage to my mental and physical health and I really do believe that I am going to live a longer and happier life because of this experience. The person who does need to hear that message is the person you know who is pushing themselves too hard right now, and maybe deep down you know that person is you. It is ok to say you need to take the day off, it is ok to say no to joining that committee, it is ok to cut back your hours if you need more time to rest, it is ok to put your health first.
I'm trying out something different this time. This post is all about the recovery I've made in the last couple of weeks, and I've made a vlog to go alongside it so you can see the changes for yourself:
So a couple of weeks ago I saw a herbalist, which I suppose falls into the category of “alternative” medicine. There is a bit of a stigma about alternative medicines in society today, which I think is a real shame, but more on that later.
I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (also commonly known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) several months ago. For a long time I didn’t do any research on my illness. I am very aware of just how effective the placebo effect can be, so I didn’t want to read about any of the symptoms of CFS for fear of developing them as a result. After several months I decided that I probably had all the symptoms I was going to get, so I started learning about my illness.
What I learned was really disheartening. The prognosis for this illness is pretty sad to be honest. Generally, you don’t get better. If you get back even 50% of the energy levels you used to have, then that’s incredible and you count yourself lucky. What I also learned is that there are far more women with CFS than there are men, and often they are young adults at the very beginning of their careers. I’ll let that sink in. There are hundreds of thousands of young women out there whose career has been taken away from them before it’s even started. That is devastating.
Doctors know very little about this illness, so little that in fact in some countries it is not even considered “real” and sufferers are told it’s all in their head and to get over it (that’s pretty easy to say until you go through it yourself). I had many doctors visits when I first fell sick, insistent that surely there is something that can be done to help me, but everytime all I was told is that the best thing I can do is rest, and I was always told that this illness can take a long time to pass, I was never given a time frame, which in hindsight should have told me everything I needed to know.
At some point along the way I became well enough that I could work in the office at least once a week, and on one of these days in the office a colleague from a different department and I got chatting. He told me he was a bit tired, I said “I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so I can relate.” His response was “I know a guy that can help with that.” A month later I was sitting in the waiting room to see his herbalist.
Despite having great success from changing my diet thanks to a gut health program earlier in the year, the thought of seeing a herbalist had never crossed my mind. I didn’t know anything about them and to be honest I didn’t even know that’s a job title you could have in the world today. I probably would never have given it a go if this colleague at work hadn’t have rated him so highly.
Seeing the herbalist was probably the most fun I’d had all year, I love human biology so it was quite fun seeing my blood under a microscope. He put the picture from the microscope of my blood up on the screen, with a picture of a healthy blood sample alongside. If I wasn’t so fascinated by what I was seeing I probably would have been embarrassed, the state of my blood was atrocious.
Without being an expert in the subject, I can say that a healthy blood sample will have plenty of red blood cells moving around and a few shiny crystal-like white blood cells here and there. My blood had plenty of red blood cells, which were all stuck together. He assured me that this was not surprising and anyone with any level of fatigue would have red blood cells looking like this. My white blood cells were terrible. There was not many of them and they were like sad little rocks, hardly glistening at all. That told us that my immune system was compromised and really not doing a hell of a lot for me. But that wasn’t even the interesting part. Also in my blood were threads, lots and lots of tiny little threads. He told me that a stressed liver will output proteins that get stuck together and form these threads. He also said that in most people’s blood you shouldn’t see any of these threads, you’d really have to look hard to find them. Yet in mine, you couldn’t not see them, they were everywhere. This told us two things, the first is that my liver is not doing a great job, and the reason for that was perhaps because it was trying to pick up the slack from the immune system and failing miserably. The second was that perhaps I had been exposed to something, but that’s still an open ended theory at the moment.
Seeing as I’m really into nutrition (and if you are on this site then chances are you are too!) what I also found fascinating was all the little specs in my blood, which I learned was food! I could literally see the chicken and avocado floating around in my blood, ready to be delivered to different parts of the body - amazing!
Looking at my blood was only a small part of the appointment, we discussed what I was like before I got sick and the inner ear virus. For the first time ever I felt like I understood what happened to me, and looking back now it is no wonder I got sick.
Let’s split this into pre and post vertigo. Pre vertigo I was busy, all the time. I never had a day to do nothing, I was always on the go. I started working when I was just 13, I remember I came home from school and told my mum that a job was advertised in the school notices and I wanted to apply for it. Later that night I put my first résumé together, the next week I started work. I did dishes in a busy cafe every weekend and holiday for the whole of high school, picking up hours wherever I could. At the same time I was getting great grades in school, and, particularly in my last two years at school, I was doing loads of extracurricular activities. I was a busy person, it was really stressful, but I loved it. Fast forward to finishing school, 2 days later I was at a conference in Christchurch and a week later I was moving out of home and to a different city because I had already arranged my first internship.
