A little different to my usual posts, so let me start by prefacing with the following;
Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.
Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
Fact: I suffered from SUPER bad eczema and tried EVERYTHING.
Also fact: I don’t anymore. Yay.
As a ballet teacher, your body is on show wether you like it or not. People seem to notice small changes to your physique, skin and overall ‘sparkliness’. Also referred to as mood but sparkliness is much more fun to say.
So it’s not unusual for a parent to ask me about nutritional advice for their child or a client to comment on my body shape, skin, diet, choice of workout, *insert random question here*…it just comes with the territory.
Family, friends and clients who know me from at least five years ago can’t believe the improvement with my eczema. It was BAD. I’ve been asked multiple times how I went from a raw, red mess to a relatively clear complexion today.
I used to have eczema that would run from my ankles to the backs of my knees. I wanted to cover them with long tights to hide the ugliness, but compressing the wounds was only doing them more harm. I also had eczema under my armpits, the crease of my elbows and usually around my face, neck and eyes. It hurt. It made me extremely self conscious. I’ve left a petrol station crying because the cashier told me I looked like I’d been bitten by a thousand mosquitos. What a charming young man.
Occasionally I still get a little ‘dry skin’ or a random (much smaller) rash appear on my neck or under my eyes – but it’s ALWAYS because I haven’t been following the rules. But overall, it is 100% better than it used to be.
During the Summer, I hosted a workshop at my studio where I saw a group of children put chicken flavoured potato chips into white bread buns for lunch and only a couple of weeks ago a child was sipping Coke from a McDonalds cup in between barre and centre exercises. I also noticed their skin… a little red, a little raw, a little dull.
Let’s be clear, I am not a nutritionist. But you don’t need to be a a nutritionist to understand that a lot of skin, gut, mood, muscle and sleep issues arise from poor nutrition.
So I thought I’d start a conversation and share how a new perspective on food completely changed my life for the better. And it really is so easy. You just have to have an open mind, learn to appreciate the source of food and come up with some fun ways to make healthier choices and habits.
So here’s my personal journey into making better choices around food and clearing my chronic eczema.
I suffered from eczema on and off throughout my childhood. I’d mainly get patches behind my knees, the crease of my elbow and around my neck. One week I’d have very few symptoms, the next week I’d have sores so bad that Mum would put protective bandages on my arms to stop them from getting infected and me from scratching.
Moving into my teens, my eczema disappeared for a little bit – but I presume that’s because I wasn’t eating much at the time. Your typical ballerina nonsense (a story for another time) although it did pop up when I was experiencing extreme periods of stress.
Then in my early twenties I started getting really bad patches everywhere and it moved to under my eyes and eyelids. The deterioration of my skins health in my early twenties makes complete sense! I wasn’t restricting what I was eating. I had money to buy whatever food I felt like. And I started drinking. As a child, I ate rather simply and this probably kept my eczema only slightly debilitating. The moment I started drinking and eating whatever I wanted – all hell broke loose.
When I was about 24 I met the man who changed my life. I waited over nine months to see Professor Pete Smith from Queensland Allergy Specialists. I could have produced a human in that amount of time. That’s how long his wait list is!
By the time I sat in his office, I was an absolute emotional wreck. I didn’t want to waste my appointment, but I probably wasted half of it crying. Unsure about what to do with this hysterical young lady, he demanded I lay down, squirted drops in my eyes and said, “Calm down. Now I want you to do this…”
We did a lot of tests and it appeared I wasn’t really allergic to anything in particular but had a sensitivity to salicylates. A common thread with mood disorders, eczema sufferers and other dermatological issues.
Pete had me start eliminating a lot of food from my diet. He stripped me back to basics. Like, REAL basic. He said it all started here; reducing high chemicals in my diet that spiked inflammation whilst slowly re-introducing a variety of good whole foods.
The problem is that salicylates are actually found in a lot of ‘healthy’ foods; blueberries, coconut, dried fruit, avocados and olive oils to name a few. But there’s even more found in highly processed foods and alcohol. By bringing my diet back to grains, vegetables, nuts (just cashews as they’re one of the only nuts low in salicylates) I could then re-introduce small amounts of the ‘healthy’ foods that contain high levels of salicylates.
You can find a decent (and reliable!) break down of salicylate sensitive foods here…
So I did as he told me. I stopped the chocolate bars every time I went to a movie, meat pies at the footy, ice-cream every second night for dessert and general packaged salads, yogurts and sandwiches (which a lot of people consider healthy). I also cut out alcohol and now only consume ‘clear’ spirits (low in salicylates) and a red wine or two – choosing organic options where possible.
“We didn’t evolve to be healthy, but instead we were selected to have as many offspring as possible under diverse, challenging conditions. As a consequence, we never evolved to make rational choices about what to eat or how to exercise in conditions of abundance and comfort.” – Daniel E. Lieberman
People ask if I felt/feel deprived. Well, no. Because this is what I did and continue to do today…
- Watched a butt load of Netflix documentaries on nutrition, which was enough to scare anyone into eating healthy whole foods…
- Started to find joy in cooking!
