Thursday 28th January proved to be what can best be described as one of those life changing moments when you least expect it.
The whole of the month of January was spent feeling sick, tired and generally doubled over with stomach pain.
As a sufferer of IBS I assumed that was the problem and my gut clearly went into overdrive.
For anyone who has IBS you’ll completely understand how bloated and irritable, tired and lethargic it makes you feel.
January is a real hard slog especially after Christmas and so I aim to get through the month with the minimum amount of bother and try to maintain a positive outlook.
I know that if I get through January then the rest doesn’t seem quite so bad.
My earliest recollection of struggling with IBS was shortly after my eldest son was born that was 16 years ago. Out of the blue one afternoon I had the most gripping spasm pain in my gut.
That same evening off I went to the Dr he confirmed that it sounded like IBS prescribed me mebeverine to take before meals to calm the stomach and that was that, a one off event with occasional bouts that we’re manageable.
Jump forwards to 2013 and I had another bad attack one afternoon whilst we were on holiday in Spain. My coup de grace was to treat it with porridge which seemed to settle my stomach.
In May 2015 with the encouragement of my then personal trainer I decided to change my eating habits, drop meat not because of ethical or political reasons but because I felt that I really needed to get lean and mean.
Out went porridge, toast and cereals in came natural yogurt with fruit, vegetables, pasta, salads and I seriously cut back on carbohydrates.
I like the odd biscuit dunked in tea at the weekend in bed and the occasional bag of maltesers or marshmallows but not in one sitting.
I have more of a sweet tooth than a savoury one and if you ask me to choose between a sandwich or a cream scone, guess which one I choose?
That said I stuck to my new vegetarian diet, having the occasional biscuit and bit of chocolate when I fancied it but, not everyday.
I am not a needy person when it comes to chocolate or sweets I can have a big bag of maltesers in the car and truthfully they will still be there in a month but for the kids eating them.
The final straw came when I took a day off with Mr M and went to Cambridge to meet with some spanish friends who were over for a few days.
A few tapas and a glass of Prosecco and I was sick as a dog and couldn’t eat anything else for the rest of the day.
Over night I started to worry and managed to get an emergency appointment with the Dr early next morning.
Following an examination I was left with the belief that it was IBS that had flared up and that I would need to fast and drink water for 24 hours.
I had blood tests but they all came back negative.
During this time on the recommendation of a friend, I went to see an allergy consultant that uses non invasive techniques and a form of acupuncture to determine what I might be allergic to.
I found the whole experience liberating.
I was diagnosed with candida albicans. The reason my gut is so ill is that it has a yeast infection.
And my food intolerances are sugar and yeast.
I burst into tears when the consultant went through all the symptoms, each time I nodded my head.
I explained that I have been feeling like this for so long now it is hard to imagine what normal feels like.
The sickness, constant tiredness, exhaustion, lethargy, confusion, fuzzy head, headaches, heart palpitations and a hangover feeling.
The fact that I had changed my diet by substituting healthier options meant that I had overloaded my body with even more sugar.
A list of foods to avoid was provided and these included cheese, bread, cakes, pastries, mushrooms, fruit juices, nuts, in fact anything with sugar and on the yeast side this was just as comprehensive no alcohol, wine, cava, prosecco but for gin and vodka but no tonic and champagne, at this I whooped thank god for small but expensive mercies.
That evening I went through the cupboards and to my horror and I mean horror all the food items from beans, pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, dolmio sauce, all had excessive amounts of sugar.
Even my so called natural live yogurt had a whopping amount of sugar.
OMG there is NOTHING I can eat.
The yeast thing I can cope with as I don’t eat loads of bread or carbohydrate but you try and find something that doesn’t’ have sugar in it?
Mr M came in late that same evening and found me with my head in my hands. There is absolutely nothing in the cupboards I can eat that doesn’t have sugar.
That night I ordered Davina Mccall’s ‘5 weeks to sugar free’ and ‘I quit sugar’ by Sarah Wilson.
This was more than just a change in diet this was a massive change in my lifestyle.
The allergy consultant insisted that I start “cold-turkey” straightaway and that very Thursday afternoon I quit sugar and yeast.
Day 1 – Friday morning
How do I start today with no sugar.
Last night my beloved Mr M went to Morrisons to get me stevia and truvia a substitute natural sugar made from a plant. I can’t use saccharin or canderel.
The tea tasted strange and thankfully I had Ryvita in the cupboard so I could at least have that with butter. The jam Mr M bought me although diabetic still contained sugar.
