Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Habits of Recovery

I’ve just finished listening to the audio book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.   The book is very well written and surprisingly entertaining, using real life stories to illustrate the points about habit. Here’s a review which explains a little bit of the theory behind the book.  Finishing the book has made me realise how I’ve been building positive habits that help my recovery.  Here are a few that spring to mind:

  •  I use my infra red sauna daily,
  •  I meditate silently most days,
  • My eating habits have changed dramatically compared with what I used to eat before I was ill.
  • I take supplements
  • Resting

The habit loop consists of a cue (time, location, other people, environmental state or immediately preceding action), a routine and a reward.My reward for all the routines related to my recovery is feeling better. My cues vary, but are mostly time or immediately preceding actions.

My habits have changed as my recovery has progressed.  For example I used to rest 4 times a day at specific times for 30-60 minutes, lying down and listening to guided relaxation.  Now, I have a time cue for my daily meditation  (after lunch, but before school pick up) but if I feel low on energy (cue: my emotional state – feeling tired) I will add in additional rests as needed.

Of course it’s also easy to get into unhelpful habits like spending all day on facebook, watching TV, eating doughnuts, having a glass of wine every evening or going to bed really late.  The most important thing I am taking away from the book is that with a bit of work you can figure out what is driving your habits, and this will give you the power to change them.

I’ve heard that BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits Programme can help with creating new habits and I also recommend the blog Zen Habits by Leo Babauta.

So what habit do you want to build?  Don’t try and change everything at once and remember from my Increasing or Decreasing post it’s easier to focus on adding something positive in rather than what you are removing/stopping. Here are some suggestions from me if you’re looking for ideas:

  • Add an extra portion of vegetables to your evening meal;
  • Think of a time of day when you are particularly tired and add an extra rest into your day, preferably an hour before that time;
  • Write down 5 things you are grateful for every night before you go to sleep;
  • Hug your family members when they come in from work/school.


I’ve been struggling with constipation since June 2013.  It’s a pain in the ass (literally), but compared to where I’ve come from, dealing with a bit of constipation seems a relatively minor issue.  I tend to suffer a bout of constipation, get it under control, have some normal bowel movements and think I’ve solved the problem, but then it comes back.  My nutritionist suggested tracking my constipation in relation to my monthly cycle to see if there’s a hormonal link; I couldn’t see any.

I’m working on improving my bowel movements via my diet (more on that soon). I suspect my sugar consumption has not been helping. In the meantime here are some natural constipation remedies which should get your bowels moving if you need a bit of help.

  • Drink 8 cups of warm fluid every day. Include soups and herbal tea.
  • Eat 2 of these a day: asparagus, black sesame seed, cabbage, coconut, figs, flaxseed, papaya, pea, prune or sweet potato
  • Make time! Eat regularly, sit on the toilet regularly and relax, allow 15 minutes bathroom time twice a day to retrain your bowels.
  • Increase the quantity of healthy fat in your diet; try eating more coconut oil, olive oil or avocado.
  • Drink Aloe Vera Juice – I use Pukka, which my nutritionist says is the most palatable, although it’s still not pleasant. I have 3 tablespoons a day.

If you need a bit of extra help then try this Flax* and Prune Mousse:

Put two heaped dessert spoons of flax seed in a small bowl. Cover with half a cup of pressed prune juice. Leave to soak for 12 hours (overnight) and eat with a spoon. Repeat once or twice a day until regular bowel movements are restored. Drink adequate water when including flax seeds in your diet.

Magnesium can help with constipation, and also has other benefits for ME/CFS sufferers.  I have found epsom salt baths – epsom salts are magnesium sulphate – very helpful for muscle aches, and when I took magnesium citrate** to ease my constipation I found my restless legs disappeared completely.

*Flax seeds are also known as linseeds

** Please note that I do not have any medical or functional medicine qualifications, this is based on my own experience, and if you follow this suggestion you do so at your own risk.