Ever since then I’ve alternated between working as a software developer and studying computer science and statistics (with part time work sprinkled over the top). At my second year of uni is when I really stepped up my game with fitness and got really into running. It was a struggle, I was constantly busy working, studying, going to (or planning and running) events, running…. I am sure some of you are reading this thinking “that’s what everyone does” but remember everyone has different limits and I was pushing mine.
I was stressed for years. But I just thought that’s how everyone lived, that’s just what it’s like to be a grown up. But you know what, that’s the wrong way to approach life. Everytime the start of a new semester rolled around I was miserable. You don’t have to know me very well to know that I hate university, but I put myself through it four semesters over before I finally took a semester off to work instead. I then returned and and did a half work load of uni and spent the rest of my time travelling around New Zealand for a couple of months for work. I loved my work and I hated university, but by this point I just had six courses left so I signed up to finish them.
Cue vertigo. I think this was the world telling me to slow down. But of course I didn’t listen, I had work to do! When you’re working and you get sick you take time off, but when you are studying you simply don’t have time to be sick, so you push through it instead.
Here’s where I relearned all the life lessons that I thought I had already aced. If you’re body tells you to rest, just rest. Seriously, not for a 10 minute power nap, take the day off. You are nothing without your health, and if I had have listened to that advice 4 years ago then maybe things would be different now. But I know that’s not how things work, and generally you have to make a mistake before you learn how to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and boy have I learned it this time.
When I left the herbalist’s office I felt like I had just got a talking to. I wrote down on my form under “health goals” to “run a half marathon” because that’s what I was training for before I got sick. He made it clear that I will have energy to do that again, but just don’t bother. It sounds cruel, but it’s what I needed hear. I used to push myself so hard in every aspect of my life every single day, and it was hurting me.
So here’s where we come to the theory of what happened to me. Years and years of pushing myself too hard had left my immune system in a sorry state. So when I finally got hit by a decent virus (vertigo) coupled with an emotional event in my family, it was just too much for my body. It just didn’t have the energy to fight it off properly.
The herbalist prescribed a collection of herbs and vitamins, along with instructions to carry out two rounds of sweat therapy. The vitamins were to make sure my body was getting enough of them, and the herbs were to support my liver and immune system. The sweating therapy was used as a way to jump start my immune system again. It sounded crazy, but here I am two weeks later feeling like a whole new person. I am not fully recovered yet, there is still work to do, and if there is anything I have learned from this it is that mental and physical health go hand and hand and I am making better decisions for myself as a result.
I am so glad that I went to the herbalist. Modern medicine is great when you break a bone, but with something a little more complex I think traditional medicines have their place. Always tread cautiously though, make sure the science makes sense to you and be suspicious if they prescribe leeches...
If this story resonated with you, then I hope it inspires you to make a positive change for your wellbeing. I was forced into this situation, but maybe you can learn from the experiences I am sharing with you today.
So I’ve had a lot of people ask me what gut health actually looks like for me, i.e. what my diet looks like, and that’s fair enough. Saying “I did a gut health program” doesn’t mean much to you if you’ve never thought about gut health before. In this post I’m going to summarise what steps I went through to improve my gut health, and what my diet looks like now (which is still a work in progress, I might add). At this point I would like to remind you to take you everything I say with a grain of (pink himalayan) salt (little bit of gut health humor there for you. I’m so lame). I am not a medical expert in any shape or form, I’m simply a person who likes understanding human biology and nutrition.
Before I started addressing my gut health, I described myself as healthy. I thought I ate really well and gave my body plenty of nutrients. Post gut health program I realise how wrong I was. My diet was loaded with fruit and vegetables, but the selection of fruit and vegetables was very small. I ate plenty of processed fruit and vegetables too (e.g. canned tomatoes, applesauce - yes I know it’s baby food, but it’s freaking delicious), and I loved whole grain bread and pasta, I also didn’t eat much meat (it’s expensive and I’m a student on a limited income). All this was honestly a recipe for disaster, because by choosing whole grain options I felt like I was being healthy even though it was highly processed whole grains, and by not eating much meat (and failing to replace it with vegetarian options) I wasn’t getting much protein.
