Thursday 28th January proved to be what can best be described as one of those life-changing moments.
During the month of January, I felt sick and tired.
I struggle with IBS and wrongly assumed that that was the problem.
If you experience IBS you’ll understand how bloated and irritable, tired and lethargic it makes you feel.
My earliest recollection of IBS was after my eldest was born I experienced sharp gripping pain in my gut.
My Dr confirmed that it was IBS and prescribed an anti-spasmodic drug to take before meals.
Fast forward to May 2015 and with the encouragement of my personal trainer, I changed my eating habits.
Out went porridge, toast, and cereals in came natural yoghurt with fruit, vegetables, pasta, salads and a reduction in carbohydrates.
I stuck to my diet, having the occasional biscuit and bit of chocolate when I wanted it but certainly not every day.
The final straw came when my husband and I spent a day in Cambridge where we met with Spanish friends.
Tapas and a glass of Prosecco and I was sick as a dog. I felt grim and I was confident it wasn’t food poisoning or too much Prosecco.
I began to worry and managed to get an emergency appointment with my Dr early the following morning.
After I was examined, I was advised that it was IBS that had flared up.
I fasted for 24 hours and immediately began to feel better.
My blood tests came back negative.
On the recommendation of a friend, I went to see an allergy consultant that uses a form of acupuncture to determine allergies.
I was sceptical but went with an open mind.
I found the whole experience liberating.
My diagnosis – Candida Albicans, which is a yeast infection of the gut. To my amazement, my food intolerances are sugar and yeast.
I burst into tears when the consultant went through all the symptoms, each time nodding my head.
I’ve been feeling like this for so long is it possible to feel normal again, I asked her?
Sickness, the constant tiredness, exhaustion, lethargy, confusion, fuzzy head, headaches, heart palpitations, and feeling hungover.
Every one of my symptoms was on her list.
Changing my diet and substituting healthier options overloaded my body with more sugar.
A list of foods to avoid was issued including cheese, bread, cakes, pastries, mushrooms, fruit juices, nuts, in fact, anything with sugar.
For yeast, this was equally as comprehensive.
No alcohol, wine, cava, prosecco but for Gin and Vodka, no tonic and Champagne.
That evening I went through my food items from beans, pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, pasta sauce, all had excessive amounts of sugar.
Even my regular natural live yoghurt had a whopping amount of sugar.
The yeast element I can cope with as I don’t eat a lot of bread or carbohydrates.
This was more than a change in diet this was a massive change in my lifestyle.
The allergy consultant insisted that I go “cold-turkey” and that Thursday afternoon I quit sugar and yeast for good.
Day 1 – Friday morning
How do I start today with no sugar?
Last night my beloved husband bought me Stevia and Truvia a substitute natural sugar made from a plant.
The tea tasted strange and thankfully I had Ryvita in the cupboard so I could at least have that with butter. The jam my husband bought me although diabetic still contained sugar.
Today I shopped and spent two hours searching for items without sugar, what an uphill task even the ‘without’ section did not help.
I bought 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 yoghurt has sugar and so I buy that reasoning that if I have less than the 100g portion I should be ok.
Mid-morning and I’m experiencing a desperate need for sugar, water will reduce my appetite but it’s not hunger, I feel a need to have anything sweet.
I eat a pear and the sweetness helps my craving.
But I still want more.
I look 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 feel lethargic.
Saturday morning starts with tea and a stem ginger biscuit dunked into the tea.
That is gone and I start my day with a tea and one 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 and one of the items I find suggests not taking ibuprofen for three months because this can disrupt the stomach’s natural gut flora.
By lunchtime I feel like I’m dying the sweetness I crave is really taking 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 biscuit, although I’m not GF these biscuits have next to no sugar.
I take a slice of sourdough bread with Philadelphia cheese this fills me.
I am experiencing ‘withdrawal’ similarly to alcoholics or drug addicts and it’s testing my willpower to the limit.
Day 3 – Sunday
We are off to the Albert Hall in London to see the Cirque de Soleil.
What am I going to eat? I haven’t planned a food menu so I feel apprehensive.
I stash some sugar-free biscuits and rice cakes in a plastic container just in case.
The VIP area has canapés and food that is cooked for you while you wait.
But, sadly for me, there isn’t one item of food I can have save for a Chinese dumpling with the chicken and vegetables minus the dumpling.
