Candida AlbiCAN’T, Sucker
There was a really brilliant bit going around on the Huffington Post site a couple of weeks ago about the typical trip to Whole Foods. I laughed out loud at parts. I did. Girl knew how to assess a ridiculous situation. And I appreciate a good pull-back from the myopic scrutiny that we here in the Northwest apply to everything from our shoes to our tofu. Every once in a while, I actually laugh out loud (alone in my car, usually) thinking about our first world ridiculousness. I live in the city with one of the highest rates of first world ridiculousness, so I’m guaranteed to enjoy at least one derisive snort a day.
The one thing about the piece that did get at me a little was the bit about Candida. And that’s because I have it. And it is no fucking joke. And here is where, were I not so serious about this crap growing in my guts, I would full-on belly laugh at MYSELF. Because, Candida? Really? Your gut flora is a little out of whack? That’s what you’re complaining about, kid?
My internal dialogue me is SO mean to the regular me.
The gut flora, as we are all becoming familiar with, is linked to some pretty important systems in our bodies. Our brains, for instance. Seriously. Some scientists are starting to surmise that depression starts in the guts. And I, for one, am SO happy about that.
Why? Because I have been struggling to give this THING a name for some time now, and a Candida diagnosis is a step in SOME direction. This ennui, this meh feeling I drag around behind me like a suitcase on a string… it has been plaguing me for a long time, as well as this constant intestinal distress, this bloatedness, and this inability to concentrate. I’m glad this thing has a NAME. So what if it’s associated with precocious supermarket employees? I’ll take it.
I’ll also take several hundred dollars worth of supplements, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Here is what one does to destroy candida. And yes, one must KILL candida. It must be starved. I have to eat a completely sugar free diet. I cannot have ANY sugar. Sugar feeds the yeast. When the yeast is fed, symptoms proliferate. And those symptoms SUCK. First, there the ones that register as mere annoyances: You exercise your brains out and are still not able to lose the ten pounds of BREAD DOUGH boiling away in your guts. So, you have a muffin top. So what? Well, imagine waking every morning and having that muffin top AND feeling like you could just sleep the rest of the day away because you’re that tired. Or not being able to remember simple words and math equations or the WAY HOME FROM YOUR FRIEND’S HOUSE because you’re dealing with a phenomenon called “brain fog”. That’s the kind of confusing, non-cosmetic crap candida sufferers deal with. I’ve been dealing with it for more than a year now.
I bet a hundred new mothers are rolling their eyes right now and saying, I deal with that every day, ya whiner. Call me when you’re dealing with this AND poop up the wall and vomit covering the backseat of the car and THEN we’ll talk.
Listen, mothers of children with jet propulsion systems in their diapers: I feel your pain. I do. But you get a baby at the end of that poop-stained road, a little replica of yourself that loves you unconditionally and whose future you determine. Me? I get gas. I get nothing.
Here’s the thing about having this mysterious weird diagnosis sap all your energy and, on some days, your will to get out of bed: because you’re not covered in bedsores, or carrying an infant on your hip, both of which might explain your fatigue and your aches and pains, you sound like a first class whiner or, worse, this classically over-informed hypochondriac . A hypochondriac special-diet whiner who can’t indulge in simple pleasures like coffee, or a scone, or a fucking baked potato. You have to be THAT weirdo who shows up to dinner and says, “No olives or mushrooms or dairy or soy or wheat or honey or coffee or tea or beer or corn or mustard or potatoes or pickles for me, please. I’ll just have this wheat-free, sugar-free, yeast-free, lactose-free bit of rice cracker topped with shreds of raw kale. What? No, no apples for me! Not even grapes! Those are pure sugar, y’know! I’ll just have some water. With kale in it. And maybe a squeeze of organic lemon. Y’know. Because I wasn’t using my tooth enamel anyway”.
