“As I finished my shopping at the grocery store one morning, I noticed a group of
my close friends talking outside. I avoided them as best I could,” recalls Katie. “I didn’t want to be rude, but I was exhausted — again. All I wanted to do was go home and go to sleep. Once there, I didn’t even have the energy to put the groceries away, so I got the cold stuff into the fridge and freezer, then lay down. It was only 9:30 AM, and I felt guilty realizing I had blown off some of my best friends because I wanted to rest.
Tired All the Time
“This wasn’t the first time it had happened either. Fatigue was starting to rule my life — my husband agreed, telling me he didn’t think it wasn’t normal to be so tired all the time.
“And it wasn’t just fatigue I was dealing with. My entire life, I’d always been someone who only had a few bowel movements a week. I thought this was fairly normal and never talked about it with anyone until after giving birth to my first child. At that point, I hadn’t had a bowel movement in 10 days and I called my doctor, desperate for something to help me feel better. I was exhausted, irritable, and in pain. I’d tried stool softeners with no luck. I ate prunes, raisins, and everything else I could think of that might get things going again. I was used to being constipated, but this was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. The discomfort was excruciating.
“My doctor suggested I increase my intake of fruit, vegetables, and water. I had done all of these things in the past and it hadn’t helped, but I tried to redouble my efforts. I’d eat things like veggie subs, wraps with as much fiber as I could put into them, oatmeal with raisins, and cereal that was high in fiber. But these changes didn’t have much of an effect, and over time my exhaustion got worse, no matter how much sleep I got.
An answer at last!
“Then something happened that made all the difference: I went out to lunch with my sister. When the woman next to me got her order, it looked amazing: a hearty salad with nuts and avocados, two foods I always avoided after living through the low-fat craze of the 1980s.
“It was something I’d never order. A salad with just veggies never filled me up, but I’d been hearing how healthy these fats were, so I ordered exactly what the woman had. Not only was the meal delicious, I was surprised to find that I felt full and satisfied. And the next morning, I had an easy bowel movement. I had a feeling it was because of the salad, so I decided to go to the grocery store and get some of the same ingredients to have on hand at home.
“I started writing down everything I ate, along with my bowel movements, and noticed a pattern after a few months: When I ate anything that contained the preservative BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) or BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), I wouldn’t have a bowel movement for a few days, and just the thought of everyday activities would make me feel so tired, my stomach would turn. I’d never heard of BHT or BHA, but since I read the ingredients in everything I put in my body, I concluded that if I left anything that contained BHT out of my diet and ate fresh, homemade foods, I felt alive and had energy. This included sweets and treats. Homemade cookies, cakes, and breads didn’t make me feel lifeless the way packaged foods did.
“After doing some research online and learning that BHT and BHA were preservatives, I decided to start avoiding them to see what happened. And I’m so glad I did: I realized that I felt so much better giving up things like cereal, bread, and anything that came from a box or bag and opting for homemade and fresh foods instead. It completely changed my life!
“That was several years ago. Today, I feel so energized and wonderful, I don’t miss any of the foods that used to make me feel so horrible. I no longer need to take naps daily, and I have a bowel movement every day. I still enjoy certain packaged foods on occasion, but I am always careful to read the ingredients list on the package, and I know that if it contains BHT or BHA, it’s not for me.
“Because I’d been living in a state of fatigue for as long as I could remember, I had no idea this was how you were supposed to feel: energized and not too exhausted to talk with your friends or complete normal daily activities! I’m so relieved all I had to do was eliminate something from my diet and add in some healthier, more filling foods. I have so much energy, and I feel so alive. I’m so thankful that I finally figured out why I was so tired every day!”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.