I have a glass of champagne it’s risky and I wait for the gripping stomach pain on the left side, hooray, nothing happens I can drink champagne.
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 comes sugar-free it has added sugar in it along with fruits natural sugars.
Day 4 – Monday
I am at home and relieved because I can cook at lunchtime and make something to eat.
I’m in my PJ’s until 1’o clock. I can’t concentrate, I’m confused and I stare at the blank computer screen 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, in the past, I mistook as hunger.
Day 5 – Tuesday
For the first time since forever, there is no pain on my left side and my headache has gone.
I’m off to Birmingham for a meeting and made a feta cheese salad for my lunch.
It’s a long meeting and the hosts arrange a lunch – the food is fabulous and I died when I saw the profiteroles.
I explain to the attendees my nervous energy, my lack of concentration and why I need to get up every five minutes because I am agitated.
They are very supportive but joke about how wonderful the food is while I hungrily tuck into my salad and fruit.
Last night I made sugar free flapjacks which gives me a much-needed energy boost mid-afternoon.
Day 6 – Wednesday
I’m alert I am spider woman, my reflexes are on fire, I’m on speed so it seems. I am aware of my surroundings my memory is improving and I feel more alive than ever.
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 more energetic.
I’ve bought books on Candida Albicans and have recipe lists that I will make for the weekend.
Am I really a sugar addict?
I have a long way to go.
Candida Albicans is part of the gut flora, a group of microorganisms that live in your mouth and intestine.
When it is out of control it weakens the intestinal wall and penetrates the bloodstream releasing its toxic products in the body.
A course of antibiotics, a prolonged diet rich in sugar and carbohydrates or stress all contribute to your body being overwrought by the yeast infection.
Candida is kept under control by the friendly bacteria in your gut but when your immune system is compromised, the candida multiplies quickly and dominates the gut.
It produces toxins and the body’s immune system struggles to cope causing a wide range of symptoms from abdominal pain, headaches, depression, and body 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 light. I don’t need to lose weight I’m not fat or even overweight but I feel good.
I have a kind of routine but I need to plan better and sit down plan the whole week’s food and then buy what I need.
Day 9 – Saturday
I have a sketch class, a day of drawing orchids and I wonder if I can get through the day.
My willpower is tested because he has laid a plate full of chocolate biscuits and I look at them hungrily.
I see sugar everywhere, absolutely everywhere, mouth-watering chocolate brownies, biscuits, and cakes.
I long for a marshmallow or a cream cake or a doughnut, would it really hurt me?
I believe I eat healthily because I work out and eat so-called healthier foods but lurking underneath is this poison – sugar.
I call it poison because it has ravaged my body depriving me of feeling great, depleting my energy, my fun and the joy of living.
I look great my family tells me, but this gut infection is like a virus it lurks deep inside my gut, 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.
Ryvita with cream cheese and a portion of mackerel with red peppers.
I’ve had so much salad this week I’m afraid I’ll turn into a rabbit.
I swear I could eat the carpet but if I continue every day be easier.
Day 11- Monday
I am feeling tired I didn’t get much rest at the weekend and I feel down.
Yesterday I made some lemon cupcakes with maple syrup rather than sugar and they taste scrummy but they don’t rise like cakes.
I want school half-term 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 be able to enjoy food again having to think what is in it, where has it been made and will it harm me?
I’m not feeling quite so positive.
Day 14 – Thursday
I’ve made it to two weeks, the hardest two weeks of my life.
I would rather have my teeth pulled then give up sugar and yeast from my diet.
The yeast diet has been easier to manage as it consists mainly of bread and there are a host of other foods but not what you might eat every day.
Although I miss marmite.
Through these two weeks I have been making it up as I go along but this approach is not working and I need a plan.
I ordered a load of ingredients last night so I can prepare food at the weekend and 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 and no spontaneity.
I’m used to 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 are too great.
This morning started very early followed by a fitness class and now I’m tired and irritable.
The cafe at work is great and the food is unbelievable but I can’t eat any of it. I ask the head chef what foods don’t have sugar and yeast.
I settle for a parsnip and apple soup with the bread I shouldn’t have the bread but I’m desperate; although it looks more like soft red pepper ciabatta.
I know I may pay the penalty for this slip up later with a jabbing pain on my left side and feeling sick, but I don’t care.
I want to taste real bread again. I am hungry but I know it is sugar withdrawal.
I’m unable to concentrate fully but I’ve noticed things are changing.
