It all started with a plastic bear full of frosted animal crackers staring at me in Target last week.
Seriously, he was taunting me. “Buy me. Eat me. I’m delicious.”
That’s when I knew I had a problem.
Actually, the story goes back 10 years to 2005.
I had been experiencing low back pain, intestinal discomfort, headaches and severe abdominal pain for a few years, and was finally diagnosed with endometriosis. I had surgery, but I also really realized I needed to figure out a healthy diet that worked for me longterm.
I researched and came across something called Candida Syndrome. It is described this way:
“Some alternative practitioners believe that overgrowth of candida albicans yeast in the intestines is responsible for a yeast syndrome that results in symptoms such as fatigue, headache, mood swings, sinus congestion, depression, poor memory and concentration, and cravings for sweets.” (source).
Cravings for sweets? Check.
Mood swings? Yes – no – I don’t know! Check.
Add on intestinal discomfort and bloating, and we have ourselves a winner!
Candida is a “good” yeast that grows in the intestinal and vaginal tracts. When we eat too much sugar, are on antibiotics or birth control pills, go through a lot of stress or have a weakened immune system, that “good” yeast suddenly goes into overdrive and takes over our system.
It is now “bad” yeast, and can cause all of the symptoms listed above and make our system go haywire.
It seemed like an anti-candida diet and candida cleanse was worth a shot. I purchased the book The Yeast Connection Cookbook: A Guide to Good Nutrition, Better Health and Weight Management by Dr. William Crook and Marjorie Hurt Jones and got to work (affiliate link).
Since then, there have been many more books on candida published. This was the gold standard at the time and worked great for me. There are some great recipes, and some I didn’t touch. I now use it as a basic resource, along with online information.
The book recommends a two week period of an anti-allergy and anti-candida diet. Basically, you cut out all possible offending foods, and then, after two weeks, start introducing them one by one. It is during this time you can see if any of those foods cause your symptoms. If they do, you know you might be sensitive to them.
I realized I am very sensitive to wheat and gluten. For me, this means they directly cause bloating, fatigue and gas (NOT attractive!). Beer and bread? Forget about it. I also realized that my beloved beans were leading to some of my bloating as well.
On the flip side, eggs, rice and oats make my system happy!
It was hugely eye opening and really changed my eating habits completely. I have followed this way of eating – the Make Jessica’s Body Happy Diet – since then. I’ve found that, as long as I stay on track 90% of the time, I can have treats here and there and they don’t affect me as much.
Notice I said “as long as I stay on track 90% of the time”. Well, in the past month we have done our second major move in a year…with a toddler. At the same time I’ve been trying to run two businesses and manage a little sleep.
Needless to say, my eating habits have gone out the window and my stress levels have risen. Thus, the animal cracker hoarding issue.
The problem is, these two things feed off of each other in my life. If I’m stressed or tired, I’ll want a glass of wine or some chocolate as a “reward” at the end of the day. That is fine if it’s one day. If it’s five days in a row, my body then becomes more stressed because of this influx of sugar.
The pattern continues. I eat sugar/wheat/beer. I then want more sugar/wheat/beer. Then I want more. And more. And more.
So after the animal cracker incident, I KNEW it was time for a kickstart. I pulled out my trusted cookbook and got back to the basics for three days.
I didn’t do the full anti-allergy diet again as I know what my trigger foods are. I simply eliminated processed sugar, wheat, yeast, alcohol, dairy, dried fruit, beans and soy from my diet. I kept about one piece of whole fruit a day (low sugar fruits such as berries) and I did keep coffee, because LIFE. (If you are doing this for the first time, I would HIGHLY recommend following the guidelines and eliminating fruit and coffee as well!).
This is an example of a typical day for me during the candida cleanse:
Breakfast: baked oatmeal with flax seed, 1/4 banana and 1/4 cup fresh strawberries
Lunch: 1/2 roasted potato with swiss chard, red bell pepper, olive oil and salt
Snack: 1/4 cup raw almonds/cashews/pecans/walnuts, one grain-free zucchini muffin (no dried fruit or chocolate)
Dinner: chicken sausage with mustard and sauerkraut, brown rice and swiss chard
This is what I noticed in the past three days:
1) I didn’t miss alcohol at all – which kind of surprised me. I don’t drink a lot – maybe 5 glasses of wine a week – but I do really like the ritual of having a glass after my daughter goes to bed. I missed the idea of it the first night, but I felt much more alert and slept better without it. It also helped that my husband was out of town, and I don’t love drinking alone. He’s back now, and I can guarantee I’ll be having a glass tonight. But I’ll sip on it and enjoy it more knowing I had a break for a while.
2) I still really want some sugar. If you put those animal crackers in front of me, I would possibly still eat them (which means maybe I need to go on this a little longer). The difference is I now remember what it feels like to NOT eat them. I was on such a pattern of having some sugar every day that I forgot how clean I feel when I avoid it. Hopefully that feeling is enough now for me to say no for a while longer.
3) I had less bloating and gas – just being real here.
4) Dried fruit is not good for me. I usually have some trail mix in the afternoon as a snack. I have snuck in more dried fruit over time, probably as a sweet bite substitute. Dried fruit is a sugar bomb, as it’s taken all the natural fruit of sugar and concentrated it a 100 times by drying it. It also harbors yeast and mold because of the drying process. I am much better sticking to plain nuts and avoiding the dried fruit.
As a sidenote, you might be thinking that this sounds like a Paleo or Whole30 diet. You are right! Ten years ago, though, there was no such thing as Paleo or Whole30. I found what sounded best to me, and it worked really well. I also am not a huge meat eater, which Paleo and Whole30 usually focus on, so the thought of cutting out rice and oats in addition to the other items mentioned is daunting to me. I just don’t know if I could get enough food since I only eat meat a few times a week. A friend recently told me there is a vegetarian version of Whole30, so I’m going to check it out.
This is what works for ME. It’s a mish-mash of candida, Paleo, Whole30, vegetarian, vegan, dairy free, chocolate and low-glycemic (yes, chocolate is a diet). I have taken the time over the years to really pay attention to what foods work best for me, both physically and from an ethical and moral standpoint. It helps to have a framework and “rules” when first starting, but don’t be afraid to break them if you find something that works better for you and your family! There are no food police who are going to arrest you for having brown rice during Whole30 (and if there are people who judge you for that, please walk away from them – fast).
If you want to find out if you might be experiencing an excess of yeast in your body, here is a quick online quiz. This is the same one I took when I was first learning about the candida cleanse.
If you’d like to know more or would be interested in following along for a candida cleanse, let me know in the comments below! It’s so much easier when we do it together, and I’d be happy to post the detailed program so everyone can follow along. I could even be talked into doing it again if necessary. Like I said, that bear is still calling to me.