Living with Candida, Twenty Two Months Later: The Ugly, the Bad–and the Good
Grrrr! This beast will gorge itself on just about anything! [Source]
The Ugly: The Monster Returns
Here it is, 2011, and it’s already time for a confession (don’t worry, it doesn’t involve criminal activity). Once again, it appears the dreaded beast has reared its ugly little head. If you’ve been reading my blog for any time at all, you likely already know that I’ve been dealing with “the beast that is yeast” (ie, candida) since around December, 2008 (and following the anti candida diet, or ACD, since March 2009). And while candida is, indeed, beastly, it’s not the particular monster to which I’m referring. No, the beast I mention here is one with which I’ve struggled my whole life: the Binge Monster.
I’ve both been wanting to write about this issue and also avoiding it for a few weeks now. You see, over the past couple of months or so, after more than a year watching the numbers on my scale move steadily in a downward direction, they have once again begun to creep up–five pounds up, at last count. And while my weight has fluctuated by one or two pounds quite often over the last year, with a couple of days of “clean” and “green” eating, it tends to stabilize again.
But not this time.
Five pounds is real. Five pounds is substantial. Five pounds is a button on your shirt that’s now too tight. It’s one more hole on your belt (which, up until four months ago, you couldn’t wear at all). It’s a little less definition under your cheekbones, a bit more girth around the middle, a pinch around the elastic of your underwear. Five pounds is half a dress size. Like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, the scale seems to admonish you: ”I will not be ignored,” it screams, tacitly threatening the established routine.
I worried about posting this on the blog because I didn’t want to disappoint so many readers who’ve followed my progress up until now. After all the accolades, all the encouragement, I was mortified to have to admit that old habits have wormed their way back into my life (and let me be clear on this: I have not veered from the diet. Not a grain of white sugar or refined flour or mushrooms or alcohol or other forbidden foods have passed my lips; I am still eating ACD-friendly foods, and my candida symptoms, overall, miraculously still continue to improve. It’s just that the re-introduction of certain ingredients and foods—like flours, cocoa and baked goods–have generated more desserts hanging around the house, which led to eating more desserts, which led to. . . five pounds).
Would my readers see this slip up as a failure (as I did)? Would they think less of me? How could I let them down after all this time? How could I let myself down?
[It may be ACD-friendly, but too much of a good thing is still too much.]
The Bad: How Old Habits Are Revived
When I first began the anti-candida diet 22 months ago, I felt so ill and was so desperate that, honestly, I would have followed any regimen that could help alleviate the symptoms (the worst of which was an angry, painful and constantly itchy rash across my chest and most of my torso).
At first, I put no restrictions on how much I ate. The diet was easy: my old nemesis, the Binge Beast, lurked in the shadows but never dared venture into the light. The notion of bingeing simply wasn’t in the realm of possibility back then (seriously, who binges on zucchini or broccoli?). Even when I experienced a fleeting desire to “cheat” on the diet and eat something with sugar or gluten, the lingering raw, pink rash was enough to dissuade me. Like a photographic afterimage or the barely discernible outline of a house blown away in a hurricane, that pale, freshly scarred skin was a visible reminder of why I needed to persist.
But then I began to feel better. Baking, and desserts (of a sort) and chocolate returned to my life. Sure, they were ACD-friendly, but they still triggered that buried, recidivist impulse when I ate a chocolate cookie, a piece of brownie, a bowl of ice cream. And before I knew it, I was eating not one, not two, but four brownies at a time.
For most people, sugar cravings are supposedly eradicated after 5-10 days on the ACD, but that has never been the case with me. Instead, my cravings continue to cling more ferociously than the toddler at Mama’s knee on the first day of school. One day, I suppose, I’ll get used to it.
As with other addictions, the binge mechanism requires a constant ratcheting up of the stimulus–in this case, certain foods–before satiation is reached. You may be pumping food in at one end, but your stomach doesn’t register it the way a “normal” digestive system would. And so, someone who binges is able to consume perhaps twice as much–three times?–as a healthy eater before the “fullness” switch is flicked. And even then, it sometimes takes nausea for the breaker to finally trip, the “overload” signal to get through.
I already knew that the feedback mechanism, in those of us who binge, is damaged. It’s like filling a bucket with an old leaky hose: for the bucket to be filled, you’d have to turn the faucet on full blast, expending more and more water with more and more waste that never reaches the target, until the container is finally replete. In the same way, my own fullness circuits require more and more alimentary input to finally register “enough.” But how does one fix this damaged circuitry?
Geneen Roth advises us to honor the true source of the hunger–be it physical, psychological or emotional. Each time you listen to these messages, it’s like fixing one tiny leak, filling the hole that allows the nourishing foods to escape without your notice. Eventually, the sequence is completely restored to its original condition, and your body and mind both register the full impact of the food you eat. I know I was waylaid from that journey over the holidays–it’s so easy to become sidetracked by old habits. I am still waiting for that day when I am effortlessly aware of my body’s signals and, like the HH, can pass up even one last pea on the plate because “I’ve had enough.”
