I'm nearing the 8-week mark of my sugar-free, starchy food-free, fruit-free, alcohol-free anti-candida diet. I was already gluten, dairy, soy and corn free so adding these additional restrictions was simultaneously easy and super hard. Yeah, I know that sounds confusing, but for those of you with dietary restrictions or food allergies, you know that once you get used to avoiding certain foods, you get used to the drill of label reading, cooking at home A LOT, and asking restaurant servers 16 questions before ordering when you do go out.
That's the easy part. The tough part was taking an already limited diet and whittling it down even more to the point where I'm eating only non-starchy vegetables (no fruit or sweet veg like beets, carrots, squash or roots), some organic, pasture-raised animal proteins, and a few types of nuts and seeds. Admittedly I'm a chocoholic so I've gotten creative with organic cacao in order to get my chocolate fix (see my Chocolate Pot De Crème recipe here). The first 10 days or so I had terrible sugar cravings but they did subside and are now long gone.
So why am I following this crazy, restricted diet protocol? Well, it all started on the day I was born. Yep, we have to go back that far, but you'll see why in a moment. I was a C-section baby, which meant that I was starting off my adventures on earth with two blows to my unformed immune system. First, I missed out on all the good bacteria in the birth canal that an infant should be exposed to. This bacteria populates the baby's skin and gut acting as its' first dose of probiotics. Second, since I was a C-section baby, both my mom and I were put on antibiotics, further compromising the good bacteria I did have and making me more prone to thrush and yeast infection. Thankfully my mom breast-fed me so I at least got colostrum, which is crucial for a healthy immune system and gut integrity.
Overall I was a healthy kid but I did get ear infections when I was little, all of which were treated with antibiotics. But no biggie, still a pretty healthy kid with a pretty healthy, unprocessed diet - thanks mom! When I hit my early teen years I started getting acne and, yes, you guessed it, more antibiotics. I think I took every antibiotic on the market to "help" my skin and when that didn't do the trick we turned to Accutane and after 2 courses of that my skin was significantly better, although still not acne-free. Little did I know at the time that my acne was due to a dairy intolerance and could have been remedied by a simple dietary change.
After high school I moved from sunny California to Seattle for college and went from eating mostly home cooked, unprocessed food to eating cafeteria food at school. I was a vegetarian at the time and had no clue how to be a healthy vegetarian, which meant I was eating mostly high starch, high sugar foods since those were the only vegetarian options available on campus. Now keep in mind that this was the early 90's when "high carb, low fat" was all the rage. I thought I was eating healthy but I was actually creating a massive systemic candida overgrowth and I began to feel generally cruddy. I was tired and depressed and by the end of freshman year I had gained nearly 30 pounds. I had such bad brain fog that I would study for hours but just couldn't retain the information. My grades suffered and my dream of getting into veterinary school slipped away before my eyes.
That summer I went home to California and managed to eat less and exercise my way back down to only 10 pounds heavier than I was when I arrived at school, but I still felt cruddy and I began feeling severely depressed. I though about food constantly and my cravings for sugar and starchy foods were out of control. I returned to school that Fall and almost immediately began gaining weight again. It was then that I began binge eating and purging, and suicidal thoughts became a regular part of my life. I was 19 years old.
About halfway through my second year at university it was clear that I didn't have the grades to get into vet school (which is more competitive than med school), and I was heartbroken. I quite literally did not know what to do with myself since all I had ever wanted to do was be a veterinarian. I was more depressed than ever and I often planned out how I could or would commit suicide. Thankfully my love for my mom and my faith saved me. I never acted on it because I knew that it would be devastating for my mom and I knew that God had a plan for my life that I couldn't just give up on.
The bingeing and purging escalated to the point that I finally knew I needed help so I reluctantly reached out to my mom and told her what had been going on. Being the amazingly compassionate and giving person she is, she started doing some research and eventually found a nearby treatment center for eating disorders where I went through a couple years of pretty intense therapy. It wasn't a cure but it did get me out of the cycle of bingeing and purging and helped me to make peace with my body and create a healthier relationship with food.