Cabbage Juice Stinks

I saw this great post about cabbage juice at the Whole Body Health and Fitness Blog.

I’ve tried some of the slow cooker recipes from this site and they’ve been really successful (enjoyed not just by me, but the whole family).  So, when I read about the cabbage juice, despite thinking that it did not sound like it would end in a tasty drink, I decided to give it a try.

I’m willing to do quite a lot to gain all the health benefits listed in the original article: there were 17 separate bullet points.

However, even before I took the lid off the pot (3 days after setting up the mixture) I had been wondering why the kitchen smelt funny.  Once I removed the lid, the reason became clear.  The juice smelled REALLY bad.  Despite the smell I did try and drink a spoonful of it, but I could taste/smell the stuff for a good hour afterwards and it made me slightly nauseous.  Perhaps my container did not have a tight enough lid, or perhaps I forgot to add the salt, or perhaps it’s always like that.  I do know that this experiment was a fail and this is one healthy drink that I won’t be partaking of.


I’ve decided to share some of the progress I’m making.  I looked back at my post titled Glimpses and I can see I’m much stronger than when I wrote that at the beginning of December.

I’m not fully recovered yet, after some of the activities listed below I was exhausted and had to have a nap or rest.  However, I have managed to sleep well at night after my exertions and wake up the next day feeling back to normal. This is a huge improvement on the time where any little activity could take days to recover from.

Here’s what’s I’ve been up to:

  • a 15 km family cycle ride.  I was on my electric bike and did a mixture of assisted pedalling, and using the throttle instead of pedalling.
  • A family walk along the river, not sure how far we went, but probably about 30 minutes walking.
  • consistently pedalling my electric bike for the school runs.  It has taken longer than I expected, but at last I think I can do this every day.
  • Attending a professional meeting and speaking in the questions section at the end.  I used to do this type of thing as part of my job.  To have the mental and physical capacity to attend this meeting for about 90 minutes and put my point of view across was amazing.
  • Gardening.  I have been doing a little bit of gardening most days.  This has included moving barrow loads of compost, edging the path, weeding and planting seeds.  It’s fantastic to be out in the fresh air trying to make things grow.
  • Laundry – I’m gradually doing more and more of the laundry, but not all of it yet (I prioritise the more fun activities).
  • Cooking – my cooking abilities are much improved.  I no longer have to cook everything in the slow cooker. I’m enjoying sourcing new recipes of healthy food.
  • Socialise – I can now spend several hours socialising with friends.  Good times!
  • Shopping – I can now walk round a small supermarket and do most of the weekly food shop.  I also went shopping and bought a dress for my sister’s wedding without using a mobility scooter.

Each of these activities enables me to feel more like me, lifts my spirits (well perhaps not the laundry) and spurs me on to be able to do even more.

I hope you can see signs of progress in your own situation.  If you are going through a tough time then hang in there and remember it’s temporary.


When times are tough it’s difficult to find the mental and emotional strength to keep going.  It can be comforting to hear of others going through similarly tough times and coming out the other side.

I found listening to positive stories really helped my emotional state, and built my belief that I could recover; that I could beat this horrible illness.

For the first nine months of my illness I couldn’t read.  It was too difficult for my brain fogged mind to cope with.  During this time I signed up to the Optimum Health Clinic’s Secrets to Recovery Website;  I highly recommend this resource.  As well as having great information about things that can help your recovery, it has lots of recovery stories from former patients.  I listened to these stories, sometimes multiple times. Slowly they helped me understand that although there is no magic cure for ME/CFS, it is possible to recover.

Later in my recovery, when I could read again I searched for inspirational books.  Two that stand out for me are:

  1. Things Get Better by Katy Piper
  2. After the Crash by Martin Spinelli

I’m currently reading Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed.  I’m only part way through this, but I’m already inspired by this book too.