I’ve had friends tell me: “But you’re so vibrant and energetic and you don’t SEEM sick…” and the implication there is “How bad can it really be?” This is this THING about chronic disease that we don’t really talk about in this country: because I don’t have a visible sign of distress, like an amputated leg or an IV sticking out of my arm, the assumption is that what I haveis perhaps a little exaggerated. At the very least, candida is a livable condition, right? There’s no death sentence at the end of a candida diagnosis, usually. (Though, sometimes there is). So, people are entitled to their exasperation with the person who mostly looks fine but can’t eat a damned thing unless it’s made of chlorophyll and flax dust. The thinking is: this is America, pal, so unless you’re losing blood in copious amounts, get out of the Sick Person’s line and back to work.
There is a component of shame, I think, that accompanies a diagnosis like “overgrowth of Candida”. Firstly, there’s the notion, “Holy Shit. I ATE my way to this condition, so I’m totally responsible for this”, and secondly, there’s this comparing of ourselves to more visibly ill people. I still have all my hair and fingernails, so what right do I have to complain about a little bloating? Here’s the thing I am learning, and which the medical world, I predict, will be linking very soon here: chronic inflammation is the cause of ALL disease. Not just a sinus infection, but cancer, as well. I’m not a doctor (OBVIOUSLY) but everything is pointing to this prolonged state of imbalance and inflammation as the “cause” of illnesses we don’t seem to have a “cause” for: MS, cancer, eczema, etc. So I may not have been losing hair or nails or weight or much else, but I could easily have been on the fast track to doing so had my doctor not tested me. The bad chemical stew that was causing my depression was just as crippling as any other ailment. And this disruption in chemicals was due largely to my being chronically inflamed. And the Candida caused the inflammation.
In my case, I had a little bit more than just “overgrowth of candida” come back from my lab work. Apparently, my hormone levels were all out of whack, too. Guess what the normal range for a woman of my age’s DHEA is supposed to be. Go ahead. Pick a number, any number. Give up? Alright, I’ll tell you: it’s 1200-1500. Now guess what mine was. Go ahead and guess. I’ll wait. Think low. Reallow.
Ready? It was 34. Not three hundred and forty. Nope. Thirty four. For those of you not getting your blood drawn every six months to test for this kind of thing: DHEA is a “master” hormone responsible for building other hormones that regulate functionality like energy levels and libido in the body. So, yeah, that tiredness? I wasn’t making that up. My lack of libido? Also explainable.
I am not advocating for everyone to run out and get a Candida test (or worse, go to Whole Foods and ask someone at the help desk for advice). But check in with yourself. Feeling run down? Might it be related to the way you eat? Or how you live? In my case, my chronic stress and anxiety was chewing through all those hormones my DHEA was trying to build. So, I was left with almost nothing. And nothing feels pretty shitty.
So how to get rid of the Candida, raise my DHEA up to a healthy level, and get proper amounts of Vitamin D (another comically low number, but not unusual up here in Cloudy for Nine Months Out Of The Year Land), and Vitamin B? Pills. And lots of them. Oh! And sprays and drops, too! I swallow, volume-wise, an amount of supplements equal to the weight of my breakfast, every morning. I also exercise more regularly, get proper sleep, and, of course, don’t eat ANY sugar.
My naturopath (I’ll give you a moment to roll your eyes back into place) told me that this whole curing Candida thing would be life changing. Not just a don’t-eat-wheat-or-dairy-or-sugar-for-90-days thing. No, this would be a come-down from the party tree I’ve been hanging out in for a long time and learn to eat my veggies thing. I would have to learn something called mindfulness.
Which was a real shock because I was like, Who Me? Drink and eat too much? Not being mindful? Pshaw! Noooooo way! So what if I stuff my pockets on Doughnut Day at the office like a famine survivor? So what if three gin and tonics seems like a reasonable number on a Saturday night? Doesn’t mean anything! Means I can handle myself. Means I can do whatever I like. Means I’m “Fun Bobby”, like from that episode of Friends.
