HAVING decided that my all-consuming and overpowering desire for chocolate and cookies had passed the point of being slightly worrying and postulated that an outbreak of intestinal Candida was to blame - these things are never my fault - I had put myself on a 4-week Candida diet to try and end my sugar addiction or fail miserably in the attempt.
Out went chocolate, sweets and anything that contained sugar, remotely resembled sugar or had once met sugar or vaguely remembered chatting to him at a social gathering.
Accordingly as well as confectionary fruits (contain the sugar fructose) dairy (contain the sugar lactose), carbohydrates, caffeine, alcohol, gluten, and all fermented products and certain nuts were out.
In short protein, vegetables, water and soul-destroying boredom were in.
Nutritionists say you should undertake the diet for a month for every year you think you’ve been suffering from Candiasis for.
I rejected such a proposal on the grounds that me throwing my beautifully lithe and metamorphosing sugar-free body under the 5.59am train to London Liverpool Street after six weeks of the diet would probably be more harmful.
Instead I decided I’d try and keep it up for a month.
To see how practical it would be to exist on such a diet long term I decided to try and continue with my normal life as much as possible. So instead of hiding away for a month I pledged I would still go to the places I associated most with chocolate and other vices.
As a result I continued my weekly visit to the cinema but would pass my ritual burrito, cookies, diet cola and pic’n’mix. I still went to the pub but ordered sparkling water and I still dined out but spent ages looking at the menu for acceptable dishes and sighing dolefully.
I also embarked on a course of naturopathic anti-fungal supplements including freeze dried garlic, Olive extract, Artemisia and Clove as well as good bacteria-containing probiotics.
Whether it was down to arrogance or foolishness I never thought the diet would be this difficult.
I had read on Candida forums that the first couple of days were the worst because the Candida were going through a ‘die-off’ period and were releasing around 80 toxins that left you suffering from flu-like symptoms.
This might have been happening to me but chances are I felt like shit because I was going through a caffeine withdrawal that was leaving me exhausted and suffering from a banging headache.
While I don’t drink coffee I do have a heavily caffeine and taurine-laden energy drink to help my workouts and also drink a can of diet coke in the afternoon to get over my mid-afternoon hump.
Now I had nothing.
But the headaches were nothing compared to the annoyance of discovering how limited my new diet was.
Apparently my usual meals were a full of sugar. My early morning blueberry and spinach protein shake became a spinach protein shake; my morning omelette was now sans jalapeno peppers and Parmesan cheese.
And things didn’t improve over lunch. While I’ve long cut out sugary condiments like ketchup, brown sauce and mayonnaise I was now having to stop using mustard, soy, teriyaki and oyster sauces.
Even my weekly highlight of steak and broccoli was ruined. Usually I’ll give myself a little treat and have some Béarnaise sauce with my steak while my long stem broccoli would be covered in a generous amount of vinegar, but vinegar is a fermented product so it’s out too.
I had known that the evening would be the test as this was when I usually succumbed to a sugary snack to celebrate another day beaten.
But as well as no chocolate there was to be no fruit, yoghurt, peanuts and cashews. A simple cup of tea was a triple no because of the caffeine, lactose and sugar. Even Green tea was out because of the caffeine.
Instead it was water and peppermint tea, and not much else.
The first few days were simply dreadful, if I hadn’t told everyone of my dashingly brave plan – a deliberate plan as it’s always much harder to renege on a public promise - I’d have certainly quit.
Something I hadn’t thought about was how the diet would impact other aspects of my life. By the end of the first day my muscle glycogen stores were completely depleted and my 14mile daily commute to work was a torturous ordeal. Suddenly I was being overtaken by anything on two wheels. The fact I was riding a £700 road bike complete with cleats magnify my humiliation.
I became even more of a pain in the arse than usual with my personal trials and tribulations taking centre stage in every conversation.
A client who went on a similar diet tried to lift my spirits by telling me that after day 5 my body would adjust, I’d rebound and things wouldn’t be so bad.
Day 5 came and went and the misery continued.
My weekend cinema visit was tragic. The pic’n’mix had never looked so appealing. The cherry coal bottles positively glowed. The additive and e-number beauty on display would make an ocean sunset cry with jealousy.
But I cursed and trudged past forced to make do with some salt and pepper mixed nuts and some fizzy water it’d taken me ages to find in Tesco’s. Blindly identifying the peanuts and cashew nuts that I couldn’t eat was a new low.
On the positive side I had started to lose a noticeable amount of weight, not that this was actually a goal but it is always pleasing when your waistline tightens up.
And I did enjoy the smug satisfaction of knowing that I had managed to avoid temptation and stick with the diet through what I hoped was the hardest part.
The post-5 day energy boost had still failed to materialize and I wondered if it was a diet club trick designed to keep up the spirits of unwitting participants. Cycling was still horrendous and I repeatedly thought of taking the tube into work for the duration of the diet.
My evening cycle home nearly doubled in time and I had changed down several gears as the usual settings were far too demanding for my weary legs.
The weight loss that had pleased me during week1 was now making me look gaunt and I decided not to shave to try and hide the sallowness of my cheeks.
I started to consume an additional protein shake – low carb of course – to try and halt any further weight loss.
By day 9 one of the more unexpected benefits of the diet was starting to take effect. I discovered first hand that necessity truly was the mother of all invention and found myself experimenting in the kitchen. I started making homemade sauces; chimichurri for my steak, guacamole and salsa my bell peppers to dip into as evening snack. I replaced soy sauce with a hideously expensive liquid aminos product that still consisted of soybeans but was both gluten-free and non-fermented. Anchovies replaced Parmesan in my omlette while the jalapeno peppers were replaced by freshly slices hot peppers.