I went shopping to Waitrose and spent 2 hours going through the store trying to find items without sugar what an uphill task even the ‘without’ section had plenty of sugar.
I am looking for 0g of sugar or <1g-0.5g per food item.
I finally come away with a load of foods including vegetables, rice crackers, irish sourdough bread which doesn’t have yeast and a whole host of other products,.
But even the low fat, low calorie natural yogurt has sugar in it and so I buy that reasoning that if I have less than the 100g portion I should be ok.
Mid morning and I think I’m experiencing a desperate need for sugar drinking water will reduce my appetite but it’s not hunger, I can feel a need to have anything sweet.
I grab a pear and the sweetness helps my sweet craving.
But I still want more.
After tea, I am desperate for Ben & Jerry’s peanut buttercup ice cream.
Friday night use to be a bottle of red wine and a tub of ben & Jerry’s not all in one sitting but a good third of it.
And now I’m in the kitchen looking for something sweet to eat and finally settle for a piece of sliced melon.
I’m never going to get through this.
Day 2 – Saturday
I have a dull headache and I’m feeling lethargic.
Saturday morning’s use to start with tea and a stem ginger biscuit dunked in it.
That has now gone and I start my day with a tea and stevia followed by porridge with agave syrup on the top.
By 11 o’clock I’m feeling restless, fuzzy headed and my head hurts.
I research candida albicans reading the books that have arrived from Amazon and one of them suggests not to take ibuprofen for the next 3 months because this too can disrupt the stomach’s natural gut flora.
I never take tablets unless I need to so I keep going.
By lunchtime I feel like I’m dying the sweetness I so crave is really taking a hold and my headache is getting worse.
I’ve been in the gym and the exercise has made me hungry and desperate for sugar.
I might have a small diet coke or a biscuit but instead I have a gluten free plain nairn biscuit, although I’m not GF these biscuits have next to no sugar.
I make a sourdough slice with philadelphia cheese this fills the gap.
I see an advert for chocolate and then a victoria sandwich with fresh cream, I would kill someone right now for a bite.
I now have some idea of what ‘withdrawal’ must feel like for drug addicts or anyone with a serious habit. This is testing my willpower to the limit and believe you me I have plenty of it.
Day 3 – Sunday
We are off to the Albert Hall, London to see the Cirque de Soleil.
What am I going to find to eat? I stash some GF biscuits and rice cakes in a plastic container just in case.
My eating habits will never be the same again, I can’t just grab something on the go even if it’s healthy, all of it has sugar.
Then I panic about the next working week how am I going to find time to make ‘everything’ from scratch. When I’ve been used to buying a salad or sandwich, not even fruit in a plastic container from Tesco comes sugar free it has added sugar in it as well as the fruits natural sugars.
The VIP area has canapés and food that is cooked for you whilst you wait. There isn’t one item of food I can have save for a Chinese dumpling with the chicken and vegetables minus the dumpling.
But, I have a glass of champagne and I wait for the gripping stomach pain to kick in on the left side, hooray, nothing happens I can really drink champagne.
It’s off to Lidl for the cheapest champagne I can get then!
Day 4 – Monday
I stay at home today and I’m relieved because I can cook at lunchtime and make something I can actually eat.
I’m in my PJ’s until gone 1’o clock. I can’t concentrate, I’m confused and I stare at the blank computer screen before willing myself to do something.
But I can’t focus it feels like my head is detached from my body.
Mid morning and I want something, anything to take away this sugar craving which, I have in the past, mistakenly thought was hunger.
Day 5 – Tuesday
For the first time since forever, there is no pain in my left side and my headache has gone.
I’m off to Birmingham for a meeting and last night made a feta cheese salad.
It’s a long meeting and the hosts have arranged a lunch – the food looked fabulous and I died when I saw the profiteroles.
I’ve had to explain my nervous energy, my lack of concentration and the fact I need to get up every five minutes because I am agitated.
They are very supportive but joke about how wonderful the food is whilst I hungrily tuck into my plastic container containing my salad followed by fruit.
There is one good thing though, I’m not eating anything in between meals.
Last night I did make some sugar free flapjacks taken from Davina’s book, thank god, one of those mid afternoon gives me the energy boost I need.
Day 6 – Wednesday
I’m alert I feel like spider man, my reflexes seemed to have speeded up I’m more aware of what’s around me I can remember things, what people are wearing, what they say.
Today I’m in London but have allowed enough time to have a quick lunch before heading off for the afternoon/evening.
