In December 2014 my wife Ella and I were enjoying a holiday in Sri Lanka and that's when I noticed feeling tired. It's not that I was falling asleep all the time but I just didn't seem to have the extra energy that I should have had considering I was on holiday. I expect to be tired when I'm working, running a business, employing staff, being the boss is tiring. But I just noticed that being rested I should have had more energy . I ignored it, just put it down to getting older and being unfit. I had been doing this for years, putting it down to age, I was 44 after all! "Many people my age have less energy these days, it's normal." I would say to myself. The thought barely registered. It just became a part of my outlook on life, "as you get older, you get less energy... it's rubbish getting old. And anyway, I still have more energy than many!" The next time I felt tired was in Portugal. In February 2015 I'd gone dirt bike riding with a few buddies and after the first day we had an nice evening of drinking wine. We're all quite active and not heavy drinkers but the next day I felt like I'd drunk more than I had. I felt a sinus pain, tiredness, headache and flu like pain in my joints and muscles. I skipped the riding and stayed in bed all day. I thought I'd got the flu but had absolutely no runny nose, no coughing, no sneezing. Maybe just a sinus infection? Weird, I thought. I rode the next day but still felt awful, but having paid for a riding holiday was determined to ride.
In the beginning of April 2015 we went to the Peak District with our mountain bikes for a long weekend. We didn't do much cycling because I was quite unfit and getting tired, again. Evenings were cut short because I just wanted to go to bed, catch up on sleep and recover from a few hard weeks of work.
At the end of April Ella and I went to Amsterdam for the queen's day celebrations. This time it was noticed that I was tired and didn't want to drink alcohol. Ella got frustrated with me because she was in party mode. Queen's day celebrations in Amsterdam are a big party for the whole weekend and we were in a little room above a pub in the center of the town, perfect for partying... if you're in the mood. But I was just tired, wanted to go to bed around 10pm after one drink. Ella said that I was getting boring and never wanted to do anything, just like in the Peak District! I didn't think there was anything wrong with me, I thought I was just overworked, getting older, I was 45 now!
In May 2015 I went riding in Wales with some friends, it was midweek. We met another buddy along the way, went out for the evening, had a glass of wine and stayed at his place. Next day I felt a bit rough, tired, like I'd drunk a little too much but not quite "hung over". As the day went on my energy levels fell, we ride quite hard and I couldn't keep up with them on the motorbikes, I kept having to stop to recover. We cut the day short and I asked my friend to drive the whole 3 hours home, I wasn't up for driving and just fell asleep in the passenger seat. I got home Friday evening and went to bed early. I overslept the next day, went downstairs and got on the sofa. I pretty much slept all weekend. A pain in my stomach and mid left back had been slowly getting worse since Friday and by Monday morning I decided to go to the doctor. I walked to the doctor, just 100m from my house, and got there before they opened. I insisted on seeing someone and they were quite understanding. By now I was in quite a lot of pain in my stomach and back. I noticed that my abdomen was swollen and my breathing was becoming shallow. The doctor felt my tummy, asked me some questions, took my blood pressure etcetera and told me to go immediately to the emergency unit of our nearest hospital, 20 minutes drive away. She suspected I had a blocked intestine which could rupture any minute and I could die! I walked back home and got in my van and was just pulling out of the drive when Ella pulled in, she had driven home from work in anticipation of me having to go to the hospital. She drove and it's lucky she did... on the way to the hospital I passed out. I only remember her shouting my name. By the tone in her voice she must have though I was dead! I came round and after a minute or two to compose myself we drove on. I almost passed out again but managed to breath deeply and gain control. At the hospital I waited 6 hours to be seen. It was awful, I was scared, in pain, worried half to death by the sheer lack of communication, left on a trolley in a room with no water, no call button, for hours, disorientated, thinking "If my abdomen bursts now I'll be dead and no one will even notice, and I'm in a bloody hospital!" Eventually I was given morphine and a bed. Next day they did some scans, took bloods, did x-rays and after 3 nights in hospital and nearly 60 hours without food, I felt well enough to go home. They told me I had gastritis and If I felt bad again to come back. Gastritis is a swelling of the lining of the stomach. I was relieved, feeling a bit better but by no means well, frustrated at the lack of answers. I feel the diagnosis was 'by default' because they couldn't find anything else wrong with me. I was happy that I was