Article by Rebecca Richardson author of ‘Candida Can Be Fun!’
Do you remember what life was like before the children came along? Oh, those carefree days of spontaneity, lie-ins, money … sex! As for myself, I led rather a hedonist lifestyle throughout my twenties, as I am sure was the same for most of you reading this. I have always worked hard as a Secretary/PA since leaving school and gave the same amount of dedication to partying outside of office hours. At that time, I thought I ate sensibly, but now realise I was eating my own body weight in bread and pasta, whilst drinking too much alcohol, sugary drinks and caffeine, in addition to smoking.
In my early thirties things started to go wrong. The odd bout of thrush and cystitis suddenly became more recurrent to the point that, when I returned from a year’s travelling around Australia and New Zealand in 2004, I was in constant pain on a daily basis. I experienced bloating and diarrhoea after every meal, which eventually also resulted in haemorrhoids. No matter how many trips to the doctors (ending in another prescription for antibiotics) the pain and symptoms didn’t go away. In fact, it got worse and more disruptive to my daily routine. I had to get up in the night at least 6 or 7 times to use the toilet, so was never getting the rest I need. There were endless loo breaks at work and I had to start planning walks/journeys around what toilet stops were on the way.
In addition to the main symptoms above, I was having weird dizzy spells, couldn’t concentrate properly and was experiencing the auras that I would have with the migraines that I suffered from as a child, but without the blinding headache. Accompanying these were strange itchy patches of skin in random places, I was always cold, had heart palpitations, terrible mood swings and a really irritating heightened sense of smell, particularly involving chemicals, toiletry products and mould. My energy levels were up and down and I craved sugary foods to keep me going. As for my sex life, this was barely worth mentioning. Regardless of the fact that I had zilch libido, the thought of being ‘tampered with’ down there was enough to make me cross my legs! Was all this normal? No! Then why on earth was I in this much pain and discomfort when my very helpful and patient GP was submitting endless tests that came back negative, apart from vaginal swabs showing ‘a little thrush’. My doctor agreed to refer me to a Urologist. By this time, I had also been recommended to a Nutritionist by a friend who suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) who suggested my problems might be related to food intolerances.
Katherine, my Nutritionist, took a full case history and performed Kinesiology on me and thankfully confirmed that I was not going crazy and that the problem was a little known organism called Candida, which had resulted in me experiencing certain food intolerances (specifically onion, garlic, potatoes, gluten and beetroot, a staple part of my diet!). Everyone has Candida living in their gut, but in some people it can grow out of control and cause many symptoms ranging from women’s issues to digestive disorders, headaches, dizziness, asthma and sinus problems, fatigue … the list goes on. It is also linked to auto-immune conditions such as Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia and even cancer. An overgrowth is thought to occur when our immune system is compromised, or the ‘friendly’ bacteria in our intestinal system are diminished due to over-use of antibiotics and steroids, long-term bad diet, heavy metal toxicity from our environment and also mercury amalgam fillings, etc (all causes of which related to me). Candida can change into its fungal state and spore through the gut wall causing ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome’ and travel throughout our body via the bloodstream, setting up colonies in our genitals, lungs and muscles, etc.
So, Katherine had delivered the good news … now for the bad: an extremely restrictive diet, the like of which I had never known (I thought Rosemary Conley’s Hip and Thigh Diet was challenging up until this point!) … Katherine told me that I could not eat wheat, gluten, dairy, sugar and derivatives thereof including fruit, yeast, fermented products, coffee, tea, alcohol and the cigarettes would have to go. In addition to the diet, after a month I would need to take some natural supplements and anti-fungals that, when they took effect, would make me feel even worse before I got better. This was known as ‘die-off’. Initially, as the many toxins are released into the body, your body and liver struggles to cope and you feel almost as if you have a hangover … and I was used to those! After getting very emotional and grumpy, Katherine calmed me down and reiterated that it was really my only option of getting better. I would only get worse if I carried on with my current lifestyle. Katherine recommended a book to me that explained Candida and had recipes in it. This became my ‘Bible’ but my only disappointment was that there was not a single picture of the food to whet my appetite apart from a lovely looking meal on the front cover.
After a few weeks on the diet, the day of my Urologist appointment came. The Specialist seemed impatient with me as I explained my problem, then went on to say that my symptoms were classic of Interstitial Cystitis, a poorly understood condition possibly due to inappropriate absorption of toxic chemicals through the bladder wall. There wasn’t really anything conclusive that could be recommended other than a three month course of medication (with possible side effects) or a medical procedure, neither of which appealed very much to me. I told him about my anti-Candida diet and how I felt that my symptoms had started to improve just by changing my food and drink habits. He looked as though he found this amusing and said that if I thought it was working just to keep on with it then. This I continued to do until I got my symptoms under control. I do have flare ups occasionally, depending on my stress levels and whether or not I have been eating really badly, but can live a normal life compared to what I was up against 8 years ago.
Initially, it was a hard struggle collating all the information and discovering the recipes that I could eat, as a lot of them contained gluten. This is what inspired me to write my own book that would be a survival guide, as well as a beautifully, fully colour illustrated cookbook. I wanted to give fellow Candida sufferers hope and to literally SHOW them what they CAN eat, instead of telling them what they CAN’T … and the diet is actually not as hard as you may first think.
‘Candida Can Be Fun!’ was self-published in March 2011. The book is a frank, humorous and honest account of what it is like to live with Candida overgrowth, how you are going to feel both physically and emotionally and what you need to do to overcome it. It tells you how to get started, what foodstuffs you can eat on this extremely restricted diet and offers brand products that are safe for you to eat, as well as stating where to source them. The meals are simple, nutritious and easy to make and are designed to offer a degree of variety (one of the biggest reasons for people to fall off the wagon is usually the blandness and repetitiveness of the food). Around 60% of the meals are vegetarian/vegan and those with meat and fish in them can be substituted by other vegetables, pulses or tofu.
The project was very exciting, self-financed (with the help of my dear father’s pension money) and undertaken whilst working full-time in an extremely demanding job and with a young daughter and long-suffering, hugely encouraging partner, family and friends. All the meals were specially tailored, cooked and photographed by myself. Some evenings I was running home from work (3.5 miles) racing against the daylight in the garden, sometimes photographing a meal whilst my opportunistic cat tried to eat the meat off the plate! It certainly was challenging, but fun.
I also have to thank my nutritionist, Katherine Dempsey, and my designer, TiN Stanton, for their patience and brilliance in making it happen, as well as all the complementary therapists, natural health companies and Candida sufferers who have supported and recommended my book.
Taking all the above into account, if any of these symptoms ring bells with you, I would stress that you explore all avenues with your doctor and request all relevant tests to rule out any other serious underlying health problems. When you feel you have reached the end of the road, then why not try some holistic therapies under the guidance of a qualified practitioner. The anti-Candida diet cannot harm you and, if anything, is a great basis for a healthy and nutritious diet for everyone, including coeliacs, diabetics, dairy intolerants and anyone who wants to eat well and lose weight sensibly. Medical or nutritional advice should always be sought before embarking on a specific diet, treatment or supplement plan. Everyone is individual and will have different symptoms and specific intolerances. You need to find out what works for you … it worked for me.
If you, or someone close to you, have suffered from similar experiences, then do visit my web site or social media pages for more information, testimonials, book reviews and helpful advice.
Be healthy and happy!
Available on Amazon
Twitter Account: @CandidaCanBeFun
Facebook Page: Candida Can Be Fun
LinkedIn: Rebecca Richardson
For one of Rebecca’s healthy and tasty recipes see: Vegetable Pilaf
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