As most of you may know, I eat a very specific diet based on Ann Boroch’s recovery program, as outlined in her books Healing MS and The Candida Cure. The purpose of the diet is to starve the body of Candida, fungus, parasites, viruses, and infections – all those nasty buggers that live in our guts and lead to disease. And, at the same time, to feed our bodies the high-quality foods that contain the nutrients our cells need to detoxify and function optimally.
The basic rules of the diet are no sugar, no gluten, no wheat, no dairy, no soy, no alcohol, and nothing fermented. Instead, the goal is to focus on eating 60% vegetables, 20% protein, 10% carbs, and 10% good fats.
That said, it’s not an easy diet to adhere to in our sugar and flour-laden culture and there are many potential potholes to fall into for those who try. I should know, I’ve fallen into most of them since I started this diet in 2007. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some were actually named after me.
A few weeks ago I began offering private coaching sessions to help people implement the diet, and what I found is that the major mistakes people make seem to be universal. Which is why I thought it would behoove (love that word!) us all to call them out, so that if any of these sound all too familiar, you can climb out of that pothole and get back on the road to recovery immediately.
Pasta is yummy. When you decided to go on the Candida diet and therefore gluten-free, you were probably thrilled to discover that you could substitute regular pasta for rice pasta. It’s not quite as good but once you get used to it, it still does wonders to scratch the itch for a bowl full o’ carbs. It’s easy and quick to make and it feels familiar, so if you are anything like I was when I started this diet, you probably started cooking it every night, or every other. This diet thing ain’t so bad, you’re thinking as you scarf down the spaghetti or the penne or those squiggly ones whose name I forget. However, you are headed down the wrong road.
Rice pasta, though gluten-free and “legal” for this diet, is stripped of all nutrients. It’s also still just a carb, and a bowl of it will spike your blood sugar like nobody’s business, especially if you don’t eat it alongside a protein. In other words, party time for the Candida. Eating rice pasta frequently will seriously slow down your healing, so keep it to no more than once a week max and always eat a bit of animal protein with it to slow down the spike.
I am a sweet-tooth. When I first started this diet, my sugar cravings were intense. Like, fetal position I-woulda-eaten-my-own-arm-if-it-were-made-of-sugar intense. As such, I was constantly on the hunt for “legal” options that could satiate me. In the first edition of Ann Boroch’s book Healing MS, she included a recipe for carob-chip cookies that called for unsweetened carob chips (in later editions she eliminated this). So I bought them, and found that they were actually quite delicious straight up, without the cookie. So I started eating them right out of the bag as a snack.
Sure, I read the ingredients on the back. I read that they contained nonfat milk (illegal!), whey powder (illegal!) and that they contained 7 grams of sugar per serving. But hey, if you look at the front, it says “unsweetened”. Therefore, I concluded, the amount of sugar listed on the back must have been incorrect. They must have been referring to some other sort of sugar, some sort that wouldn’t effect me at all. I thought, eh, what’s 7 grams anyway, that’s nothing! And I purposely ignored the serving size, which was 2 tablespoons. “I’ll only eat a few anyway” I said to myself.
However, since I seem to be confessing my ugliest moments here, you should know that I typically ate half the bag in one sitting. So let’s do a little math. There are 18 servings per container. 7 grams of sugar per serving. That’s 126 grams of sugar in the entire bag, so in one sitting I was eating 63 grams of sugar. 63 grams. Do you know how many grams of sugar one should be eating on this diet? 5 grams per day max! Hey, no biggie, I was only eating 12 times more sugar than I should have been. Never mind the fact that I was eating the other half of the bag later in the evening…
So what’s the moral of the story here? No matter how healthy you think something is for you, always read the grams of sugar on the back, and remember to multiply it by the serving size. Reality distortion is not useful in this context. Better to spend a few days in the fetal position and push through the sugar withdrawal than to do what I did and fall prey to supposedly “unsweetened” carob chips, or some other such false god…
Just because something doesn’t have a label on it, doesn’t mean you can delude yourself into thinking it’s low in sugar. Well, you could, but that would be dumb. I should know, I’ve been dumb a lot in the past 5 years (see above). Here are some common culprits that novice Candida dieters tend to indulge in, convincing themselves that they are fine because they are nature’s own – sweet potatoes, potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, bananas, coconuts, dates, figs, sweet apples (like Fuji and Gala), pineapple, honeydew, strawberries, cherries, or any of these in the dried fruit varieties (for exact grams of sugar per fruit or veggie, go to www.dietfacts.com ). At least in the first three months of the diet, you should stick to low-sugar fruits like organic berries and green apples, lemons and limes, and stay away from the high-carb veggies, choosing green veggies instead. And whatever you do, avoid dried fruits where the sugar content is significantly higher and many include sulfur dioxide, which is bad.
Speaking of veggies, the Candida diet is so restrictive that it’s easy to put all your attention on what you can’t eat and very little on what you can and should. But this diet is not meant as a short-term fad-diet plan but rather a comprehensive revision of your eating habits. A lifestyle revision. As such, it’s crucial to not just take away what you can’t have but add in what you need more of. In other word, veggies. Yes, veggies. Your diet should consist of 60% vegetables. Your cells will be so thankful, they’ll do a little dance and sing your name. And when you do eat your veggies, remember that they are best eaten raw, then lightly steamed or sauteed, then frozen, and last (and best avoided) canned. Throw some organic kale (nature’s ultimate superfood) or organic baby spinach into a smoothie, make a salad, sautee some greens with onions and garlic and a bit of olive oil, make a curry sauce with a coconut milk base, or my favorite, make a soup! I eat tons of veggies in my soups, and you should too. Soups are fast, easy, delicious, and a great way to get lots of veggies in the winter months when salads are too cooling. Pick yourself up a soup book and get started, but remember to buy organic fruits and veggies if you can and substitute heavy cream for canned coconut milk and cow’s milk for unsweetened almond milk (or hemp or coconut).
