A Wonderfully Awful Diagnosis

Image by Emma Hack

Image by Emma Hack

Have you ever had one of those moments where everything all of a sudden just clicks? Yesterday I did.

And I am wondering if my epiphany can help you too.

It all started with Dry July

(which was actually not that dry)

Any Instagram or Facebook friends here would know that I have been participating with a group of girlfriends in a Dry July detox. Under extreme sufferance. I committed to a month of no animal products, refined sugar, gluten and most importantly – god forbid – no alcohol!

And while my food choices have been impressive I will be honest – for the first 14 days of Dry July I had a glass of wine every day. Sometimes two. Or three. However after a few pep talks to myself I complied and I have been delightfully committed to being alcohol-free. Not known for my self-discipline within the realm of burgundy deliciousness I have completed shocked myself.

But wait?..

I expected a near-instant transformation. I felt that my bloating would disappear, my mood would lift to dizzying heights, I would lose weight and the oppressive fog that had settled in my brain would evaporate.

Nope.

Even without the alcohol I felt permanently hung-over. I felt jipped and to tell you the truth my husband may have had to wrestle the champagne bottle from my desperate, disappointed hands at one point.

As hard as I tried to be patient I felt disheartened, especially when everyone around me was reporting these fantastic results – better skin, better sleep, weight loss, feeling happier. All those things I had wanted.

The nosedive continued and I started thinking about what I was doing wrong. Why wasn’t I reaching my goals after 3 years of trying damn hard at nearly every of eating style around? Vegan, high-carb, low-carb, no,-carb, juice cleanse, paleo and vegan a couple more times. I had tried everything and still wasn’t seeing results. I wasn’t losing weight, my brain was still foggy, my digestion was still shit, I still felt anxious a lot of the time. Even recently while I have been eating a totally alkaline diet and meditating twice daily my wee is still showing up an acidic pH. Something about the picture was wrong.

I tried to lift myself out of my funk by procrastinating and reading some wellness-nerd literature. All of a sudden three words jumped out at me; The Candida Diet. What the hell is that? I know what Candida is and I certainly don’t want to eat it. So I clicked on the link.

And then I REALLY clicked.

EUREKA!

The symptoms of a Candida imbalance read like my past 3 years of journaling. In fact in my very public journal (this blog) I have spoken about these symptoms here, here and again here. Here are a selection of symptoms that really got my attention.

  • Inability to focus
  • Inability to lose weight
  • poor memory
  • brain fog
  • irritability
  • anger
  • dizziness
  • depression
  • panic attacks
  • recurrent Urinary Tract Infections
  • cravings for sweets and alcohol
  • insomnia
  • skin sensitivies such as allergies
  • flatulence (‘fraid so)
  • bloating
  • unexplained stomach pain

Sounding familiar? The list goes on. Click here to see it for yourself if any alarm bells are going off right now!

For me it was like the crack of the cosmic egg of my universe. EVERYTHING MADE SENSE. I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t a hypochondriac. I don’t have some mystery disease. I wasn’t half-assing all my attempts at healthy living. I just have an unhealthy gut. Oh, the sleepless nights and wasted time I could have saved had I known.

What the hell is it?

Basically its all about the ‘Gut Flora’. If we are thinking of it in terms of gardens, Candida is the weed (a pathogen / bacteria) that exists within our guts and is kept at a healthy level by our guts diligent little gardeners (the microorganisms). The problem comes when there is an imbalance in your microorganisms: similar to weeds, the Candida multiplies and basically pollutes your gut. It pollutes your gut by releasing by-products (like uric acid and neurotoxins) that can then cause a host of nasty symptoms (such as the ones that I listed above).

How do you get it?

It has been estimated that up to 70% of people have Candida in their guts and that is not always a problem, unless there is an imbalance. Here are the three common causes of an imbalance;

  1. A course of antibiotics
  2. Eating a high-sugar diet 
  3. A long period of stress

I traced back to when I first felt unwell and saw a surge of these symptoms and it makes a lot of sense. 2006 I was a uni student living off a fairly poor diet that included an excessive amount of alcohol (aka sugar) and my dad had just been diagnosed with cancer (cue long period of stress). There was definitely a course or two of antibiotics in there as well. Then my body seemed to magically correct itself until 2010. A course of antibiotics, a very financially stressed time and (again) a diet that included an excessive amount of alcohol/sugar. 

By the time I was starting to put these pieces of the puzzle together I was virtually crying tears of relief. 

What next?

Since diagnosing the problem has taken so many years surely this solution of a couple of months should be simple. Surely. Simple? Yes. Easy? No! It is going to take an awful lot of drive – but that I have! Basically Candida feeds off sugar and so I have to completely starve it.

Step 1. Cleanse

The first week is the most restrictive and consists of a strict diet of organic vegetables only. Absolutely no sweet, starchy vegetables like beetroots (beets), carrots, pumpkin (yams) or sweet potato (kumara). In the initial phase I need to allow the body to kill off as much of the candida as possible and support the liver while it does the hard work. Luckily select herbs, spices and oils are permitted as is steaming and grilling. Phewph.

Step 2. The Diet 

After this initial cleanse other foods are allowed to be introduced. The emphasis is on the word organic. Conventional produce is treated with all sorts of chemicals and farmed animals (including fish) are dosed up with antibiotics. We do not want any more of that in there! So in this stage you can add to the above mentioned vegetables;

  • organic unprocessed meats (except pork)
  • probiotic yoghurt
  • kefir
  • some wild fish (herring, anchovies, salmon, sardines)
  • gluten-free grains (millet, oat-bran, quinoa, rice)
  • herbal teas (except green)

Basically I can eat anything on this list. 

Yes you are correct in noticing a complete omission of all fruit. No honey either. And safe to say Dry July will be extending into September. If you are interested, here is a list of the foods to avoid

On top of just eating those foods I also need to eat a diet that is heavy on probiotics and anitfungals. To give you a few ideas;

Probiotic Foods

  • Probiotic Yoghurt
  • Kefir
  • Fermented vegetables (raw, unpasteurized saukraut, kim chi)
  • Prebiotics (like chicory root tea)

Natural Antifungal Treatments

  • Aloe Vera
  • Black Walnut
  • Caprylic Acid
  • Cloves
  • Coconut Oil 
  • Garlic
  • Goldenseal
  • Grapefruit Seed
  • Olive Leaf Extract
  • Oregano Oil
  • Oregon Grape
  • Pantethine
  • Pau d’Arco

Besides the simple grocery store heroes (cloves, garlic and coconut oil) you can find a lot of the listed items at good health food stores; most commonly Aloe Vera, Olive Leaf Extract and Grapefruit Seed. 

Relief

While Candida Overgrowth is a fairly icky diagnosis to receive – images of a garden in my belly wig me out -I am over the moon about it. Knowledge is power and while I know that I am going to have a hard slog ahead for the next few months I also know the pay-off is going to be so unbelievably worth it. 

So wish me luck on this quest! I cannot wait to update you with my progress as I move through it and I am beyond excited to reveal the new improved Em. What a bloody relief! 

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Did any of this ring a bell for you? Do you think this could also be a piece in your puzzle? Would love to hear about it in the comments.