So, guys…I’ve been on quite a journey the last six months or so, and so today I’m taking a quick break from sharing delicious recipes to talk a little about the tips I found for surviving (& doing amazingly on) a functional medicine detox and a longer gut health (SIBO, candida, leaky gut, etc.) protocol and diet.
I’ve had a number of friends ask if I could share more about the details, what I cooked, and more, so that’s what I’m doing here. A lot of you won’t necessarily care and that’s totally okay, just move on to the next delish recipe. I definitely won’t take it personally 🙂
Below I’ll share a little about the the diets I had to work within, some of the kitchen gear things that helped me, some tips for not being miserable, and then some of the recipes that were major winners and kept me sane and happy throughout.
About the protocols themselves (diet-wise)
First I wanted to share a little about the specific diet I had to follow, not because I’m trying to sell you on it, but because the specific requirements did inform what types of recipes I had to find and the tips that ended up working for me. I’ll speak to my results at the end of the post.
Plus, I DO believe that a good functional medicine detox is a really good thing to do, and I believe THIS approach to a candida/gut health protocol is the right one (even if you don’t use this company, but I’ve done a number of candida protocols in my time and this one is a cut above).
I started with a 7-day functional medicine detox, intended to help support the liver in detoxifying the body and clean out all sorts of things stashed around the body (particularly in the adipose tissue). I only did the 7-day as a kind of re-set before jumping into my gut health protocol, but really loved how I felt on it and will definitely go back and do the full 21-day at some point.
You can see the detox diet specifics here, but in general it includes a simple shake for breakfast (with vitamin/protein powder), a plant-based lunch, and the option for including animal protein with dinner, and there’s a list of approved proteins, vegetables, and fats.
Then I transitioned over to the 3+-month CBO protocol (Candida & Bacterial Overgrowth). The diet requirements are similar to the detox, but there are more allowed foods (especially veggies & fruits, and complex carbs), and I started having a real smoothie for breakfast (frozen wild organic blueberries, spinach, nut milk, and powders).
In both diets you fully cut out dairy, gluten, red meat, sugar, refined carbs, alcohol, and other things like that (though later in the gut health protocol you can have a weekly cheat meal). I also did a latent food sensitivities test and was cutting out dairy, gluten, and eggs for at least 12 weeks as well.
Why it was hard:
- Well…I love food and drinks 🙂 So for one, that was hard. Emotionally and in terms of the small rituals of my life, the ways I reward myself, what I enjoy, I had to find alternatives.
- But I also usually travel a lot, and my job also often has food and drink as a key part of socializing, so finding ways to work around that was difficult.
- Plus, I felt like I spent like 50% of my time either FIGURING out what to make, or actually prepping food. It took a lot of planning ahead to make sure I could stick to the plan.
- I already eat pretty healthy most of the time, but it was taking away some of my favorite things…garlic, brussels sprouts & cauliflower, my Mexican meat & beans for taco salad, etc.
So let’s talk about what actually worked, and how I got really good at this as time went on!
How to survive a functional medicine detox & candida protocol
I go into lots of detail below on some of the items I found super helpful (particularly for food logistics), how to bring more flavor to dishes and enjoy salads, how to “treat yo’self” within the confines of the diets, and then a bunch of recipes that were major winners.
Gear that was absolutely clutch
Like I mentioned above, I felt like I spent 50% of my life either figuring out what I could eat, or actually making food. And that included having to think ahead to lunch at the office, bringing my dinner with me if I went to my sister’s house for dinner, etc.
- Glass containers for meal prepping, taking with you, & leftovers
- Good shaker bottles for smoothies/shakes – this 24-oz one is my fave, & then these 20-oz ones are my backups when I need more (I keep one at work, travel with them, etc.)
- Spices (TJ’s chili lime was a big hit!)…I also leaned heavily on cumin, paprika, and a bit of turmeric
- My air fryer! This was a real surprise because I had one but a couple years and didn’t really use it much, but it ended up being a life-saver, especially in brutal heat waves when I didn’t want to turn my oven on. In fact I upgraded to a dual-basket one so I could quickly make a full meal (protein and veggie, or two veggies) in it. This is my life partner for making fast, delicious, healthy meals.
- A blender – I’ve had this one for years, but do your research on what ones are best and what works for you. I make a smoothie every morning, so this baby gets a workout.
- Electric kettle – I use this for making tea, boiling water for cooking (like for poaching chicken), for my coffee pour-over filter, and more. This one is the same brand as mine, which was discontinued.
- I’d already discovered monkfruit syrup, and used this as a light sweetener whenever I needed it, like in my coffee (I’m not a stevia fan, weird aftertaste)
- I switched to a good pour-over coffee filter vs. doing drip coffee, to really get the best flavor (and it became a calming ritual in the morning).
