Hey guys, I know I haven’t written a new post in a while but that’s nothing new is it! I’m hoping that this year I will be well enough / able to write one new post per month so I’ll be sharing lots of info with you guys throughout the year :). If you are already following my blog or any of my social media accounts (mainly Instagram @myblondevoyage) then you will know that I often post about the food I eat, my diet and the role that nutrition plays in my treatment plan and recovery from chronic illness. I thought I would write a blog post explaining why I eat what I eat; offering tips & tricks about food and nutrition that may help you on the road to recovery if you are also dealing with chronic illness but if you aren’t sick and simply would like to lead a healthier lifestyle then this may be helpful for you as well!
Before I was super sick I must admit that my diet was pretty different to what it is now… you could have called it ‘the beige diet’ which consisted of anything that came in a variation of the shade beige! That included pasta, crisps, breadsticks, pizza, chips, crackers, cereal and anything else you can think of in the form of carbohydrates… and obviously the colour beige. My friends, family & me can’t help but laugh when we look back at what I used to eat because when you compare it to what I eat now it’s literally the polar opposite! I think the reason I previously ate this way is because when I first developed symptoms at the age of 12, I was so desperate for fuel or ‘energy’ that I gravitated towards carbohydrates and sugars. Then as I got older and couldn’t take care of myself properly when living away from home in terms of not being well enough to cook I used to live off the most accessible food available, meaning whatever was the easiest to eat with no thought or effort gone into it whatsoever which usually meant food that came in some form of beige! It was only when I was trying to figure out what was actually wrong with me, health wise I discovered a fantastic book by Dr Sarah Myhill called ‘Diagnosis and Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Mitochondria not Hypochondria’ that I began to realise the importance of diet and nutrition in recovery. I highly recommend this book to anyone suffering from a chronic illness where fatigue plays a part in your symptoms or if you have a diagnosis of CFS/ME, Fibromyalgia or Lyme. You can buy the book from Amazon here.
There is one chapter in the book which is specifically about diet and goes into great detail about a diet known as ‘The Paleo Diet’. The paleo diet is also known as the paleolithic diet or the caveman diet because it’s the same diet our human and prehuman ancestors ate and lived on millions of years ago with remarkably high levels of health during the Paleolithic era. The reason this diet initially intrigued me so much is because the physical make up of our bodies hasn’t changed much since our ancestors who lived during the palaeolithic age yet our diets have changed drastically due to the agricultural revolution which has caused the current world we live in to be rife with sickness and all sorts of chronic illnesses, with a large part of that being down to the change in our diet and what we now choose to eat. I was so intrigued by this diet because the pros and cons of it all made so much biological sense to me (I studied Biology for A Level which is the most useful thing I ever did at school considering the situation I’m in now). So I decided to give it a go! It made sense to me to go back to eating what our bodies were literally designed to eat so before I knew it I was ordering Paleo books off Amazon left, right, and centre. The first book I bought is called Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet which is one of the best paleo books I’ve ever read and would recommend as the first step if you are about to embark on the paleo diet! Its not actually a diet but more a way of life. You can buy it from Amazon here.
So here is a little about the paleo diet so you know what you can eat and make sure that you know all about the naughty sinners (what you can’t eat). The paleo diet consists of eating only lean meats, sea food, nuts, seeds, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Which means no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no refined sugar, no processed foods and no foods containing artificial colourings, flavourings or additives. So why no grains (wheat, barley, maize, rye, rice, oats, quinoa, millet, cornmeal etc) is the first thing that most people ask??? The so called ‘essential carbohydrates’ that we are told by the mainstream media and the government are essential actually aren’t that essential because unlike fats and proteins they aren’t essential to life and have no real benefits because we can get all of the energy we need from fruits and vegetables which is probably a surprise to most people! It was to me. Fruits and veggies also have an amazing amount of nutrition to offer on top of their relative carbohydrate content and in addition to vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, fruit and veggies contain a host of substances known to fight disease so it’s best to get your carb source from these rather than what you and I typically know as ‘carbs’. Grains don’t offer any additional nutritional value and all they do is cause sugar and insulin levels to spike in the blood which contributes to a wide variety of long term health conditions; if you compare a 1000 calories of fruit and a 1000 calories of veg with a 1000 calories of supposedly healthy grains, you find that grains don’t provide the RDA for much of anything whereas eating fruit and veg is like taking a nutritional supplement. On a side note… I make sure that I buy organic fruit and veg wherever possible because organic generally means involving non synthetic pesticides, insecticides and fertilisers which is SO important because regular pesticides, insecticides and fertilisers are chemicals that are SOOOOO toxic; it’s unbelievable that they are even legal because the toxins accumulate in our bodies and contribute to multiple chronic illnesses!
