Monday, 20 July 2015

Looking after yourself

What do you do to look after yourself, if anything?  It might be physical, such as running or exercise classes, or mental, such as meditation or some form of intellectual challenge like crosswords or sudoku.  It could be to do with diet or with ways of elevating your mood.

It is a tricky one.  It is perfectly possible to become so obsessed with your own health that you squeeze the joy out of life.  I love food, I love cooking, I love wine.  I don't want to live on brown rice.  But I do want to feel good and I am seriously wondering if I need to change the way I eat.   I don't normally use this blog to talk about very personal things but here we go.  I hope you don't mind if just this once I do.

For the last twelve months or so I have been plagued with tiredness, with repeated colds and unhappy guts.  A lot has happened in that time, principally the last illness and death of my father in law and the continuing decline of my father with motor neurone disease.  I have assumed when I have felt battered by exhaustion that this is the inevitable result of an exhausting stage of life with a weekly six hundred mile round trip and the additional and welcome demands of a large family of children and grandchildren.  We have focused hard on trying to keep our heads above water and on looking after each other.  I have kept up my yoga, joined a choir and tried to look after that self which is not simply a daughter or a mother and grandmother.  I am an energetic person.  I live my life biting off more than I can chew and I married someone who is just the same but now I am constantly getting left behind, always tired, unable to work in the garden for longer than an hour, knocked out if I have to get up early, looking back on my long walk on the Offa's Dyke Path from five years ago with bemusement.  Could I do that now?  Absolutely not.  Is it just getting older?  Is it trying to do too much?  Should I just accept that as we age energy diminishes?  I just don't know.

So I went to the doctor, under pressure of course.  I seem to be borderline hypothryroid.  Come back for more tests in a few weeks she says.  But I have had enough.  I have been trogging round the internet.  I know, I know.  There is any amount of stuff out there to keep the hyponchondriacs happy. I have no idea if changing my diet will make the slightest difference.  But while I am waiting for tests and more tests I don't see that I have anything to lose by having a go at changing my eating habits.

This is the article which has most appealed to me.  In a nutshell it suggests giving up caffeine, increasing the intake of protein and (most controversially and for me most challengingly) going gluten free.  The first two won't be a problem at all.  I am not going to have to give up wine either which is good!  But going gluten free will be much harder.  I love bread.  We make all our own so I know it is not full of additives but there is no getting away from the fact that it is full of wheat!  I also love baking: cakes, pies and pastries.  Ah well. If it just a couple of months I can surely manage and it is not as if I am coeliac where there are real issues of the dangers of contamination and real problems if you accidentally find yourself having consumed something with gluten in it.  And by the end of a couple of months I will surely know whether it makes any difference at all.

So there we go.  I feel a bit self conscious about this.  I have always been rather dismissive about faddy eaters.  I have kept pretty quiet about the fact that I have been using the FODMAP diet (without needing to restrict wheat) for IBS for the last few years.  But it is partly the fact that there is no doubt that the FODMAP diet works for me which has made me wonder if a couple more modifications might make a difference.  And it helps that we make all our food from scratch so there is no need for extensive reading of labels.  So here we go. I wonder how it will be?

What do you do to look after yourself and does it work?!  What are the really important things that make a difference to your health and energy?


58 comments:

  1. In recent months I've switched back to the lacto-ovo veggie diet I followed for most of my life, before my GP ordered me to start eating fish, and I've cut out wheat and gluten completely and sugar pretty much. I introduced the changes slowly so I've only just got all the way and so far so good. Good luck with the shift you have planned.

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    1. How do you feel on your new diet Annie? I am not intending to stop eating meat and fish so it's a very different approach but would be interested to know how you have found giving up bread!!

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    2. With apologies for the rather tardy reply ... I feel much better, apart from the fact that I have mild IBS so I need to think hard about what goes into my daily smoothies (sorry, that's probably too much information). I've honestly had no problem at all giving up bread - breakfast is mostly porridge, lunch is a home made smoothie packed with fruit, veg and hemp protein powder, and supper is veggie casseroles and soups (and sometimes, but you didn't see this bit, icecream ... it's my downfall). I thought i'd mind being surrounded by family eating bacon sandwiches this last weekend, but although I succumbed to a home made scone I was fine about missing out on the bread. It maybe helps though that I know that bread gives me heartburn, I hope you're having similar success.