Flavor and seasonings
One of the hardest things about the candida/gut health protocol was having to completely stay away from onion and garlic (and all related foods, like shallots). It’s not because they’re bad (they’re awesome), but because they can interfere with the protocol and feed the bad bacteria as well as the good.
But…GARLIC IS LIFE. So that was one of the more difficult things to solve for, because so many things are delicious *because* they use garlic and/or onions as a base. And in fact, it took something like a simple curry that would have been a great option, and nixed it from the list.
So I went searching for the best ways to bring real flavor punches to my food. One of the biggest tips is “blooming” spices in oil before adding the other ingredients. This is a technique I’d learned especially from Indian recipes, and really brings out the flavor. So I’d heat up my oil, then add spices like red pepper flakes, cumin seeds, cracked black pepper, cumin, or paprika, let it sizzle for a minute, then add the next ingredients. Makes a big difference!
As I did my research, one thing that kept coming up was that you could use garlic-infused olive oil IF it had been infused correctly. I used it in conjunction with regular olive oil to sometimes add a hint of that garlicky flavor I needed.
I also ended up leaning heavily on Trader Joe’s Chili Lime seasoning…it was basically the only one of their spice blends that I could find that 1) I liked, and 2) didn’t have onion, garlic, or dessicated cheese. And adding a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice at the end of a dish helped amp up the flavor.
Living that salad life
Y’all know my feelings on salads at this point. I just don’t get why it’s a thing. But I had to eat a lot of salads throughout this 3+ month time period, so had to find a way to not hate it.
I will say that my stomach doesn’t digest raw vegetables quite as well, so when the leafy greens were bothering me, I’d back off and go back to roasted/air fried vegetables for a bit. But salad is an easy thing to throw in a container and take with you, so it was a staple.
In somewhat weird news, ROASTED BEETS were my salad MVP. I would buy a couple bunches of organic red beets, cut them into small pieces, roast with some olive oil and salt, and then keep them in the fridge to throw in salads. Their moisture and sweetness made the salad dressing less critical, and gave texture as well.
Different kinds of fresh herbs were a constant addition to salads (and other dishes), whether parsley, cilantro, even mint, basil, etc. They add lots of freshness and flavor, but are also great for detoxification.
Other than that I would use a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice, olive oil (sometimes amazing flavored ones from Brightland), a sprinkle of flaky sea salt, and occasionally a couple drops of monkfruit syrup (which, like Stevia, is approved on this protocol in small amounts).
And then I frequently tried to add some interesting salad toppings, because I like salads that *aren’t* salads. I’d throw in roasted or pan-fried chickpeas, the beets, some roasted sweet potatoes, always some diced avocado, sprouts, hemp hearts, etc. My goal was adding texture, creaminess, sweetness, savory, and crunch.
Detox & candida diet recipe winners
So after lots of trial and error, here were recipes or techniques for cooking that I relied on heavily and were a pleasure to eat!
Sweet potato “toast” with guacamole & chili-lime black beans – And the black beans are also great just by themselves, on a salad, etc.
10-minute spiced chickpea scramble – I make this on repeat as a fast, healthy plant-based lunch (makes decent leftovers too).
Pan-seared salmon without oil – Tastes AMAZING and is restaurant-quality texture. I did air fryer more often because I can’t find fresh good salmon as easily, but when I *could*, this was my go-to.
Super easy air fryer green bean fries – I used this same technique with all sorts of veggies, from baby asparagus to sugar snap peas to sweet potatoes to broccoli to okra.
Easy cumin roasted broccoli bits in the air fryer (or oven) – Similar to the green beans, and the cumin adds a great depth of flavor!
Quick-fried plantains (or tostones) – I’ll be honest and say I haven’t gotten the perfect balance of ripeness on the plantains, but they’re still delish (I shallow pan fry in coconut or avocado oil)
Crispy lemon chili basil stovetop chickpeas with sautéed zucchini – This is a flavor bomb, and another great plant-based meal.
Delicious spicy detox fish soup – Super easy and healthy, and makes good leftovers.
Easy & flavorful marinated white beans – These are great for the detox though not candida protocol (due to the garlic/onions), but only take 5 minutes to make and are awesome leftovers. I often add some grilled chicken or fish on top for a full meal.
My crazy easy poached chicken breasts – I’ve raved about this technique already, and I shred them using the 10-second stand mixer hack (also in that link). I put a tiny drizzle of BBQ sauce on, or tossed it on a salad. It was a great thing to just have in the fridge for a quick snack.
Dry-brined grilled chicken breasts – I’ve loved this way of grilling chicken for a long time (the wet brining mentioned in the post is good too, but I like the texture of the dry better). Slap some spices on there and call it a day.
