From bed-bound to traveling the world – How food helped me recover from CFS.

In September 2012 I embarked on a journey that would ultimately change my life. This is the story of my diet from the past 4 years. From barely being able to walk with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/M.E to claiming my life back on a plant based vegan diet and beginning to travel the world.

Just to add some context, before getting hit with CFS I was extremely active. I played sports everyday, hung out with friends, played video games and did whatever I wanted.

I started to really struggle with my health at 16 years old. I was always incredibly fatigued both mentally and physically. I could hardly do ANYTHING . Something needed to change. I feel in modern day society people underestimate the importance of food in our lives and the role it plays in living a healthy lifestyle. I was one of those people. I never ate particularly badly. Well, that is what I thought anyway. It is so incredibly easy for us to eat mindlessly. Food is readily available whether it be fast food, processed food, a microwave meal or a gourmet dinner at a Michelin star restaurant. The point is, a lot of us are unaware of the impact that the food we eat is having on our bodies and our minds too. From my experience and from what I see on a day to day basis from the people around me, we rarely think about the food we are ingesting and what it is doing to our health. I am sure you have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat”.

So in the September of 2012 after meeting someone else who had suffered with M.E I decided to embark on the GAPS Diet (Gut & Psychology Syndrome) with the hope it could help cure me or at least help me regain some control in my life. I was led to believe I had a leaky gut, possibly candida and that there was little to no good bacteria left in my gut. It was the opinion of a recommended nutritionist that lots of antibiotics throughout my life had massively contributed to this and destroyed most of my gut flora. The GAPS diet is meant to rebuild the good bacteria in the gut.

So to give this a little more context let me describe how sugar used to make me feel. I would take a bite of something sugary and within 60 seconds – yes you read that right, it does say 60 seconds – my brain would get foggy. Most people refer to this as brain fog. Where you read something 5 times but it just won’t sink in. Or someone could tell you something or ask you something and you just can’t understand or comprehend what is going on. It is the inability to concentrate on practically anything. I can’t stress how awful this feels and to have it on a regular basis is truly soul destroying. You can’t really do anything. Imagine not even being able to watch TV because you can’t even concentrate on that!

I went all in straight away. I was not messing about. I was 100% committed. I NEEDED my health back. I stopped refined sugars & caffeine cold turkey. I had already stopped gluten, dairy and a few other things a while back as I had an intolerance test where I was told I was intolerant to everything under the sun. I decided I was going to keep things really simple so for the next 3 years or so I was basically eating the following: meat (always organic & grass fed where possible), fish, eggs, vegetables (mostly broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage & tomatoes) and I would also drink homemade meat stock & bone broth. A typical breakfast would be sausages (pork, salt and herbs & spices only), 2 poached eggs & some cabbage & tomato fried in animal fat (goose fat, duck fat etc). Lunch & Dinner would be something along the lines of meat, vegetables & some fried onions with a drink of homemade meat stock. I was also taking a tonne of herbal supplements such as Co-enzyme Q10, digestive enzymes, vitamin c etc.

 

13663330_10210422836512873_1539179950_o.jpgRoasted Mediterranean vegetables and grilled aubergine

Looking back I now see how little I had in my diet. I didn’t have any real source of carbs which I clearly needed for energy, but in the past carbs had given me brain fog and made me even more lethargic. As the change in diet started to work for me I think I became afraid of introducing anything new as I started to see progress in my health. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it right?

So jumping WAY WAY ahead to January 2016. I felt a little bit stuck. I had made great progress but something was telling me in order to really keep improving I needed to make a change. After living on autopilot with food for the past 3+ years or so, this was a huge change for me. I felt the meat wasn’t really serving me anymore so I decided to give it up around the 20th January 2016. I was only eating vegetables for the next week or so as I did A LOT of research in to adopting a new diet, or lifestyle, as people like to call it. As I am sure you can imagine I was really struggling with energy as eating only vegetables is NOT going to be a good source of energy. I did my research and watched Forks over Knives. It blew my mind. I bought the book but the recipes seemed to have too much ‘rubbish’ in them for me. Don’t get me wrong, they are definitely healthy but please remember how clean my diet was (apart from the meat and fish). I had no sugars, processed food, store bought foods etc. All fresh, all organic.

