As a holistic nutritionist and someone who values my relationship with food, I try my hardest to steer clear of fad diets. I believe in listening to your body, eating foods that fuel you, and indulging on occasion without guilt. When I discovered that I had to go on the candida diet for health reasons, I was wasn't thrilled.
Candida albicans are a type of yeast and fungus that can live and proliferate in our bodies, instigating a cascade of health imbalances. The overgrowth of candida can mimic IBS symptoms, cause skin issues such as acne or eczema, allergies, PMS symptoms, yeast infections, UTIs, anxiety, depression, hormone imbalances, joint pain, and a weakened immune system...just to name a few.
Worst of all, the process to rid your body of these can be quite a taxing experience. It involves a restrictive diet that aims to "starve" the pathogens along with antifungal supplements. The diet requires you to eat no sugar of any kind (or things that act like sugar in the body, like carbohydrates). This means no grains, fruit, soy, legumes, or starchy veggies. Goodbye, my glorious sweet potato…
The antifungal supplements can create what we refer to as a "healing crisis" or "die-off effect," which essentially means you get worse before you get better. Candida albicans can produce up to 79 different toxins in your body—including neurotoxins. As these pathogens die, you may feel a variety of symptoms including increased brain fog, nausea, skin breakouts, irritability, and fatigue. I had heard from multiple people that when you do the candida diet, you’d better send yourself out into the woods alone…and, well, they weren't kidding.
Here are the seven most important things I learned from following this diet for two full months:
1. My sugar cravings got super intense and then disappeared.
I was never really one to have sugar cravings before this but about three days in, I was about ready to break down the door of any bakery and eat everything in sight. I had actual dreams about brownies and my mind would wander to sweets whenever it got the chance. I had to remind myself daily that it was not actually my body craving these things. Pathogens are smart. They want you to crave things that continue to feed them, and candida (like most yeasts) feed off sugar. By giving into these sugar cravings, we are feeding a beast. After three weeks, all of my cravings disappeared. Most importantly, I was no longer ruled by food. I know that the choices I make now come from truly listening to what my body needs.
2. Limits pushed me to get creative.
As a food lover and blogger, when your diet suddenly becomes extremely restrictive, it is easy to feel quite hopeless. The reality is that how we deal with restriction is completely up to us. Instead of looking at all the things I couldn’t have, I saw the list of foods that were allowed as my personal color palette. I challenged myself to create as many delicious dishes as I could with those ingredients, and in the end, I not only created recipes that I will continue to make (hello, grilled kale and black cod over cauliflower mash), but I showed myself that limits are only as limiting as you allow them to be.
3. Feeling down at times made me appreciate the good stuff.
There is a beautiful duality to experiencing life’s lows. Without sadness, we can never truly appreciate happiness; without hunger we can never appreciate the feeling of being full; without loneliness we might not properly appreciate love. Experiencing a healing crisis opened my eyes to how much I took my health for granted before. I witnessed my body fight back (and harder than ever) to get me back to optimal health. This taught me to always thank my body for being on my side and to never forget that the only way I would have learned this was by going through a struggle.
4. Comfort doesn't have to come from food.
As someone who has struggled with disordered eating, I find myself craving certain foods when I am sad, anxious, or upset. I have learned to recognize this behavior but there are times that I give in. With the inability to turn to these foods, I had to find new ways to recharge my mind. I read a lot about self-care Sunday routines but have always associated comfort with food. Finding new ways to soothe myself is something that I will carry with me forever. I now know that there is nothing that a good bubble bath, digital detox, face mask, and essential oil-infused meditation can’t fix!
5. You will feel sad sometimes, and that's OK.
I am an optimist at heart. So during the days when the healing crisis was at an all-time high and I was often sad for no apparent reason, it was hard for me to sit back and allow myself to feel that way. My optimism is such a defining feature of my personality that I felt like I had lost who I was without it. I had no choice but to sink into the sadness and let it wash over me. It turns out, allowing myself to feel sad ended up being one of the most cathartic experiences I’ve ever had. Instead of beating myself up for feeling that way, I let myself relax and gently said, It’s OK. You are safe. And this won’t last forever. This is something I think we can all benefit from—there are moments when sadness is a powerful tool that can teach us to slow down and practice kindness toward ourselves.
6. Finding the root cause was key to making me feel better.
Initially I began this diet for digestive reasons. Little did I know just how many of my wide array of symptoms were rooted in this one cause. After just one month, my skin cleared up, my seasonal allergies were barely noticeable, my anxiety decreased significantly, brain fog disappeared, even my PMS symptoms improved. Not to mention my energy levels are almost twice as high as before without any caffeine. Functional medicine focuses on healing the root cause, not covering the symptoms. There is always a reason that your body is reacting in a certain way—whether it is elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, or hormonal imbalances, finding the root cause will allow you to heal from the inside out.
7. A life without sugar can be a good one.
After one month, it was as if the clouds had parted—like sugar had finally released its tight grasp on me. I felt clearer and better than ever. Diet aside, I learned a lot about what it means to take care of yourself, listen to my body, and do what it needs. Most importantly, I learned to appreciate my body for all it does, understand that all emotions have value, and learned how to be thankful in the moment.