Friday, June 13, 2014

Candida and Me

Okay, so candida. Kind of an icky topic. I won't go into a lot of depth here, because you can google it. Basically, it's an overgrowth of the natural yeast that we all have in our guts. Supposedly, I have it. I didn't make this up--it was tested by my doctor and a lab, via. . . how to put this delicately: that stuff that comes out of your gut, your poop.

That's quite enough of that. What I really wanted to write about was the ensuing month of special diet I have had to consume, along with a smorgasbord of supplements, to try to heal my gut. I'm 3/4 of the way done with my four weeks of treatment. I can't wait for it to be over. But I have learned a few things about myself through the process.

Let me just say that I was given the option to approach this now or later. The wonderful staff at my new doctor's office are well aware that this is a difficult regimen to undergo, and they said I should only do it if I could stick to it. So I decided to go ahead, and I decided to pursue it with conviction and concentration. (I have actually been treated for this in the past by other practitioners, but I didn't approach it with the degree of effort I have this time. And I have much more support and information from my practitioner this time.)

Sometimes, I find it useful to prove to myself I can do something hard. A couple of years ago, it was backpacking in Yosemite. Birthing a 10 lb 10 oz baby was enough of a challenge nearly 18 years ago that I didn't need to prove anything for a very long time. This seemed like a good opportunity to prove to myself that I could focus on food as merely food and not entertainment. That I could live without my favorite vices.

The regimen I have been following is kind of scary. I am not allowed to eat any of the following: dairy, sugar or other sweeteners except for stevia, alcohol, grains of any kind, starchy vegetables, anything fermented or made with vinegar, or fruit except an occasional few berries in a protein smoothie. If you know me, you know that I love dairy AND bread AND fruit. So I knew this would be an extreme challenge. Basically, I can eat meat, beans, eggs, non-starchy vegetables (of course, all my favorite vegetables are of the starchy variety), nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.

Being the rebel and the self-directed person I am, I did a little of my own research and discovered that there are many variations in what is considered allowable on the candida diet. For example, raw honey is allowed by some. And as I have developed a distinct hatred for stevia, I decided a teeny bit of raw honey would be okay. I also have developed a gag reflex when drinking a protein smoothie, so I decided berries were acceptable if eaten with other types of protein, like meat.

My doctor had already okayed one cup of coffee per day, but no sugar. I started by using stevia, but I really don't like its flavor, and I had already been reducing my intake of sugar, so I now drink my coffee with no sweetener. Just cream. (I was allowed that tiny bit of dairy in my coffee, since they viewed that as better than opting for fake creamers.) So one thing I learned is that coffee really is not bad without sweetener. Who knew?

Here are a few other things I've learned:

Attitude is everything. I'm 51, and I should know this by now. But I kind of need a kick in the pants every once in a while. I went into this process with a positive attitude that it would be a chance to explore new foods, try out some other options I'd been wanting to try out anyway, and see if it really was possible to live without anything made out of wheat or any other grain (including oats) for a month--I thought missing grains would be the hardest part. The attitude has helped immensely. Duh. Hey, I gave up alcohol for three pregnancies. I gave up cheese while nursing Peter because it seemed to make him miserable. I can do almost anything for just one month.

Not to sound all new-agy and stuff, I have become more mindful about eating. Of course, that was sort of a by-product. I've had to think about literally every single thing. Mustard and ketchup? No, those have vinegar. What to have for breakfast when almost all of my prior breakfast choices have been grain-based? Eggs. Love eggs. Have not yet grown to despise eggs. But every morning? Today I drank the dang protein smoothie just for a change of pace. But I've discovered the wonders of almond flour and coconut flour and how you can make edible pancakes and muffins and even substitute hamburger buns out of them. On this diet, it is impossible to step into the kitchen and grab a snack without thinking, so yeah, mindfulness. Maybe more mindfulness than I would like. How delightful it will be to go grab some fruit for a snack without having to come up with something involving meat or veggies (not that I have anything against those food groups in particular).