My white tongue with grooves and edges is lessening.
Maybe candida is real 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 one to three years before my gut flora is back in balance and if I fall off the wagon it could flare up.
I’ve done a lot in my life but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to manage.
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 lunchtime, I eat a jacket potato with tuna and mayonnaise, the latter a no-no because it has a yeast by-product but I need something substantial.
I pay for it later with pain in my stomach a reminder 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.
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.
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, a raising agent.
What I later discovered is you need to add something acidic like lemon juice or natural yoghurt to counter the bicarbonate.
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.
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.
I was in tears I had spent 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?
The food manufacturers have duped me into needing sugar without me even knowing it.
They’ve deceived me into having sugar and unwittingly I am the helpless victim.
Sugar is in every food item I have in my kitchen cupboards.
I’m angry because I’ve had to make a massive lifestyle change.
This is not something I would have chosen for myself.
Fitness is an important part of my life but I realise that I am not healthy.
We make the assumption that because we go to the gym, we run and exercise we are healthy.
Even the healthy food options I adopted in the middle of last year are full of sugar.
In fact, most of the so-called healthy options are bad for you.
The recipe books and the research I’ve done indicate that many people who have Candida have reverted back to proper whole foods.
Full milk instead of skimmed, butter instead of low fat spreads are better for you.
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.
It three weeks!
It is half-term and the boys, my husband and I are off to London to have lunch in the Aqua Shard.
I’m looking forward to it but apprehensive about what I can eat.
The menu turns out to be okay and on checking with the chef my starter is sugar-free and I enjoy a glass of champagne with my husband to celebrate.
Three weeks, no sugar and I see the benefits.
I feel leaner, my stomach has flattened. My eyes are bright and my skin is fresh and clear.
My husband noted that my eyes were ‘milky’ before my diet change and now they look healthy.
The prolonged tiredness has gone and I wake up in the morning feeling alert.
In the past, I would have struggled to get out of bed, tired and sluggish I’d drag myself to the bathroom.
My senses are working well I note smells, some of which I could tolerate before are now no longer bearable.
I have energy and spend time in the gym training, running and doing yoga and pilates and I am sleeping really well.
I am convinced that the menopause started early because of stress and because of the Candida.
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 experience hunger pangs for the first time since I gave up sugar and yeast and I overload on carbs.
I have a pancake with chickpeas, spinach and feta cheese all approved on my new diet save for the pancake which was made with white flour not wholemeal.
My stomach reminds me why I adopted a lifestyle change a stark reminder that any slippage will come back and bite me with nausea, bloating and a cramping stomach ache.
I take heart I’ve reached four weeks and it is the first time I’ve really slipped up unintentionally. Temptations include cakes, biscuits and ice-cream but I have been resolute and not eaten any of it.
It will be four weeks before I really believe that my new diet will take hold and it becomes my adopted way of life.
I don’t miss the stem ginger biscuit with my tea, ice cream and red wine.
The sluggish, nausea, bloated feeling I experienced last night reminds me that I can’t go back to the old way.
It’s 5 weeks with no sugar or yeast. I feel strong, revitalised and healthy.
My sugar craving has all but gone and I no longer crave sweet things.
It has been a long and tough uphill struggle but I am better and stronger for it.
The left side of my gut occasionally reminds me that I’ve overdone it 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, what a result.
Following my seven-week check up with my allergy UK consultant I am making amazing.
My Candida is in check, my gut flora is more in balance and my hormones which had been so ravaged by this infection are going back to normal.
This is going to be a long-drawn-out process.
I continue with my yeast and sugar-free diet and it remains a challenge but persevere I must.
How I feel is indescribable, equivalent to the distance between the North and South pole.
I have my critics who suggest that I am mad acting on the advice of an alternative practitioner.
But, my own Dr couldn’t diagnose my condition so why seek another opinion?
We are told daily what we should be eating and the media is fixated by the sugar levy which will be introduced in 2018 to help combat the rise in obesity.
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.
This is a bold step in the right direction.
I believe all this starts with education, in the classroom and at home.
The PSHE (Personal, Social, Health) taught in schools should be expanded to include basic nutrition and cooking.
Providing our children with an understanding of what is good and bad for them is a great start in increasing sugar awareness.
I miss my red wine, stem ginger biscuits, my favourite ice cream but the sharp jabbing pain in my stomach, nausea and all the associated 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.