I have, for a while now, been making an effort to listen to my body & especially take notice of how it reacts to the food I eat. I know that there are certain foods that would make me bloat up uncomfortably within an hour of eating them & there are some that have a slow burn, but I can wake up feeling like I’ve drunk 4 bottles of wine the following morning after eating them, even if I haven’t touched a drop! Whilst I have been off work, I had quite a bit of time to myself & decided to do some investigating into what could be causing this.
My go-to comfort foods are all the things that I shouldn’t have: I have been told to follow a low GI diet to loose weight pre-conception & also to feel generally healthier & manage my insulin resistance. Unfortunately for me, things like pizza, macaroni cheese & lasagne don’t ever feature very high up the list of recommended foods for this particular diet, but whilst I was feeling low & wallowing a bit, these were the things I chose to eat.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that this only exacerbated the problem, as the processed, sugary, carb-loaded treats I was craving were zapping my energy, making me bloated & causing me to feel like I was hungover constantly. They also gave me the spike in blood sugar, that then dropped even lower & had me reaching for the Dairy Milk again an hour or so later. I had – until this point – lost 3 stone in the past 2 years, but was in danger of starting to put it back on by getting into a vicious cycle of sugar-laden. carb-heavy processed foods & I decided enough was enough, I needed to stop sabotaging myself.
It started with a bit of an accident. Around the time I started counselling, I decided I needed to take myself in hand & help myself to feel better. I’m not – by nature – a wallower & decided that I’d passed enough time doing that & I needed to feel better. I planned a detox, to stop my body feeling ‘eurgh’ & get rid of the constant feeling of being full that I’d had for the past few weeks.
For 3 days, I drank just water & took supplements, which actually made me feel quite good (I had previously followed the 5:2 diet, so knew that fasting was fine for me) – after this time, my eyes looked a bit brighter, my skin looked less sallow & – despite having no actual food – I actually felt like I had more energy. On day 4, I introduced a green smoothie in the morning & an evening meal, but still just had water at lunch (I was making an effort to drink the recommended 2 litres a day, which I have certainly not done before). The smoothie didn’t affect how I felt at all, but what happened in the evening really surprised me.
I had prepared a dinner of tuna, mayo (with a slight bit of vinegar added to loosen the mixture more), sweetcorn, peas & beetroot. I thought no carbs would be fine & would keep me feeling good, however within about an hour of eating it, I had stomach cramps & was so bloated I looked like I was pregnant. This confused me & I decided to look into it more.
I googled a few things & came up with something called a Candida infection. Candida is a yeast that grows in us all, but in some people it overgrows & gets out of control (often caused by contraceptives, antibiotics, stress, eating a high sugar/carb diet, etc). This can cause bloating & feelings of discomfort in the short term, but the toxic by-products of the yeast cause the most damage. I was really surprised to read that the symptoms of a Candida overgrowth could be so wide & varied:
- Skin and nail fungal infections (such as athlete’s foot or toenail fungus)
- Digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
- Difficulty concentrating, poor memory, lack of focus, ADD, ADHD and brain fog
- Skin issues such as eczema, psoriasis, hives and rashes
- Irritability, mood swings, anxiety, or depression
- Vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, rectal itching or vaginal itching
- Severe seasonal allergies or itchy ears
- Strong sugar and refined carbohydrate cravings
What struck me was how many of these symptoms I had been suffering with (my delightful collection are in bold). I know it’s a pretty vague list & I’d imagine most people have one or two of these at any one time, but – at this point – there were only one or two that I didn’t have. (It is just worth pointing out that the same symptoms are reported as those found with a sugar addiction too, which is no coincidence, as the two seem to be very closely linked.)
I must admit, I was sceptical; why hadn’t I heard of this before & why isn’t it something my GP had mentioned? The answer is that while many alternative therapists & nutritionists/dieticians believe in & treat candida overgrowth, the conventional medical practitioners don’t*. In fact, they do treat it, as one of the symptoms caused by the yeast is thrush, but they will only prescribe anti-fungal medicine for a short course if the patient gets recurrent infections (& in some cases the fungus then becomes resistant to the treatment, so the problem gets worse).
*There is a lot of information online both for & against the existence of Candida overgrowth & I’m not adding fuel to this fire (I don’t even know if I believe all of the information), just giving my own experience.
I tried the spit test that I’d read about & wasn’t really surprised by this point to find it was positive. I did wonder if everyone’s spit did this though, so tested Mr T & my mum subsequently & theirs did not react the same. Lots of people think this is a load of crap (& – again – there are pages & pages online discussing whether it is a genuine test or not), but I was pretty desperate to find something to make me feel better, so took a leap of faith. There is a stool test you can have, but this was expensive, so I decided to go with the recommendations first & see if I got any results.
So I decided to take action. I contacted one of the nutrition experts on the website immunecare, who were very helpful in answering my questions. I ordered some of the supplements they recommended (although the full list was very long & I would’ve needed a second mortgage!) & massively overhauled my diet to exclude yeast (including alcohol), caffeine, sugar or processed carbs. I noticed that the foods that I was eating were all low GI foods & the plan is actually very similar to this.
Within a week, I had lost 6lbs, but – more importantly – my mood was better, my skin was clearer, the black circles around my eyes had improved, I had a clearer mind & I wasn’t feeling bloated & sluggish anymore. I lost another 3lbs the following week & felt even more of an improvement. I will admit that just the change in diet could have been responsible for the change in my wellbeing, but I was after a double-whammy, which is why I decided to go for the supplements as well. Continuing on that amount of tablets would have been both expensive & confusing, so I have decided to go it alone & maintain the eating-side of the plan, but without the supplements & see how I get on.
I admit that it may seem quite extreme to cut all of these things out, but the more research I did into it, the more sense it seemed to make, even if Candida overgrowth is a myth. There are so many blogs I’ve found where people have cut out sugar & processed food this for health reasons & it’s made huge improvements to their quality of life. For me, it was an alternative to anti-depressants, which I wanted to avoid at all costs, so drastic was what was required. Deliciously Ella & Sarah from I Quit Sugar are two great examples of the benefits to this way of life & their blogs have some amazing recipes on too. I also recently purchased the brilliant Zita West book called ‘Eat Yourself Pregnant‘ & found that a lot of the advice was based on the principles I was already following, so watch this space on that…
I am still eating meat, although not as often as I was & I’m not really missing most of the foods I can’t have, because I can if I want to – I just know they’ll make me feel crap again & I have to weigh that up with ‘is it worth it’. Sometimes the answer is most definitely yes & I have no intention of becoming a diet bore when I go out; I will find things that fit as best I can with what I am trying to achieve, but don’t sweat it if I have the odd night off.
I’m also a
social binge drinker (I know its not good for me, but I don’t have many other vices & I don’t get the chance that often!) I don’t see the point in drinking one glass at home. If I’m going to drink, I DRINK, but now I’m more tuned in to how this makes me feel (& what foods I crave when hungover ‘Hello, Papa John’s Pizzas!’) so I save it for a special occasion. So far, so good.