Today I bring you a sensitive topic again, my health.
If you read my blog often, you know that I want to retire early due to my medical condition, CFS. After I developed the chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), I started looking for answers and tried to improve my condition in any way I could. I found nutrition to be one of the most important factors in improving my own condition, followed my relaxation techniques and other tools, which I share with you in this post.
Note that this is my own experience with CFS, and your case may be a different one. In particular, consider the following disclaimer before proceeding:
Important disclaimer: The statements in this post have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This blog and this post are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise or diet program.
The following information presents, among other things, a strategy (including a diet and supplements) that I have used to fight CFS. I am by no means suggesting that the same strategy would produce any results for your own situation. What I report is the experience I personally had with it.
What is the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
My own experience was that clinicians and health care professionals are not well aware of CFS. Most don’t know what it is or how it can be diagnosed. A small percentage says that CFS and Fibromyalgia or ME are the same. Some believe that CFS, ME and Fibromyalgia don’t even exist.
Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The Mayo clinic says, in this post, that CFS has eight official signs and symptoms, plus a central symptom that gives the condition its name:
- Loss of memory or concentration
- Sore throat
- Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
- Unexplained muscle pain
- Pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness
- Headache of a new type, pattern or severity
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise
As I mentioned in this post, I have personally suffered from extreme fatigue, muscle pain and tension, unrefreshing sleep, dizziness, brain fog and low mood.
Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The Mayo clinic says that some of the factors in the cause of CFS that have been studied include viral infections, immune system problems, and hormonal imbalances. My opinion is that stress and living in an environment and country I didn’t really like played a major role in my particular case. For the most part, the actual causes of CFS seems to remain a mystery. Scientifically, there is not as much evidence as there is for other diseases. However, there was one particular study that caught my attention. The study is called “Chronic fatigue syndrome is in your gut, not your head” and was published in the journal Microbiome. For more information on this article, I refer you to this article. I mention this study because I addressed gut bacteria in my diet to fight CFS.
Chronic fatigue syndrome treatment
As part 6 of this article mentions, there is currently no specific cure for CFS. I highlight this quote, from the same source: “Each afflicted person has different symptoms and may, therefore, benefit from different types of treatment aimed at managing the disease and relieving their symptoms.”
How to overcome chronic fatigue syndrome
This is the big question. There is no specific treatment, but how can we overcome the disease and live a rich life without being bothered by it? Of course that I don’t have an answer for that, but the rest of this article presents the strategy that I have used for my particular situation.
My Chronic Fatigue Syndrome diet
Similarly to what was reported in other sources, diet has also been one important player in improving my CFS symptoms (the others would be anti-stress / relaxation tools, and aggressive rest). In the next section, I will explain what worked for me, in terms of diet.
The Paleo Diet as a diet to beat CFS
My understanding of the Paleo Diet is that you remove all processed foods, refined vegetable oils, cereal grains, dairy, and legumes. In contrast, you can eat grass-fed meat, fish and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds and healthy oils, such as olive oil. You can check out the entire lists here, the Paleo Diet website.
Chronic Fatigue and The Paleo Diet
I personally use a variation of the Paleo Diet, simply because I was so used to cereals that I could never get really used to the Paleo Diet. In particular, the variations include:
- Rice (although Quinoa was preferred);
- Low GI fruit at the beginning of every meal;
- Green, fresh salads at every meal;
- All meat cooked at very low temperature and medium or rare.
- Little to none white meat – at least 90% beef;
- Plenty of Sauerkraut (which is really good for your gut bacteria);
- Water as the only drink (at least half a gallon), except for 1 coffee a day and homemade teas.
I consider this the best diet I have ever tried. It boosted my energy significantly and I felt extremely “cleaned”, as opposed to when I had a regular diet, where I felt extremely “toxic”, having CFS. My diet was close to a ketogenic diet because I had little carbs, but I never actually entered ketosis, as I always used carbs. Here are some pics of a regular day on this diet:
BTW, I am getting back to this diet in May 1st, 2017, when I move to Portugal. I will keep you updated in terms of results throughout the year, with monthly or bi-monthly posts.