still alive, didn't have cancer, feeling better not worse and was out of that hospital. But I was not well, the pain in my mid left back was still very much there, I had diarrhea and my stomach hurt. I felt that they had missed something, I had zero confidence in their judgement. I had seen a specialist for approximately 30 seconds. The people on my ward had pancreatitis, gallstones and other alcohol and lifestyle related stuff, I felt like I'd been tarred with the same brush... illness caused by being an alcoholic, having an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, poor mental state. I'm not judging but that simply wasn't me. I have always eaten well, I'm active, I never drank to excess, don't smoke, drink plenty of water, have plenty of fresh organic fruit and veg, have very little red meat, am not too overweight. My blood sugar is very stable, my cholesterol level is correct, blood pressure is perfect, heart rate great, in fact all the tests at the hospital reassured me that I'm actually very fit and healthy. So much so that, in my opinion, it should have aroused suspicion that I could get so sick. Weren't they even curious? Apparently not! I went back to my doctor and reported my symptoms... severe lethargy, diarrhea, pain in my mid left back. I was still worried it may be some kind of cancer, and I told my doctor so. He said it was unlikely but according to my google research it was definitely what I had. They took more bloods, gave me more X-rays, took a stool sample, poked me around... nothing, I'm fine. But I'm bloody well not. "It must be muscular, that pain in your back." It's wasn't muscular, no way. I ride dirt bikes, I know what a muscle pain feels like! After a few weeks I decided to try to pin it down, what was giving me diarrhea? I thought my pancreas was broken and that deals with fat so I experimented with fatty foods, did I feel worse after fatty foods? no! Then I thought maybe it's more than one food. That was the revelation. I cut out everything apart from rice and vegetables for a week. I immediately started to feel better. I'd cracked it! But you can't live on rice and vegetables, I thought. And so I reintroduced other foods, one at a time and over a period of several months I experimented. I kept a note of what I ate and how I felt. What I discovered surprised and pleased me. The first thing was lactose. I had become extremely lactose intolerant. Even one little biscuit containing whey powder will ruin my day. It makes me so tired. An hour or so after the ingestion I notice that I can't concentrate. I'm doing a simple maths sum in my head, as I often do in my work as an engineer, and I can't find the answer. Next, I'm tired, I just want to sleep. If I'm watching TV then I will fall asleep, even at lunchtime. Boring motorway driving could be lethal. Then, from T+ 1 hour onwards it's diarrhea time. 3-5 visits usually deals with it. Belching and flatulence accompanying this. Then 12-18 hours later it's all over and I'm fine again. So I cut out lactose, and moaned about it. While grateful to be feeling much better I was discovering that a lot of food contains lactose. In the form of Whey powder, Whey protein, pure lactose as a flavouring for crisps, in all sorts of things, anything nice basically. I was feeling better but still only 80%. I noticed that Soya alternatives were not much better than milk so they had to go. Again feeling better but not 100%. Ella thought gluten may be a problem so we tried cutting that out and wow, after 1 week I noticed improvements, after 1 month I felt amazing. Incredibly I was actually feeling better than I had for years. As the months went on I realised that my body reacted badly to all dairy, soya, gluten, all food preservatives, caffeine and alcohol. Basically everything in BOLD on the ingredients label. Now you try finding any packet food without any ingredients in bold! So lactose and soya upset my stomach and give me diarrhea, wind, extreme fatigue, major brain fog. The other things affect me differently… joint pain, muscle twitching, nervousness, sinus pain, chest and throat inflammation, headaches, stiffness, general inflammatory symptoms. Cutting out these foods has been life changing. I felt immediately better. My pain started to go away, my gastritis cleared up, I got my energy back. But astonishingly and to my delight I started feeling even better, better than I had for years. What I had put down to age and being unfit was not that at all! I must have been eating all these foods that were affecting me negatively for years. I literally felt 10 years younger, like I was on steroids, I'd been given a huge boost. My body started to change shape, fat was turning to muscle even though I'd stopped exercising many months ago. My abdomen shrunk and I dropped a belt size. I was feeling fitter than I had done when I was exercising a few years ago, way before I'd got really ill. My brain was starting to work better, my achy knees, a problem I'd had since teenhood, had completely cleared up, my achy back went from almost debilitating to just a niggle, I started sleeping properly right through the night for the first time in 15 years. My skin became clearer I've not had a single pimple.
