Navigating Dietary Challenges with Systemic Candida
by Tarilee Cornish, Certified Nutritional Practitioner
Many an impassioned healthy diet has been defeated when we are blindsided by persistent or powerful cravings. If we are not prepared for this inevitable experience, especially on a candida diet, a formidable craving can topple our resolve. Wisdom tells us that when we yield to temptation, temptation grows. This is definitely true of unhealthy food cravings.
Indulgence in misguided cravings such as those for sugar or excess starch will fuel more cravings. Once indulged craving can expand to the point that it becomes insatiable and can lead to binge eating. So we are well advised to choose our ‘treat’ foods carefully to include only those that we can exercise self control with while avoiding those that ‘unhinge’ us.
Many of today’s common illnesses are related to dietary excess, including, Candida Related Complex (CRC), hypoglycemia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, ADD, obesity and more. How do we prevent ourselves from over indulging? In the case of people with special dietary needs who feel restricted from eating their habitual choices, we can work to transform our relationship with our food to a healthy, nourishing one.
We rise above the craving and follow a new, healthier urge.
Transmute temptation into self knowledge-
For successful and lasting recovery from any of these conditions we must learn to understand cravings and to transmute them into useful self knowledge. To attain our health goals we must not only, “begin with the end in mind” (as Stephen Covey says) but we must also keep the end in mind.
A journey that gets easier after the first hill-
As we start on our healthy path we invest what feels like great effort. Fortunately, as our health responds positively to these efforts the desired results provide us with greater energy, clarity, happiness and composure with which to continue. This momentum propels us further toward our goal. The better we feel, the more incentive, creativity and excitement we have to forge ahead.
On the other side of cravings lies health-
In the link below, I’ll introduce some of the most common causes of unhealthy cravings and then we’ll look at ways to avoid a craving induced detour from the healthy path. Common Causes of Cravings: Food Allergy/Addiction, Blood Sugar Swings, Dehydration, Unmet Nutritional Needs (caloric or protein needs), Women’s Hormone Shifts, Habitual Behaviour, Nutritional Deficiencies, Emotional Coping, Fatigue, Acidic Body Chemistry, and High Yeast Levels or yeast die off . I’ll also discuss the practice of mindfulness as a means to self awareness, cravings awareness and abstinence (of foods craved).
This article is intended to familiarize you with general issues related to the different types of cravings. It will help you achieve your health goals by guiding you as you explore your own best approach to successful food therapy and self care.
Common Causes of Cravings
Candida Related Complex, (CRC) is commonly associated with food allergies. If you feel a strong or obsessive craving for a food you may have a food intolerance or allergy to it. Exposure to food allergens often triggers a sedating or stimulating effect. It is also likely to provide only temporary satiation, if any.
A typical consequence of eating a food you are intolerant of, would be a subsequent repeat craving for the allergen, as well as cravings for other foods you are allergic to. If you are in a vulnerable state, eating one food allergen can trigger a domino-like effect, resulting in multiple cravings for multiple allergens. If you're going to indulge in a food you are intolerant or allergic to, in addition to any possible symptoms in reaction to its consumption, be prepared for up to several days of continued cravings. If it's a sugary food you crave, then the craving may be allergy related, but they may also be yeast related (see yeast section).
Blood Sugar Swings
Candida related toxicity can be associated with some imbalances in hormone/endocrine function. Blood sugar balance can become reactive. Spells of low blood sugar can be subtle and trigger mild sugar-cravings; or they can be severe, resulting in irritation, fatigue, brain fuzziness, weakness/shakiness or even dizziness.
Though you may crave sweets, if your blood sugar is low enough to trigger the above named symptoms, eating a concentrated sugar or high glycemic starch could spike your blood sugar. The result may be a temporary feeling of over-stimulation. Once your insulin response kicks in, this state would likely be followed by a crash in energy with possible weakness and/or shakiness. Following the crash you'd likely have yet another sugar craving and the cycle would start over again.
Dehydration confuses our body and we do not always receive the correct signal when we need hydration. To start with, the human thirst mechanism is slow. If we do feel thirst, experts say that we have been thirsty for some time already. If we learn to fine tune our attention to thirst, even when we don't receive accurate signals in this regard, we can anticipate thirst and give our body water at regular intervals. We need more water if we are active, if the temperature is high or if we're consuming extra fiber or diuretic beverages such as coffee or tea (including many herbal teas.)
Curiously, when thirst builds and is unheeded, the signal somehow becomes crossed with a signal telling us we need concentrated carbohydrates. Thus a craving for sugar can often indicate the body's confused experience of dehydration. Sugar cravings related to dehydration may be also accompanied by fatigue, another indicator that hydration may be required.
