How I beat chronic fatigue
Thirty-four-year-old Rebekah Smith, aka The Film Festival Doctor, runs a successful film PR company that demands round-the-clock networking and travel all over the world. It’s a job Rebekah never thought possible just a few years ago, when she struggled to get out of bed in the morning and had no energy to meet up with friends in the evening.
“I was exhausted all the time,” said Rebekah, who lives in Epping, Essex. “Everything was an effort.”
Rebekah was also overweight, and suffering from hair loss and anxiety—hard to imagine today if you saw her speaking at one of the workshops or events she regularly holds, or looking glamorous at a film premiere.
So what was it that brought about the dramatic change in Rebekah’s health? “It’s all to do with diet,” she says. “I thought I was eating a healthy diet before, but it turned out it wasn’t healthy for me.”
Food for thought
Rebekah had a troubled relationship with food for much of her 20s, and was diagnosed with the eating disorder anorexia in 2009. She managed to gain weight after being prescribed a high-carbohydrate diet by her doctor, but she then became overweight and “developed a lot of body fat”, which caused her to feel depressed and anxious. She also noticed her energy levels plummet and her hair start to fall out.
Rebekah’s doctor prescribed the antidepressant Prozac for her symptoms along with rest, but after three days of taking the drug, Rebekah decided it wasn’t for her. “It made me extremely nauseous, and I didn’t want to take it anyway.”
Instead, Rebekah decided to try an alternative approach, and turned to Google to find a practitioner near her who could help. She soon came across nutritional therapist Emma Vanlint, who specializes in weight management and low energy, and made an appointment to meet her at her Colchester clinic.
After assessing her health history, diet, lifestyle and symptoms, and carrying out blood and saliva tests, Emma diagnosed Rebekah with adrenal fatigue, and said her carb-heavy diet was doing nothing to help. She suggested she try the Metabolic Balance programme instead, a tailor-made nutrition plan based on the given individual’s unique blood tests, medical history, and likes and dislikes.
Developed by German nutritional medicine expert Dr Wolf Funfack and food scientist Silvia Bürkle, the programme is said to balance your hormones, optimize your health and be a healthy way of managing your weight in the long term.
“I liked the fact that it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all diet, like the one my doctor had prescribed,” said Rebekah. “It was specifically for me. I thought: why not try something different?”
A different kettle of fish
Rebekah discovered that, according to Metabolic Balance, she was eating entirely the wrong foods. “I was eating a lot of meat and starchy foods that weren’t doing me any good, even though they wouldn’t usually be classed as ‘unhealthy’.”
She also found out that the gluten-free bread she’d been eating every day was packed with additives and fillers, and not the healthy choice she thought it was. “I’m sensitive to gluten, so would buy the gluten-free bread you get in the supermarket. I didn’t realize it could be making things worse.”
Guided by nutritional therapist Emma, Rebekah switched to an all-natural, non-processed, low-carb diet while avoiding meat, refined sugar and alcohol. Her new diet included plenty of fish, low-carb fruit and vegetables, nuts, and gluten-free grains and pseudograins like quinoa. Rebekah’s go-to gluten-free bread was off the menu, but she could get her bread fix from healthier, filler-free and organic alternatives, such as the loaves you find in healthfood stores.
“I followed the diet religiously,” said Rebekah. “I didn’t find it that difficult actually.”
In addition to the new diet, Rebekah was also prescribed several supplements to deal with her fatigue. “They included vitamins A, C and E, B vitamins, zinc, selenium, magnesium, copper and chromium, among other nutrients,” said Rebekah. “The diet and the supplements were meant to work in harmony.”
It didn’t take long for Rebekah to notice a difference in her health and wellbeing. “I think within a few days of starting the diet and taking the supplements, I felt as though I had more energy.”
As the weeks went on, Rebekah’s energy levels continued to improve, and her anxiety levels lessened significantly. “I felt like I could cope more both physically and mentally.”
Rebekah also started to notice positive changes in her weight. At first, her weight stayed the same, but soon the scales showed her weight steadily dropping. After six months, she’d gone from 11 stone to nine stone and, after a year, she was down to her ideal weight of eight stone.
Rebekah had tried a lot of diets in the past and had never managed to maintain a healthy weight, but this programme was different. “It wasn’t a crash or fad diet, but a healthy eating plan that was right for me. I could stick to it and didn’t end up putting all the weight back on.”
Another benefit was that some of Rebekah’s long-standing allergies disappeared, as did her hair loss problem. “It’s changed my life,” said Rebekah, “and I haven’t been to the doctor in ages.”
Rebekah still follows the diet today, although she has tweaked it a bit over the years based on trial and error. She’s thrilled to finally be happy with her weight and have the energy to lead the life she wants.
“I still do suffer from tiredness,” Rebekah admits. “But I know the right foods and supplements to take to manage it, and what to avoid.”
As this goes to press, Rebekah is in LA promoting a new documentary about the English rockband Placebo—her days of debilitating fatigue far behind her.
What is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a term used by some experts—such as Dr James Wilson, author of Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome(Smart Publications, 2001)—to describe a collection of signs and symptoms resulting from poorly functioning adrenal glands.
These small glands sit at the top of each kidney, and are responsible for producing, amongst other hormones, the stress hormone cortisol. The chief symptom is fatigue not remedied by sleep, although depression, anxiety, brain fog, muscles aches, allergies and carbohydrate cravings can also be signs of adrenal fatigue, proponents say.
Although conventional medicine recognises Addison’s disease, the most extreme end of low adrenal function, it tends not to acknowledge adrenal fatigue as a distinct syndrome, whereas Dr Wilson and others in the alternative medicine field do. In fact, Dr Wilson says that adrenal fatigue can be diagnosed via a saliva test that assesses adrenal hormone levels.
This test is what Rebekah’s nutritional therapist Emma Vanlint, who trained at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, used to diagnose Rebekah with adrenal fatigue. She describes the problem as “the adrenal glands getting overworked due to either severe acute stress or long-term chronic stress”.
Her treatment—the Metabolic Balance diet and a programme of supplements—was tailored to Rebekah’s individual needs, and designed to get her adrenals functioning at their best as well as help Rebekah lose weight and keep it off.
An observational study, funded by the Metabolic Balance company to assess the efficacy of the diet, was published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism and found that nearly two-thirds of the 524 participants achieved a more than 5 per cent reduction of their initial weight—with an average weight loss of 6.8 kg (15 lb).
Useful contacts and resources
British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy (BANT): www.bant.org.uk
Metabolic Balance: www.metabolic-balance.com
Adrenal fatigue: www.adrenalfatigue.org
Emma Vanlint: http://thenutritionaltherapycliniclondon.co.uk tel: 0845 094 9670
Pippa Campbell, LSSM Dip, BAHons
Food & Fitness Coach
Member of the Complementary Medical Association