So what do you typically eat in a day if you follow the paleo diet? Even though the paleo diet doesn’t include dairy (this is because dairy causes inflammation leading to a whole host of problems) it still includes eggs because eggs are such a good source of protein so for breakfast I usually eat eggs with tomatoes and mushrooms or I make a green smoothie full of lots of delicious fruit and veg; today I made a smoothie with celery, kale, romaine lettuce, apple, lemon, flaxseed, coconut water and coconut milk! I substitute dairy milk with nut milks such as almond, coconut, hazelnut and cashew because nuts are also high in protein and high in fibre and many other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Then for lunch and dinner I generally eat meat and vegetables, in the form of soups, salads or hot meals. I also try to buy free-range, organic and grass-fed meat wherever possible because grass-fed meat is where the animals are fed grass instead of grains (carbohydrates). When animals are fed grains it alters the omega 3/omega 6 fat ratio, disrupting their digestive system and in turn making us inflamed when we eat the meat. Meat that isn’t grass fed is also made to get the animal fat, as quickly as possible by feeding them grains so buying grass-fed meat also helps the animals because it doesn’t subsidise the quality of the meat to make it more economically viable. Therefore by choosing grass-fed meat it’s the largest step you can take to make an economic vote for how your food is produced. Also grain feeding the animals causes a high acid environment inside the animal which allows bacteria such a E.coli to reproduce and become acid resistant; so then when we eat it our acid producing stomachs cannot kill the contaminated food! Basically grains = DISASTER!
Another thing we don’t eat on the paleo diet is legumes; so why no legumes you may be wondering? Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas, peanuts, soybeans are just a few) contain a compound called phytic acid which moves around the body sweeping up all of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients, clumping them together and dispersing them so we are unable to utilise them which is the last thing our bodies need especially if you are sick, we want as many vitamins, minerals and nutrients as possible! I must admit that the paleo diet is quite a limited diet compared to the average diet in the Western world in this day and age but you can make the food and cooking more exciting by incorporating herbs and spices into EVERYTHING! Such as some of my favourites, ginger, basil, coriander, onions, shallots, garlic, pepper, mint, cinnamon and rosemary. Most herbs and spices have health benefits as well which makes them even better :). If you get hungry between meals it’s best to snack on nuts, seeds and fruit instead of the sugar laden food most people eat! Sugar is a big no no for all sorts of reasons; it causes inflammation, spikes blood sugar and insulin levels in the blood which can contribute to a whole host of complex chronic illnesses. This is just a summary of the paleo diet, so if you are interested in learning more about it then you can buy another really good book here which was written by the founder of the paleo diet Dr Loren Cordain.
I began this diet back in January 2015 after reading Dr Myhill’s first book, so I had already been doing it for a year before I started attending the private hospital I’m under, Breakspear Medical, back in January 2016. I didn’t realise it at the time, but when I started at Breakspear I actually knew quite a lot about diet and nutrition and how food can adversely or positively affect your health, so when I first met my nutritionist at Breakspear, Ron, in January 2016, he told me that most patients have to completely change their diet when they arrive at Breakspear. However, he said I actually had one of the best diets he had ever seen! This made me so happy because I had been trying so hard to do everything I possibly could to get myself better from my bed (literally from my bed) and it meant that I didn’t have much to change apart from some of the things he wrote about in his report from my initial consultation with him, which you can see below… most of which was based on my symptoms and initial test results.
