All this dating business encourages a person to stay in shape. But to be honest, I was probably going to do that anyway. After my second son was born, I had morphed from doing aerobics using exercise videos to going for 25-minute runs three mornings a week. In 2009, I merged an hour of power yoga with a Rodney Yee DVD into the mix. I appreciated the thoroughness of the stretch, the upper-body toning, and the flexibility of turning on the machine whenever it fit my busy schedule.

I was inspired to augment my upper body workout by the slowpoke hot water in my shower. As part of my whole-house upgrade, I had gotten a new water-saving showerhead. In other words, it had a washer inside limiting how much water it let through. As a result, it took forever for the hot water to arrive from the basement. My options were: a) remove the washer, or b) find something useful to do with my time. I opted for doing modified pushups while I waited.

My exercise routine hasn’t changed much over the last twenty-five years, but my weight dropped significantly at one point when I made a big shift in what I ate. Here’s the long version of what happened. When I was in high school, I would dig yellowish cottage cheese-like curds out of my throat. I could feel them with the side of my tongue, which was my indication it was time to get out my tweezers. They smelled bad and I often bled from my self-devised removal technique. I asked my parents about them one time and they shrugged. No idea.

I didn’t know then that this was something I would do for another twenty or so years. (Although at some point I started using a long tapered chopstick with a rounded end, so at least I bled less.) The summer I turned forty, having been a recovering alcoholic for 14 years by then—as opposed to the garden-variety alcoholic I was for the 12 years I drank before getting sober—I became aware of what was behind that throat thing. I was standing in front of my bathroom mirror one day when an inner voice clearly said, “Stick out your tongue.” So I did. And I saw this layer of white crud on the back of it. Ew. ‘What’s that?’I asked myself. No idea.

So I asked my homeopathic-oriented chiropractor about it, and she said it was an indication of candida. Not just the vaginal yeast infection variety, but systemic. It was in my gut. It was probably connected with my drinking, she said. ‘Poppycock,’ I thought. ‘It’s been 14 years since I’ve had a drink.’ But it turns out she was right. For alcohol is the simplest sugar there is, and candida, the beast behind a yeast infection, loves sugar.

The year I turned 40, I didn’t have much to work with in learning what a healthy low-carb diet looked like. But the Orange Beach diet had just come on the scene and it set me in the right direction. For carbohydrates are basically sugar, and that’s what my chiropractor said I needed to avoid to essentially starve the candida.

I came to realize that this is no small thing, either eating a low-carb diet or getting rid of the overgrowth of candida. Ever since, I have been living in a war with candida and it has been a worthy opponent. It has retreated but it has never gone away.

To boil it down, carbs are all the white stuff, with a few more extras thrown in. So the no-no list includes milk, sugar, flour, pasta, rice, potatoes and popcorn, plus corn, carrots and most spaghetti sauce. You wouldn’t believe how much sugar they can add to spaghetti sauce. I started reading labels.

The spring and summer that all this unfolded was a peculiar one. I was committed to changing my diet and focused on finding things I could eat. Avocados, sharp cheddar cheese—the microbes gobble up the lactose—Fuji apples, almond milk and 86% dark chocolate made the short list. Nuts became my new best friend. On most restaurant menus, I learned to find one suitable selection. Actually, it’s typically the first thing I notice on a menu, which is one handy way my guidance works for me.

What I hadn’t anticipated was that the extra pounds I was carrying around, due to my sugar addiction, would begin to fall away. I dropped from a size 8 or 10—which I had been relatively content with—to a size 4 or 6, over the course of 4 to 5 months. But I resisted buying new size 4 or 6 pants because “I am not a size 6!” It was weird.

The battle lay in the ever-present temptation to eat carbs. It had fueled my desire for alcohol back in the day—in addition to all the other things going on there—and propelled my desire for daily desserts. For many years, I felt like my morning runs were a penance for the dessert I’d had the evening before.

That was a battle that didn’t end easily. After a while, of course, it became routine. And with so few carbs in my body, the candida didn’t have much to live on. It simmered down, although it has never disappeared. (In truth, we all have some in our bodies all the time; it’s what begins the decomposition of the body immediately after we die.)

The throat thing stopped, but I became aware of how many other bodily symptoms I had that were an indication of the candida. When I stepped out of line, they reared their ugly heads. One of the more confounding aspects of the last decade and a half is that every spring, without fail, I have gained weight. It has always snuck up on me, along with the high-carb treat I was indulging in. Every year, by the time I realized there was a spare tire developing around my waist, I would realize I had drifted off course, food-wise, and it was mighty hard to re-marshal all my forces to recommit to the low-carb way of living.

But the thing was, after having battled five pounds of weight for so much of my life, it was a thrill to be svelte. I liked my thin body a lot. Plus I’m fairly frugal and the alternative to getting back into line was to buy a new wardrobe. I buckled down. But it would require several months of diligence to get those pesky pounds back off.

Several years ago, I had become aware that maybe the candida wasn’t all bad. Because it was what kept my eating habits in order so that I could enjoy my body and be healthy. ‘Maybe,’ I thought, ‘Candida is my friend.’ Would I persevere without all the challenging symptoms, including the weight gain, that surface when my eating patterns go off? I’m not so sure.

Another surprising benefit I could not have predicted is that I seldom got hungry any more. With my blood sugar sailing along on an even keel, my body naturally settled down and mood swings became rare. As a result, over time I have become more and more ready to adopt this way of eating that best serves me and my body.

It’s been a long road to find myself at home in my female body. And yes, there’s likely more work to do. But I can claim a certain progress. And after all, that’s what the journey is all about: Progress, not perfection.

Walker: A Spiritual Memoir by Jill Loree

Next Chapter
Return to Walker Contents