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  2. Hello Elizabeth, I do hope that the changes you are making will have a positive impact on your well-being and energy levels. I will be very interested to hear as time goes on. I have recently had Q fever, and it zapped the energy right out of me. Now when I feel like a nap I just say...it's the Q fever you know...I need to rest. No mention of age! Obviously we do all slow down, that's how life works. My 90+ year old Aunty is constantly complaining about feeling tired, but when she lists off everything she has been doing, I feel exhausted!
    You sound to have a huge amount on your plate at the moment, and that takes a toll both physically and mentally doesn't it? I do believe I have not 'recovered' from the death of my father and that was 4 years ago now. Many adjustments we all have to make. My best wishes to you and I will follow with interest.

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    1. Thank you Jane. I am quite sure you are right to respond to the urge to nap! Maybe I should be doing a bit more of that. I will have a go at this for a few weeks and see if it makes any difference. I will report back!

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  3. Gluten is a culprit for so many people I'm sure it'll be worth trying. But don't underestimate the amount of energy you are using up managing everything that's on your plate- I get more zapped when there's a lot going on and am better at recognising when I need to cut back on things or indeed stop doing certain things altogether these days. Drinking lots of water is also good for energy and detoxing. Hope it all helps xx

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    1. It is a tricky one because I do recognise that it might be an idea to cut back on things but struggle to work out what they are as the big demands feel rather non-negotiable. Perhaps I should have a go at cutting back the little things instead and see if that helps!

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  4. I absolutely identify, but have little faith in my ability to change what I eat, though there seems to be a natural reduction in bread and meaty things going on. Plus I'm not sure that taking the control doesn't just make you feel more conscious of problems and therefore worse. Dieting in general seems to have such a roller coaster effect on the psyche. Being less hard on yourself has to be a first answer, guilt is always miserable. Nancy Mitford spent a full few days in bed every month, just to keep going with the social life. Mind you. she did have the blue blood to contend with.

    To be serious, I think it's all worth a try, but gently and kindly. Often a bit of stimulation can help, a change from routine. Being at the beck and call of others, however nicely, wears us all out and stops us thinking of what we'd really honestly like to do. I hope you start to feel better, you've had a lot to contend with and probably need to switch off for a while and regroup. Not much help, I'm sorry but I do recognise all the symptoms and sympathise.

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    1. I am really hoping not to diet as in reduce my intake. No going hungry! I agree, gently and kindly is the way. I am quite taken by the Nancy Mitford approach mind...

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  5. My experience of cutting gluten out of my diet was entirely positive on the health and well-being front and I'd thoroughly recommend giving it a go if you're generally feeling lethargic. I should warn you though, that it's not all that easy to incorporate it into a fairly busy lifestyle, because options for gluten-free eating out are a bit minimal. It can be done of course, but these days I just eat the occasional sandwich and piece of cake and don't stress about it. Of course it might not work for you, but I'd try it before I used drugs, then at least you'll know what it does for you. Good luck.

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    1. Interesting to hear from someone who has tried cutting out gluten. Thanks Anny! I can imagine that eating on the go is a problem - sandwiches are our staple diet when we are on the motorway. I will just give it a go, with rather more forward planning than usual when travelling! We will see.

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  6. I hope you are soon feeling better, but I can relate to feeling low and worn out after bereavement and so many long journeys to visit an ailing relative - it really does take its toll. And when I'm stressed it's my tummy/digestion that suffers. Is there a way you can take a break from the long journeys while you take care of yourself?
    Sending good wishes xx

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    1. I struggle to see how we would manage to cut back our long journeys. I sort of feel that even if I felt better physically I would feel worse mentally. I know you have been through something like this so I am sure you understand. Thank you for your good wishes. I do appreciate it.