Basically, I didn’t eat much obviously processed and terrible food (e.g. potato chips, two minute noodles), but that didn’t mean that I was getting all the nutrients that my body needs to function optimally. Now couple this with the fact that I have chronic fatigue, and my body is really not getting all the nutrients it needs, because it is burning so much more than a healthy body would to barely function at all.
So, it was time to change things up. Step one was a detox phase. This sounds way harder than it actually is, it just means you cut out pretty much all processed food and just eat fruit, veggies and protein. Previously I didn’t have too many foods in my diet loaded with refined sugars (like breakfast cereals for example) so it wasn’t too hard to cut that stuff out, what was strange at first though, was switching to a low carb diet. Before I was ill, I was a runner (a participation medal runner, not competitive) and as a runner I had learned that my body likes carbs, carbs for dinner result in a better morning run. So all of a sudden going from a high carb dinner most nights to low-to-no carb dinners was a bit of a shock to the system. It makes perfect sense though, you want your body to burn fat for energy, but if it is constantly being given carbs, it’s going to use that instead.
I did the detox stage for 1-2 weeks. In terms of the food I ate, there’s not too much to say about it, I just cut out pretty much all processed food and ate way more vegetables instead. The tricky part is the supplements and little daily routines that come in to it. For example, I started taking a multivitamin, aloe vera and fibre drink in the morning before breakfast. Then at various times throughout the day I’d take a combination of a plant based liver detoxing supplement, digestive enzymes, probiotics, Vitamin D3, Vitamin C and fish oil. Now please don’t read that and consider it your new shopping list, everyone’s body works a little differently and there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to gut health (I came up with my list of supplements by talking to a mentor for the gut health program and my doctor). Honestly in the beginning taking all those supplements was as complicated as it sounds, for a while I had a schedule pinned in the pantry door to help me to keep track of when to take them all.
Along with the food and the supplements are plenty of little tricks I learned to help aid digestion. These were the biggest changes for me (which I’ll elaborate on in a later post):
I started drinking way more water. I aimed for 3L every day (which is not easy in the height of winter), but usually fell short but always reached at least 2L.
I had lean red meat at lunch 3 times a week.
I had lean white meat for dinner pretty much every night.
I had a protein dense food for breakfast (usually chicken).
I stopped drinking water within twenty minutes of a meal.
These were the biggest rules I had to implement, but it was just a matter of creating new habits. It wasn’t really that bad, I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person so I committed to all these changes right from day 1 rather than introducing them slowly.
Then for about 3 weeks I mono-ate. This was the main point of the gut health program, because this was when my gut started to properly rest and repair. Mono-eating is exactly as it sounds, you just eat one kind of food at a time. The way this worked for me was I had a homemade chicken patty for breakfast (chicken + some herbs and spices), then one red meat and one vegetable for lunch (just three times a week, white meat otherwise) and usually a white fish and one vegetable for dinner. Ok, well, I didn’t do too well on that last one. A symptom of chronic fatigue is being really sensitive to some smells, so after a week and a half I caved and refused to eat any more fish because I just couldn’t deal with the smell of it anymore, so I replaced it with chicken. Throughout the day, snacks were just a little bit of fruit, one of which was usually a green apple.
Now I get that this way of eating sounds kind of dull and terrible, but it was actually a great lifestyle for me. I loved it. Chronic fatigue means that I am tired all the time and don’t have energy to do anything too strenuous, when I was at my worst even just standing in the kitchen waiting for an egg to boil would push me to my limit, so mono-eating was ideal. At the start of the week I’d make sure to pick up a selection of different vegetables, then each night I’d get my meat out of the freezer and at each meal I’d pick a vegetable to have with it at random. Easy.
The other thing you might be thinking is how plain it sounds. But that is what herbs and spices are for! Once you’ve had a bit of practice, it gets pretty easy to work out what herbs and spices would work well with your dish (and if all else fails, Google to the rescue!). But the thing is, once you’ve cut out refined sugars, you start to get a lot more flavour out of your food, and just having plain broccoli tastes a lot better than it might have in the past.
After about 3 weeks of mono eating I was feeling so much better. My brain fog had completely cleared up so I was actually able to start working again, from bed of course, but still, I could work, amazing! I even had a bit more energy so I was ready to start getting creative with my food again so it was exciting to be able to have more than just one vegetable and one protein on my plate! At about this point is where this website came into existence by the way!