Keep this in mind the next time a craving for sweets hits and try drinking eight to sixteen ounces of water. Adding a bit of lemon juice to the water can help even more by alkalizing the body. Within twenty minutes the cravings may have passed. Many people will thrive on significantly increasing their intake of pure water depending on their weight and activity level, dietary factors, type of other beverages consumed etc. For a quick estimation of general water needs, calculate half your body weight in pounds and drink this many ounces of water daily. Tea, herbal tea and coffee cannot substitute for pure water.
Unmet Nutritional Needs (caloric or protein needs)
If we are not meeting our daily fat, protein, carbohydrate or overall caloric needs, we may experience misdirected cravings. The most commonly confused nutritional need is the need for protein. Protein helps to balance blood sugar, and for many people, inadequate protein intake will trigger sugar cravings. If we are low in protein - and instead eat sugar, the negative impact is twofold. First, low-protein levels can result in a spacey, lightheaded feeling. Those symptoms are then further exaggerated by eating sugar without adequate protein, causing a spike in blood sugar.
During lifestyle transition and healing, it's important for us to tune into the therapeutic value of a diet that is right for our unique body. We benefit from learning to make food choices according to what will provide adequate fuel and nutrients for us, rather than merely by our favorite flavors and textures. When we eat adequate calories and protein along with a suitable quantity of healthy fats (See Whole Approach Candida Diet FAQ's for more information on Healthy Fats and Oils), we can condition our palate towards the combination of foods that we will thrive on.
Women's Hormone Shifts
Susceptibility to food cravings is usually more pronounced when women are experiencing the hormone fluctuations that happen premenstrually or during ovulation. Using a health diary that includes markers for your cycle will help you determine if there is a hormonal aspect to your experience of cravings.
Some cravings arise simply out of becoming conditioned to eat certain foods in certain circumstances (e.g. watching TV or driving). If we know we have a "trigger situation" approaching, we can attempt to prevent a craving by eating a healthy meal prior to entering the situation. At other times, the best thing to do is to engage in something completely non-food-related instead. For example, we might take up knitting while watching TV or we might engage in some mental activity while driving if these situations make us feel like eating unhealthy foods.
Once we are closer to a balanced, well-nourished state of health, we cultivate a wise inner knowing that helps us determine our need for certain vitamins or minerals. Some vitamin and mineral deficiencies can pre-dispose us to sugar craving and appetite fluctuations. One must take care with the selection of non GMO, additive free, non-synthetic vitamins; consultation with your primary natural health care practitioner is a good idea before deciding to use chromium, zinc, or B vitamins.
As a rather all-purpose type supplement to support a healthy, balanced appetite, the Whole Approach store sells a spectrum vitamin/mineral supplement called Doc's Best Ultra-Pure Natural Multi Vitamin/Mineral. Eating a varied, nutrient rich diet with generous quantities of organically-grown green leafy vegetables, other non-starchy vegetables (at least half your food intake), sprouted/cooked beans, healthy oils, and easy to assimilate protein like organic eggs and meats will minimize the chances of deficiency-related craving issues.
The body doesn't always know best
If we are getting the message from your body that you need to eat a certain type of vegetable or protein, then "listen up". A craving for broccoli or fish or some other whole food is likely coming from legitimate body wisdom. However, if you're getting the message that you need a bowl of ice cream for calcium and a shot of cola for energy, your inner wisdom may be having an 'off day' or need more time to develop healthy inclinations. It would be wise to re-interpret such cravings by choosing something that will meet the needs for what your body is really telling you. For example, rather than drink cola, you might instead have a low-glycemic carbohydrate like quinoa or wild rice. And, rather than eat ice cream, you might make some almond flour cookies.
A key distinguishing characteristic of a wise craving is that the message you hear urging you to choose a particular food has the quality of a calm knowing. If the message has a desperate quality to it , or seems as if it is "screaming" at you to eat a particular food, you may suspect allergy/addiction or a candida related-craving.
Through years of conditioning, many of us have learned to eat certain comfort foods to soothe our feelings or to fill emotional voids. To make an already unwise habit more destructive, we may criticize ourselves for succumbing to this behavior, thus adding further negative feelings to the situation.
Sweet, starchy, comfort foods or foods we are allergic to, are not a good choice when we're feeling down. They can amplify, rather than ease, emotional strain in multiple ways. Refined carbohydrates wreak havoc with the blood sugar balance (discussed above), feed candida, trigger a loss of nutrients essential for stress management and can set us up for continued cravings.
