A Journey to Health
My quest for real health and truly healthy food.
It's kind of long, you might like to get a cup of tea before you start reading ;)
I grew up in beautiful rural New York, eating a standard American diet (S.A.D.). What's a S.A.D. diet? You know, the regular stuff you can get at any ol' grocery store. My parents both like to cook, so I enjoyed homemade meals and developed a love of the kitchen early in life.
That said, I'll make it clear that I also ate my fair share of Wonder Bread, Burger King, Cheez Whiz, Ritz Crackers, Baskin Robbins, and M&M's.
Though I was a 'healthy' child, I had a number of 'classic' childhood ailments: Allergies, yearly bouts of strep throat and rounds of antibiotics, coughs and colds, the occasional cavity, mononucleosis during my junior year of high school, a tonsilectomy at 18, and finally, asthma, which wasn't diagnosed until I was 19 years old and landed in the emergency room, for which I was given a prescription albuterol inhaler.
I'd started smoking at 17, while at my first year of college. The asthma (actually reactive airway disease) convinced me to quit.
I used the inhaler occasionally, but the taste of the "fumes" was so awful that I gradually weaned myself off it. I carried it around with me for years, but never re-filled the prescription. The wheezing was uncomfortable, even scary at times, but the inhaler was gross, I couldn't do it.
Getting Interested in Food
In 1989, while living in Santa Barbara, CA, I worked for a really great woman who happened to be vegetarian. I became interested in the idea of vegetarianism and quickly converted to vegan after reading a book detailing the bad conditions and cruel treatment of animals raised in large "factory" farms.
In 1993 I returned to NY and began my cooking career in a vegan natural foods cafe. I loved my job!
It was the first time I ate steamed greens on a daily basis, and I really loved them. My first introduction to kale was eating it steamed (hot or cold) with a drizzle of garlicky tahini dressing. It was one of our most popular menu items, we couldn't make it fast enough!
Some of the ingredients were really great; organic, local vegetables, natural sweeteners, cold pressed oils. We soaked dried beans overnight before cooking them. We favored whole grain breads and pastas.
I learned to be eco-friendly: We recycled everything possible. We even composted food scraps for a local farmer, who came to collect the buckets on Saturday mornings.
Around the same time I befriended a woman who was deep into chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer. She and her husband were just beginning to try a macrobiotic diet in the hopes that it would help cure her. They needed help with the cooking, and I volunteered to pitch in. I became fascinated with the food principles of it all.
I ended up studying macrobiotics in depth, attending the premier east coast school on the subject, actually living there, completely immersed in learning as much as I could.
I enjoyed being vegan/macrobiotic. I loved the flavors and textures of the foods, and focusing on eating "local" and "in season." I learned to love a whole variety of dark and leafy greens (kale, collards, mustard, chard, dandelion, watercress, bok choy, tat soi, nappa cabbage, etc).
I was intrigued and impressed by the careful, deliberate, almost scientific approach to macrobiotic menu planning - it was all about balancing yin and yang foods to help balance the body. It dealt with the pH of foods, preparation methods, and combining menu items to create well balanced meals.
But I was always hungry. I would eat miso soup followed by a big plate of food 3 times a day, and always, always go back for second helpings. I'd snack between meals. And I was thin!
After a few years of this I developed dark circles under my eyes, my hair was getting thinner and I looked too skinny. Compared to photos from a few years prior, it was a striking difference.
Still, I continued to eat what I thought was a healthy diet.
I held strong convictions (I still do) about the deplorable conditions of large scale meat and dairy production facilities. I had been taught in my macrobiotic classes and in vegan texts that any kind of dairy foods were unhealthy for everyone, always, no if's, and's or but's.
So we, the macrobiotic vegans of the world, ate an abundance of cooked whole grains and cooked vegetable dishes augmented with beans, tofu, tempeh, miso, small servings of salads, roasted nuts & seeds and their oils, seaweeds, pickles, and cooked and raw fruits which could be found in New England. The kitchen at my school served "non fatty fish" for Friday night dinners (which I politely declined, having lost my taste for animal foods altogether at that point). I used soymilk in sauces and soups and I ate rice milk on cold cereal. I snacked on rice cakes and soy-nuts.
