Just before I got started on my low-carb journey, I went flexitarian. I was trying to limit animal protein to the evening.
Here's a sampling of my diet then:
February 1, 2011
Breakfast: Blueberries, Kashi cereal, non-fat plain yogurt
Lunch: Carrots, celery, lettuce, tomatoes, bell pepper, poached egg, quinoa, pepperoncini
Dinner: Lettuce, bell pepper, tomatoes, carrots, celery, cheese lasagna, wine
Snack: Almond Butter, Apples
Calorie Total: 1341
Carbs: 176 | 54%
Fat: 44 | 30%
Protein: 53g | 16%
Eating this way was very easy to hit the Spark recommended ranges.
My weight graph for that time period showed I weighed 136 in February '11, and 135 in April '11. Not very impressive. You might argue that my food choices weren't ideal. I agree. But at that time, I believed calorie was a calorie, no matter what the source. So if the calorie matters and not the composition, I should have done better. I stayed within my ranges.
But really, I think this was the cleanest I had eaten.
As I wrote in my blog, "Realizing the Connection", my health deteriorated. Even though my weight didn't change much, I was getting fatter. My body composition was changing in the wrong direction.
I started researching low carb in April, then made the switch in May. Because I was toe-dipping my way in, I only cut my carbs back to half the normal to observe if I could see any change. I went down to about 60g carbs.
It worked! I started losing weight, so the 'insulin theory' seemed to have some merit for me at least. I was hooked, and wanted more. But there was a catch. I never did a typical induction because there was a detour ahead.
I didn't know anything about 'low-carb flu'. It caught me off guard. A couple weeks later, I got a sinus infection, which wasn't unusual for me. Something about it seemed different, though. It was a little weird to me it coincided with my dietary change. I think I searched for something like, "sinus infection on low-carb". Numerous links for 'low-carb flu' came up. Ok, this wasn't unusual. I decided to stick it out.
I got a particularly bad case of 'low-carb flu' because it lasted for months. I also got a bad case of thrush. Weight loss was the least of my worries. When I described these symptoms, someone on one of my blogs mentioned 'candida infection', so I researched that.
Turned out that years of my high carb/high sugar diet and antibiotic use for sinus infections killed off beneficial bacteria and allowed candida to proliferate.
Candida lives in our gut. Normally it doesn't do any harm because the other healthy gut bacteria competes for resources. But when the healthy bacteria population is killed by antibiotics, candida runs rampant. It's a fungus, not a bacteria, so it is unharmed by antibiotics.
You see what happened, right? I got sinus infections, took antibiotics, and killed gut flora over and over. Candida loves sugar, and my high carb/sugar diet gave them plenty of food. Despite being a regular yogurt consumer, this didn't help the balance. The candida was overrun, and starved off healthy gut bacteria for resource. Exactly the opposite of normal balance.
I was rather surprised that a fungus might have been causing my sinus infection, and not a bacteria. Perhaps all those years I took antibiotics killed off my gut flora for no good effect?
What made the candida theory particularly compelling was the thrush. The reason candida manifested in my sinuses and thrush was because my new low carb diet was starving them in the gut. They moved up into my head where they could obtain food.
I started researching how to get rid of a candida infection. The resources I found were depressing. Many suggested that eliminating a systemic candida infection was a very slow process, takes a long time, and some people never truly get it under control. Some people can manage, but never cure. But no matter what, it seemed the low-carb diet was the right track. There are books on candida diets designed to starve them out.
And you thought Atkins is hard to follow? Try looking up a 'candida diet' sometime.
Eating yogurt wasn't going to undo something this deeply rooted.
Luckily, a Spark friend of mine was going through a similar low-carb revelation as me. She also concluded she had a systemic candida infection. But while I started off relatively healthy, my friend was recovering from severe adrenal fatigue syndrome. Years of a high grain diet, chronic cardio, and the drug Adderall almost killed her. Her adrenals started shutting down one by one. In order to save her life, she abandoned her vegetarian diet of 16 years, something that caused her a great deal of emotional and moral pain.
She is still trying to heal her adrenals, but she is convinced that saturated fats and proteins saved her life.
(Note: Please do not read into this that I'm being anti-vegetarian. I started off with my 'flexitarian' story to illustrate the variety of different diets I went through. I see Spark member's blogs who do well on flexitarianism, and that's awesome! Regarding my friend, we can speculate all we want on whether she did vegetarianism 'right' or not. She personally believes Adderall did the most damage. Whatever it did to her makes it impossible for her to return to vegetarianism. Looking up "Adderall and adrenal fatigue" has surprising results.)