Bingers never have enough.
In her latest book, Women Food and God, Geneen Roth talks about emotional (or compulsive) eating with the same accessibility, insight and sagacity as always. And food, she points out, is a fallback position when we seek nurturing. She writes:
The bottom line, whether you weigh 340 pounds or 150 pounds, is that when you eat when you are not hungry, you are using food as a drug, grappling with boredom or illness or loss or grief or emptiness or loneliness or rejection. Food is only the middleman, the means to the end. Of altering your emotions. Of making yourself numb. Of creating a secondary problem when the original problem becomes too uncomfortable.
After 22 months (and before this latest turn of events), it appeared that both my health and my weight had more or less stabilized, yet I found myself still dissatisfied. Yes, my health has vastly improved, but I’m still not 100% better. I had grown tired of writing “no progress” or “status quo” on my Progress Tracker page.
Is it because my recovery has plateaued and I’m bored? Is it because my health is not where I’d like it to be, my symptoms (albeit drastically reduced) still lingering? Is it because, despite major strides with candida, other health issues persist, and I’m simply frustrated? Is it because The Ellen Show hasn’t called me yet?
When I think of the progress I’ve made, I can’t help but notice there’s a little voice in the back of my head,the child’s voice that begins to whine, “Twenty-two months, and still not all better?” Sure, there are many worse things than a candida rash that just won’t disappear, and I am thankful my illness is no more serious than this. But the part of me that connects to that little voice still wonders, ”why can’t you just disappear already? When will you leave me alone and let me live my life without having to think about you every. single. day? When will I be able to return to my old life?”
The answer, I now realize, is perhaps, “never.” I can’t return to my “old life.” And then, rather than accept that this diet will likely be my new, and perhaps permanent, way of life, there comes the whining toddler again, pouting and complaining, ”Well, if I can’t eat what I really want–sugar and chocolate and frosting and layer cake and fudge–well, then, when I concoct something that’s at least moderately tasty, I will eat more than I should–heck, I’ll eat it all–because I need something that’s at least a little bit sweet in my life.”
Do I capitulate and repeat old behaviors, because that’s the easiest, the most comfortable plan of action? Or is there another solution?
The Good: Renewed Commitment and Determination
When it comes to matters of karma and fate and previous lives, the HH is more of a devotee than I; yet I do believe that events, circumstances, people and personal issues come into our lives for a reason. In this case, I was delivered a mini-epiphany by none other than Nietzsche himself, in the form of a book written by author and psychiatrist Irvin Yalom.
In discussing a patient who relapsed and manifested psychological problems that had already been vanquished years before, Yalom cites the great philosopher, who theorized: ”when we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.” In other words, we regress to earlier behaviors after trauma or too much stress or overwork. Well, that made total sense to me: over the past two years, I’ve made huge strides in the battle of the binge and combating candida. Slowly, but certainly, I’m beginning to tap into what my body craves as compared to what my psyche craves. But when one’s reaction to chocolate harks back more than 45 years, a mere 22 month-timespan on an anti-candida diet isn’t enough, on its own, to vanquish that impulse.
[This may offer some comfort, but it's only ephemeral.]
But more food is not the solution.
Well, duh. Of course food isn’t the solution. Food is never the solution, unless you’re the lone survivor on a desert island with no chance of rescue, like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Rather than abandon the ACD, I’ve decided to recommit with renewed vigor; a renewal of our vows, so to speak. For a while, at least, I’ll be stepping back to an earlier stage of the diet that removes some of the foods I’ve recently re-introduced (such as chocolate or agave nectar–sniff, boo hoo). I’ll begin a candida-focused cleanse and return to some of the best principles of the NAG diet.
I recently read through a copy of Meghan Telpner’s latest ebook, 21 Days to Health, and found it a great refresher course for me: these are all steps I’ve either taken before or still maintain, but having them written out in logical succession will be a wonderful motivator as I work through this renewed challenge. Rather than extend an already too-long post even more, I’ll save the details about what, exactly, I’ll be eating (and not eating) for another time. (I plan to post an entire “ACD Diet” page in the next month or so.)
I hope you’ll continue to stick around for the journey, bumpy as it may be (I promise I’ll still serve you yummy food along the way).
As I’ve said before, I see this blog as a chronicle not just of weight loss (or gain), but also a journey toward wellness and learning to eat like a “normal” person, making peace with sweets and cravings and emotional eating. I feel a bit like the novice tightrope performer whose step has faltered and now sees clearly what the next moves must be to regain balance; I’m determined to forge ahead on that journey. With that approach in mind, I’m confident that, eventually, the ever-elusive goal, wellness, will be revealed.