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  7. Hi Elizabeth, I read your post with interest as I know that I could eat more healthily. I've been vegetarian since my 20s and have weight to lose. This year I've cut down drastically on cheese, as I was definitely over-reliant on it for protein, and feel better when I eat more pulses and nuts. Eating gluten-free sounds like an interesting option and perhaps will be beneficial for the digestion too. It's easy to under-estimate the effect of having illness and bereavement in the family too. We lost two family members last year, and it certainly takes an emotional and physical toll. I hope you can find time to relax as well :)
    Cathy x

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    1. Thanks Cathy. It is interesting to hear about the experience of others and to realise that so many of us are coping with similar demands. The stage of life we are at I suppose!

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  8. Once again, I see the common threads between us, the busy-ness and the looking after of other people which can be both draining and rewarding in equal measures! I was very fortunate to find an exercise I love, running, which takes care of my physical and mental health most of the time, although my dodgy eyes mean I sometimes have to go easier than I would wish. In periods of greatest stress, I've found meditation very helpful and try to 'sit quietly' every day. I hope that you feel much better very soon. Cx

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    1. I can imagine meditation is very helpful. I find a similar thing with yoga, especially going to classes where we have a really first rate teacher who is interested in that side of yoga as well as the physical. I should do more of it at home I know!

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  9. I have coeliac, and know that cutting out gluten is not just about not eating bread and cakes. Gluten is added to more foods/foodstuffs than most people would ever imagine, and is not to be undertaken lightly - and is absolute and for ever.
    A question, though. How do you know that you do not have coeliac? If you've not had one, a blood test would certainly be worthwhile, followed by a biopsy if recommended. If, though, you give up gluten for a little while and then get yourself tested, the test would come back negative, and you would never know. (The Coeliac UK website is excellent for medical and food info.)
    Although my 'urgent' symptoms disappeared as soon as I stopped eating gluten, the gut can take a long time to recover to the point where you begin absorbing nutrients properly.
    Whilst sticking to a strict gluten-free diet can seem daunting, for me it felt like I finally had an answer to problems that had plagued me since childhood.
    I hope you manage to find some answers soon. Take care.

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    1. Well it is a good question! I shall do some reading and research to try to be sure. Thank you for commenting. I don't think I am because I have all sorts of investigations in relation to my IBS but it worth asking the question!

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    2. Coeliac does not seem to come to mind for many doctors, including mine, and, as far as I know, no other tests will show "likely to be" results. It has to be that specific test. I had been under quite serious investigation for a few years without any progress until one day I ate one biscuit.

      What made that day special was that everything else I had eaten was exactly the same as I had eaten the day before - cornflakes, homemade chilli & rice and omelette and salad. Feeling not-to-bad, on the second day of the same food I visited family and was given a cup of tea and that one biscuit. On Day 3 all my symptoms were back, and I went over in my mind exactly what I had eaten. One biscuit!! I had never heard of gluten before, but by the end of day 3 and hours of internet research everything was tumbling into place in my mind. All of the foods that I avoided because I would get tummy upsets. The link between foods I avoided even though, on the face of it, they didn't contain wheat. As I said, gluten is in all sorts of 'products' as a thickener. It's even in some brands of communion wafers! I had my appendix taken out as an emergency aged 20, only to be told that there was nothing wrong with it!
      When, after a few days of being gluten-free, I mentioned it to my GP, I swear a lightbulb went on in his head as well!
      I can remember a wonderful doctor saying to me, aged about 10 or 12, "I know there's something, I just don't know what.". It took another 40 years for me to work out that the 'something' was gluten!

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  10. I have another thought, very current for me as my sister was already stage 3c when diagnosed, and that is have you been checked for ovarian cancer as that is nearly always missed because people follow up an ibs diagnoses to begin with. We did exactly that and had her cutting stuff out of her diet and I regret the lost time. I don't like to seem alarmist but was astonished by how ignorant I was of this dreadful disease and it is of course notorious for late stage diagnoses because of being "silent". Sorry to mention it, but could not live with myself if I didn't these days. Doctors don't think of it quickly enough on the whole. Cannot apologise enough if this upsets you needlessly.

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    1. You haven't upset me at all Jane. I had a brush with this ten years ago when I had an ovarian growth and for me too it took a while for the symptons to be recognised and distinguished from IBS. I had surgery and I was one of the lucky ones. All the very best to your sister. I will be thinking of you both.