How to lose weight with chronic fatigue syndrome
I’ve met many CFS sufferers because I took action in that direction, convinced it would help me. I’ve met people who suffered immensely – way more than me. Remember, I have a mild version of CFS and I was able to do a lot with my life – for example, I suffered from CFS throughout 90% of my PhD and I travelled to South America, North America, and Asia in this period (and I commuted between Germany and Portugal a few times in the year).
Some of the people I met had little to none physical activity, which impaired their physical shape. Many people asked how they could lose weight having CFS, and I wanted to leave this note here: with the diet above, I was able to keep my lean mass and lose a lot of weight. I think that reducing carbs and keeping a very clean diet were the key for my own situation. I probably consumed well above 3500 calories a day, spread out over 6-7 meals, and was never hungry.
Supplements I took for CFS
Again, this post is by no means meant to treat, cure or prevent any disease. I strongly suggest you talk to your physician regarding taking supplements. This section is about supplements I took and worked for me.
I took a variety of supplements from early 2013 until today. Some worked, some didn’t. I did a lot of research before taking them, so I knew chances were high they would work for me. Here’s a list of supplements that worked for me, in the respective category:
- Energy boosting: Ginseng. I took two brands, without any noticeable difference. My favorite Ginseng supplement today, under the effect/price ratio, is Ginseng from Now Foods.
- Fighting dizziness: ginger tea, ginger in capsules and Ginkgo Biloba.
- Low stock of bacteria and tiredness: this probiotic.
- Good liver functioning: a liver supporting supplement.
Some of the links in this list of supplements are affiliate links.
Relaxation techniques for the chronic fatigue syndrome
If you have CFS, you may feel that you have an Emergency Stress Response (ESR) turned on all the time, as I do. As a result, my body never seems to relax properly. I may sleep for 10 hours in a row and wake up exhausted or with the feeling that it didn’t have refreshing sleep. I do have two “weapons” against this problem, which I have used successfully over the last year.
Meditation and breathing exercises
I was introduced to meditation for the first time in Germany, by a practitioner who used to give me cultural adaptation sessions. There are essentially three books I recommend for meditation, the first of which isAnother great book, although on a more generic topic, is co-authored by Dr. Oz
My nervous system is basically fried; I can’t handle stress. Minimal stressful events have a huge impact on my system, and I notice them right away. Think of the “stress handle system” as a glass. Your body (assuming you have a perfectly functioning system) can empty the glass if you relax, even if you don’t notice. It may be during the night or while you watch your TV show – your body is emptying the glass. In my case, the glass is always full; my body won’t empty it and even a single drop will cause a leak.
The biggest consequence I have from this “always-full glass” is terrible muscle pain (in my neck and trapezius), which makes me fell absolutely exhausted and terrible.
I started to meditate in 2014, with 2-minute periods, before going to sleep. Meditation is, IMO, a process that you can refine over time; Adapt it to suit your daily routine and exact problems. You don’t have to meditate for a fixed amount of time. From my experience, even 2-minute meditation periods will do a lot for you. Today, I try to meditate about 15 minutes every day, although I do five most of the time.
Another thing I introduced at some point, with great results, are breathing exercises. These are great because they enable us to target specific stress points. If you ever read something on this, read the two killers in this category:and
I feel way more calm and relaxed when I meditate and do breathing exercises. I can handle arguments without going nuts, reacting in a very rational way whenever I encounter them. Another benefit from regular meditation I have noticed (even though this may sound weird) is feeling more mature. Although I have experienced major improvements, my routine and work took over and I progressively stopped meditating as much as I used to. I almost experienced a chronic fatigue syndrome relapse after I stopped. Therefore, I plan on meditating at least 15 minutes every single day in 2017, also starting from May 1st.
What does the future hold
As you know, a big part of the reason I want to be financially independent is because I may be incapable of working in the future, as I don’t know in which ways my condition may evolve. At this point in time, I am very confident that I have managed most symptoms and this year will be one year to get rid of most symptoms. I actually believe that I will recover almost to 100% in the next years, as I am moving to a much more relaxed country and job. If I do, I will not stop to pursue my financial freedom – actually, I will probably accelerate my plan because I will be able to work more and faster.
I think that I will improve my condition, through my diet and relaxation techniques, such as meditation (and, as I said, moving to more relaxed environments). There is a very important tool I have used which I haven’t revealed in this post, as I need its author’s permission to do so. I promise to talk about it the next time around.