So I had my new, possibly dodgy, supplements to try, now I needed to sort my diet out. I started reading books and blogs again, and naturally got a bit lost in all the differing, and conflicting, advice. Some swore by a vegan whole food diet, others a paleo ketogenic diet, with lots in between. There were convincing arguments for everything I was reading but in the end I needed to just pick a diet and commit to it, to really see if it can make a difference to my symptoms. Vegan whole food was closest to what I was currently eating, but I found myself steering towards paleo. This was slightly odd, given that until recently I hadn’t eaten meat in 23 years (I had started with some red meat when my anaemia was at it’s worst but really couldn’t get on with the taste or texture so had stopped again) and paleo is really, really hard to do without meat (I know it is possible but if I was going to do it I wanted to make my life as easy as possible). Moving to a paleo diet would mean a complete shift away from everything my current diet depending on – oats, grains, legumes, dairy…oh God, cheese! How would I possibly survive without cheese???
Last September I decided to give it a real go though. I planned out meals for the first few weeks, made sure I had plenty of paleo approved foods and committed to do it for at least a month, then I would see how I felt. My morning oats became either eggs or coconut yoghurt, chia seeds and berries. Lunch didn’t change much, I’d usually have a salad with plenty of fats like avocado, pine nuts and olive oil and a protein like salmon or mackerel. Dinner was the biggest change. Previously I might have lentil soup, or a big bowl of roasted veg with cheese and maybe some chickpeas/quorn. Now, chicken and veg became my go to meal. I hadn’t eaten chicken in over 23 years and the biggest revelation I had in this new way of eating was…I fucking love chicken! My God it tastes good. I felt incessantly guilty about compromising my ethics around eating animals, but also suddenly regretted my 23 years of being deprived from this amazing food. My first Nando’s experience was nothing short of transcendent (I think I ate a whole chicken to myself, to my husbands amazement/horror). So yeah, I adjusted to this new way of eating pretty quickly. Even the lack of cheese became a non issue in this new world of chicken.
One of the major things I realised early on, was that eating this way (high fat, medium protein, low carb, zero refined sugar, no processed foods) seemed to work for me, certainly in terms of how I felt day to day. Throughout my life I had suffered from dips in blood sugar that left me dizzy, lightheaded and I found that I needed to snack constantly and eat ‘little and often’ in order to avoid this. Even though my diet had always included alot of the things we are told to eat, including whole grains and low GI carbs, I was ALWAYS hungry and couldn’t leave the house without snacks. After a few weeks following my new protocol, however, things changed. I didn’t wake up ravenous, unable to function until I’d eaten something. I didn’t find myself reaching for snacks at 10am (ok, sometimes 9am. Or 8am), I wasnt hangry if a meal got delayed and I didn’t find myself obsessing over when I would next be eating. I got myself into a good routine with my meals, started experimenting with more adventurous chicken dishes (there are some fabulous blogs out there full of great paleo recipes, including this one) and after a month there was no doubt that I would stick with this way of eating for the foreseeable future.
And what of my overall symptoms? Well, since starting eating this way, I have definitely seen a steady improvement overall in levels of fatigue and how much I am able to do. I have also lost nearly 30lbs which has to help. However, in December I developed a severe migraine, which has become chronic and which I will deal with in a future post, and this has become the most limiting factor in my ability to work, play and take part in life again.. As far as I can tell, this isn’t related to my diet (I have played around with reintroducing a few things and upping my carbs, just in case but it didn’t make a difference) and more than likely is just a progression of the symptoms of ME/CFS and which I am now seeing various specialists to try and get some relief. But that’s a post for another day.
I can’t say I buy into the paleo claims that we should all be eating this way as it mimics how our ancestors ate, and I am concerned about cutting out major food groups such as grains and legumes. At some point I will probably start reintroducing some of these to see what reaction I have, if any, but for now I am focussing my diet on unprocessed whole foods, with zero refined sugar or additives, good sources of fats and protein and a loads of veg (I limit fruit to a small amount of berries), and I’ll review what I’m comfortable eating if and when I feel a change is required.