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  11. I've given up starchy foods such as potatoes, pasta and rice. I also limit my self to two pieces of wholemeal bread a day. I feel so much better in myself. Far more energy. As a result I have to eat more veg to make up for the lack of starch. As an experiment I had a week where I added potatoes to my diet again. Straight away I felt lethargic and my IBS flared up with avengence. It was hard the first week or so as I love pasta but it gets easier. As a cook it means I have to be a bit more inventive but I'm loving the chance to try different veg and ways of cooking

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    1. I do know that like you I feel better with more protein and less refined carbohydrate so it may be that will be the way of eating that works for me. I am only trying to cut out gluten for a few weeks to see if that makes a difference. As far as I can tell from what I have read, if it does make you feel better that happens fairly quickly. As you say it's not a bad idea to be made to be a bit more inventive with cooking. I know I have fallen into a bit of a rut!

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  12. Oh boy, Elisabeth ... While reading your post complaining about tiredness I thought of my own condition about a year ago. I was then diagnosed with hypothyroidism which is, according to my physician, so very common in women our age. He just found it in a simple blood test during a physical and demanded no other tests, but prescribed Synthroid. I have been taking it for a year and it has made a huge difference in my physical and mental well being.

    I do eat a good diet and get plenty of exercise too, but I would not try to "throw the kitchen sink" at the problem. Do it more scientifically by not adding too many variables to fix the problem.

    Hugs!

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    1. That is really interesting anneke! Certainly my doctor son and daughter in law said "take the tablets"! But the problem at the moment is that I haven't been prescribed any and won't bi unless the next test in two months time confirms hypothyroidism. This is partly a way of trying to do something with the time other than wait. It is very interesting to hear from someone who is on the medication and who finds it makes the difference!

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  13. Sorry to hear that you are having such difficulties, it certainly sounds as though you have a lot on your plate and dealing with all that you have going on can sap the energy out of the most cheerful and healthy person. I hope that the diet changes work for you and that you can find the way back to having more energy again. Take care of yourself and remember that you have to take care of yourself as otherwise you cannot take care of anyone else. Thinking of you and sending hugs. xx

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    1. Thanks Amy! I very much agree with the taking care of yourself being necessary for looking after others so I am trying. Sometimes it's hard to do.

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  14. sorry to read you've not been feeling well. I would second the comments about getting a blood test for coeliac disease, GP's rarely test for it, and it is frequently found alongside thyroid problems, as they are both auto immune problems. take care.x

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    1. I think my gp is very good so I will mention it. Thank you.

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  15. since you bake your own, have you tried using flour other than wheat? Or a mixture?
    I don't like commercial bread and seldom eat it (except the snadwiches when there's no other option).
    I eat rye crispbread and rice cakes. Years ago the naturopath said pasta was OK, on her diet recommenations.
    We still eat way too much cheese, and I am very slowly trying to do a vegan version of Meatless Monday.
    Have you tried linseed meal, in muesli (make your own, then there's NO wheat in it)?

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    1. Interesting ideas! I have bought some gluten free flour to have a go at our own gluten free bread but not tried it yet. I too don't like commercial bread so it's no hardship not to eat it. I have taken to rice cakes as a snack and do like them, slightly to my surprise!

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  16. I would find that amount of travelling each week tiring, along with your other family responsibilities. It is difficult to ID causes and assess the effects of diet changes. I agree with one of the other comments to do one thing at a time. Are you on any medication that have tiredness as a side effect? I was prescribed statins which increased joint pains, it took along time to convince GP to reduce dose to minimum. I just mention this because we and GP's tend to ignore drug side effects.

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    1. It is a good point about side effects of medication but I don't think it applies to me. I am not on statins but I have heard reports of side effects that would make me wary!