As you can see in point number 2 above ^^^ I have gut issues (a really good book I highly recommend to learn more about the gut is literally called GUT by Giulia Enders which you can buy here) so the balance of the colonic flora in my gut is disrupted mainly with candida which is a type of yeast that everyone has in their bodies (even healthy people). However, when the immune system becomes compromised and suppressed like mine is, then the immune system finds it difficult to keep the candida in check so it becomes overgrown in the GI tract. Sugar feeds candida which is just one of many reasons I now follow a sugar free diet, even natural sugars such as honey, agave syrup or maple syrup and fruit feed the yeast so it’s important to limit even your intake of natural sugars; I eat up to 2 portions of fruit per day as my maximum sugar intake and chose fruits that have a low glycemic index (GI) because these have the lowest sugar content. I also try to choose vegetables with lower GI so this means avoiding starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, swede and squash. You can see the fructose content of fruits and some veg in this chart I was given by Ron my nutritionist below…
Antioxidants are SO important in recovery from chronic illness; hence why you will probably hear a lot about them if you are already poorly and hoping to recover or healthy and trying to prevent chronic illness from happening in years to come! A high intake of antioxidant vitamins and minerals from fresh fruit and vegetables is one of the best dietary strategies you can adopt to improve chronic illness and reduce the risk of chronic illness in the future. Unfortunately, when cereals, dairy products and processed foods displaces fruits and vegetables, they automatically lower your intake of health-giving antioxidiants from fruits and veggies which is yet another reason to give the paleo diet a go because it can help prevent health problems that are a direct result of our environmentally polluted world. Some of the health issues I have require high doses of antioxidants in my diet, these health problems include mitochondria dysfunction issues (where the parts of the cells that make energy don’t work properly), mould toxicity, heavy metal toxicity and environmental pollutants stuck inside my body such as pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers and chemicals found in plastic and stainless steel. I have acquired a toxic load burden inside my body that it can no longer handle because we are regularly exposed to numerous toxic substances that didn’t exist 100 years ago which contribute to chronic illness. In addition I have multiple genetic mutations and methylation issues which mean I can’t detoxify properly in the same way a healthy person can. It’s clear that to help improve the mitochondrial function and to help excrete mould, heavy metals and toxins out of my body, it needs as many antioxidants as possible! Antioxidants are found in lots of different foods, mainly in fruits and vegetables which make them some of our most powerful allies in the war against disease and there is one antioxidant which is particularly beneficial called PQQ. I took this for a while as an oral capsule but PQQ is also found in many different foods so you can easily increase your uptake of PQQ in your diet, as you can see in the chart below…
From my experience with speaking via social media and face to face, to hundreds if not thousands of people with chronic illnesses over the last couple of years, it seems that many people either have an issue with becoming overweight or underweight once they get sick. The paleo diet is great if you want to lose weight if you are overweight because it cuts out all of the naughty things that make you gain weight. It’s also great if you are underweight and want to gain weight in a healthy way because you just increase the amount of paleo foods you eat and the portion sizes in your diet. When I first went to Breakspear in January 2016 I was severely underweight, weighing just 6 and half stone so I was put on a weight gain programme by my doctor, Dr Monro and my nutritionist, Ron which you can see in the table below. I also increased my intake of healthy fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds and ate multiple different oils by spoon each day e.g. flax seed oil, evening primrose oil, walnut oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, no vegetable oils though because they aren’t very good for you (they are high in omega 6 and low in omega 3 which leads to cholesterol issues)! I also incorporated an organic grass fed whey protein powder into a green smoothie each day which you can buy here which helped me gain weight. Below is the weight gain programme I followed that Breakspear gave me along with the above advice which has helped me gain two stone in two years so I’m now back to a healthy BMI 🙂
Throughout my time at Breakspear I have had soooo many different tests as you can imagine and may have seen in my previous blog posts… One of the tests I had was a food sensitivity panel which found reactions to lots of different types of foods so I then went on to do another test called a histamine panel to see if I have a problem with histamine because I was literally reacting to every single food I ate! The histamine results showed that I have high ‘Diamine Oxidase’ levels which means I have histamine intolerance. Histamine is present in lots of different types of foods which could partially explain why I was reacting to so many different kinds of foods so I was given this table below which explains what foods are high in histamine and what foods are low in histamine so my nutritionist, Ron and I could then adjust my diet further, (it’s known as the histamine diet).
Before doing the histamine panel, I was already following the paleo diet as you know which is a pretty strict regime so my nutritionist didn’t want to restrict what I was eating much more than I already was. There were two things I was advised to cut out though due to their high histamine content, fish and vinegars. Fish is typically a key part of the paleo diet due to the many health benefits it has, however it’s high in histamine and fish also contains heavy metals which I have a problem with due to the heavy metal toxicity in my body so I have cut fish out of my diet altogether. Saying that, as I’m writing this post I’m down at Breakspear for 6 weeks having treatment and I’m about to go and get some gluten free fish and chips from the fish and chip shop in Hemel Hempstead (the town where Breakspear is) for myself and the other patients because it’s important to have treats every now and again! I think I’ve only eaten fish twice in the last year, so I’m quite excited I must admit! Anyway back to what I was saying, vinegars such as balsamic and apple cider vinegar are also high in histamine so I was also advised to cut vinegars out of my diet (I wasn’t eating malt vinegar anyway because it’s made from barley which contains gluten) which now makes sense because every time I had apple cider vinegar I had awful headaches but I had no idea why! At least I now know it’s because of the histamine intolerance! ***I’m writing this a day later… had horrific reaction to fish and chips last night. NEVER AGAIN. Note to self – stick to diet no matter what!