This was all the time I needed before I felt like I had “reset” my gut. I felt good about the foods I was eating because I knew that every meal I had was nutritious and doing some good for my body. By this point I had become fully accustomed to life with fruit, veggies and protein and life without carbs. I stuck to the fruit, vegetables and protein for a while, and eventually it was time to reintroduce other foods. The trick was (and still is) making sure to not fall into old habits in terms of binging on non-nutritious food more often than realising. I still have chronic fatigue (it’s just a bit more manageable now) and it’s hard to make good decisions when you are tired, so I have a system in place for keeping track of how many “cheat” foods I have in a fortnight. I got a loyalty card from my usual coffee shop and instead of getting a stamp from them whenever I get a coffee, I put a sticker on whenever I have a cheat food (which is usually chocolate). I get five stickers in a fortnight. I know that to some people that would sound tedious, frustrating and/or unnecessary, but to me it makes it a lot easier to keep on track.
The other element of introducing new foods post gut health program is working out what foods do and don’t agree with you. The whole time I was on the program I had almost no dairy, and nothing I ate contained gluten. The great thing about this program is that I felt like I was in a position to determine how my body reacts to different foods again, and I’m still in the process of working this out. I find milk upsets my stomach and it’s also actually pretty easy to avoid, so I don’t really have it much at all. I suspect that gluten upsets my skin, but I’m yet to confirm that one - I’m working on it. Of course you have to be careful when cutting out a whole food group. For example, a blanket ban on dairy could result in not enough calcium in your diet, so be sensible about it.
The foods that I was most excited to reintroduce was grains, nuts and seeds. These foods are difficult for out body to digest so they were not allowed while on the program (your gut obviously can’t rest if you give it foods that are hard work to break down) but they provide a lot of nutrients that you need in your diet long term, so I was very keen to get them back. What was even more satisfying was that I knew that my body was in a position again to digest them and get the nutrients out of them (because when your gut is not working well, a lot of the nutrients in your food doesn’t necessarily make it to your bloodstream).
Eating well is trickier than it needs to be these days. Years of getting it slightly wrong probably left my gut in a compromised position, but it was amazing what just a couple of months of looking after it can do. I fit as much information is this post as I could without getting too specific, there’s obviously a lot of details that I missed, but hopefully I shared enough to make you feel like you have somewhere to start if you want to consider “resetting” your gut. I know that doing this certainly had nothing but positive side effects for me, and I’m continuing to make better decisions about my diet as a result.
I’ve had chronic fatigue for several months now.
Unlike most people who suffer from this syndrome, I was diagnosed relatively early.
This was only the case because it was obvious that mine was brought on from having vertigo for several weeks, which was my body’s tipping point after being pushed to the limit for some time.
The way I like to describe myself is I am a “doing” person.
I am constantly working, exercising, cooking, learning….
Basically I would be the worst person to take on a relaxing holiday, because I relax by being productive, I don’t even like to sleep in.
Getting things done is what makes me feel good at the end of the day.
I love routines, and being busy is just part of my routine.
Then one day I got sick with Vertigo.
Vertigo is a truly awful illness.
You wake up at 6.45 as usual, get dressed, get breakfast, you feel completely fine.
Then you start walking to work, and you notice that you have a little headache coming on, but you walk it off because fresh air is good for you.
Then you sit down at your desk at work and after about an hour you feel a little nauseous, so you take a break, drink a cup of tea, then come back.
10 minutes later you suddenly feel reeeeaaaally nauseous so you cautiously make your way home via bus because you feel a little too queasy to walk.
Once you get home you relax with some tv, decide to just take it easy, you’ve been working hard lately and maybe your body just needs a break.
Repeat this 3 days in a row.
Now this is about when I started to get worried.
I never get sick.
I can count on one hand the number of days I’ve ever missed from school and work due to sickness, now all of a sudden I had three sick days in a row.
This never happens to me.
On day 4, you are still stuck at home, you have a constant headache, but not the kind that generic painkillers can get rid of, so you stay in bed all day watching tv because that’s all you can do.
You’re frustrated though.
Every time you try to walk anywhere you feel close to throwing up, and the world starts to spin.
After another day you finally go to a doctor, expecting them to tell you that you’ve got a nasty string of migraines and it will pass soon.
But no, instead they tell you that you have this weird thing called vertigo, and it takes on average at least 3 weeks to pass.
Which just happens to be the exact length of the semester break at uni which you were planning on spending working to get caught up on your course work and to earn some extra money to use to survive the next semester.
The worst part is how petty the cause of this illness is.
For you it’s an inner ear infection, which came from the common cold, the common cold that hundreds of thousands of people get every year, you just got unlucky.
Your ear is responsible for helping your brain figure out which way is up, and unfortunately, your ear is very delicate.
