I think it’s safe to say that I’ve always been a good eater, a slow eater, but a good one. Even as a child I would eat pretty much anything – mainly because my parents told me I was only allowed 2 foods that I didn’t have to like which, for me, were mushrooms and lettuce! Yes, I know lettuce doesn’t really have a taste, but I really didn’t like it. Now I tend to only eat it if its on a burger or in a sandwich! Mushrooms though, they never pass my lips (if my Dad makes his special bolognaise sauce he always remembers to keep the mushrooms big so I can take them out and add them to his plate!). The rule was so stedfast that even as an adult I still have to have 4 Brussels sprouts with my Christmas dinner even though I really can’t stand them!
I’m not sure if it was my love of people or my love of food (and drink!) that really led me to a career in hospitality, but either way for the last 20 years I’ve had the pleasure of working with food and some amazing chefs. I’ve been lucky enough to be a guinea pig for new menus, new sweet treats and just anything and everything a chef wants to try out. Even now in my current job, colleagues get very jealous of meetings I attend with our catering team as I’m always being spoilt by our amazing Executive Chef with whatever treat he’s developing to put on sale. I always get excited when he comes in to the room with a tray full of new cakes – not so much the new salad pots!
I used to be one of those lucky ones who could eat and drink whatever they fancied as long as I exercised enough to keep the weight off. I’m not going to lie, since hitting puberty back in the day, my weight has been up and down. Unsurprisingly it went up during my uni days where the focus was more on having fun with food than eating properly. My weight then went down in my early 20’s as I was working crazy hours in the hospitality and events industry as well as following the trend of running more. When I hit my late 20’s I started my current job and became more sedentary – so my tummy then grew again! I got fed up of that so I did something about it and started to exercise with a friend of mine and we both saw the weight drop off. I then found my balance. I could eat what I wanted as long as I exercised a couple of times a week. This was working beautifully and I felt so healthy and fit and was loving life. Then ME hit!
Over the course of the first year of having ME I put on over 4 stone. 4 STONE!!! I wasn’t able to exercise anymore so my balance had gone. But more than that, my enjoyment of food was starting to wane. I no longer had energy to cook. I would get home from work exhausted and didn’t know what I fancied to eat, what I had in the house to eat or if I could be bothered to even make something. I reverted to eating more and more processed food and take aways. This was something I knew didn’t work well for the waistline but I was stuck in the rut and doing everything I knew was wrong.
I couldn’t snap out of it though. My ME had taken control. I was having horrible cravings for stodge; heavy, fatty, sweet foods that I couldn’t deal with so just gave in. I was reaching for sugary drinks, cakes and chocolate in a bid to get a spurt of energy to get me through the next couple of hours. All the time my brain was trying to comprehend why I was doing this to myself. I would tell myself off for doing this as I know from my training and experience of food that this wouldn’t end well. The additional 4 stone certainly confirmed this.
The thing that upset me more though, was that I was falling out of love with food. I wasn’t enjoying eating any more; flavours just seemed to be so bland and nothing was exciting me anymore – not even the Chef’s treats at the meetings. This didn’t help me deal with my ME at all. Not only had it taken my physical life from me, it was taking away enjoyment too. But the little bit of me that was still inside, knew that something had to be done.
I moved house – don’t worry, I didn’t go this extreme to fix my food issue! I moved to get more space, live in a more peaceful area and try to help myself more by generally feeling more comfortable. The good thing from a food perspective has been that there are less takeaway options available where I live now. I no longer drive past fast food outlets and supermarkets on the way home from work so its not as easy to grab the rubbish I was grabbing before.
I’ve really been able to focus on my eating more than I did before. I think this is because I now understand my ME better and don’t need to focus as much on this as I used to. Now I can focus more on living with it and getting some kind of life back.
To try and help me I asked the doctor if it was possible to be referred to a dietician or nutritionist to help me lose weight but more importantly help me to make sure I eat the right foods to help my energy levels and deal with my ME symptoms. I was told this kind of service doesn’t exist in the area I live so instead I was referred to the NHS version of weight watchers. Not quite what I was looking for and it was a bit like teaching an old dog new tricks, but I went along. I met some great people in the class and it did focus me on what I was eating. I also got lucky because the person leading the class was actually a qualified dietician (which isn’t usually the case) so I was able to pick her brains.
So now, I eat a lot better. I’ve started to cook more again. I tend to do batch cooking every couple of months and I freeze in portions which I can take out, defrost and reheat. I aim to use recipes that are filling and tasty and that will help my energy levels so I no longer reach for the sugary drinks (just saying, I haven’t had a full fat coke for 6 months now!). This works really well for me.
I’ve managed to reduce the amount of sugar and fat that I eat as well as the number of takeaways – yes I do still have the odd one! Focussing on my diet has helped me to lose 2.5 stones already. I’m really chuffed with this as I’ve managed it without any exercising and with will power (as well as missing a few meals through sleeping long hours but I wouldn’t advocate this!). People ask if I feel better for it. Honest answer is, I don’t know. My ME is still what it is but I feel happier that my tummy is reducing and on the outside I look healthier. More importantly though, I’m beginning to love food again!