If we have allergic reactions to a comfort food, our symptoms may be emotional such as depression, anxiety or irritability. And if we have CRC and eat sugar, starch or yeast, the resulting reactions, (as the yeast multiply in response to the sugar) can include tearfulness, depression and brain fog.
Finally, the tendency to reach for foods containing gluten, dairy, sugar and other substances that clog and gum up the intestines, can end up sabotaging one of our most important emotional balancing systems! A little known fact is that our gastrointestinal tract is home to more neurotransmitters than our brain! Eating foods that feed candida, slow digestion or inflame intestinal tissue, can dramatically impact our intestinal ecology, including the important levels of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which help us feel calm and happy. The result is yet another way that starchy and sugary food can leave us in a worse emotional state than we began with, as well as a reduced resilience and resolve.
With practice and commitment to health, we can learn to steer away from a food if it impedes our progress towards health. Using mindfulness (discussed below), we can learn ways of accepting difficult emotions so that we can pass through them easily. And we can find healthy ways of comforting ourselves when we are challenged with emotional dissonance.
No matter how hard we are trying, there are bound to be times when we stray from our healthy path. If this happens, rather than criticize ourselves for this, it's important to place our emphasis on all of the healthy choices we made and all of the cravings that we resisted!
In honor of health and happiness, count your successes by all the unhealthy foods that you don't eat and give yourself full marks for the high-quality foods you do choose! The longer we eat healthy and the nicer we are to ourselves, the easier it is. Our cravings fade with time. Self-criticism can often trigger destructive inner struggles, while kindness can help encourage continued healthful efforts.
If you're tired because you're hungry and are craving a snack, eating a low glycemic carbohydrate such as sprouted, cooked quinoa or wild rice can provide quality energy. However, if we are actually fatigued, it may be better to reach for live food that requires minimal digestion- such as a salad with fresh, chopped veggies and an organic salad dressing with health essential fatty acids (from hemp, flax or pumpkin oil ideally.) This will provide more life-giving vital energy.
Taking a five minute walk break or doing some jumping jacks to get circulation moving can help redirect our attention, and our energy. And finally, sometimes we just need oxygen. Try taking ten to twenty long, slow, conscious breaths for energy. In our rebalanced state, we will be much less likely to crave unhealthy food.
Acidic Body Chemistry
Heavy dietary reliance on starches, proteins and fats can result in acidic body chemistry. An acidic state can lead to a continued desire for sweet, starchy and heavy foods. It also prevents detoxification and healthy weight loss.
Adding lemon juice or camu camu powder, cranberry juice and water or apple cider vinegar in water (1 teaspoon per cup of water), can have a rapid alkalizing impact thus raising our energy and depleting misdirected unhealthy cravings. Taking a greens drink or blue green algae can enhance this benefit.
The more vegetables, (especially raw) that we eat, the more alkaline our system stays. As you achieve greater health and are further along in the Whole Approach food therapy protocol, you can also incorporate raw fruits into your diet again. Most fruits are alkalizing. An alkaline vegetable-centered diet quickly normalizes our appetite and steers us towards the best foods for us. Raw soups and fruit and vegetable smoothies can provide a wonderful breakfast, lunch or snack.
High yeast levels or yeast die off
If the above causes don't seem to explain your craving, and if you suffer from CRC, yeast may be the cause. High yeast populations usually cause sugar, starch or yeast cravings (i.e. beer or bread.). The yeast depends on our consumption of certain nutrients for its survival. Its metabolism can actually trigger our appetite to want the food it wants and this action is accentuated as more yeast die off. You might think that killing off yeast with anti-fungals would lessen this type of craving as there would be less yeast. On the contrary, the problem seems to get temporarily worse and this worsening of symptoms is referred to as "die off." Like other symptoms, yeast-related sugar cravings can actually become stronger as the yeast dies off. These increased cravings (during anti-fungal treatment) are one of the biggest challenges to clearing candida problems. The potent nature of these cravings challenges the most ardent health seeker.
The mechanism for this is not clear. One theory explores the possibility that the mycotoxins (the by-products produced by the yeast organism's metabolism) are what actually trigger the cravings in the host. These are known to increase as the yeast die. If these cravings become too severe for you during treatment, try being more patient with your anti-fungal treatment and eliminate the yeast populations more gradually.
When helping clients with health food therapy to treat CRC, I like to remind people of the physiology of the yeast and how quickly it multiplies if we allow our body (and the yeast) to trick us into consuming its favorite nutrients, sugar and starch. Roger Williams, a world-renowned research scientist, states that if a single yeast cell were given a highly favorable environment, it could multiply one hundred fold within twenty-four hours.