- Bought fancy glass jars to make storing all my new nuts, seeds, flours etc much more fun.
- Made a date with myself (and friends who wanted to join) every Sunday at the local farmers markets.
- Put a list of foods low-high in salicylates in my pantry.
In other words, I got all excited, smart and romantic with my food. But most importantly, it worked.
“We have become food consumers, not food producers or preparers, and in so doing, we have lost our connection to our world and ourselves. It’s time to change that.” – Dr Mark Hyman
So what do I eat?
At the end of the day, every human is different and feels different eating different things. I don’t follow any kind of diet – paleo, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free etc – I just eat what makes me feel good. I also keep it simple.
I can tell you exactly what’s in my pantry and fridge at any given time. Because I do a mix n match of the same key ingredients every week. This list will look very bland if you’re used to highly processed foods…
- Sweet Potato
- Lemons & Limes
- Coconut/Olive Oil
- Brown Rice/Quinoa
- Canned Lentils/Chickpeas/Corn (all unsweetened)
- Chicken Breast
- Weetbix/Uncle Tobys Traditional Oats
- Rice Cakes/Crackers
- Cashews/Pine Nuts/Walnuts
- Goji Berries/Chia Seeds
- Plain Corn Chips (usually MACRO brand)
- Dark Chocolate
- Ghee (Grass-fed Butter)
- Soy Milk
- Coconut Flour (for pancakes!)
So my grocery list pretty much remains the same, but changes seasonally. I go to the farmers market every Sunday and tend to choose fruits and vegetables that are ripe and in season. I’ve made this little trip a ritual and not only is it wayyyyyyy cheaper than the grocery store, but I’m also supporting local business. I promise choosing locally grown producse makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Let me be clear, I love a good burger as much as the next person! I’m only human and my eczema hasn’t stopped me from enjoying a stupidly trendy donut. This list is what I consume Monday-Friday.
It’s not that Saturday and Sunday are ‘cheat days’. I still choose wisely. I just allow myself to be more adventurous on the weekend with an acai bowl or almond croissant at the farmers markets and some linguini or pizza at my favourite Italian restaurant.
At the end of the day, we need to make sure we’re fuelling your body with food that achieves optimum performance. Should you be eating a high carbohydrate lunch if it’s going to make you sleepy and unproductive for the afternoon? On a Sunday, hell yeah! But probably not on a Monday.
For example, my breakfast (at the moment) involves traditional oats and chia seeds soaked overnight in water with a touch of soy milk and berries. I’m getting a good source of fibre (oats), protein (soy milk), antioxidants (blueberries) and vitamins & minerals (chia seeds). If I haven’t prepped my breakfast the night before, I’ll just chuck some frozen fruit in the blender and sprinkle some muesli on top. Yum.
My lunch usually consists of a protein (usually beef or chicken) and a dark leafy green salad with vegetables (carrot, broccoli, sweet potato) and beans and legumes (lentils or chickpeas). I also add an egg or some nuts and seeds (cashews, pine nuts, walnuts).
Because I work late into the night, the rest of my day usually consists of snacking. Maybe I should do a separate post on ‘snacks’ as I know a lot of parents struggle to get their children to sit and eat what we would consider a ‘real meal’.
Now I know this must be so damn hard! I can’t imagine being a parent and having to deal with the school lunch box debacle. However, if your child suffers from eczema or any skin related illness I’d be trying to avoid all processed and packaged food for a month and see what happens.
I wasted too much time (and money!) on expensive creams, vitamin pills (that only produced expensive urine) and days crying on the couch because my skin hurt and I didn’t want to leave the house. You don’t have to.
Not only has my new diet improved my eczema out of sight (!!!) but I sleep like a baby and my digestion has never felt better. Geez, even if you don’t suffer from eczema, thats reason enough to start thinking about the food you consume.
For most of us, it doesn’t have to be this way. As Hippocrates put it, let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
- Fruit Juice is NOT FRUIT.
- Purchase ‘organic’ where it matters. For example, non-organic apples, strawberries, blueberries and peaches have high traces of pesticides. Whilst pineapple, rockmelon and kiwi fruit (anything with a ‘shell’) have very low traces of pesticides.
- Think of meat as a condiment. The majority of your plate should be filled with dark leafy green vegetables, salad or beans, quinoa and rice.
- Stay away from ‘trans fats’ by using coconut and olive oil instead of canola, vegetable and sunflower oil.
- Steer clear of dairy. It’s extremely inflammatory for psoriasis and eczema sufferers.
- What the Heck Should I Eat? by Dr Mark Hyman
- The Mind-Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer
- Eczema Detox by Karen Fischer
If you suffer from sever skin allergies, I feel your pain. You’re not alone.
Grace & Grit,