Creamy curried carrot soup – A delicious & cozy plant-based soup that’s great for the detox (you’d have to leave out the onions for a candida protocol). This soup is so easy, makes great leftovers, and feels indulgent despite how healthy it is.
Flavorful Asian-inspired ground turkey or chicken – I cooked it up with some sea salt, fresh ginger, a tiny bit of fish sauce and tamari, and a bit of sriracha (finished with a squeeze of lime juice) became a great thing to have on hand as well. Alone or with rice, on a salad, with roasted veggies, etc., it brought a ton of flavor.
Nadiya’s spicy chicken shawarma – You won’t believe how good your kitchen smells while this is baking. It’s super fast and incredibly delicious (great leftovers as well).
Indulgent-feeling dark chocolate banana “nice cream” (GF, dairy-free, sugar-free) – This was a LIFESAVER! It was the only sweet treat I had the entire time (except a few cheat meals later in the protocol), and this satisfied any craving I had for something sweet. It only takes 2 minutes to make and is majorly crave-worthy.
5-Minute Vanilla Spice Cassava Flour Waffles (GF, DF) – I recently created this recipe *after* my CBO protocol time, in partnership with EquiLife, and it’s such a great treat when you’re craving something a little sweet!
There weren’t too many recipe losers, but for some weird reason it was lentils overall. I tried making both kitchari and red lentil crepes (both with red lentils) and both were failures, and also made my stomach feel awful. I’ll get back on the lentil horse eventually, but leaving it for now.
Taking care of myself / rituals / “treat yo self”
Knowing I was embarking on something that was going to be challenging to stick to at times, and also that I was asking my body to really do some hard work to get better, I did focus on how and where I could do self-care and support myself both physically and also mentally/emotionally.
First off, time when you start things…I had to find a window where I could conceivably take 3-ish months and not do a lot of traveling, not have major social obligations, and could focus on taking care of myself. I also liked doing it over the summer when there was much more fresh produce available.
I mentioned those daily rituals, which for me have historically been delicious coffee (with raw sugar and frothed milk) in the morning and often a cocktail at night. Instead, I started having some lemon water first in the morning, to wake up my system.
Then I’d have a cup of organic coffee brewed in my new pour-over filter…there was something kind of soothing and mesmerizing about making it this way, a ritual in and of itself. I’d add just a few drops of monkfruit syrup and a splash of cashew milk, so the subtlety and flavor of the coffee and how it was brewed really does make a difference.
Throughout the day I’d drink ice water with fresh lemon or lime juice, and sometimes a sprinkle of real sea salt. Or I’d have some herbal tea (this is my fave), though it was brutally hot most of the summer and tea wasn’t quite as appealing. I did brew some iced tea with herbal tea bags, for something different and refreshing.
Sometimes when I was overwhelmed by meal prepping or couldn’t figure out what to bring with me, I’d occasionally just skip a meal and have a shake with the daily nutritional supplement (which is like a souped up multivitamin plus some protein powder), and that was a nice break. In general you don’t want to overeat, you’ll have shrunk your stomach.
I incorporated some extra detoxification practices to help support my body, including doing infrared sauna fairly regularly and beginning to get lymphatic drainage massages to help the lymphatic system move better. You can also try dry brushing or other lymphatic massage on yourself.
When I got a little stopped up, I’d use Calm (plus always drinking lots of water) to help get me moving and also for sleep.
I already mentioned this, but having one or two sweet treats on hand was clutch for me…not for the detox, which is more strict (but shorter, so it’s fine), but when you’re slogging through a 3+ month thing you need a break sometimes. For me, that dark chocolate banana nice cream was amazing, and I played with coffee/cocoa smoothies as well.
And then I tried to think of other treats for milestones, like at the one-month mark I booked a mini-staycation in Louisville and stayed at the Omni for a night. I meant to do a spa treatment but didn’t book in time so there wasn’t anything available.
And above all…having a support system. For me, I live alone and so I do my own thing pretty easily. But you need to make sure you have friends and family who will be helpful and not constantly try to nag you into cheating “just this once”, just making everything harder.
I mentioned I’d talk a little about the results I got from these protocols. In just the 7-day detox I did, I lost more than an inch around my hips and other areas, 6 lbs, and a lot of inflammation and puffiness in my shoulders and other areas, as well as decreased joint and muscle pain. I felt really good in just that short time.
On the following 3+ month CBO protocol, I should have cleaned out my gut of imbalances…I know I’m significantly better (even in things like bloating, but other symptoms too) though haven’t tested yet to see if everything’s gone. I also ended up losing another 19 lbs through the protocol, and am feeling a lot better. I do still have some things to work on, including some mixture of adrenal, thyroid, blood sugar, and digestive health.
Once you get through these types of protocols, consider making homemade kombucha ongoing to keep up healthy gut activity—it’s super easy!
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