These books are not about ME/CFS, but they are all about people working through difficult times in their lives.

I also came across the film Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.  If you haven’t seen this yet, then make an effort to watch it.  It is a great example of how changing your diet can change your health.

I’d love to hear about other inspirational stories you’ve come across and enjoyed, either books or films.  Please share in the comments below.

A Low GI Diet

One thing that most nutrition advice agrees on is that a low GI diet is better than a high GI diet.  Even the NHS ME/CFS clinic I attended recommended a low GI diet, and they didn’t give much nutritional guidance at all.

What is the GI?

GI = Glycemic Index.  The Glycemic Index is a measure of the speed at which carbohydrates break down in our digestive system into glucose. Glucose is indexed at 100 and all other foods are calculated against this.  For example cornflakes, which contain mainly carbohydrate, are digested quickly and have a GI of 77, whilst yoghurt has a much lower GI of 14.

Why is it Important?

Some carbohydrates break down quickly and flood the bloodstream with glucose, others break down more slowly, only marginally increasing blood sugar levels. (High GI foods increase blood sugar faster and higher than low GI foods).

In my post on sugar I explained how sugar causes a spike in blood glucose levels. Our body responds to this by releasing insulin, which reduces the level of glucose by diverting it into body tissues for short term use or storing it as fat. The surge of glucose followed by the rapid drain leaves us starved of energy, so we search for another sugar fix to bring us out of the slump. By knowing whether a food is high GI or low GI we can understand whether it is likely to increase our insulin levels.

Fat and protein can slow down the rapid absorption of carbohydrates in our digestive system.  Hence foods with higher fat content tend to have a lower GI.  For example whole milk has a lower GI than skimmed milk.

Is all low GI food good for us?

I’m sure you can guess the answer to this: No!

Whilst we should all avoid the highest GI foods (sugar and refined grains), just because a food is low GI does not mean it’s OK to eat huge amounts of. There are other things we need to consider:

  • Do I have a food allergy/bad reaction to this food?
  • Is this food inflammatory? (more information in a future post)
  • Is this food nutrient dense?
  • Am I eating a variety of foods?

What are the main recommendations of the GI diet?

  • Avoid heavily processed foods (these tend to have a high GI)
  • focus on low GI “slow release” foods
  • Eat plenty of wholegrains – many of the recipes add wheat bran
  • Eat regularly  – 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day
  • aim for your plate to have 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 protein and 1/4 wholegrains
  • avoid alcohol
  • drink plenty of water
  • eat plenty of vegetables
  • exercise is not essential for weight loss, but is good for long term health

I have the GI diet book by Rick Gallop.  Some of the thinking in the book seems outdated, particularly as to which fats we should be consuming. Many of the recipes rely on the addition of wheat bran as additional fibre, to lower the GI of the food.  I have a post about gluten sensitivity which explains the problems that gluten (found in wheat) can cause.   However, there are plenty of naturally low GI foods that we can eat without wheat.

My Experience

I first discovered the GI diet after having my second child.  I wanted to loose the “baby” weight and following the low GI diet worked really well for me.  I enjoyed the food, wasn’t hungry and it was a diet that the whole family could eat (except the baby).  I have recently learned that our family carries the gene for coeliac disease (I don’t yet know whether I have this gene).  As such, with hindsight, adding additional wheat bran into our food was not good for my family. My daughter and I currently follow a gluten free diet and hence avoid wheat.  However, there are plenty of low GI foods that we can, and should include in our diet.


The GI diet has lots of positive aspects, and much of the dietary advice agrees with advice from other diets e.g. my foods to eat more of and foods to eat less of posts. It is a good idea to avoid foods with a high GI, and it’s no coincidence that these are the highly processed foods: white flour, bread, cakes, sugar etc, which every healing diet I’ve read about recommends we avoid. However, whether a food is low GI is not the only criteria we should consider when we decide whether or not to consume it.