Due to the reactions I was getting every time I ate gluten (stomach bloating, cramps, nausea and vomiting) when I first came to Breakspear back in 2016 my nutritionist Ron, ordered a gluten sensitivity test to see if I have celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition where the body produces an allergic response to gluten, it’s not the same as a food sensitivity or a sensitivity to gluten. This originally came back negative but what I didn’t know then that I do know now is that if you are’t eating any gluten when you take the test and you are celiac then a positive celiac result won’t show and it comes back negative. Later down the line this was investigated further because red blood cells were found in the stool test I had to do to check for parasites which thankfully I didn’t have!! I then did another stool test which confirmed red blood cells and then another after cutting out red meat from my diet for a week to check that it wasn’t from the meat. These tests showed I was bleeding from somewhere in my gut now the urgent question was where from and why???? I was referred by Breakspear to Dr Sean Preston who is a a consultant physician and gastroenterologist at the London Digestive Health Clinic on Harley Street. My family has a history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in particular with ulcerative colitis and chrons disease which are both chronic conditions that involve inflammation of the gut so this is what the specialist expected to find as the cause of the bleeding. However, when he performed a colonoscopy on me he found no IBD but in fact that the lining of my gut was stripped but he had no idea why! A few months later I was tested for strep infection at Breakspear which came back positive for Strep Type B (that’s the one that infects the organs) and this can cause bleeding of the gut so finally we had some explanation for what was going on! It was no longer a mystery!
The gastroenterologist, Dr Preston, also ran a few different tests for celiac disease which came back positive and something I find really interesting about this that I want to share with you guys is that since I’ve been having treatment for my many and complex chronic illnesses, my reactions to gluten have been much less severe. This is interesting because Lyme Disease can cause multiple autoimmune conditions, including celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis and I never had a problem with gluten until I caught Lyme so we believe that my celiac disease is an acquired autoimmune disease because it’s improving as I’m being treated for Lyme. This provokes the question, how many people with autoimmune diseases actually have Lyme as the cause? There are multiple research studies that have happened and are ongoing looking into this and the results so far are fascinating! I’ll talk more about this and how Lyme can cause a wide variety of chronic illnesses some other time. It’s safe to say that avoiding gluten and other inflammatory foods such as dairy and sugar is key to helping gain some relief from inflammatory and autoimmune conditions if you suffer from any of the above.
You are probably wondering how Lyme Disease can cause all of these problems including food sensitivities and food allergies, so I will try my best to explain it briefly… When food reactions happen, there is an interaction between the allergens, antibodies, and mast cells, which are part of our immune system. Our immune systems are out of sync and they no longer work properly so when these things all interact with each other it causes the release of histamines and inflammatory cytokines which in turn causes symptoms. Each reaction to an allergen is individual and can cause multiple different symptoms and many people don’t even realise they are having reactions because the symptoms cross over with all the other parts of their complex chronic illness. Something that Breakspear diagnosed me with because of the amount and severity of the reactions to food I was having is mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) which is also known as mast cell activation disorder (MCAD). This was diagnosed purely based on my symptoms because of the amount and severity of reactions I have to food, chemicals, supplements, medications, literally EVERYTHING. It’s an immunological condition where mast cells inappropriately release chemicals which results in a range of chronic symptoms. I have only developed this problem since I had Lyme so this is a secondary acquired immunological condition. The key advice I have if you have any kind of chronic illness is that a good starting point for healing is an anti-inflammatory diet and to avoid the most common food allergens, such as, wheat, dairy and sugar so this fits in perfectly with the paleo diet!
Here are some of my favourite paleo cookbooks for you to try out if you want to give the paleo diet a go, which I’m hoping you will after reading this blog post!
I would like to show you guys what my nutritionist Ron always puts together for me when my treatment plan needs adjusting, based on my symptoms, new test results and treatment suggestion by my doctor. This is all of the treatment I take each day whether I’m at Breakspear, at home, or on the rare occasion I’m well enough to be on holiday! Getting better is literally a full time job, I’m down at Breakspear for weeks on end and I’m here now as I’m writing this, sometimes the treatment is even tougher than having Lyme itself but it will hopefully all be worth it in the long run!
I would also like to announce that I will be undertaking a nutritional therapy course starting in October 2017, under the College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM) so once I have completed the course, I will have my accreditation as a nutritional therapist / nutritionist and be qualified to set up my own affordable clinics across the country, then across Europe and eventually the world, to treat people with Lyme and other complex chronic illnesses! I can’t believe I have actually enrolled and this is what I will be spending my future doing because it’s such a different path to the fashion world I used to work in and I never thought I would be well enough to do anything like this again. Hopefully it’s a path that can make a change and help someone somewhere out there so they don’t have to suffer anymore and go through what I went through and still continue to go through each and every day. You can find out more by keeping up with my journey on social media so don’t forget to follow me on on Instagram (@myblondevoyage), Twitter (@myblondevoyage) and my Facebook Blog page (Blonde Voyage). Also if you have any questions please leave them in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer them 🙂 Thanks guys! Hopefully it won’t be too long before I write another post x