Obviously Out Of Whack
I had begun experiencing painful, debilitating health problems, which ended up in numerous disappointing visits with doctors, who most often advised prescription medications or drastic surgeries instead of helping me figure out what was causing the dis-ease in my body.
Always looking for the more holistic approach, I tried natural supplements, which did help somewhat, but not enough.
I sought more spiritual answers, thinking perhaps that it was unexpressed emotional pain from past events. But, while it was great to deal with some old emotional issues, my physical problems and pains persisted.
Something Fishy Going On...
One summer, while working at an international macrobiotic conference in Vermont, I had the opportunity to assist a number of respected macrobiotic teachers and practitioners from around the world. I was told by a few of them, just from looking at my face, that I should be eating fish (in my macrobiotic training, non-fatty fish was the only animal protein "allowed"). Time and time again that weekend I heard it - "You need to expand your diet, eat fish".
Studying "Oriental Diagnosis" at my school, we'd learned about the age-old practice of diagnosing disease through analyzing physical symptoms.
It made an impression. I decided I'd give the recommendation a try, though it took about a year to actually eat fish once again. After eating 100% vegetable/plant based food for a number of years it was difficult to consider animal foods once again - they honestly did not sound appetizing.
But, I knew I wanted to feel better, more energetic and robust, and in less pain than I had been. So I finally began eating fish occasionally, and found it to be a great addition to my diet.
An Egg-celent Discovery
Not long after that, I moved in with a friend who worked Saturday mornings at our local farmers market. Each week she brought home fresh chicken eggs and duck eggs from another friend's farm.
I had been to that farm, those birds lived the good life!
These were healthy, happy creatures. And their eggs were delicious.
The Blood Type Diet / Going Against The Grain
Around that time, the "blood type diet" was gaining popularity. I knew some of it was just hype, but I was intrigued. I'm O+. To me, the most compelling information from the research is that O+ people were shown to thrive on red meats, organ meats, and avoiding grains almost entirely, wheat and gluten in particular. Though I wasn't ready to begin eating meat, I did try following some of the Blood Type Diet recommendations.
I found that avoiding wheat was great for me.
My allergies diminished, and I noticed that whenever I would reintroduce wheat breads or pasta I'd get noticeable physical symptoms and even mild symptoms of depression!
I ate sprouted breads instead of "regular" whole grain breads. Ezekiel brand is a good and widely available brand of bread made from sprouted grains & legumes. The sprouting process deactivates the lectins in the wheat which are what cause allergic symptoms, and makes grains & legumes more digestible, and easier for our bodies to assimilate.
Some of the other recommendations for O+ blood (such as avoiding avocados, or cinnamon, or black pepper) never really did much for me one way or the other, but reducing/avoiding the wheat was a major breakthrough!
Time for a change
After 7+ years my vegan days had truly ended. Although I still avoided dairy products, I quickly developed a new-found love for soft poached eggs. I also discovered sushi and sashimi around that time, it was love at first bite.
I quit my job as chef in the vegan cafe, after 5 very happy years, since I was no longer eating a 100% vegan diet, and my growth potential there had reached its peak. I continued doing vegan/macrobiotic cooking at the request of my private clients, and teaching cooking classes which were also all based on vegan ingredients.
I was at odds with my ethical beliefs, my work, my diet and my quest for good health. Life continued this way for a year.
I'd started smoking again. Rarely more than one or two in a day, but still...
Going Back To Cali
I decided to move back to Santa Barbara and get a fresh perspective.
I still had some health problems which became debilitating at times.
I had a consultation with one of my macrobiotic "gurus" about it. Her main recommendation was to follow certain macrobiotic dietary prescriptions, such as "eat black soybeans". I'll admit, I cooked up a couple pots of them, but it just didn't feel like they were doing much.
I continued my own research.
I became interested in a raw foods diet, which was really gaining momentum in Southern California at that time. I read a number of books on the subject, worked in conjunction with some raw food enthusiasts, and experimented with eating raw for a while.
At first I felt great, and I could see evidence of detox occurring. But I lost too much weight too quickly, and once again, was always hungry.
