The first time I had ME I recovered without paying any particular attention to changing my diet, apart from aiming to eat healthily. However, looking back, the majority of my recovery took place whilst I was travelling around South America where I rarely ate processed foods, bread or pasta. This time around, I have struggled with pronounced gut symptoms and unstable blood sugar levels and have had to pay attention to my diet. One of the most helpful things I have found is cutting back on my carbohydrate intake.
This was first forced upon me by my food intolerances. I first notice my intolerance to sugar and wheat. I then realised that all gluten was causing me problems, and most fruit. I later realised that yeast and mushrooms were a problem too, leading me to the conclusion that I had probably developed a yeast imbalance. Any kind of very refined carbohydrates would set me off; I couldn’t even tolerate gluten free flour or corn flour. I could only cope with one portion of gluten free pasta and if I had left overs and ate it again the next day my symptoms would flare. I also found that eating processed carbohydrates would lead me to terrible carbohydrate cravings, and that only by cutting them out altogether could I calm those cravings.
Through a certain amount of trial and error, some personalised advice from a nutritionist and a lot of reading I’ve finally found a pattern of eating that works quite well for me: a modest portion of complex carbs with my evening meal (such as whole grain rice, potatoes, brown rice noodles or gluten free pasta etc.) but very few other carbs during the day (apart from those in vegetables and the occasional rice cake). I have egg and beans for breakfast most mornings and a vegetable soup, or salad for lunch. On the rare occasion I eat a low GI fruit, such as a grapefruit or raspberries I always eat some protein at the same time.
It seems that many people with ME/CFS benefit from a low carb diet, however some find that cutting carbs out completely just doesn’t work for them. Eating some carbohydrates may be really important for our serotonin levels. I think we would all benefit from minimising refined or processed carbohydrates (cakes, biscuits, sweets, white bread, white pasta, sugar laden breakfast cereals, soft drinks etc.). If gut symptoms or unstable blood sugar symptoms are prompting you to consider cutting down on carbohydrates:
- Do so slowly.
- Replace processed grains with whole grains.
- Reduce your carb portions before cutting them out altogether.
- You may find it better to minimise carbs at breakfast and lunch but keep them with your evening meal.
- Eat plenty of fresh vegetables.
- Always eat some protein when you eat something sweet.
- Use your intuition and listen to what feels right for you
Have you tried a low carb diet? How has it affected you?