When I was 12, I caught pneumonia. While the illness itself was pretty bad, what happened afterward affected my life’s trajectory.
Officially, I recovered from pneumonia but I never could shake the extreme exhaustion that had come with it. My family and I thought that it might take some time, a few months maybe, for my body to fully get back to normal. We waited it out until I turned 15, when my chronic fatigue was so bad that I had quit every single afterschool activity I could and sleep for 10 hours a night.
No Help From the Medical Community
Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. My blood tests all came back normal and I was usually told to “sleep more”. Sometimes my debilitating fatigue came with disorientation, joint aches and pains, and zero mental capacity. I was a high school student – things were bad enough as I tried to get good grades to get into university. I didn’t need chronic fatigue weighing me down too!
For a while, we thought I just had Seasonal Affective Disorder, as my fatigue was quite a bit worse during the fall and winter. However, there were too many days during the summer where I couldn’t even get myself out of bed to go to the washroom without help for this problem to be SAD-related.
Diagnosis – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Finally, when I was 17, I was sent to a specialist who diagnosed me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. A diagnosis! Yay – you can do something about those, right? Um, no. There was nothing to take, nothing to do, and no research really available to read.
I felt stuck, exhausted and like no one took me seriously.
But, I got by. I learned to live with my chronic fatigue by not joining in most social activities. I made sure I was in bed by 10pm almost every single night so that I could get 8 hours at least of sleep. The gym welcomed me a few times a month and I gave myself permission to relax, watch TV and read when I felt I couldn’t study.
This was my life until I was almost 30.
A Very Rude Awakening
In 2007, I saw a picture of myself in a family photo and just about had a meltdown. I had gotten so fat and hadn’t even realized it! Seriously, I wondered how it had happened because I hadn’t really changed much in my life, aside from finishing school and getting a job in IT.
Looking back, of course, the major change was that my job was stressful and I sat on my butt for 9 hours a day. In school or as a security guard, I had way more opportunity to move around. Plus, the pressure to not screw up wasn’t nearly as high.
That picture was such an embarrassment (and one my Mom loved to share because it was a family photo with our beloved Golden Retriever, Simon) that I knew I had to do something about my weight.
But, I Refused to “Diet”
I’ve followed some diet programs and 30-day bikini body challenges in the past and none worked for me. I can’t pinpoint why, other than they probably were too restrictive and I felt I spent way too much time in the kitchen.
But, something had to change with my eating habits and lifestyle, so I opted instead to follow a clean eating plan. I chose recipes and snack ideas mainly from magazines like Clean Eating and SELF. And, I started running 3-5 times a week. I did count calories but my main focus was to measure out proper portion sizes using the foods’ recommended amounts.
Finally being able to see what a true portion size was really my breakthrough. I stopped mindless munching on chips straight from the bag or eating an entire box of KD.
Clean Eating Was My Saviour
I lost almost 40 pounds in 6 months. I gained a bit of it back when I began doing weights at the gym but that was fine – I still felt smaller and looked so much better.
But, what really amazed me in my weight loss journey was how much energy I suddenly had. I danced after work in my living room for 2 or 3 hours every night. My sleep was great and I woke up excited to get my day started. I joined dance classes and other social activities. My life was fun, I was happy, and my outlook was totally positive.
For 8 years, I kept the weight off, maintained a pretty active social life and enjoyed abundance energy to keep doing the things I’d discovered I loved.
The Dreaded Rebound!
Okay, in the past 8 years, there have been a few bumps in the road. I signed up for a 4-year Bachelor’s degree that took a lot of time and energy. I finished that and moved onto my nutrition program. Once again, I sit at a computer a lot more regularly than I had been previously.
I started to struggle a bit with my weight about 3 years ago, mostly in the winter. I would notice an increase in abdominal fat from December onward, but typically I could make this disappear again by July. Since I teach outdoor boot camp twice a week, I figured the extra energy expenditure of this was what helped me slim down each summer.
But, something major changed in me last November.
What’s Happening To Me???
Since November, I’ve gained 10 pounds and most of it is in my abdominal area. I continue to exercise almost every day but I know my eating habits have reverted to pre-clean eating days. Too much trail mix while I watch movies or too many nights where pizza has been ordered have not helped my situation.
Why, after 8 years of strict clean eating AND a holistic nutrition education, was I suddenly relying on fast food, snacks and convenient foods again???
Stress. Plain and simple. I have been putting SO much pressure on myself to get my business up and running that I feel like I don’t have enough time to cook a healthy dinner. My husband is amazing – if I ask him to cook a healthy recipe, he does this for me. But, I feel bad that he’s doing all the cooking and suggest take-out to give him a break.
The stress of running a business and being up against deadlines is really no different from the stress women face each day in other areas of life. It’s stressful to try to get your kids fed and your family out the door to soccer practice on time. It’s stressful to have your boss breathing down your neck to finish your report on time. I bet that you have a lot of stress in your life too.
And, if you’re struggling with chronic fatigue, stubborn abdominal fat, low energy and poor food choices, then I bet you’re also dealing with some adrenal dysfunction. As am I.
My Fear For You (And Me)
We’re told to work hard, play hard and be ambitious to get everything we want out of life. Our jobs and families place a lot of demands on us and, unfortunately, most of us don’t feel successful unless we are crazy busy. How many times have you told someone how busy you are lately like a badge of courage? Yep, I’m guilty of that too.
Our incessant busyness leads to chronic stress, and this is a problem. And our bodies react to this stress by storing fat, preventing good quality sleep and draining us of energy.
Chronic fatigue is not something to be taken lightly. As women, we rarely feel right about putting ourselves first, but it’s something we need to learn to do more. If we aren’t there fully for our friends, families, kids and bosses, we really can’t be all that successful in life, can we?
Think about this:
If you struggle with chronic fatigue, low energy, abdominal fat, and incessant sugar cravings, do you chalk these symptoms up to getting old? Or do you take 15 minutes at the end of your day just to be alone, be quiet and de-stress?
We Deserve to Be Happy
If we continue down this path of placing undue stress on our bodies, we are never really going to be happy. I’ve been happy – I want you to be happy too! Chronic fatigue sucks! Low energy sucks! Poor sleep and insomnia suck!
Not only do we need to ditch the sugar and processed junk foods that inundate our supermarkets. We also need to practice self-love daily. As women, people rely on us from all walks of our lives, right? So, why shouldn’t we place more emphasis on preventing illnesses and the effects of stress on our bodies?
You deserve to feel better. You deserve to be happy.