At the earnest requests of a couple of friends I stopped eating all raw.
Learning a Lot by Cooking for Others
When I first returned to California I partnered with holistic nutritionists, acupuncturists, doctors of homeopathy and chiropractors, all of whom referred me clients, along with special sets of dietary recommendations for whatever health issues a person was dealing with. Soon I had a weekly schedule of clients who kept me plenty busy.
During this time I received a free consultation with a doctor of homeopathy, who was interested in referring clients to me for help in the kitchen.
His recommendations were to take some homeopathic remedies along with a few prescribed "nutraceutical" formulations which he was licensed to sell. This "solution" didn't really feel right to me either. It was, again, prescribing "medications" to correct an imbalance, instead of addressing where the imbalance may have started.
I'd had similar experiences with acupuncturists, Chinese medicine, even a few chiropractors who recommended (ie. sold) certain supplements. I do believe that they offer some wonderful services to their clients, but none of their "medicines" ever seemed to "click" for me.
I was cooking for all kinds of people in all stages of health: Numerous cancers, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's, diabetes, you name it.
I prepared so many variations of different dietary recommendations, my head began to spin! Each practitioner had a slightly different approach; usually a combination of nutritional guidelines along with prescribed supplements or special herbal or homeopathic preparations.
During this time I also cooked for a number of families who were not sick, just wanted some extra help in the food department. I was asked to grill steaks, roast chicken, make meatloaf, prepare boulliabase...
I'd found my new niche. It turns out I'm very well suited for private cheffing and personal cooking. I was once again enthusiastic upon waking up and getting to "work", and my work left me very satisfied at the end of the day. I still ate a mostly vegetarian diet, but my taste for a wider variety of foods began to develop.
A Blessing In Disguise
In early spring of 2003, overworked and under-rested, I came down with some sort of flu. Lethargic and weak, I did nothing much except for venturing to the back yard to lie in the sun each afternoon. I had little to no appetite, so I drank yerba mate tea and herbal teas (tisanes) and ate one meal a day; chopped organic iceberg lettuce & vegetables dressed with fresh lemon, fresh garlic, olive oil, flax oil and sea salt. Quick, light and hydrating.
I spent a lot of time reading books and researching on the internet, looking for information on holistic approaches to regaining better health - things I could do at home.
About a week into this illness, with a nagging cough, I began to taste the awful albuterol inhaler fumes when I coughed! This was 9 or 10 years after I had stopped using it. That taste in my mouth was unmistakable. It lasted for about 3 days. Amazing and true.
Apparently, my “fast” of nothing but water and those salads, combined with plenty of sun, sleep and a persistent cough, had induced a cleansing process through my lungs.
I'd found a whole new area of holistic studies –
cleansing and detoxing
. There was so much to learn!
I learned about the Hering's Law of Cures (a very real phenomenon of the body re-tracing old injuries and illnesses in its healing processes). This is also when I first began learning about Candida Albicans. I spent lots of my free time reading everything I could find.
When I began learning about the health issues which can be associated with molds and certain fungi, the first thing I did was scrub my bathroom. Why? Because it was dark, had poor ventilation and was prone to various
in the bath/shower, and even on the walls and ceiling (yuck!).
I had been living in that house for 4 years, and the moldy, poor ventilated bathroom was connected to my bedroom. I slept about 3 feet from the door to that bathroom for 4 years. I kept coming across the advice that a moldy environment is not healthy.
So, I got books from the library, joined discussion groups, experimented with a variety of cleansing and detox methods.
Each of these were beneficial in some way. If nothing else, I sure learned a lot!
I also began studying and experimenting with herbs.
Herbal/plant medicine is beautiful to me. It just feels right to work with the elements that nature, in its infinite wisdom, provides.
I am always amazed at what a plant can do. I discovered Lobelia, for instance. Taken as a tincture, it can open up wheezing bronchial tubes in seconds. I know it's true, I've used it with great results - and no awful inhaler fumes to deal with. Eureka!
Or what about all the herbs/plants that can help clear mucous (watercress anyone?), or help the liver function better (milk-thistle and dandelion to name a couple).