I felt like I was beginning to recognize myself again and I knew it was time to refocus and find purpose and direction for my life. After being in such a rigid, scientific setting at university I wanted to do something more creative. I loved to cook and I thought that just maybe I could put my fascination (or obsession) with food to good use, so I decided to go to culinary arts school.
My culinary program was full at the time so I decided to start with their pastry program and move to culinary after finishing that. Long story short I was around bread and pastries all day every day and I was a poor student, so what did I end up eating every day? Yep, bread and pastries. Again, it was the 90's and high carb was supposed to be good for you. Ugh! If you know anything about candidiasis, or candida overgrowth (if you don't, check out this great article by Dr. Amy Myers), you know that eating high starch/sugar foods feed the yeast, creating a systemic problem that affects everything from gut health to brain function.
For those of us who have a history of antibiotic usage, we're more vulnerable because we no longer have sufficient amounts of the healthy bacteria and yeasts that keep the candida in check. My history of antibiotics and super high carb diet had created the perfect environment for the systemic candida overgrowth that would affect my life for the next 2 decades, baffling doctor after doctor with my constellation of mystery symptoms.
Fast forward several years and I had finally found a Naturopathic Doctor who understood what was happening in my body. I was eating a much better more balanced diet and had lost quite a bit of weight at this point so she helped me address my hypothyroid and nutritional deficiencies. She also put me on an anti-fungal drug but unfortunately didn't tell me that yeast will build a resistance to anti-fungal drugs and herbs if it is still being well fed. So while the treatment helped for a while, it didn't solve the problem or address my overall gut health.
As difficult as that part of my life was, it gave me a passion for natural healing and using food as medicine and it's what eventually led me to go back to nutrition school. I have since learned so much about the power of food in overcoming illness and I can share that knowledge to help others avoid or overcome similar challenges.
My health has come such a long way over the last few years and I am beyond blessed to have access to amazing doctors who deal with chronic illness all the time. I began feeling familiar symptoms again after the holidays so I decided enough was enough! It was time to break up with candida once and for all and to put my nutrition knowledge to work for me. So I am now undergoing anti-fungal treatment with the incomparable Dr. Giandomenico at Sophia Health Institute (where I work part-time as the Nutrition Counselor), and simultaneously following a strict anti-candida diet.
In the last couple of years I kept hoping that by eating clean, nourishing, anti-inflammatory foods and focusing on restoring my gut health, any residual candida issues would disappear. But I now understand that once candidiasis becomes chronic, it takes much more targeted and extreme measures to truly eradicate an overgrowth, especially one that's been around for years. But what is a few months of following a restricted diet in the grand scope of things? I'd rather do this for a few months than continue to struggle with my health for years to come.
At nearly 2 months into this protocol I have next to no brain fog, my energy has increased, I'm sleeping SO much better, and I don't have the vicious sugar cravings and constant bloated feeling anymore. I've had some rough days here and there which is normal due to the toxins released by the yeast as it dies off (read more about die off reactions here), but overall it has been a positive, necessary and long overdue change.
Even if you're not dealing with candidiasis you may benefit from saying goodbye to sugar for a while. I know it can seem overwhelming or even impossible to eliminate favorite foods from your diet like sugar, gluten and dairy, but you may not need to say goodbye to them forever. After a sufficient time of allowing the gut to heal on a therapeutic diet, most people are able to reintroduce certain foods in moderate amounts with no problem so it's not necessarily a death sentence for those foods. If you've been struggling with any chronic illness or condition, I encourage you to do some soul searching and ask yourself what do you want more? Do you want that tasty food that is only enjoyable for a short moment in time and may be destroying your health, or do you want a vibrant, healthy and functional body for a lifetime?
Are you ready to breakup with candida or another digestive issue? If so I'd love to support you. Click here to schedule a complimentary Coffee Talk session and let's talk about your journey to true wellness.