Nutrition, Diet, and Food Sensitivities

Woman Doctor offering a Green Apple for CFSAlthough one lesson is not enough to help you integrate all of the important aspects of nutrition for ME/CFS into your life, it’s enough to give you an overview of what areas you may want to look into — now or at some point in the future. I’ll give you a an overview of the essential areas you’ll want to pay attention to, and share with you my favorite resources for diving deeper into those particular areas.

By the end of this lesson, you’ll know the answers to the following important questions:

  • What’s the ideal diet to support my recovery from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
  • I have so little energy! How can I still make sure that I’m able to prepare and eat healthy food?
  • How can I discover whether food allergies are contributing to my symptoms? How can I identify what foods are causing problems?
  • What’s the deal with nutritional supplements? Should I buy them and, if yes, where?

Let’s answer these questions in the order listed.

What’s the ideal diet to support my recovery from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

A healthy diet for someone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is similar to that of a healthy person, with a few extras to consider. Before we go into those “extras,” let me explain the general guidelines for a healthy diet.

According to Bruce Campbell’s article on “Nutrition and Chemical Sensitivities,” a healthy diet is “moderate in fat and includes a variety of foods from different food groups, focusing on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”

Let me clarify this with a couple of illustrations:

  1. Keep it colorful. Different colored foods contain different vitamins, so eating foods in a variety of colors, ensures that your body gets all the vitamins it needs to develop its optimum healing powers. This is what Campbell means when he refers to eating a “variety of foods.”
  2. If the image doesn't display, please let Johannes know at johannes@cfsrecoveryproject.com

    Click on the image to learn a ton about a healthy diet.

    Think of this “example” plate. To remember Campbell’s advice to focus on “fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” think of a meal where 1/2 of your plate is covered by swiss chard, 1/4th by brown rice, and 1/4th by salmon. These three foods stand for the three food groups you want include in your diet. The three food groups are

    1. vegetables and fruits
    2. whole grains or other starchy foods
    3. a source of protein, such as salmon, chicken or tofu.

    I have so little energy!
    How can I still prepare and eat healthy food?

    There are two extra challenges many people with CFS need to overcome in order to give their body the optimal fuel for healing:

    1. Lack of energy, lack of appetite, or severity of symptoms make it difficult to prepare healthy meals.
    2. Food sensitivities and allergies. People with ME/CFS are often sensitive to stimulants such as coffee and alcohol, but also to other foods. These food sensitivities can exacerbate ME/CFS symptoms. For some people, identifying these food sensitivities alone can lead to a full recovery. Read the next section to learn how to discover what foods you’re sensitive to.

    Bruce Campbell does an excellent job with explaining and offering solutions to the two above challenges in his article, “Nutrition and Chemical Sensitivities.” Have a look at it by clicking the link; you’ll be glad you did.

    How can I discover what food allergies might be contributing to my symptoms?

    One important area Campbell did not cover in his article on nutrition is what you should know about discovering foods that might possibly be worsening your symptoms.

    By far the most reliable way to discover what foods aggravate your symptoms is the elimination diet. It’s considered the most reliable way because there are more than twelve mechanisms in our body that can cause food sensitivities and allergies, and each allergy test, for example the IGG test or ALCAT, only tests for one of those mechanisms, which makes these tests unreliable. The elimination diet, on the other hand, helps you discover how a food affects your body regardless of what allergy mechanism is involved, which makes it highly accurate.

    In an elimination diet you eat a very basic diet, such as rice, lamb, and broccoli, for a few days and then reintroduce common allergy provoking foods one-by-one, watching closely how each of these foods affects your symptoms.

    There are excellent free guidelines for following an elimination diet on the internet, the best of which was created by fellow ME/CFS patient and clinical nutritionist Blake Graham, B.Sc. (Honours). Access the guidelines here: Guidelines to elimination diet by Blake Graham, B.Sc. (Honours).

    One thing to watch out for with the elimination diet: It is possible that you are sensitive even to one of the few foods that you eat during the beginning phase of the elimination diet, in which case the diet won’t work for you. In my case, for example, I had difficulty digesting cabbage and broccoli, two of the foods which are suggested for the beginning phase in the above elimination diet guidelines. If you suspect that this is the case for you, contact a nutritionist or ask Blake directly to adjust the elimination diet so that it works for you.