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  17. Sorry to hear you are not feeling so well Elizabeth
    I would definitely try to cut out wheat for a short while if you can to see if you feel a difference when you restart eating it again but be warned that if you suspect that you are coeliac you have to eat gluten for a few weeks before the test is taken to 'prove' it is the gluten that is affecting you
    I totally cut out wheat, sugar and milk a few years ago and felt so much better with huge improvements to my thyroid problems but now I try not to beat myself up too much if there is no alternative to eating a sandwich meal or a cup of tea and a biscuit on a journey -eating out is a problem for others really rather than me- who worry that I can't find enough choices in the menu but generally I feel fitter and healthier than I did previously
    Ty not to beat yourself up too much about all of this is my advice-you have an awful lot going on at the moment and your mental health is more important in the long run I think-sorry about the long post here
    Take things slowly-a little at a time- to find the right solution for you
    Best Wishes
    Pat

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    1. Thank you pat. Interesting to hear from someone else who has had a go at this. And yes, as Jane too has suggested, doing this gently and kindly rather than as a great crusade is the intention. I just want my bounce back!

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  18. You've gotten such excellent advice from your other commenters, I really can't add anything to the discussion, except that I don't think a change can hurt - and it might well help. I find it really interesting that every discussion of coeliac disease and gluten intolerance mentions that it is a fairly rare condition, yet so many people seem to be helped by cutting it out - and thrive on a gluten-free diet. Hope these changes will bring back your energy and point you in the right direction. x

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    1. Thanks Caroline! So do I. Haven't found it at all difficult when at home but more challenging when out.

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  19. It wouldn't be normal if you weren't tired. When we go through emotional situations and serious situations they wear us down. And the exhaustion doesn't hit until the intensity of the situation is over. It's like the body says, ah, now I can relax. And in the meantime we get sick because in times when we must go on, the only break is to get sick. And in your case you are still going through something with an inevitable, sad ending. I do think it takes longer to recover when we are older, especially if there are several events in a short period of time. I am someone who could live on brown rice. Our favorite meal is brown rice and sautéed onions. Nothing makes me feel better. The whole gluten thing has gone overboard I think. It is white flour that saps us. Whole wheat flour gives health. The gf is for those who have a physical reason why they shouldn't eat it. Although you may hear it all the time, it is important that you be easy on yourself. This isn't a 'normal' time of life, and you cannot be expected to be at your healthful, happiest best.

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    1. That is a very sound and helpful comment. Thank you nan. You are right that it is so easy to expect too much of yourself and in difficult times it shouldn't surprise me that I am not bouncing!

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  20. I was off gluten for about 9 mos and honestly I've never felt more alert in my life. I went back on wheat again and am having the divil of a time getting off and tired. Yes, tired. Good luck on your journey, it's made me look at my diet again.
    XO
    WWW

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    1. Thanks for commenting. It's so interesting to learn about other people's experiences. I am surprised how many have some experience of this!

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  21. First of all, I wish you all the best in your pursuit of feeling your best! Health and well being are very important to me, so much so that I decided to pursue training to become a certified integrative health coach with Duke Integrative Medicine. I'd love to offer you a few sessions (gratis of course!). I work over Skype and on the phone. If you're interested in learning more, here's a link to the web site I'm creating: http://www.betterforachange.com. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have. Cheers! :-)

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    1. That's a real kind offer. Thank you. I am rushing around right now but will have a proper look at your website when I am sitting down a bit!

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  22. I don't look after myself and I should. I'm carrying much too much weight and don't exercise at all. I watch my diet carefully as I put it in my mouth!
    I do know from my own and others' experience that stress can make you tired, and it can get you where you live, and put the whammy on your tummy. You might want to look at your blood sugar levels, particularly haemoglobin A1c that tells how your blood sugar control has been for the past few months, as low blood sugar can take the wind out of your sails. . Being hypothyroid can do a number on you, too.

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    1. So far I would say I am feeling rather better for the changes. Early days yet though!

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  23. Sorry to hear you're going through a tough time. I firmly believe that diet is behind many of the modern ailments we suffer from these days. When I had IBS many years ago I took peppermint oil capsules, eventually changing to drinking peppermint tea which I still drink to this day because it helps me avoid caffeine too. I am rarely bothered by IBS these days. I became vegetarian to try and keep my MS in check, and would always look for a dietary/holistic solution to a health problem before taking medication unless it was absolutely vital.
    Our diets are generally too reliant on wheat based products.
    Good luck with it all.
    Teresa x

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    1. I am a fan of peppermint tea, also mint tea made with Mint from the garden. We had fresh mint tea on the visit to Leiden and it was so good I am a convert.