I’m tired and feel like I’m lacking in energy but I know I’m not, it’s like having a hypoglycemic sugar drop but without the effects.
I am aware that my heart palpitations have gone is this what normal feels like?
Day 7 – Thursday
One week cold turkey.
I’ve made the first week the sugar cravings have lessened and I’m feeling a bit more energetic.
I’ve got more books on this candida albicans and made lists for recipes I’m going to make for the weekend.
Am I really a sugar addict?
I have a long way to go.
The candida albicans yeast is a part of the gut flora, a group of microorganisms that live in your mouth and intestine.
When it gets out of control it weakens the intestinal wall and penetrates into the bloodstream releasing its toxic products throughout the body.
It causes trouble when there is a change in your body that allows it to overgrow, this could be a course of antibiotics, a prolonged diet rich in sugar and carbohydrates or stress.
The candida albicans is kept under control by the friendly bacteria in your gut but when your immune system is down candida multiplies quickly and dominates the gut.
By producing the toxins the body’s immune system struggles to cope and finally gives up causing a wide range of symptoms from abdominal pain, headaches, depression, aches.
I ticked the boxes in every category and as I start to join the dots, suspect that this all started in 2008 when I was under a serious amount of prolonged stress at work.
Day 8 – Friday
I feel lighter and wonder if I’ve actually lost weight. I don’t need to but I wouldn’t say no to a few pounds. I won’t have scales in the house I don’t want to start that treadmill of weighing myself as I did as a teenager.
I’ve got into a bit more of a routine but still need to plan better.
I actually need to sit down and plan out the whole week’s food for me, what I need to buy so I can prepare meals.
Day 9 – Saturday
I have a sketch class, a day of drawing orchids and I wonder if I can get through the day without touching those biscuits the artist leaves for us to have with tea/coffee.
My willpower is tested because he has chocolate biscuits and I look at them longingly, stuff it I’ll have one and then I think better of it.
The consultant reminded me that if succumb to sugar I could get really sick and put my gut back again. And so I grit my teeth and continue.
It feels like everywhere I go I see sugar. absolutely everywhere, mouth watering chocolate brownies, biscuits, cakes.
How I long for a marshmallow or a cream cake or a doughnut, would it really hurt me?
For so long I’ve deluded myself into thinking I eat healthily just because I train, work out and eat so called healthier foods but lurking underneath is this poison they call sugar.
I call it a poison because what it has done to me has ravaged my body depriving me of feeling great, taken away my energy, my fun and the joy of living.
I look fine say my family but this gut infection is hidden it doesn’t come with a warning sign it takes over and infests your body with its toxins and sugar is the primary cause.
Day 10 – Sunday
I’m experiencing a sugar craving I’ve been for a run and I need to satisfy it but I can’t reach for the biscuits or a packet of crisps.
Nope, instead it’s ryvita with cream cheese and a portion of mackerel with red peppers.
I’ve had so much salad this week I’ll start to turn into a rabbit and there have been times when I swear I could eat the carpet.
But I know each day will get easier.
Day 11- Monday
Feeling tired today. Yesterday I made some lemon cupcakes with maple syrup they taste scrummy but they don’t rise as much so they come out like biscuits more than cakes. But at least it is something naturally sweet to have.
I’m actually tired today, not much rest at the weekend and I feel down.
Is this the bit where I start to question what the heck I’m doing or is this just because I’m tired.
I want half-term to come so I can think and plan my eating requirements.
Is this what it is like to be a diabetic? Constantly monitoring what you can eat?
Will I ever be able to actually enjoy food again without having to think what is in it, where has it been made and will it harm me?
I’m not feeling quite so positive now..
Day 14 – Thursday
I’ve made it to 2 weeks. It has been the hardest two weeks ever and I’d rather have my teeth pulled then give up sugar and yeast from my diet.
The yeast diet has been easier it is mainly bread, there are whole host of other foods but not what you might eat everyday. Although I am missing marmite.
I felt crap yesterday, so tired it was a struggle just to keep going and the sugar craving seems to be back again with a vengeance.
The last two weeks I’ve really been going along by the seat of my pants just making it up as I go along but I know I can’t do this any longer.
I ordered a load of ingredients last night so I can prepare food at the weekend and then I am going to plan a 3-4 week menu so I know what I will be cooking each day.
It sounds so regimented and organised with no spontaneity.
I’m use to either grabbing a healthy snack or sandwich or going without altogether but now I can’t do that it is too risky and the consequences on my body could be grave.