I also bought a bizarre contraption that allows me to make noodle substitutes out of courgettes, something I will forever be ashamed of.
Probably my best discovery was homemade chili nuts. Using an egg yolk as a binding agent I played around with cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, turmeric and chili powder on the brazil, almond and walnuts that I was allowed to eat.
On the drinks side an expensive substitute for the diet coke was homemade lemonade with mint using two freshly squeezed lemons and a bunch of fresh mint. At well over three times the price of a can of coke it was a reminder why so many low-income people find it hard to eat healthy.
Armed with my lemonade and nuts my trip to the cinema actually wasn’t that bad, although I’ll admit the pic’n’mix still looked very appealing.
One of the more obvious side effects of the diet is social awkwardness. A trip to the pub with friends was pretty miserable when all I drank was sparkling water.
A meal to a fantastic Peruvian restaurant was also a missed opportunity with no dish on the menu entirely edible. I did manage to steal a ceviche recipe that I would later adapt to fit my diet though.
The visit brought about my only lapse when my dinner companion ordered some Dulce de Leche ice cream. The best ice cream I ever tasted was the Dulce de Leche Dolce con Granizado I had in Buenos Aires years ago. I had a single teaspoonful before quickly handing the spoon back and feeling thoroughly disappointed in myself. For the record it was fantastic.
Week 3 was actually my easiest week. I managed to stay true to the diet, and often found myself wandering past the confectionary aisle at the supermarket to see if there was any temptation.
Surprisingly I didn’t feel that I had to hold myself back and easily walked around to where the cookies were housed and again moved on as if there was nothing to see.
My day5 energy boost sort-of happened with the cycle becoming tolerably difficult. I was now able to overtake octogenarians and heavily pregnant women.
My weekly cinema visit went without a hitch and I forgetting my nuts I managed to survive on homemade lemonade.
The start of week 4 saw my resolve break. Months earlier I had signed up for the Great Gorilla Charity Run. Although the run was only 8km I knew it was going to be tough due to the muscle glycogen depletion. The fact that I was going to run the entire distance in a full gorilla costume was not going to help matters. In the end the run wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.
Although it felt like I was running in a sauna I finished without too much trouble. Instead the trouble started after I’d finished.
Firstly I was unable to accept the post race bananas there were being handed out. I also couldn’t enjoy a post race celebratory alcoholic drink, or a post-race celebratory burger or pasta meal.
Instead I headed for a post-race chicken and peas. Unfortunately for me my body and brain were crying out for carbohydrates to feed both my muscles and my brain. Remember the brain consumes 20pc of the body’s calories and prefers carbohydrates. By mid-afternoon despite drinking a couple of pints of water my head was pounding.
While I again went to the cinema I this time it wasn’t the sugary sweets that I longed for, it was a pasta meal with the carbohydrates that would end this headache.
The headache lasted for hours and was only relieved by a pot of cottage cheese – some experts say cottage cheese is okay, others point out it is still dairy and so still off-limits.
So bad did I feel that I went to bed at 8.30pm on a Saturday night simply to avoid being awake and feeling lousy.
My resentment towards to diet grew the next day as I went to a neighbour’s wedding. Luckily for me it was a Muslim wedding so I wouldn’t have to worry about not drinking but when the food came out I found myself unable to most of the lunch. Instead I watched with envy as my fellow guests devoured pakora, samosas, spring rolls, naan bread, rice, chocolate cake and ice-cream.
Looking at my paltry few chunks of chicken on my gleaming white plate while everyone else’s overflowed with delicious looking food was a further low.
I’d once read a body-builder bragging about how dedicated he was because he sat in his car outside a wedding eating his specially prepared meal while everyone tucked into the celebratory meal. My thought was how sad it was and how I hoped I’d never be so stupid.
At that point I was done with the diet. It was impractical, it was anti-social and I wasn’t even feeling any better than usual. A second friend commented that I was starting to look a little thin.
Interestingly I still continued the diet until as close to the end of the week as possible. I had a friend’s leaving meal on Friday night a day before the end of the diet. I could have missed the meal, had a couple of glasses of water and left early.
But I didn’t want to. I could have thrown the towel in after the wedding and pigged out on chocolate and ice cream and pizza. But I didn’t want to.
I had failed, but maybe I had won.
Probably the biggest lesson I’ll take from my time on the Candida diet is the importance of moderation. My reason for starting the diet was because I had no moderation in my chocolate consumption and living without any sugars is almost as bad.
While the diet may work it is anything but moderate. Cutting out all sugars, gluten, alcohol, caffeine, diary and fermented products doesn’t leave much and certainly doesn’t lend towards a conventional existence.
And there just feels something wrong about looking something as natural as a bunch of grapes as a forbidden fruit, excuse the pun.
Were I to be suffering crippling pain as a result of a candida infection things might be different.
If I suffered from deep depression or a lethargy that stopped me from enjoying life I could see myself accepting a lengthy period of anti-social behavior and an inability to take part in demanding physical events a price I had to pay.
But for someone who was reasonable healthy the sacrifices soon became too much.
I’m quite happy with my newfound culinary skills and I think I’ll try and integrate a few of the recipes into everyday living.
It’s undoubtedly been rewarding to be able to resist the temptation to grab a bag of cookies or bar of chocolate at every opportunity but I do wonder if I was able to do so because I was working within a set time period.
I’m also aware that life hasn’t felt ‘better’ under the new diet. I still feel as if I’m forgoing enjoyable taste sensations and that life this way is akin to listening to great music with the volume turned down low.
A friend suggested to me that all I have to do is show some will power when it comes to sweets, and perhaps the temporal nature of this diet has allowed me to exercise that will power.
It will be interesting to see how much I abstain from sugary treats now that I’m no longer under inspection.
Only time will tell.