In 1999, before I knew I had MS, all I knew was that something was very wrong, and in my search for an answer, I happened upon Dr. Crook’s book The Yeast Connection. I did my best to go on the diet then, but in hindsight, it might be more accurate to say I went on an unsweetened almond butter diet instead. The beauty of almond butter (or any of the “legal” nut butters like unsweetened sunflower butter) is that they are primarily fat, so they fill you up quickly, solving the what do I eat problem quite well. And, spreading them on a rice cracker with some stevia or xylitol sprinkled on top is a great way to satiate a sugar craving, as well as making for a really yummy and addictive snack. The problem, however, is that your diet should consist of no more than 10% of this kind of good fat. Too much and you’re sludging up your system and way overdosing on saturated fat. Mine was more like 90%. So eat your nut butter in moderation (as in, no more than two tablespoons a day) like all your foods. Moderation is key. Speaking of which…
Because this diet is so limiting, it’s easy to find a few meals and snacks that work and stick with them. That’s good. It’s impossible to maintain this diet without enjoying what you eat, so finding dishes that work for both your taste buds and the diet is great. However, variation is essential. Most people with MS and other autoimmune diseases have food sensitivities, and eating the same thing every day is a recipe for developing more. Additionally, switching things up will limit the effects of whatever mistakes you may make, like eating veggies that are too high in sugar. If you combine a less-than-excellent food choice with extreme repetition, you’ll end up with a diet that’s not helping you heal at all, and you’ll wonder what the problem is. Plus, when you vary your food you vary the nutrients your cells receive, and that’s always good. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.
Seriously. They mean well, of course. They want to show solidarity. And that’s beautiful. However, what most people don’t realize is that sugar is a drug. A really intense drug. And the withdrawal from it will transform your loving partner into a bad, bad person. An irritable person. A cranky person. A person that cannot lovingly support you, because instead they want to join you in the fetal position and cry for brownies. So politely decline their offer, ask them to eat their treats when not in your presence, and accept their calm and still-sugar-addicted love and support. Then, once you’ve mastered the diet, if they’re still interested, you can gracefully show them how it’s done and bring them delicious sugar-free smoothies while they jones, silently thanking yourself for having already made it to the other side.
Even in a restaurant, it’s possible to make sound choices that are within the bounds of your diet. You will probably not be the beneficiary of an entirely organic meal, however, in most restaurants you can eat wisely and not throw yourself far off course. Get a piece of roast chicken. A piece of fish. In a Thai or Chinese place, go for steamed veggies with brown rice. When ordering a dish with sauce, always make sure it’s gluten-free. Lucky for us all, g-free is in full effect these days, so yours will likely not be the first request they’ve had (remember that soy sauce has gluten in it). Make sure your sauce or salad dressing is not dairy based. Whatever you do, don’t order a bowl full of pasta or a heaping pile of cheese on your meal, just because you can. You’ll eat the meal in a few minutes, but regret it for days. Trust me. I speak the truth.
No. Don’t drink alcohol ever. If you have MS, alcohol is like pouring acid on your nerves. Even if you’re doing everything else right, one glass of wine or beer or hard liquor can and will set you back significantly. It is multiple sclerosis’s #1 enemy. And incidentally, a close and well-loved friend of Candida, since most alcohol is also high in sugar and beer is just a cup full o’ yeast. In fact, some recovering alcoholics discover that their alcoholism was in part a severe craving caused by systemic Candida overgrowth. So don’t be seduced, no matter how tempting. And if you find yourself at a bar, ask for a glass of water with lemon or lime and think about how relieved your myelin sheath is that you made the right choice and spared it mass destruction.
NOOOO!!! Don’t do it!!! It’s essential to remember that when you’re not symptomatic, that’s when it’s most important to remain on the diet, because that’s when your body has the chance to do the deepest healing work. That’s when it has the chance to begin reversing your illness. I know how challenging it is to be so consistently disciplined with your diet. I know you “deserve” a piece of chocolate cake. So do I. In fact, by now I’d say I deserve a visit to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but hey we all know what happened to Augustus Gloop because he couldn’t resist, remember? Do you want to end up getting sucked into the inner plumbing of that wacko’s factory? No you don’t. So let’s stop talking about that right now.
But one more thing…if you go for the treat every time you feel symptom-free, you’ll never reach that next level. So next time you witness your arm reaching for that cookie, do a little intentional hallucination and watch as it turns into repulsive little Candida critters and fungi and oversized parasite cells with evil brows and drool coming out of their mouth because they’re so happy you’re finally going to feed them! See them and remind yourself that you’re not in the business of furnishing their apartment in your gut. No you are not. Now put the cookie down. Slowly. Very good. And to avoid this in the future, order yourself some sugar-free gluten-free muffin and cookie mix from Namaste Foods so you’re not without options next time a craving should strike.
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