This morning started very early followed by a fitness class and now I’m tired and irritable.
The cafe downstairs at work has had a revamp and the food is unbelievable but I can’t eat any of it. I have to ask the head chef what foods he has cooked that don’t have sugar and yeast.
I settle for a parsnip and apple soup with bread I shouldn’t have the bread but I’m desperate, also it looks more like that soft red pepper ciabatta.
I know I may pay the penalty for this slip up later with a jabbing pain in my left side and feeling sick, but I don’t care.
I want to taste real bread again. I feel hunger but I know it really is sugar withdrawal.
I see it I want it but I can’t have it.
I’m still not able to concentrate 100% but I’ve noticed things are changing.
My ever so white tongue with grooves and edges on the side are lessening.
Maybe this candida albicans is real after all and not having sugar and yeast in my diet is beginning to have an impact on my body.
I’ve read more and discovered it could be 1-3 years before my gut flora is back in balance and if I fall off the wagon it could easily flare up again.
I’ve done a lot in my life but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to manage.
Yes, I know it’s not cancer and there are far worse things but I challenge you to give up sugar in your diet and see how you find it.
Day 15 – 17
It’s Friday and the last day of term before the kids break up. I’m tired and cranky and I want something sweet.
At lunch time I eat a jacket potato with tuna and mayonnaise, the latter a no-no because it has a yeast by product but I wanted something substantial.
I paid for it later on that afternoon when the sharp left pain in my stomach reminded me what happens if I slip up.
Thursday and Friday were a disaster, I had half a scone with butter and some sesame seed biscuits even though they contain minimal sugar it is still sugar.
By the weekend I have a cooking frenzy.
I make a batch of ginger biscuits I was so excited at the prospect of being able to dunk a biscuit into my tea that I took a bite and promptly started choking.
They were so dry I could barely taste the ginger Mr M had to get me a glass of water and slap me on the back.
How can they be tasty there is no sugar in the recipe what was I thinking, believing they were going to be my life saviour. Fit for grouting my bathroom absolutely not for eating.
Still as Mr M said if I whizz them through the processor it will make a great cheesecake base.
Saturday saw me make a victoria sandwich with spelt flour and maple syrup. I substituted the baking powder with bicarbonate of soda also a raising agent.
What I later discovered is you need to add something acidic like lemon juice or natural yogurt to counter the bicarb.
I decorated it and waited to serve it up on Sunday afternoon, it tasted foul, it looked lovely but because of the baking powder substitute it was awful. I scraped off the fruit and cream and threw it in the bin.
Another one bites the dust. The veggie quiche was a disaster I decided to use coconut milk instead of my normal dairy milk just because I thought it might be worth trying something different.
It was my dinner for Saturday night and looked like it had been in a fight. I didn’t even try it and lobbed in the bin.
At this point I was in tears I had spent all Saturday cooking following the recipes and not one was coming out as I had hoped.
Who am I kidding, this is all because I’m addicted to the taste of sugar.
I felt angry.
The food manufacturers have duped me into needing sugar without me even knowing it. They’ve convinced me that I have to have sugar because it is in every food item I have in my kitchen cupboards.
I’m angry that because of them I’ve had to make a massive lifestyle change. This is not something I would have chosen for myself.
I am fit and fitness is an important part of my life but I realise that I am not healthy. Many people make the assumption that just because we go the gym, run and exercise we must be healthy too.
Even the healthier food options I adopted in the middle of last year are full of sugar.
In fact, most of the so called healthier options are bad for you. The recipe books I have and the research I’ve done indicate that many people who have candida albicans have reverted back to proper whole foods.
Milk instead of skimmed, butter instead of these low fat spreads and so forth.
I’m angry because if it wasn’t for all the processed sugar in our food items I wouldn’t have to be going through this now.
I am faltering. I want to stick to the plan. I know that at three weeks it should start to get easier and become a habit.
But like a recovering alcoholic, once an alcoholic always an alcoholic.
I am a recovering sugar addict but I know I will always be a sugar addict. There will never be a moment when I don’t want to have ‘just one’, or, ‘let me have a bite’.
One slip and I’m back to be being that sugar addict again.
I made it to 3 weeks! It is half-term and the boys, Mr M and I are off to London to have lunch in the Aqua Shard.
I’m looking forward to it but still apprehensive about what I can eat.
The menu turns out to be ok and on checking with the chef my starter is sugar free.
I get through the meal with 2 bottles of champagne, ok there was 2 of us involved.