It contains lots of teeny tiny and very sensitive parts, but thanks to the common cold, the cavity inside your ear is now filled with mucus (think the lovely stuff that sometimes comes out of your nose).
This cavity is tiny, we’re talking smaller than your pinky’s fingernail, and as long as it’s got liquid in it, you’re going to have a bad time.
Now you can’t just drain the liquid, you have to take antihistamines to hope like hell no more gets in there, and you just have to wait for it to come out, through a tiny little tube that is not designed to help move mucus.
No wonder it takes at least 3 weeks to get over vertigo.
Fast forward two and a half weeks and fear is setting in.
How on earth are you going to make it through the second half of the semester while you have vertigo, which hasn’t subsided at all by the way.
Well the answer is that you are going to have a terrible time, but thank goodness you have the most supportive partner in the world who takes over all the cooking, cleaning and general life admin that needs to be done so you can do nothing but focus on uni.
Then for the first time ever throughout your whole high school and university career you have to apply for a special consideration on an assignment because you are too ill to complete it.
That was a particularly devastating experience for me.
I’m not someone who inflicts the stress upon myself of aiming for an A+ on every assignment and test, but I am someone who likes to meet deadlines and complete my work to standard to be proud of, so having to hand in a piece of paper that says “I’m sick, take pity on me” was pretty crushing.
But then, you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
One day you wake up and your ears don’t feel as blocked, you make it through a whole two days without needed to take a dizzy pill, you’re coming out the other side!
(Then you overdo it and rewind your recovery by about two weeks because you are just so excited about getting your life back).
This time when you start to feel better you try to take it easy, stay realistic, look after yourself.
But after a week of trying to look after yourself to help yourself get better, you notice that your energy levels are just constantly really low, and your short term memory seems to be failing you a lot and you just get overwhelmed by sounds, smells and sights every time you leave the house.
And this is when you find out that you have Post Viral Fatigue (Chronic Fatigue brought on from a virus).
Now if you thought 6 weeks of vertigo was a frustrating experience, you’ve got another thing coming.
Chronic Fatigue is an incredibly mysterious illness.
Vertigo was confusing because at the beginning you just didn’t know what it was, but with Chronic Fatigue you know you’ve got it so you decide to do some research to understand what is actually happening in your body to cause it, only to find that there is almost no information that can answer that question.
No one seems to know what is happening in your body, but they can tell you about the vast array of symptoms you are about to experience.
When you tell people you have chronic fatigue, they think that you are just tired all the time, which you are of course, but it’s more than that.
Your brain is just not able to focus on anything, you feel confused all the time, your short term memory is laughable.
This is the brain fog side of chronic fatigue, when your brain just feels, well, foggy.
Coupled with brain fog, is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and in fact it turns out that MCS and Chronic Fatigue go hand in hand, and surprise surprise, there is very little research on MCS.
All I can tell you is that basically suddenly particular smells are really noticeable to you, and in your case, so are sounds.
So if someone in your house is cooking fish, or cleaning the bathroom, or someone in the office is talking really loudly on the phone, then all of a sudden your brain feels overloaded and you find yourself desperately wanting to get out of that environment.
I can go on and on about the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue (because honestly this is actually feeling quite therapeutic for me right now!) but I think you get the point.
It’s not just about your body physically aching, it’s the constant overloading of your senses that make you want and need to spend the whole day in bed.
These days I do finally feel like I am on the road to recovery, and I’ve shared a bit about that in My Story and I’ll elaborate in another blog post, but for now I want to leave you with what I’ve learned from this experience.
Being ill has taught me a lot of life lessons.
Previously I relied on routine and having things planned to make me feel happy and comfortable, but at the moment all my friends understand that even any lunch dates we plan run the risk of being cancelled by me an hour beforehand and that’s just how it has to be.
I used to have a clear plan of how I was going to finish my degree and start the next phase of my life, but all that had to change.
It was depressing when I first realised that plan was no longer feasible, but now I am happy to live by the philosophy of “things just have a way of working out.” Before I got sick, if I was tired then I would work through it, but these days on a tired day I have no option but to rest.
While right now that’s a very frustrating way to live, it means that when I am fully recovered I am going to be better at listening to what my body needs.
If it is telling me I am tired then I am tired and I won’t be ignoring that.
Most importantly, I’ve learned to never take my physical and mental health for granted.
I think in a weird way I’m lucky to have learned that at just 21.
This is a life experience that I hope to never go through again and would never wish upon anyone else, but at the same time I think it’s taught me valuable lessons that I wouldn’t have taken on board otherwise.