Together, we passed tons of messages to each other, trying to figure out how to rid ourselves of the candida as well as fix our damaged metabolisms. My friend was a biochemist, which was an absolute boon in helping me understand so many things I was reading. Conventional medicine wasn't going to help us, because they said our conditions didn't exist. We weren't defying any doctor's advice because they said nothing was wrong with us.
My friend discovered a powdered probiotic that was said to help with candida infections, and she passed the link on Amazon to me. She had been taking it for a week, and her candida symptoms were improving. It was an import from Japan, and very expensive. The reviews on Amazon, if to be believed, were miraculous. Almost too good to be true. But having suffered my sinus infection for a month, I figured I didn't have anything to lose.
(Because Spark doesn't recommend the use of non FDA dietary supplements, I'm not going to mention the product by name. Please message me directly if you want to know.)
The probiotics in yogurt are kinds that live in our guts full time. With a healthy population, they will multiply their numbers and live there symbiotically with us. The type of probiotics in this product are types that target candida specially. Some of them would compete with the candida for food, starving them out. The rest would actually eat the candida for food. But once they did their job, they would die out and not live permanently in the gut. Our bodies aren't symbiotic for them. They are naturally found in our environment in plants, so we eat them normally in low concentrations all the time. This Japanese probiotic is for the purpose of candida elimination.
So that was my strategy. Kill off the existing candida, and eat yogurts and other supplemental probiotics to repopulated the beneficial colony. The beneficial colony couldn't get a foothold as long as the candida was dominant.
I was warned not to take too much too quickly, or in addition to low carb flu, I'd also get 'candida die off'. That didn't sound very nice, and I already felt like crap, so I only took 1 packet per day. It came in powdered form, so I mixed it with water in the morning.
There was no improvement for the first 3 days (but I stopped getting worse). On the 4th day, my sinuses opened and I could breathe from my nose for the first time in about 4 weeks. My left ear, which was threatening to become an ear infection, opened on the 5th day. My sinuses drained out in a gross way. Fluid came out so fast, I thought I had a bloody nose. Apparently it was liquidized candida. Yuck. Good riddance.
I took about another 3 months of using this product plus repopulating beneficial colonies to say I was 'cured'. My friend, still recovering from adrenal fatigue, praised my 'quick' success. Starting off in an unhealthier state, she had more ups and downs. Because her adrenals were in a weakened state, she got the 'candida die off', and had to back off on her usage until she was stronger.
(I talked to her recently and she said her candida is mostly taken care of, she's getting stronger, but she's still working on building up her damaged immune system. She's switched to a GAPS diet, which has been beneficial for people with adrenal fatigue syndrome, IBS, ADHD, autism, and a number of other 'modern' ailments.)
After I eliminated the candida overgrowth, a number of symptoms I didn't even know were related disappeared. In addition to the sinus infections, there were eczema, allergies, IBS type symptoms, yeast infections, and inability to lose weight.
The inability to lose weight was due to the candida consuming the nutrients that I was supposed to be absorbing in my intestines. The IBS symptoms were due to a similar reason.
I realize there are skeptics out there who might dismiss this as 'new age holistic medicine nonsense'. I hear ya. If it didn't happen to me, I wonder if I'd be writing a different story.
I was motivated to write this because of a comment Spark friend Woubbie wrote on DOWNEASTB's blog about her low-carb story:
Woubie: "If I never lost another ounce eating low carb I would stick with it for the way I feel. Just to never have heartburn is a sheer wonder!"
I so agree. Sinus infections, eczema, allergies, IBS type symptoms, yeast infections, and inability to lose weight - all gone. If I never lose another pound, I'm still living better than I was a year ago. Some detractors have said this is an unsustainable lifestyle. No, living in a state of unexplained illness was unsustainable. If it were just about the weight loss, then maybe I would have gone back to eating pasta and potatoes with every meal. But having gone through a rather nightmarish process, I have a rather strong incentive to avoid it.
So despite the risk of ridicule, I felt it important to write this. Because maybe, just maybe, someone with an open mind might see something of themselves in what I'm saying. I don't care about the non believers - I'm never going to convince them anyway. I'm having a conversation with someone who knows what I'm talking about. Maybe that person has already gone through this. Maybe that person is still trying to figure it out. It helps to know that you aren't so crazy after all, doesn't it?