No, Lolo. It means you do everything in excess. Seem like a theme in your life? Not knowing your boundaries? Doing too much and then getting exhausted? Living on the edges of comfort because you don’t think you deserve or need self-care? And doesn’t that term, “self-care”, doesn’t it just rankle your Jersey self to the core? Who needs self care? You’re a survivor! A tough cookie! Your Polak ancestors clutched the bows of ships through stormy seas and made their way to this country with nothing but the shirts on their backs! Surely you can handle your vodka and little buttered TOAST from time to time, no?
See how mean my internal dialogue is with myself? So, so mean.
I can’t tell you enough the difference this diet and supplement regimen has made for me. I have gone from feeling bloated and fat and dispirited to feeling lighter on my feet. And most importantly, I can think clearly again. I don’t go right to dying in the street a pauper when something doesn’t go my way. I’m starting to feel like myself again, like a confident human being. Like someone who can think more than five minutes into the future.
Have I been doing other work, as well? Yes. Lots of mindfulness training going on ‘round these parts. Book reading and ohm-ing and shit. It’s not just about not eating wheat and dairy and soy and all the other delicious things in this world. It’s about changing my relationship with everything, from late night snacking, to how I deal with stress.
It’s been two months out of three on this Candida-starvation plan, and I can tell you that it’s challenging but not that difficult once you get the hang of it. In the beginning, the cravings for sugar were out of control, like nothing I have ever experienced. I thought I might be capable of killing a man for a slice of coffeecake. Eventually, they subsided. And I got REAL comfortable with kale. Eating out is still a pain, but I manage. And, I have cheated. Oh, yes, I’ve cheated. I had two miniature cookies on Day 40. I, unthinkingly, had a slice of bread (which was gluten free, but contained YEAST) on Day 59. I am learning, though, not to get mired in the guilt or the shame of having broken the rules, but just to get up, and try again to abstain.
And, aside from those damned cookies, and a few rice chips here and there, I haven’t had one ounce of sugar in about 60 days.
Now, I could get on a soapbox and tell you all sorts of things about how bad refined sugar is like the best of them. I have been reading and reading and reading and experimenting with not having sugar versus having sugar and the more I read and the less I eat it, the better I understand what it’s doing to me. More and more research is tying together sugar, chronic inflammation, and chronic disease. But you know what? I’m not going to get on that soapbox. You know why? Because, like you, I like sugar. And I like salty, terrible-for-me foods too. And because, if you were to send me to the tops of the Himalayas, or the far reaches of the solar system, or to the bottom of the ocean in a research vessel, there’d be one food item I would sure as shit pack, and that would be Cheez Doodles. Salty, neon orange, artificially flavored, covered in inflammation-producing cheese dust, puffed up genetically modified cornmeal. That’s right. Cheez Doodles. Namaste to YOU, o wise man who invented the cornmeal extrusion device.
But, see, this is what mindfulness allows for: the cravings for a completely normal and human thing like delicious, delicious fat and salt to come into our consciousness… and then pass. I have learned to embrace sardines in spring water, and stevia extract, and tea that tastes like hot tree bark. And alongside that: if I smell grilled onions, I immediately crave a cheeseburger. On a yeast-filled bun. Topped with vinegar-laden pickles. I can hold both of these things in my heart at once, this gratitude for the availability of sugar substitutes in my fair city, and the pure joy of having hamburger juice dribble down my chin on a hot summer day.
I can be this paradox. I don’t have to choose to be one way or the other.
And I don’t really know how to end this post, except to say that my life has changed since this diagnosis. I don’t want to be Fun Bobby anymore. I LIKE having a flat stomach and a clear head. Though having to prepare three meals a day from scratch cuts into my navel-gazing time, I really DO enjoy nourishing myself.
Will I preach this diet to whoever will listen? Yes, yes and yes. (Seriously, start reading about what refined sugar does to your body in the long term. And about how chronic inflammation leads to chronic disease).Will I also inhale the heavenly aroma of croissants baking and coffee percolating in the early morning and turn longingly to the sweaty windows of my local bakery and smile a deep, gracious smile at the people inside who have learned to crank inky caffeine out of a bean, and a delicate, flaky pastry out of a hard kernel of wheat?
You bet your kombucha-drinking ass I will.