I did some studies in ethnobotany and herbal medicine, focusing on plants native to my region of the world (North America), as opposed to focusing on other popular herbal disciplines such as Indian Ayurveda or Chinese Herbal Medicine.
At that same time my best friend, a professional photographer, was given an assignment for a nationally published magazine to do a photo shoot of a family in the midwest who had to move from their home due to a mold infestation and the threat of illnesses which could spring from living in a moldy environment.
It provided more fuel for my quest to learn what makes us weak, or ill, and what helps us get well and stay well.
As the months went on and springtime arrived I was frequently tired, and "foggy". I had a hard time remembering the words to complete a sentence. I was itchy in certain parts of my body, and was experiencing pretty severe IBS symptoms. Nothing life threatening, but not great either.
That's when I really began to look into this "candida" thing. I did the questionnaires, which came back as a resounding "yes indeed, it's highly likely that you have yeast overgrowth."
I talked to my holistic practitioner friends and colleagues. I looked at books about it. I found more discussion groups. At this point I really began to gather a group of smart people to whom I could pose questions and ask for guidance.
When I began to uncover all the ailments that can spring from an imbalanced immune system overridden by yeast (fungus), it was pretty impressive. Those fungal microorganisms are powerful!!
I got recommendations to check out the Body Ecology Diet (B.E.D). I respect a lot of the ideas but some of it didn't work with my ideas of combating yeast overgrowth. What I really liked was the advice to eat raw, cultured (lacto-bacillus fermented) vegetables, which help keep intestinal flora in good shape.
The main aspect that didn’t work for me was the focus on grain-based meals. During my macrobiotic/vegan years I discovered that eating so much grains, even whole grains, did not work for me. I'd be hungry an hour or two after a meal, and if I didn’t snack frequently I would experience drops in blood sugar, leaving me shaky and slightly disoriented.
I did start making my own fermented vegetables. Fun! And rewarding too!
And… I kept reading and learning.
I learned about a low carbohydrate approach to starving the yeast. But many of the popular books and “experts” advocated foods which didn't fit that criteria. And other "experts" were recommending replacing all the carbohydrates with higher levels of fats and proteins- eek. I mean, I've got nothing against healthy fats, I believe we need them in our diet, but this was a crazy amount of fat and animal protein being recommended.
So I continued my own education.
I learned about the Paleo Diet (also called The Caveman Diet, or The Hunter-Gatherer by some), not necessarily to combat yeast overgrowth, but to eat the foods our bodies are "programmed" to eat. In other words, eating primarily the foods that human populations ate for thousands of years before the advent of modern agriculture and technologies (and the curiously similar timeline of modern diseases).
Something about that really worked for me. There is an elemental level of common sense in an idea like that.
Around this same time I was put in contact with the Weston A. Price Foundation, and that was another real turning point for me. At first I couldn't believe some of what I was reading in their materials. I had been taught such different ideologies about food and nutrition for so many years that this stuff was a mind-blower for me.
Saturated fat is not totally evil?
Soy milk can be an anti-health food?
Canola is a less-than-ideal oil?
Raw milk products can be healthy foods for humans?
I had a hard time swallowing it at first. These folks were all about meat, eggs, and dairy products as a healthy part of a daily diet. I resisted. I said "I don't think I can start eating this way!" But I was asked to keep an open mind and continue my conversations. I was encouraged to ask questions, to which I always received straight answers, which made scientific sense, as well as spoke to my common sense.
This nutritional advice took some of the core beliefs I had about food - eating locally and organically, focusing on whole foods, promoting the end of cruel factory farming practices - and expanded on them in such an intelligent, ethical and passionate way, that I felt I had to give it a chance.
I began to incorporate some of the dietary guidelines posed by the experts at the foundation. And I began to notice little changes in how I felt. I incorporated more of the guidelines to my own eating, and yet again, more improvements.
I still find that it's too heavy on the animal foods for my preferences, but overall it was a healthy turning point in my dietary research and trials.
The adventure continues...
In July of 2004 I got married. Six months after the big day we moved from California to New York City so my husband could pursue a masters degree. A few months after we arrived in N.Y.C. he received a scholarship to attend a specialized program in Europe.
