Bed-ridden Wellington woman changes diet to heal from chronic fatigue

Shelley Gawith, 30, was bedridden with chronic fatigue until she drastically changed her diet.
RHIANNON MCCONNELL/FAIRFAX NZ

Shelley Gawith, 30, was bedridden with chronic fatigue until she drastically changed her diet.

A year ago Shelley Gawith's biggest goal was to walk to the letterbox without collapsing. 

She was bedridden with chronic fatigue and could stay awake for only 10 minutes at a time.

It's hard to imagine Gawith in that condition - the 30-year-old is now a bubbly, functional nutritionist. 

A few years ago, her life was very different.

Gawith was an accountant in Wellington before getting a dream job in Sydney, where she spent nearly four years working long, stressful days.

On reflection, she can see signs her body was giving up - she got shingles three times during university, glandular fever in Sydney, a thyroid autoimmune disease and developed a gluten sensitivity. 

"I was burning the candle at both ends, getting up really early and staying up really late, and also trying to fit in a social life," she said.

"I thought I was healthy because I was [training for marathons] and eating homemade meals." 

As she got sicker, out went the gluten but in came the sugary replacements - she ate about 30 teaspoons a day just from gluten-free cereals and breads. 

She cut out gluten, popped a few pills for the thyroid and continued with her high-stress life and a new senior job. 

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Within three weeks of starting, she had full-blown influenza. 

After weeks of battling through, sleeping at lunchtime at work and collapsing at home, Gawith's doctor gave her an ultimatum.  

"She told me I was pretty much at death's door. She said, 'We either hospitalise you or send you home to your parents'." 

Gawith resigned and flew home to Wellington, where she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue in April 2014. 

She slept all day, waking only for meals. Her father had to carry her to the bathroom. 

"A big day was crawling up the stairs to lie on the couch for an hour while mum made my bed.

"[My parents] would come home on some nights and find me collapsed when I was trying to go to the bathroom."  

It wasn't just a year of sleep-ins - Gawith had influenza symptoms the whole time - the shakes, cold feet, sweats and chest infections. 

"I'd wake up in the night screaming. I was in constant pain in my body. At that stage, I couldn't even sit up." 

While her peers were getting promotions and travelling the world, Gawith dreamed of the little things - being able to shower and get dressed. 

"For so long I was just dreaming of being able to walk to the letter box and get the mail.

"It felt like I had such a bright future and it was all gone. I remember thinking I was too young to sleep away the rest of my life.

"But I always thought I must be able to get better." 

Gawith credits much of her recovery to her parents. 

From the moment she arrived home they went gluten, sugar, dairy and caffeine free.

Over the next few months, as Gawith studied, her parents added in fermented foods and bone broths. 

In February 2015, she made a big decision. She was going to restudy, but this time as a functional nutritionist with the Nutritional Therapy Association. 

"I really wanted to use food to fix myself." 

There was one catch - studying is hard when you only have energy for half an hour a day. 

The stubbiness kicked in again and she started playing the online tutorials on audio loops all day and night.  

"I started applying everything I was learning from the classes and my school work." 

By November she had noticed big changes. 

She could walk two lamp posts past her house, and stay up for a few hours at a time. 

A year since she started studying, nobody would be able to tell how sick she once was. 

"Most of the time it feels like a really bad nightmare." 

Gawith's life looks a lot different to her pre-sickness one - the sugary, processed foods have been replaced by vegetables, meat and bone broth. 

And she's learnt to slow down. 

Gawith gave up the corporate career to become a functional nutritionist and helps her clients avoid what she went through. 

"I can't just ignore everything I've been through and put it aside." 

 - The Wellingtonian

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