For the past month, I have been on a sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, alcohol-free, (seemingly fun-free!) diet. I have done many elimination diets and cleanses before by choice, however this diet was prescribed to me by an integrative specialist.
I moved to San Diego four years ago and had to get a new general physician. I felt like my digestive issues worsened, so I visited my new doctor to see if there was anything she could help with. I had decided that I would go on an elimination diet to identify any potential food allergies; the doctor agreed that would be a good idea. She suggested not eating gluten and drinking ginger tea.
Well, none of this really helped that much. When I went back home to Sonoma County over the holidays this past December, my mom suggested I see her integrative NP. The nurse ordered extensive tests that I took when I returned to San Diego — she wanted to know everything that was going on in my body.
After all of the investigative tests returned, I finally had real answers:
-I have candida(!!!!!), and I’ve probably had it for years. The candida most likely originated in my stomach and has been in my body for so long that the yeast spread to my bloodstream. (By the way, I totally thought Candida was a silly hyped up disease made up by Whole Foods– especially after reading this hysterical Whole Foods parody)
Candida is a fungal infection in the form of yeast that lives in the intestines and/or mouth. Too much of this yeast can lead to digestion issues and even depression (Hint: Gut health tied to emotional health!!). There are lots of potential causes of candida including: use of antibiotics (which help to remove harmful bacteria but also rid the body of beneficial and necessary bacteria in the gut), stress, oral contraceptives, eating a diet high in refined sugar and carbohydrates, etc.
-I have three different types of bacterial infections
-I am lacking any remnants of good bacteria in my gut
I know you must be thinking, Leslie, what kind of junky lifestyle have you been living to accumulate all of these gross infections?!
To accumulate all of these little visitors in my stomach, I must be shoveling sewage down my gullet, right?!
I actually don’t consume bacteria infested garbage daily and try to have a pretty balanced diet.
I do have a hunch, which might explain some of these infections. I went on a pretty powerful acne drug when I was a teenager. It worked very well, but it blew out all of the bacteria in my body (both good and bad), which is why it is so effective at eliminating acne. However, some bacteria is SUPER important in our bodies. In fact, “bacterial cells in the human body outnumber human cells 10 to 1” (Scientific American). Bacteria helps aid digestion, boost our immune systems, and more. Without it, our bodies become much more vulnerable to infections.
Anyway, in order to get rid of all these infections, it’s important that I follow a pretty strict diet. Yeast feeds off of sugar, it makes it grow exponentially, so that was a big no-no. The Candida diet eliminates gluten, dairy, sugar (including honey and agave), dried fruit, caffeine*, even starchy vegetables. This meant no wine, bread, cheese, frozen yogurt, many tasty not-so-healthy food and beverages. Let me tell you, I did not go down easy! However, a month has gone by, and I feel vastly different.
I have to admit the majority of this month was pretty terrible, I was really crabby knowing I wouldn’t be able to go on a fro-yo run or have a piece of toast, or a fat glass of red wine (bless my boyfriend for being so patient with me while I whined about missing foods!). I spent the first three weeks resisting and fighting against my new dietary regime. I didn’t eat that much sugar/gluten/dairy to begin with, but having someone tell you that you are no longer allowed to consume those things makes it exponentially more difficult to follow through and let go.
Along with my resistance, stubbornness, and frustration gradually came a better functioning stomach. I was too preoccupied with having some foods taken away from me that I wasn’t even paying attention to how well the diet was making me feel (in addition to the mountains of natural supplements and enzymes I’ve been prescribed to kill all the evil yeast and break down nutrients).
I’ve gotten to a place now where I actually embrace that I can only eat clean, nourishing food. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on an experience by not having a beer at a friend’s party or not having dessert after dinner. Sugar cravings I was initially unaware I had have now subsided (though not completely!). My yearnings for fro-yo have begun to soften and fade.
Some takeaways from my ongoing dietary journey:
-I would absolutely recommend eliminating sugar from your diet (even honey!) for a couple of weeks, a month if you can bare it. I guarantee you will feel pretty freaking amazing and many cravings will subside (even if you think you don’t have sugar cravings…).
-Sugar is in everything! I had to ditch my precious almond milk au laits — the almond milk used by most coffee shops contains about 7 grams of sugar per cup. I made a point to ask the baristas at my favorite coffee spots to check the almond milk ingredients label for me, and sure enough, cane sugar was one of the main ingredients. If you drink other lactose-free milk alternatives such as soy milk or coconut milk, it’s highly likely that there is sugar added in those, too.
-I don’t eat a lot of gluten, but having someone tell me that I should eliminate it completely from my diet made me want it a whole lot more. Without it, I feel much less bloated and just a little healthier. If you’re totally craving something gluten-y like a scone or bread or something like that, check out Elana’s Pantry. All of her recipes are paleo (no gluten, dairy, or refined sugar) and she’s got a bangin’ banana bread recipe.
-This whole process has been a huuuuuge lesson in “Aparigraha”. Aparigraha is one of five Yamas of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga; it basically means non-possessiveness and non-greediness. The more I clung to the things I couldn’t have, the more misery I ensued. When I was able to let go, I became a lot happier and less grouchy. It has been so freeing to let go of food and drink related attachments, knowing that I am truly nourishing myself.
-It’s important to be your own advocate! Ask your doctor lots of questions, do your own research, and maybe seek out an integrative health care practitioner (we’re chock full of those in San Diego!). I will say that I had to go outside of my health insurance network because it is an HMO and the extensive tests I had done were pretty darn expensive. In my opinion, it was all worth it. Otherwise, I would be living my life with digestive discomfort and all this junk going on in my stomach believing that it was normal and something I need to learn to live with!
*I’m still working on the no caffeine aspect of the diet. Coffee isn’t “allowed” on the Candida diet because caffeine overworks your adrenal glands, increases blood sugar, and can disrupt sleep, all of which can
create hospitable conditions for candida yeast to grow even more. I’m madly in love with coffee and having to say goodbye to all of the other food types, I wasn’t ready to let go of coffee too (no one’s perfect, right?). This weekend, I’m ditching it and switching to ginger and chamomile tea.
I’ll also be trying chicory root coffee which is an Ayurvedic beverage supposedly used to help balance and cool pitta dosha types (me!). Learn about chicory root coffee here.