1 year on and my stomach feels fine. I have so much energy now I feel like I did in my 20s. I feel like I can do anything, nothing's too much bother. Weight control is no longer a problem, I eat as much as I feel like and my weight is incredibly stable. I'm 181cm and 93kg which I'm happy with as I'm naturally fairly muscly. I'm no longer always hungry. I have just started to do a bit of exercise again, having a little jog while walking the dog, getting out on my dirt bike again, a bit of cycling and I feel amazing. After exercising I feel the benefits, I recover 4 times faster than I used to, I want to keep going much more and the next day I feel 100% like I hadn't done anything the day before. I'm inspired to do more, exercise actually has immediate and significant positive effects now. Before my diet change it was a chore and I never understood why my friends were benefiting so much more than I was. Now I know! The diet is difficult to maintain but I do have good motivation. A slice of bacon with sodium nitrate as a preservative will set my muscles twitching, my joints aching and my sinuses throbbing. My personal uneducated theory is that gluten sensitivity was the root of it all and led to some kind of damage/inflammation/imbalance in the gut which built up over the years and eventually led to breakdown which in turn caused all the other intolerances. NCGS non coeliac gluten sensitivity is another theory. My coeliac test was negative. Leaky gut syndrome is another candidate. Whatever you call it, it doesn't matter, I feel amazing and I'm so happy about that.
When I look around and see people who look a bit overweight, seem stiff, a bit red in the face, swollen and puffy, people that I know don't overeat, who are fairly active I wonder "maybe you have food intolerances too." I wonder how many cases of stiff joints and other health issues are just down to diet. It's pretty difficult to change your diet and for it to be effective you need to immediately stop all of these things. In man's early days thousands of years ago it would have been easier to recognise which foods were affecting us because we had so fewer choices. If you only ate meat and veg for most of the year and then one day you had some milk and it made you feel bad then you would realise immediately. These days our diet is so varied that it's quite difficult to identify which foods affect us in which ways.
Now I just eat eggs, meat, fish, fruit, veg, nuts, pulses, gluten free grains like rice and I just drink water. I have practicality nothing from packets. A typical day for me consists of gluten free granola with sliced banana and home made almond milk for breakfast, or scrambled eggs or omelette with broccoli or asparagus. For lunch I take chicken risotto, soups, rice pasta salad, steamed salmon fillets, fruit, raw fruit snack bars, a fruit smoothie, lentil crisps. Dinner is often fish with potatoes, sweet potatoes or squash, vegetables. For desert I make buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup. I drink only water, sometimes sparkling, sometimes with elderflower cordial. We have a water filter at home. I also take a calcium supplement with vitamin D. We eat mainly organic and have done for many years but I couldn't be sure of the impact of this on my health. I like organic and especially Demeter because I feel it's more sustainable and doesn’t use pesticides.
So food for me is now all about the nutritional effect is has on my body and less about feeding the desires of the brain under the influence of the stomach. I don't look forward to going out to pubs and restaurants to eat and drink but I do enjoy having the former, younger version of my body back. I wonder if my life would have been different if I'd always had this natural diet. I would encourage anyone to try it and see, I feel amazing and I'd like to share this wonderful discovery with the whole world, I think many people could benefit from this type of healthy diet. The trick is not just cutting down from two slices of bread to just one, that won't make the slightest difference. I think we need to cut it all out and just eat natural, unprocessed, fresh, real food.