And champagne is the one alcoholic beverage I can enjoy and as Mr M points out you’ve been cold-turkey 3 weeks have a blast, and I most certainly did.
Three weeks with no sugar other than the addition of stevia in my tea and I am starting to see the benefits.
I feel leaner, my stomach has flattened. My eyes appear bright and my skin looks clear.
Mr M remarked that my eyes looked ‘milky’ before this lifestyle change and now they look healthier.
The prolonged tiredness has gone and I wake up in the morning feeling fresh and more alert.
In the past, I would have struggled to get out of bed, feeling constantly tired and sluggish and the walk to the bathroom was the equivalent of finishing the London marathon on the mall.
I’m more aware of my senses than ever before.
For example, smells, some of which I could tolerate before are now no longer bearable.
I am full of energy and have spent more time in the gym training, running and doing yoga and pilates that even I am surprised.
My sleep is better, by the time my head hits the pillow I am out oblivious to all asunder. I have the odd disturbed night but not enough to make me feel wretched in the morning like I use to feel.
I am convinced more than ever that my menopause started early because of stress and candida albicans and I am angry about this, angry that the so called healthy diet we eat as a family has been contaminated with sugar.
If you are aware that the foodstuffs you are eating contain sugar you can make an informed choice to buy that product but prior to finding out about candida albicans this I had no idea the affects of sugar on my body.
Buying foodstuffs without sugar remains a challenge.
I am struggling this week and I am not sure why.
I think my body is fighting a virus because I feel aches and pains.
By mid week I am experiencing hunger for the first time since I gave up sugar and yeast and I overload on carbs.
I had a pancake with chickpeas, spinach and feta cheese all ok in my new diet save for the pancake which was made with white flour not wholemeal.
The potato and leek soup I had for lunch, I can’t have any potatoes in my diet not until I come through the first 12-16 weeks, and , I didn’t ask if there was any sugar in the soup.
My stomach reminds me why I had to adopt this lifestyle change a stark reminder that any slippages will come back and bite me with nausea, bloating and a cramping stomach ache.
That’s how easy it is to slip up and then I pay for it.
I take heart I’ve reached 4 weeks and it is the first time I’ve really slipped up unintentionally. I haven’t eaten cakes, biscuits or ice-cream and there have been enough temptations I can tell you.
But it will be another 4 weeks before I really believe that my new diet will take hold and it really does become a way of life.
I would be lying if I said I don’t miss that stem ginger biscuit dunked in tea, my B & J’s ice cream and red wine.
Just that sluggish, nausea, bloated feeling I experienced last night is enough to remind that I can never go back to that again.
I made it to 5 weeks with no sugar or yeast. I’m feeling stronger, revitalised and more healthy. My sugar craving has vanished and I don’t crave sweet things. Of course I miss doughnuts, toast and marmalade, marmite with cheese and red wine.
It has been a tough uphill struggle but I feel better and stronger for it. I get the occasional reminder in the left side of my gut that tells me I’ve overdone it on sugar somewhere during the day but that is my red flag to make sure I drink plenty of water to flush out the toxins.
Two months since I went cold turkey, I made it.
Following my seven week check up with my allergy UK consultant I have made great progress.
My candida albicans is in check, my gut flora is in balance and my hormones which had been so ravaged by this infection are more or less normal.
I was under no illusion that this was going to be a long drawn out process. I have to continue with my yeast and sugar free diet and it is challenging but I have persevered.
How I feel eight weeks on is the distance between the North and South pole, in other words I feel so much better.
I have had some critics along the way suggesting that I am mad even considering the advice of an alternative practitioner.
My Dr couldn’t diagnose my condition and the fact that I feel so much better, why would I seek a second opinion?
Our lives are dominated by what we should or shouldn’t be eating, the media has been dominated by the sugar levy which will be introduced in 2018 and obesity.
Does the Chancellor really think that taxing sugary drinks will make a difference?
It is a start but what is earnestly needed is education about nutrition and balance when it comes to diet.
The proposed food labelling campaign could see the introduction of a sugar wise logo that identifies foods low in added sugar is another bold step in the right direction.
But, I believe all this starts in the classroom. The proposed PSHE (personal, social, health) taught in schools should be expanded to include basic nutrition.
Providing our children with an understanding of what is good and bad for them is a good start in increasing awareness.
I miss red wine, stem ginger biscuits, my favourite ice cream, a sandwich, toast and marmalade but the sharp jabbing pain in my stomach, sickness and the symptoms I’ve endured for the last year are a stark reminder that sugar and yeast can no longer be a part of my life.