We spent the fall and winter of 2005 living in Venice, Italy. Unfortunately, our apartment there was riddled with mold, a common problem (called 'muffa' in Venetian). Imagine a city built on water - then add the cold, foggy winter season. Mold heaven! Everyone living in Venice has muffa stories to tell. It grew on the interior walls of our apartment. Clean it off with bleach or baking soda and it would come back within a week. We discovered mold in the mattress of our bed, so we spent the final 2 months sleeping on the living room pull-out couch (the least moldy room in the apt.)
With no work visa, no internet, a husband immersed in schoolwork, and only a handful of people with whom I could speak English, I spent a lot of time strolling the food markets, and then going back home to play the kitchen. Risottos, pastas, polentas, pizzas, breads - cheap eats when you're on a student budget, and tasty too. Not to mention all the delicious, inexpensive Veneto region wines!
In fact, I craved these foods, and the wine too. Not as in "I sure would enjoy a piece of bread right about now", more like "If I don't eat bread within the next few minutes I am going to freak out!!" Even when I resolved to steer clear, by the end of the day it was almost guaranteed that I'd have eaten pizza, pasta, or drank a couple glasses of wine, or both.
My health suffered. I got most of my old symptoms back.
Our next stop was Belgium for 7 months. There, we moved into a bright and airy apartment, no mold in sight! I quit smoking once again. With my husband still neck deep in school work, I was overjoyed on the day we got our internet hooked up.
I regained contact with information sources like the Weston A. Price Foundation, and numerous health & diet groups I'd been involved with previously. I got back into my candida research, exploring all the different routes people were taking to deal with candida symptoms.
I took all those differing opinions and related them to my own experiences. There are so many varations of a candida "diet", and so many people making little or no progress, or developing new problems while following some of those diets. So I paid attention to what seemed counter-intuitive, and what made solid scientific sense, and tested my theories on myself.
I developed my own personal approach.
Ups and downs. Good days, bad days. Good weeks, and then feeling worse for a few days. Such is the way of natural healing. You sometimes feel worse before you feel better, but you do actually get better. You heal at your body's own pace, as opposed to taking medications to fix certain symptoms.
I got a lot better.
I decided to begin developing my own collection of recipes for candida.
In October of 2006 we moved back to New York City. Once back in the Big Apple, I did private cooking once again for a number of clients and continued my Candida research and recipe development.
In January 2008 I started a local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation for New York's Capital Region and beyond.
In February 2008 I got trained and certified in the testing procedure for Metabolic Typing. Most people think of Metabolic Typing as a questionnaire, which only gives limited results. What we do in my testing procedure is literally watch the body digest a potassium/glucose drink over the course of 2.5 hours, while monitoring all kinds of metabolic functions.
It's fascinating!! It's really interesting to see the variations in different bodies' metabolic responses.
At the same time that I was completing my MT training, I was offered the opportunity to help open a new cafe focused on local, organic foods and encouraging children to eat well from a very young age.
It was a great experience in many ways. Now my work there is complete and we're heading back upstate to finally settle down, breathe the fresh air and be close to mountains, lakes, trees and all that gorgeous farmland!
"What do you eat?"
While it’s true that I’ve been spotted on more than one occasion crunching giddily on a bag of chips, or even a slice of pizza *gasp!*, for my daily menu choices I gladly stick to whole foods prepared in healthy ways.
As you peruse the website you'll get a good idea of what that means to me.
More than 6 years after I first began learning about candida, I am feeling good! I rarely have any of my former symptoms or pains. Sometimes if I'm worn out, or stressed out, or eating poorly, I'll get an old symptom or two, or get sick with whatever's going around at that time, but I know how to heal now. I know how to maintain my balance. I sleep like an angel and have great energy.
We really are what we eat!
It's 100% worth the time and effort it takes to learn how to eat well. I hope that the information I've compiled here in this website will help you along the way...
Eat well, and enjoy life.
Cleanse and Detox
Some good books to further your own knowledge
My Candida Diet Guidelines
Journey to Health back to Home Page