    While the elimination diet is the most reliable way to identify the foods that worsen your symptoms, you might not be able to do it for a lack of time or energy. Before you give up on it, however, consider hiring a nutritionist to make following the diet easier and thus possible for you.

    The next best option after the elimination diet is the ALCAT test. Linda Partida, nutritionist and ME/CFS recoverer, is a big believer in this test. She says some people just don’t have the focus and time to do the elimination diet. So the ALCAT test, while it might not be as accurate as an elimination diet, can still help many people by giving them a good guess at what foods might be causing their problems, which can be a good place to start.

    Should you take nutritional supplements?

    Although nutritional supplements have the word “nutrition” in them, they don’t actually belong in the nutrition section of this course. The reason for this is that they are really more of a treatment than “just” a supplement. If you use them, take them in the doses suggested by CFS doctors or treatment books, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Treatment Guide or From Fatigued to Fantastic.

    Eating a balanced, healthy diet is much better for you than taking a bunch of vitamins that are not targeted to treating a CFS symptom (with the exception of one multi-vitamin and maybe some vitamin D, as recommended by the Harvard School of Public Health.)

    One book I like for discovering how nutritional supplements  can support your recovery from CFS/ME is Fatigued from Fantastic by Dr. Jacob Teitlebaum. It’s a great book, but I need to warn you that he, first, is overly optimistic about what his treatments can do for you, and, second, shamelessly advertises his clinics and the associated brands of supplements. His products are not bad, but a little overpriced. If you buy supplements with the same or similar active components from a different brand, you can often save fifty percent of the purchase price.

    This leads us to another tip I want to share with you. Read the below section to learn how to save time and money when buying herbs and nutritional supplements.

    Where to buy herbs and supplements and what brands to buy?

    There is a huge variety of brands offering a huge number of different supplements. I hope the quick facts below will save you some time and money when you navigate your way through this maze.

    • The best two nutritional supplements stores that I’ve found in my research are online stores. You might be surprised at how much cheaper you can get your supplements online, as compared to your health food store, super market, or pharmacy.
      • SwansonVitamins.com is my favorite store for herbs and supplements because they offer competitive prices on their quality products. If you buy there, I recommend buying supplements from the Now Foods brand, as they are a reputable brand that usually offers their products at an affordable price, or from the Swanson home brand, which seems also high-quality and usually is offered at the lowest price. Feel free to use my “refer a friend” link to get $5 off your first order!
      • ProHealth was founded by an entrepreneur who suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. He and his company are known to be active supporters of the ME/CFS community. ProHealth’s prices aren’t nearly as competitive as those offered on iHerb.com. Still, have a look here if supporting the ME/CFS community is worth paying a bit extra to you. Also support this free e-course by using my affiliate link :).
    • What brand of herbs and supplements should you buy? The best brand to buy is usually the home brand of the store that you are buying from (ProHealth’s home brand is called ProHealth). If the store you’re buying from doesn’t have a home brand, I recommend buying the Now Foods brand.

      I once studied the tests on Consumer Labs, which is just like Consumer Reports but for nutritional supplements, and it struck me that the home brands of the large vitamin stores as well as Now Foods never failed on those tests. Flaws were usually found in products from smaller manufacturers. Hence, I recommend that you stick with one of the home brands or Now Foods.

    Actions you can take this week

    Are you already eating a healthy diet?

    Have you found a way to prepare healthy food for yourself despite your symptoms and low energy?

    If not, use this week to take action on the solutions discussed in the respective sections of this article.

    Is your digestion not working right or do you suspect that you have food allergies and sensitivities? Then focus on trying the elimination diet.

    Not sure whether you should take supplements and where to buy them? Then use this week to study the above section on nutritional supplements and herbs.

    You won’t be able to tackle both topics this week, which is totally fine. Just start with the issue that’s most pressing for you and set the other ones aside for later.

    Good luck with taking your next steps toward better health and happiness!

    Best to your health,
    Johannes' Signature

    P.S.

    If you’ve got here without being subscribed to the free CFS Recovery Project E-Course, you’re missing out. This is lesson #7 on how to reach your maximum health and happiness potential if you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia. If you’re not already a subscriber, click here to learn more about it.

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