After this I looked in to going fully raw. I was confused at this point and was getting down and very stressed as my brain had taken in so much new information and while it was processing it all, I was plying it with even MORE information trying to figure out what I needed to do next! I have noticed I like to research things to the nth degree and once I set my mind on something I usually go all in 100%. I had already stopped eating meat cold turkey – excuse the bad pun – and I hadn’t had much raw food at all or ANY fruit in 3+ years. Looking back going raw straight away seemed like a crazy idea but, something inside me told me to go for it. I firstly ordered about 100 bananas as I was going to try the 30 banana a day challenge. As they were ripening I was doing more research and decided I would just go fully raw.

 

IMG_5455LOTS of bananas

So I was fully raw for 6 weeks and honestly, I felt great. I was having a green juice in the morning which was so satisfying and super healthy but it became so much effort (or I became lazy) and it was also extremely expensive to make. I could tell my body needed the carbs and wanted the bananas as I was eating about 10 per meal! Now I only really eat one at a time with things unless I use them in a smoothie bowl then I could use up to 6 or so.

After I stopped eating meat something inside me had changed. I have always loved animals but I guess I had never thought about the ones I was eating. I have this conversation with friends now…most of us don’t really make the connection from the meat in the supermarkets, or McDonald’s to the pain and suffering the animal goes through and the life that it has, or the fact that it was a loving, living being. Yes, we can get grass fed produce but another living being is still being slaughtered for our pleasure. After I stopped eating meat I had so much more compassion for animals. I could understand if it was a survival instinct and your body for some reason NEEDED meat to survive but it has been proven we don’t need meat to survive and we have such an abundance of food in the western world that meat is no longer necessary and in fact, carnivores are one of the main contributors to global warming (because of the methane produced by livestock). Don’t forget the forests that are being destroyed at an incredibly alarming rate for animal agriculture. Eating meat is destroying our planet.

 
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Beautiful rainbow salad

Later I’ll talk about trusting your gut. A shaman told me to ask my gut what it wants. I did this about 4 weeks ago – I know how this might sound – it told me it wanted potato cakes, butter, baked beans and cheese. I decided to give it a go and it was probably the best meal I have had in years. Since doing even more research I honestly feel even if my gut wants meat or dairy I don’t want to listen. I could class that as a survival instinct but I don’t want animals to suffer on my behalf so not meat or dairy for me.

I think we sometimes forget that animals were actually here before us. I honestly think I prefer animals to humans. Perhaps I was an animal in a past life…

“Thousands of people who say they love animals sit down once or twice a day to enjoy the flesh of creatures who have been utterly deprived of everything that could make their lives worth living and who endured the awful suffering and the terror of abattours” – Jane Goodall

 
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Listen to your gut
The reason I changed after 6 weeks was because I just wanted some warm food. My body felt cold and I wanted the feeling of a nice hot meal warming me up. I hadn’t had potatoes since I started the first diet back in 2012 (I know that sounds nuts doesn’t it?) and I really wanted some! So I went for it. I was filled with joy when I realised my body could handle them. I slowly introduced a little more and although I sometimes felt a little off I was completely fine! I thought “maybe my body is okay and it’s not doomed after all”. I followed the Rawtil4 guidelines and after a while I just went with what I felt was right, eating cooked food whenever I wanted.

Breakfast was usually a HUGE smoothie bowl which consisted of around 6 bananas, 2-4 dates, 2 apples, blueberries, carob powder, coconut water and I later re-introduced smooth almond butter which is my favourite! I later introduced nuts and seeds but I don’t think my system deals with them too well. A typical evening meal was usually LOTS of potatoes roasted with herbs and spices (without oil) with some veg and a lot of salad. Some meals I would have quinoa or brown rice or organic gluten free noodles (usually brown rice or quinoa). The Rawtil4 diet recommends going raw at least once a week but since changing to cooked food I haven’t done this once.

 
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Epic smoothie bowl ❤

In May 2016 I was embarking on a trip to Ecuador that would too change my life. I was going to work with plant medicines to continue my healing. This was a huge challenge for me not only physically but mentally too – food and otherwise. I made sure I took enough food on the plane. I had about 6kg’s with me for my journey. It’s safe to say I had more than enough! Baring in mind I hadn’t eaten out and I had cooked practically every meal I had eaten for 3.5 years this was a real challenge. I had to not only introduce new foods but I had to trust others with the preparation of my food. At around this time I realised the relationship I had built with food. I was scared of it.

