It had been over a year and a half since the day I got sick…
The fever and nausea finally started to subside (hallelujah!), but I still felt queasy and bloated, and I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed—much less leave the house.
I had already been to 14 doctors, and I just couldn’t stomach going to another one.
And then my mother heard about a doctor who performed a special blood test—some kind of “alternative medicine.” In an act of desperation, she made an appointment for me to meet with him.
Without much ado, Dr. McCormick took a drop of blood from my fingertip and placed it on a slide, and then he inserted it into the biggest, fanciest microscope I’d ever seen. Moments later, I was watching the sample in real-time on TV.
I didn’t know much about blood, but I knew something wasn’t right. My red blood cells were misshapen and clumped together, barely moving. He pointed out a white blood cell in the corner of the slide and then another one that looked like it was disintegrating—a far cry from the population required to protect me. The most lively organism wasn’t even supposed to be there. White yeast globules were scattered throughout the entire screen, wedged into the clusters of stagnant cells.
At one point, he said, “I’m surprised you’re even sitting here.”
He explained how my immune system was overridden with yeast or candida, which can lead to a wide range of symptoms (including immunological and digestive). He said this may not be the root of the problem, but we needed to “peel the onion” and clear this up in order to support my body’s healing process. I’d never heard anyone talk about the body’s natural healing ability or the idea of healing layer-by-layer (like the rings of an onion). Something about it just made sense.
He gave me a few supplements and a pink piece of paper that read, “CANDIDIASIS” across the top.
The words “overuse of antibiotics” and “excessive sugar intake” jumped off the page, as I read about the causes of this common infection. I thought back to the double round of antibiotics I was given when I first got sick, but more than anything, I was suddenly painfully aware of the impact my diet had on my health.
The diet debacle
I enjoyed my fair share of sweets growing up, but for the most part, meals were pretty wholesome. We had a garden in the summer, put up a few things for the winter, and the bulk of our meat came from wild game (moose and deer) and freshwater fish.
And then when I was about 16 years old, my stepmother and father opened a take-out restaurant, where we served pizza, “grinders” (big fat doughy white bread sandwiches), and ice cream with all the toppings you can imagine. And I ate at least one of these things daily.
But it didn’t stop there…
My tolerance to sweets reached a whole new level (kind of like alcohol in my early teens). For example, I could polish off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s with an orange soda and white cheddar popcorn on the side without batting an eye.
I couldn’t handle eating those foods anymore, but even my “easy on the belly” meals were almost all made of the same thing: white flour and sugar (especially my most recent addition of cinnamon raisin bread, grape juice, and popsicles).
You can probably imagine my horror as I read further down the pink candida handout (which I still have)…
- Avoid refined sugar, including sucrose and fructose.
- Limit your intake of fresh fruit to one serving per day. No apples or grapes.
- Avoid canned food.
- Avoid milk and its products, except for butter and a small portion of plain yogurt.
- Limit your servings of wheat, oats, rye, barley, corn, rice, millet, and potatoes to about one-half to one cup per day.
- No yeasts or molds. This would include, no cheese, mushrooms, vinegar, or vinegar products (catsup, pickles, etc.).
And the list went on…
My first reaction was “What the heck am I going to eat?!” But I was willing to do ANYTHING to feel better, so I gave it a try.
Thankfully, Mom was willing to do anything to help me as well, including shopping and cooking (yes, I’m a very lucky girl). She even did the diet along with me to help with her own health issues.
A taste of freedom
I remember the odd squishy texture of the brown rice, and how everything tasted like cardboard at first—but it wasn’t long before my taste buds started craving the flavors of simple, whole foods.
Within a couple of weeks, something monumental happened. Instead of lying down on the couch like I normally did, I sat upright. I still remember Mom’s face as she caught a glimpse of me from the kitchen. It was as if she saw me sit up for the first time.
We all knew it at that moment. I was getting better!
Eventually, I got strong enough to cook some of my own meals, and I started experimenting with my diet. I still had trouble digesting animal products, so Mom bought me a copy of “The American Vegetarian Cookbook,” which sparked my curiosity about nutrition even more. I also started juicing everything in sight. The local grocery store special ordered us carrots in industrial-size bags, which made my elbows and palms turn orange.
I only needed to follow that candida diet for 60 days, but I felt so much better, I didn’t want to stop—at least not entirely. It was now very clear to me that sugar and heavily processed foods just made me feel worse, so avoiding them became effortless.
Cleaning up my diet didn’t feel like restriction to me. It felt like freedom.
This photo of me was taken 9 months after starting my new whole food diet.
I still had more of the onion to peel, but I could now feel my body’s innate healing ability and what I could do to support it.
But just as I was feeling better, things got a lot more complicated…
This post is part of a series about my adventures recovering from chronic digestive issues. View all posts in order here, or click “NEXT POST” below to keep reading.