Note from Joy: In celebration of our joyous #NourishYourSkinWeek, you can get my Eczema Healing Guide for 40% off (applicable from January 28th - February 3rd, 2018 only).
I started developing eczema, an inflammatory skin condition, on my forearms and behind my knees when I was a toddler. I was one itchy kid. I would wake up with blood on my sheets and raw patches on my body from scratching in my sleep. There were times I was unable to bend my knees or arms. I can’t imagine how many boxes of Band-Aids we went through.
I managed the itchy rash with corticosteroid creams which were [hesitantly] prescribed to me by our family doctor at 2 years old. If I started to get itchy, I would put on the "magic cream" for a couple days and it would go away. It worked, sure, but it wasn’t addressing the underlying cause, which was evident because it would always come back.
These creams can come with harmful side effects. You are directed to only use it once a day, but in times of painful itching, you'll do whatever you can to experience relief. I would slather it on my body like jam on toast multiple times a day. Alongside the exposure to harmful chemicals and the implications that has on the body, I can also now see my skin is thin and scarred in the places I used the cream, as you can see in the photo below.
It wasn't until I was 27 that I tried an elimination diet for the first time. But this time, I was going in with a focus on weight loss. To my surprise, I didn't lose weight but my eczema cleared up! Up until this point, I thought I was destined to always have eczema. It became a part of me. For the first time, my eczema cleared up on it’s own and all I did was change the food I was eating! Who knew food could have so much healing potential?!
I was so used to being in a state of chronic inflammation before that I didn’t know what it was like to feel good and not inflammed.
I couldn’t go back to feeling that way. And little did I know at the time, the anti-inflammatory foodsthat ended up working for me were all foods that were encouraged on the paleo diet! That got me thinking ...
Now when people think “paleo”, they tend to think of a caveman chewing on a big piece of meat. The paleo diet is actually naturally anti-inflammatory because it emphasizes whole foods like fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and high-quality organic & grass-fed animal protein. It naturally cuts out the food that is commonly believed to cause inflammation in some people while supporting digestion, gut health, and the immune system – all of which is super important when healing from eczema. I can only imagine how suppressed my immune system was after using immune- suppressing creams for 25 years! Yikes!
Adopting a healthier lifestyle, reducing stress, ditching the junk, and following a (mostly) paleo diet was what ultimately helped me bring my eczema under control and ultimately, changed my life.
I still have flare ups once in awhile if I get too off track. It happens! Sometimes a girl just needs a piece of pizza! I’m also happy to say that I haven’t used my corticosteroid creams in almost 3 years.
If you're currently struggling with eczema, here are 7 ways the paleo diet can help (and has helped me) to bring eczema under control:
1. It eliminates all grains
Initially, I took all grains out of my diet. With time and after some experimentation, I found that it was specifically gluten-containing grains that triggered inflammation for me. Gluten, a protein that is found in wheat, barley, rye, kamut and spelt, is known to be pro-inflammatory in the body. Not only did it make my eczema flare up, It made me feel super bloated after eating it. Now I enjoy some gluten free grains like oats, buckwheat, quinoa, and wild rice on occasion.
2. It eliminates dairy
Cow's milk dairy, which is pro-inflammatory, has large protein molecules that may be difficult to digest for some people. I opt for coconut products like coconut yogurt, plant-based milks, and cashew “cheese”. Once in awhile I can have a good quality sheep milk or goat milk cheese without any issues, but I keep it to a minimum!
3. It eliminates soy and legumes
Soy was a huge one for me. I tried reintroducing it a couple times and each time I had major flare ups. Soy is also in everything! Why do you got to be so difficult, soy? I eliminated legumes just until my digestion was stronger. I have them once in awhile now, mostly when I get that hummus craving or want peanut butterwith my apple. They tend to agree with my system so I’ll keep them, but it all depends on what works and feels best for YOU!
4. It eliminates refined sugar and refined carbohydrates
I actually lowered my overall sugar intake. This included high sugar fruit! Sugar is pro-inflammatory and taking it out had a huge positive impact on my eczema. I stick to raw honey, maple syrup, apples, pears, berries, and sometimes medjool dates. Tropical fruits are kept to a minimum.
5. It focuses on healthy fats
Healthy fats are essential for skin health! I focus on all things coconut, good quality olive oil, flax, avocado, oily fish, nuts, seeds, and eggs. “Bad” fats, like trans-fats, are pro- inflammatory and I avoid them as much as possible.
6. It promotes raw, traditional, and fermented foods
These types of foods are gold for your gut! Enzymes in raw food and fermented foods like sauerkrautand kimchi help to break down and digest food while supporting gut health so I make sure to incorporate those regularly! I also make my own bone broth, and I’ve started using fresh aloe vera in my smoothies which are both soothing to the digestive system and great for the skin!
7. High quality animal protein is strongly encouraged
Grass-fed organic beef, bison, lamb, pasture raised chicken, and eggs are my go-to’s. I also like wild meat like moose or venison. Conventional grain-fed animals are given hormones and other drugs, which is why I alwaysprioritize grass-fed and organic meat. I also steer clear of processed meats since they contain preservatives, artificial colours, and flavourings which are inflammation triggers.
The Paleo diet might sound difficult, but it's the approach that worked for me and made me feel my best! I continue to recommend it to others who are looking to bring their eczema under control, but it doesn't mean you need to follow it strictly long-term either. Take time to find out what works and what doesn't for your unique bioindividuality!
Have you tried the Paleo Diet? What has your experience been like?