It turned out that again, my body was able to cope with the food I was eating. This couldn’t be a coincidence could it? I was reaping the rewards of eating clean for such a long time and it was a joy to eat new foods and watch my body cope with them. I introduced white rice, beans, certain oils (that I still don’t use now but my body handled them), soy, lentils, oats, vegan sushi, cooked fruits such as apple and banana (one night we put a banana in the fire – it was INCREDIBLE), carrot cake, banana bread and probably some I am forgetting. All the food was great but the last 2 were sensational. I must have eaten about 5 pieces of carrot cake one night. Oops. I always had a sweet tooth and after 3.5 years without sugar I can safely say I still do – I blame my Nan for that…

I hadn’t eaten out for around 4 years. This has been a year of firsts for me and I decided to be brave and eat out with my friends in Cuenca, Ecuador. Well, it was brave in my eyes. I asked for the most simple meal you’re ever likely to see: a steamed potato, lettuce, an avocado and a tomato. It was laid out in 4 individual layers on a plate. I laughed at the time I am laughing as I am typing this. I know it was simple but again, I handled it and it helped me get over a fear of eating out and it was another step in trusting my body. I also introduced chocolate on this trip. It was vegan and since then I have been eating dark chocolate on a regular basis. Perhaps too regular, but, you’ve got to live a little right?

 
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Eating chocolate for the first time in a LONG LONG time
As I set out writing this post it was going to be about the foods I introduced on my recent trip to the USA and Canada but I feel showing people my journey from where I was to where I am now can provide a lot of insight and information that can hopefully benefit someone reading this and show them that anything is possible. Have a little faith in yourself and your body’s ability to heal. The human body is truly remarkable.So on to my trip. This time last year I swore off going abroad for the next few years until my body was at 100%; But after going to Ecuador I had massively expanded my comfort zone and I knew I needed to keep on expanding that comfort zone. After all, that is how we grow. So I went to the USA and ate out as soon as I got there as I wanted to watch the second half of the England vs Iceland game (what a waste of time that was) – you can check out the vlog here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dwvmcMdhWgWe went to a Chilli’s. We went there because we wanted to watch the game. I was boring and ordered a salad. Let me just say it was the worst salad I have ever had. I asked for Quinoa and I got Wheatberry, whatever the hell that is. They didn’t even have bottled water. I had a pineapple juice which was definitely not fresh. Again, I was fine! Thank you body!
During my time in the USA I had home-cooked wholewheat pasta on more than one occasion. My body didn’t really react to the wheat to my surprise. I also had an organic tomato and basil sauce. It was very healthy but I hadn’t bought anything pre-made since 2012! I tried some vegan pizza, I had a vegan sausage, vegan cheese which I have continued to eat. I had chips (crisps) with an EPIC vegan cheese ball and I almost had some alcohol… Almost…but introducing 3 new foods in one day as well as doing a lot of exercise was enough.
 

I then went on to Canada. One day I had a date square and half a vegan pizza. I ate out 6 times in 8 days while I was there.  I had 5 of those meals at Pure Kitchen in Ottawa. I had the ‘Elevated’ every time. It may sound boring but its just that good. Trust me; A sumptuous smoked walnut and mushroom burger topped with their epic house slaw, garlic aoli and a crispy onion ring with a kale salad which was honestly the best I have ever tasted. The dressing was to die for and it was topped with little pieces of coconut bacon which are mouth wateringly good. It’s making me salivate just thinking about them. It was also served with chips and a tomato ketchup which had a hint of cinnamon in. One day after my meal I had a ginger and apple cider vinegar shot which felt as strong or stronger than whiskey. Honestly. If you go there check it out the food is epic and it is all made from scratch. The staff wear amazing t shirts with the best food puns too. Check out my vlog if you want to see it & the awesome food: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSLS6uy0zSA

 

Next my friend and I went up to Montreal for 2 days and we ate out once while we were there. It was a veggie/vegan restaurant called Aux Vivres that a friend I met in Ecuador had recommended to us. I am planning on writing an article about listening to your gut so I will make this brief. Straight away my body said I want the chili and potato wedges. I also wanted brown rice and some vegetables. My stomach/intestines felt sore and they were aching. My brain said “Nope, do not eat the chili. It won’t help the situation whatsoever!”. But my gut was saying, “please give me the chili” so I opted for the chili as well as the rice and veg and low and behold, my gut was right and I felt awesome. This is a reminder to stop thinking and start FEELING. We are often too rational. There is a time and place for that but I am a firm believer in listening to your gut and your heart and staying out of your head.

