How healthy eating helped me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 January 2016
Our new nutrition columnist Rebecca Cotterall tells Roger Borrell how chronic fatigue almost ruined her life
Rebecca Cotterall gets up every morning and pauses a moment to give thanks for the fact she can actually emerge from under the duvet.
Not so long ago it was a very different story. As a bright, healthy 13-year-old she was suddenly struck by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME) and her world started to fall apart.
‘I was fatigued, absolutely exhausted,’ says Rebecca, now 25. ‘I was bedbound, I couldn’t hold a cup and the curtains were kept closed – I was light and noise sensitive. My brain seemed to freeze and school work was impossible.’
The first attack lasted around six months. ‘We did wonder if she had something terrible like cancer,’ says her mum, Liz. ‘She spent three weeks in hospital in Preston. It was horrible to have a perfectly healthy child suddenly reduced to a condition where you could see her bones coming through. She weighed just seven stones.’
Rebecca adds: ‘It was an absolute nightmare. I was missing school, losing friends and becoming a lonely teenager. Before then, I’d been a normal, healthy kid.’
Doctors were puzzled by her condition. ‘Some people did say it must all be in my head or it was a way of skipping school,’ she says. ‘But I’d been in the top set and I’d always been a good kid. Why would I suddenly want to be confined to bed with the curtains closed?’
Eventually, she started to get better and was able to attend Runshaw College before securing a place at Leeds Metropolitan University. However, her time there lasted just three weeks when she suffered a relapse.
Rebecca saw a psychologist who recommended a nutritional therapist. This was the turning point. She’s quick to point out that her mum is a good cook ‘but I had a typical western teenager’s diet – pizzas and fizzy pop.’
The doctors had told her there was nothing they could do but, with the help of the nutritionist, her life gradually started to return to normal.
‘My recovery didn’t happen overnight but I removed gluten and all processed foods from my diet, started eating whole foods, increased the amount of vegetables and fish. I still eat small amounts of meat but it’s always good quality and from a reliable source. I’ve come to the conclusion that the western diet can be pretty rubbish.
‘I also changed my lifestyle with exercise and I was able to relax more and sleep better. I had wanted to work in the fashion industry but that wasn’t possible. After seeing the benefits of a better diet and lifestyle I became determined to follow that path as a career.’
Rebecca spent three years gaining a Diploma from the College of Naturopathic Medicine, a field of science that stresses the use of whole and organic foods as medicine, encouraging people to return to chemical-free diets. This, they say, along with other dietary measures, is an effective answer to many health complaints and common conditions.
Rebecca set up her business, Hello Healing in Buckshaw Village, Chorley, in the summer and word has spread allowing her to build up a client base not just in Lancashire but further afield, using Skype for consultations.
After extensive assessments of her clients, she helps people with a wide range of ailments, including irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, ME, acne, stress and joint pain. She also puts together detox programmes and is about to launch one specifically aimed at brides-to-be who want to be in peak health for their big day.
Her success has led to her being the guest speaker at a local high school where she told students of her journey from ‘bedbound to business owner’. She says: ‘I don’t see myself as inspirational – just as someone with a story to tell.’
Her mum disagrees. ‘Rebecca spent six months in bed and another six months in a wheelchair. When she could get out of bed her dad had to carry her downstairs.
‘It’s amazing that, after what we had been through, Rebecca was able to show such pure determination. Not only has she fulfilled a dream but she is now able to help others who have suffered like her. We are immensely proud.’