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  24. OMG you have done it again! Completely struck a chord with where I am right now (and going through some of the same traumas of losing parents, kids left the nest, second marriage etc and trying to hold it all together). I spent the whole of last winter (and most of the one before too) having one virus after another, totally wiped, often in bed sometimes unable to even get myself downstairs! Exercise - forget it! CFS I believe although my doctor doesn't like this label.

    Anyway, much better since April and able to enjoy life again. I have been focusing on my gut - the recent dental marathon I went through last year involved repeated doses of antibiotics, so lots of high intensity probiotics and now a daily long term one (Opti bac from the health food shop), lots of natural, unprocessed food - I now have a nutribullet and use it most days - and, I have to admit, homeopathy. If you want to try it I found Gelsemium 200c taken pm, am, pm helped enormously - it is a great flu remedy and has the rubric 'never well since flu'. Take another one if it recurs as and when. Am also about to try the gluten free/caffeine free/alcohol free thing and see if that helps too. Let me know how you get on and you are not alone! Sending lots of positive thoughts your way.

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    1. Gluten free and caffeine free seems fine and really not too difficult. I am not intending to do alcohol free! Good wine is one of my real pleasures so I was delighted that the reading I did suggested moderate wine drinking was ok. There are limits!

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  25. I went to the doctor thirty years ago, feeling as if I was ninety! He immediately diagnosed thyroid problems, and after a little adjustment time we hit on the right dosage to relieve my lack of energy and enthusiasm. Now I AM ninety, still taking thyrox and feeling - well, seventy maybe. The thyroid can do such disabling things to us, emotionally and physically. And the passage of time, losses in our lives, etc.

    I eat minimaly, as befits an aging body, but all of the things I have always eaten and enjoyed. Stress does such drastic things to our bodies - somehow we have to reach that stage in life where we worry about the things we can do something about, and come to the realization that each of us must cope with what happens in our lives, and we must accept that there are things we can't do anything about.

    I think a well-run thyroid is a great help!!!

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    1. Well I will go back in a couple months as the doctor has suggested and have another thyroid test. I am quite happy to take the medication if it is prescribed! This is something I am doing in the intervening weeks to see if I can help myself. I do agree very much about stress, especially very prolonged stress. Mind you, life is perhaps just like that!

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  26. I'm so sorry that you have been suffering these problems. As you know my teenaged daughter was diagnosed gluten and lactose intolerant, and 2 months after eliminating both she feels much better, although she does miss gluteny baked goods. I hope the new diet works for you. Be sure to give yourself other treats, like some time in the garden with a good book. Feel better soon!

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    1. Giving yourself other treats is an excellent idea! I am glad the dietary changes helped your daughter. It does seem to me eminently reasonable that the food we put into our bodies does more than simply act as fuel.

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  27. I hope you see this, Elizabeth. I think your email has been hacked. I just got one from supposedly you. There are 20 names at the top that it says it went to, and there is a link which I didn't click. I won't write out all the words but neuwblack was in there and your full name.

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    1. Oh no! Thank you for letting me know. Sorry you were bothered. Definitely sounds like I've been hacked.

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  28. I have just started getting back in shape, and this is what I do: I work out at the gym (cardio on the elliptical and then weight lifting) on M/W/F. I do power yoga (thanks to Rodney Yee dvds) on TU/TH/SA. Sunday, I don't do a bloody thing, exercise-wise. So far I've dropped a few pounds, and I'm getting my flexibility and strength back on a steady increase. When I work out, I enjoy it so much and I feel so much better, I wonder why I ever stopped. Life is weird.

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  29. Just read your post - you either have a deficient thyroid or you dont - there is nt really any borderline. Take thyroxin if you need to - it will be like getting your life back from the very day you start to take it. Dont skip days though - read the blurb very thoroughly if they prescribe it. I started on a low dose twenty one years ago and have only had it adjusted slightly once. I have a blood test every six months to monitor. Press this doctor to give you all the info !

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