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Chronically Ellen Eats 13.07.23

After being diagnosed with endometriosis at 23, Ellen's whole life changed along with the way in which she nourished her body. Frustrated with the lack of accessible resources, Ellen created Chronically Ellen Eats, an online home to share her journey, recipes and a space for support.

Chronically Ellen Eats began with a feeling. A feeling of frustration, desperation, and someone at their wits' end; someone so used to being high-functioning in a fast-paced corporate environment needing a new purpose in life that was manageable, given an unanticipated change in health circumstances.

I am one of the many people who were "at risk" with multiple pre-existing health conditions and a compromised immune system and should never have caught COVID-19. I am one of those people so many people fought hard to protect, yet here I am, 17 months later, still suffering the effects of Long COVID. I was recently diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), which explained a lot of my ongoing health issues and why it feels like COVID-19 was a neurological attack on my nervous system, a never-ending asthma attack, and ended up dialling all pre-existing conditions up by 100%.

I previously had a very successful 13-year-long career in freight forwarding, ending up in middle management with a great customer base whom I adored working with. I was functional despite my pre-existing conditions (fibromyalgia and endometriosis being the main culprits), only having the odd really bad day. I thrived under pressure, deadlines, and the fast-paced environment kept me stimulated. After contracting COVID-19, I was shortly thereafter forced to resign from my job to focus on my deteriorating health and was subsequently bounced from specialist to specialist, trying to figure out what was wrong with me and what they could do for me. I lost nearly 10 kgs and was classified as underweight, being threatened with fortified food by my dietician unless I could fight my severe gastric distress and put some of the weight back on.

I was miserable, lost, and feeling like a shell of a human. I was sick of being sick and on the fast track to depression. But one conversation changed my life. A conversation with a girlfriend at her nail salon whilst I was having my fortnightly pamper session and catching up. She urged me to find something to channel my energy into. Something I was already doing maybe that I could share with the world on Instagram, similar to what she had done. The rest - as they say - is history.

Chronically Ellen Eats has given me a way to stay accountable, heal, and change my lifestyle in a healthy way. I needed to do a flip 180 to change from my previously paced lifestyle into a routine focussed on calming my nervous system with a low sensory stimulus. What started out as me doing "a reel a day," documenting what Low FODMAP food I was eating and my journey with a gut-directed hypnotherapy app, has morphed into something far larger and impactful than I could ever have imagined. It now encompasses gardening, garden-to-table cooking, cooking for the Low FODMAP Diet, my health journey, with a smattering of health and wellness on top. This has enabled me to build a loyal community around me that not only cheers me on every day but who I now in turn seek to empower and advocate for.

The Low FODMAP Diet came into my life as a result of severe gastric distress caused by COVID-19. Whilst I had mild IBS, it dialled that up to be full-blown IBS, & GERD. The research shows that pockets of COVID-19 remain in the gut months after infection, and this was definitely the case with me. To manage this, my dietician turned to the Low FODMAP Diet developed by the Monash University of Melbourne. The Low FODMAP Diet is a three-phase management tool, focussing on at first eliminating FODMAPS (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols) in my diet. Put simply, FODMAPs are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that aren't absorbed properly in the gut, which can trigger symptoms in people with IBS. FODMAPs are found naturally in many foods and food additives*, and it is anything but a simple black-and-white diet. It's more about eating a wide variety of food in moderation. Normally people would not be on the exclusion phase for so long, but it is the only way I can manage to keep weight on and avoid IBS flares so bad they result in hospitalisation. It is worth noting I am under strict dietician care.

Creating Chronically Ellen Eats has opened so many doorways for me I never thought would be possible given my health, most surprisingly, including getting me back in touch with who I am as a person. I look back on the me from 2 years ago, and she is almost unrecognisable. I could not imagine putting myself through that amount of stress anymore, as my body is no longer designed for it. Instead, I have been focussing on my roots - quite literally. These days I spend lots of time in the garden, working with my hands, nurturing plants indoors and out, and growing my own nutrient-dense food on our urban property. That journey has culminated in the construction of a polytunnel which is almost done! I can't wait for spring and to get that new space thriving.

I have also come full circle back to my teenage self. As a teenager, I was interested in almost nothing outside of science, language, and the arts. I lived and breathed arts and language, being a sponge for knowledge and coming back to that has been so profound. I am making art with my photography, creating art with cooking and baking, writing, creating beauty by growing food and flowers, and moving at a pace that is totally in tune with my body. This is a slower lifestyle, where some days I can do more and some less. Due to severe brain fog, I rely heavily on lists! Don't get me wrong. I still get incredibly frustrated with where the day went, being jealous of those exercising and working and living their best lives, but I have more or less come to terms with and accepted the fact that I am disabled and will never be in a position to return to such a fast-paced lifestyle. But that's OK. Hand me a cup of tea, and I will happily curl up with the cat and a good gritty Anne Rice novel or gardening journal instead. The introvert in me really doesn't mind.

In terms of why it took me 16 months to get a diagnosis, the absolute core of that issue is that there are still no Long Covid support clinics set up in New Zealand. No education for practitioners outside of the research they do themselves and experience with other patients. No education or resources for patients. It's flat embarrassing. It took 12 months for me to get referred to a specialist who was qualified to diagnose me, and he is the only one in his field in the country (currently splitting his time between NZ and the USA), so it then took a further 5 months to get in to see him. I was fortunate enough to have existing health insurance, and every day I think about those who are not in a position to afford such a privilege. I often wonder if I went through the public system - would I have ever been diagnosed properly?

Hence my "why" now is to help others. It's absolutely woven into the fabric of who I am as a person, and if I can make one person's day, make one person feel less alone, inspire someone to grow their own food, make someone feel that the Low FODMAP Diet isn't boring or flavour free, give them hope tomorrow is another day, give them hope for a diagnosis, empower them with knowledge, or simply make someone laugh - that is all I can really hope for. I will continue to fight for and inspire my community as best I can whilst dealing with my own health issues - it can be a fine line at times.

Here is one of Ellen's favourite quick Low-FODMAP treats, that the whole family will love! A firm favourite between her niece and nephews that comes highly requested.

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