Candida can spread only if the environment for it is conducive, and if the body's defense mechanisms are weakened or absent. We have a lot of control over protecting our selves from expanding yeast populations. If we strengthen the yeast by providing the right nourishment for it, we will have to endure stronger cravings as a result. It's important to keep in mind the basic reproductive ability of the yeast that we play host to, when we are navigating food cravings.
Coping with Cravings
Mindfulness for healthy eating
You may have heard the old adage, "What we resist, persists." This is true of cravings. It's also true of difficult emotions or troubling thoughts. Rather than resist a craving, we can learn to tune into it, explore its sensation, thought and image components and allow it to pass. The craving, if acknowledged in time, and watched carefully and precisely enough, the craving may, "wither under our gaze." This is the power of mindfulness at work.
Mindfulness to dissolve a craving
Some cravings come on slowly and gradually, some grip us suddenly with ferocity or euphoric allure. All types of cravings have a beginning point. Our power lies in recognizing the sensations, thoughts or images that begin in that moment. The more carefully we tune into our experiences, the more empowering familiarity we can have with this important moment. The sooner we begin to watch the components of the cravings, the less chance there is that they will amplify and overwhelm us. Do you imagining the look, taste and texture of the food you want? Does this trigger body sensations or salivation? Are there any accompanying thoughts?
Breathing into the components as they arise and pass prevents the urgency with which we normally resist unwelcome experiences. Resistance causes us to harden into and thus, hold onto, the very state that we want to allow ourselves to flow out of. If the thoughts, images and feelings of a craving sneak up on us, we can react with panic and a despairing, resentful surrender to it, plunging into indulgence and then suffering from the after-effects. Training ourselves to use mindfulness to cope with cravings can prevent this. One non-judgmental 'mantra' we can use to release attachment to thoughts about a food is "not for me, not now." Saying this as soon as the slightest inkling of a craving (or a temptation) arises can help us to move on.
Mindfulness for Satisfaction
Satiation reduces cravings and is related to attention as well as nutrition. Mindfulness can also be employed to enhance the satiation of the food we eat (whether healthy or not.) This can help prevent many types of cravings from arising. Food swallowed in a rush while engaged in other activities (driving, watching TV, reading, moving around), is not fully experienced.
Even when we eat significant quantities of food, if we do not remember eating it, we are unlikely to feel satiated and deeply nourished. Our belly may be full but if we have not allowed our palate to savor the food and our body to appreciate the nourishment, we may still feel a longing to eat. I encourage eating sitting down with a conscious "attitude of gratitude." We can give thanks to the people, plants, creatures and elements that all played a part in our good fortune to be eating. This appreciation sensitizes our taste buds and our body to fully acknowledge the life-giving value of the food and we can enjoy a feeling of enhanced satiation and peace.
We can focus completely on how each bite feels as we move it around our mouth and slowly, mindfully swallow it, allowing all its flavor components to stimulate the different zones of our tongue and then relay satisfaction and pleasure to other parts of our mind and body. When we eat this way we may be completely satisfied with even a very small amount of food.
Armed with mindfulness, an understanding of the issues raised in this article, and skill in applying some of these practical and emotional/cognitive strategies, we can use the experience of our cravings to know our body and mind and to cultivate healthy habits that will see us through recovery and beyond.
The Cravings Chart
Below is a link to a companion Cravings Chart. Three additional types of cravings will be covered briefly in the Cravings Chart including: Indulgent Social Situations, Shopping while Hungry, and of Pure Temptation. We'll briefly discuss the most pertinent aspects of each type of craving, including some strategies to surmount it. Though there are unique aspects to each type of craving, they are not all clearly distinct from each other. There is some overlap in characteristics. As well, it is common for more than one type of craving to occur concurrently.
The Cravings Chart will include important information to help you decipher types of cravings. It will also examine the after effects of indulging in them as well as specific approaches to help surmount temptation. These are organized under "knowing your cravings", "emotional framing", "practical prevention/coping strategies" and "cognitive/mindfulness strategies".
Subjects explored regarding each of the types of cravings in the Cravings Chart include:
- Know the Craving
- After Effects of Indulgence
- Emotional Framing
- Practical Prevention & Coping Strategies
- The WholeApproach® Table of Cravings Chart
Tarilee Cornish is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner with a special interest in immune and digestive recovery including general detoxification and recovery from food allergies and candida overgrowth. She is especially passionate about pure healing food choices that have a democratic, ecological and compassionate production and distribution chain. Tarilee is a moderator on the WholeApproach Support Forum.