Tastes I really, really like. I have become a big fan of the multiple uses of lemon juice. (I can have that where vinegar might be the norm, say in salad dressing and stuff.) I love lemon flavor. And it can be used in almost any kind of dish to add zing. Also avocados.  I've always loved the smooth and creamy texture of avocados. This month, I have been putting avocados on and in everything. Guacamole is my new love. I loved it before, but now I'm planning on eating is as often as possible. Coconut everything: flour, oil, butter, milk.

Perfection is impossible. Already knew this, but a nice reminder is useful. There have been one two occasions where I did use mustard or fruit or something more than I was supposed to. I have been allowed to have a very small amount of extremely dark chocolate, which I may have eaten slightly more than the allotted amount. But hey, I'm a writer, and writers can't write without chocolate.

On the other hand, I am made of stronger stuff than I anticipated. I never, ever thought I could survive without some sort of grains. I could go without wheat, if that's all it was. But rice? Oats? Yes, I can live without those as well. It's been a nice surprise that I am able to do this thing that I thought would be next to impossible. I have walked past tables of sugary treats without blinking, or even feeling tempted. I have eaten out with my family and not even cared that they were eating my favorite things, while I was stuck with more chicken and green salad. (Okay, I might have cared a bit. I have done my fair share of whining and complaining.)

It hasn't been all joy and wonder. Not at all. It has been a pain in the butt, to be honest. For starters, I'm not the kind of person who likes a regimented lifestyle. I was told I had to eat three meals and two snacks and they had to be 2-3 hours apart and at certain prescribed times. That has not happened. I knew it wouldn't. I eat when I'm hungry, and I'm still asleep at 7:00 a.m. so I'm not going to be eating breakfast between 7-9. I figured that was optional. I have tried to make sure I have some food every few hours, and I call that good.

And while I really do love a wide array of vegetables, not being able to eat fruit is practically killing me, especially at this time of the year, when all the fruit is ready to eat. That's why I've always been glad that the food pyramid or plate or whatever has combined fruits and vegetables into one category. Thank goodness I am allowed a few measly berries a day. I think fruit might be the first thing I eat when I'm done.

I really haven't missed dairy all that much, as I typically don't consume tons of dairy products anyway. But I was just falling in love with raw milk, so I will be glad to have that back. And cheese--like on sandwiches and pizza, and with bread and wine.

I don't really miss sugar that much, but I was already cutting way back on that and using low glycemic choices for sweeteners. So that will be something I can carry forward. I'm sure I will eat sugar--I must have some ice cream soon--but I think I can pick only the truly special treats that really mean something and leave most of the rest of the sugary stuff in the past.

I hope this kills the candida. Because if not, I might have to do it again, and I would not enjoy that at all. However, I wasn't having many of the symptoms of candida to begin with, and I don't feel any better or worse after the first 3 weeks. I have had some headaches and been very tired, but isn't different than before. I don't feel less brain foggy. I don't have more energy. My digestion doesn't seem any different. So aside from being grouchy whenever I pass Fanci Freez, I don't really feel different at all.

Therefore, when my month is up--coincidentally on the exact date of my 30th wedding anniversary--I will not feel at all guilty about enjoying myself with some wine, cheese and bread, and strawberries with whipped cream. No meat or vegetables in sight. I have proven to myself that I could do it, and it has definitely been interesting. But it's not the way I want eating to be for the long term. So if at the end of this the doctor tells me I can never eat grains again, I might be okay. But is she tells me no fruit, there might some extreme negotiations to work out. And lots of screaming.

My two most important take-aways are things I was trying to work on anyway: eliminating or significantly reducing my sugar intake and eating less or no processed food. I have done both of those things, and I think they are definitely habits I can continue.

It's been a journey, with some illuminating new insights. But  mostly I can't wait to be done.

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