So for the last foods I introduced in Canada…and this bit is incredible trust me. After my 4th meal at Pure Kitchen I went to a bakery. They use raw cane sugar instead of refined sugar in their goods which I was delighted about. I had a small banoffee cake and probably the best chocolate brownie I have ever had. My brain can’t articulate how good it was. It’s safe to say when I go back to Ottawa I will be paying a visit to that bakery.

WHO IS THIS PERSON?! Where has the old Brad gone? The Brad who was petrified of food. Food is a medicine and I choose to look at it in this way. I am so grateful for being able to enjoy all of these things. I used to eat so much sugar and its nice to eat it again but I am trying to eat “healthy” sugars if there is such a thing. There is, okay!? Let me have this one…please. Oh, and they had an adorable little dog called Paddington who I immediately fell in love with. So again, my body handled the food. You will see this bakery and Paddington in a vlog that will be posted very soon so stay tuned. 

 

13835514_10210422908514673_926306060_oPure Kitchen Ottawa, Canada – Vegetarian/Vegan restaurant

I have already mentioned this was a year of firsts and it didn’t stop there. My first flight was delayed causing me to miss my connecting flight to England. I have never missed a flight before. This meant 20+ hours were added on to my trip. I only had enough food to last me around 12 more hours and I had no money left. About 4 months ago I would have panicked in this situation. I just said “it is what it is” and tried my best to deal with the situation. I had to re-book my own flights and I also booked flights for another lady whom I had met in line at the airport in Ottawa. I spoke to her and her husband who were both lovely but she was flying to England alone. Luckily, she helped me out with buying some food and I’m so grateful for that. It’s amazing…I helped her out without any ulterior motive and that kindness came right back to me. Lots of people were waiting at a customer service desk to find out what they needed to do next when another woman told us we needed to go to another area. The lady had nipped to the restroom so I decided to wait for her as I wasn’t going to leave her with no idea where to go or what to do. I was grateful for her company and as we got back to Manchester she expressed her gratitude and told me she would probably still be stuck in Toronto if I hadn’t helped her. I wanted to add this in here as it was an important lesson to me. It reminded me not to underestimate one small act of kindness. Always be kind. We are all one. We should all look out for one another and when you are kind that kindness comes back to you. So during that crazy journey I had a small vegan ciabatta roll as well as a vegan meal on the plane – which was a dahl with rice – some MORE chocolate (obviously) and a croissant.

Since being home I have eaten out twice. I had a pasta and tomato dish and on a separate occasion I had 2 falafel wraps in Manchester. I didn’t feel wonderful after  but again, I needed food when I was out and my body was okay. In the past 3 months my relationship with food has changed drastically. I no longer fear it and it has shown me how far my body has come and it has given me more confidence to go out and do the things I want to do. 4 months ago I may have not done something because I feared not being able to eat while I was out. Don’t get me wrong, I am still going to be aware of what I am eating when I am out and eat as healthily as I can but it’s nice to know if I really NEED to eat I can trust my body to look after itself.

When embarking on a new diet do your research first. Give yourself time and make sure you have enough information to feel comfortable when making the switch. Make sure you have a clear idea of what you can eat for each meal.
 
I understand this is a long post and if you have got here then I applaud you. I am so grateful for my trip. I am so grateful for being provided with all of these wonderful opportunities and I am so grateful to my body for constantly improving. I am grateful that I can now eat more foods and my body can handle them. If you want to be happy then start with gratitude. Having M.E/CFS has been both the toughest and best thing to have happened to me so far in my life. Yes there were some incredibly difficult times… A lot of difficult times in fact but it has taught me so much and is continuing to teach me about life and about myself. I now feel this is my time to continue to heal, to get fit and do whatever I want to do. The sky is the limit. I am not going back to where I was.
 

I hope this has provided some useful information and if you too are struggling with digestive issues or food issues know that nothing is impossible. Your body has the capacity to heal. Let food be thy medicine. If you want to talk to me about any of this or anything you are going through with food and diet please do not hesitate to contact me. You can reach me on Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube. My links are at the bottom of this page.

 

I wish you the best of health and a healthy relationship with food. Trust your gut, trust your body and trust the plants.
 
Have a wonderful day.
 
Much love,
 
Brad xxx

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