Back in January, I found myself once again in my dermatologist’s office. Ever since Sam’s birth two years ago I’ve been dealing with an uncomfortable dermatologic issue. This skin condition- hidradenitis suppurativa– had not responded to various rounds of antibiotics or topical treatments, and I was ready to take a new approach to eradicating it. I had done some Googling and exploring around the internet about this condition, and had found some message boards discussing dietary changes. I didn’t know where to start though, and wasn’t sure if such an approach would even be something my doctor would recommend.
Turns out it was. At the mere mention of me being willing to make dietary changes my doctor started talking about anti-inflammatory diets. She told me that there are really no American studies that have been done specifically on diet and skin, but that research abroad has linked an anti-inflammatory diet to the cessation of symptoms of many debilitating diseases. Specifically, my doctor suggested cutting out refined sugars and ‘bad’carbohydrates, and then she suggested the paleolithic diet, a diet that she herself has been following. Eating ‘paleo’ was something I had heard about here and there, but I didn’t know what it meant.
First, I learned that eating paleo is not a “diet”; it’s a way of a eating. A definite lifestyle change, as the paleo lifestyle calls for eliminating all grains, dairy, refined sugars and carbohydrates, and legumes from one’s diet. From The Paleo Diet, Dr. Loren Cordain describes it here:
With readily available modern foods, The Paleo Diet mimics the types of foods every single person on the planet ate prior to the Agricultural Revolution (a mere 500 generations ago). These foods (fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood) are high in the beneficial nutrients (soluble fiber, antioxidant vitamins, phytochemicals, omega-3 and monounsaturated fats, and low-glycemic carbohydrates) that promote good health and are low in the foods and nutrients (refined sugars and grains, saturated and trans fats, salt, high-glycemic carbohydrates, and processed foods) that frequently may cause weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and numerous other health problems. The Paleo Diet encourages dieters to replace dairy and grain products with fresh fruits and vegetables — foods that are more nutritious than whole grains or dairy products.
Turns out, at just about the same time I was learning about the paleo way of eating from my dermatologist, Pat was hearing similar things about paleo from his Cross Fit gym. It didn’t take much convincing for the two of us to agree to at least TRY out this way of eating. We started in early February, and aside from a short vacation in Mexico and some special event ‘cheater’ meals and the occasional non-paleo treat, we’ve been eating this way at home 90% of the time. And liking it!
I can’t say it’s been exactly easy though. I was already a regular meat eater, but with the paleo lifestyle meat becomes one’s main source of protein (I dislike seafood, so that’s pretty much out) so I’m typically eating meat in some form for every meal of the day. Previously, I could easily enjoy a day of vegetarian eating. On a typical day, I would most likely eat meat once or maybe twice per day. I do have to say, I’m getting a bit tired of meat. Or maybe it’s just that I haven’t expanded my recipe horizons enough to find variations on my typical meat dishes.
Breakfast has been a tough one. I’ve been used to eating Kashi cereal, whole grain toast with peanut butter, yogurt, maybe a piece of fruit. Since all grains and dairy are out in the paleo diet, I’ve had to majorly change up my breakfast repertoire. I can now be found eating scrambled eggs with a side of avocado and bacon or sausage some mornings. Or, a bowl of nuts/seeds/coconut shreds/raisins/banana with coconut or almond milk can sometimes satisfy the need for cereal. I’ve made a lot of egg/veggie scrambles (even coming to enjoy the occasional mushroom!), egg/veggie muffin cups, and squash/parsnip hashbrowns, but have yet to perfect my omelette-making technique. I’ve heard that lots of folks who eat paleo whip out the leftovers from dinner the night before, but that is just not something I can do without gagging. I mean, reheat last night’s pot roast and mooshy carrots and onion for breakfast? No.
Snacks. Snacks have been another hard one. I am a big snacker- I’m one of those people with a quick metabolism who needs to eat (protein-rich foods) frequently. I’ve said so-long to my usual Kashi granola bars, and have come to love Lara bars. Other snacks for me are nuts, fruit, veggies, sunflower seeds. Apple slices dipped in almond or sun butter. Ants on a log. Beef jerky, now and then. Oh and dark chocolate. Some consider dark chocolate a paleo ‘cheater’ food, so I eat is sparingly. But my palate would die without the taste of chocolate, so it remains.
We’ve had to make some changes to our dinner menus, eliminating all the starchy sides we’ve been used to. Pasta dishes are gone, as are enchiladas. It’s been fun discovering some new things though: I’ve loved using cauliflower ‘rice’ in place of regular rice, and zucchini or spaghetti squash ‘noodles’ in place of regular spaghetti. Avoiding beans/legumes has been difficult. Beans have been a big part of our diet. I can’t say I’m completely on board with eradicating beans and certain grains (quinoa, oats, rice) from my diet. Same goes for dairy. I can do without milk, but I’d like to still enjoy some Greek yogurt. (Not to mention ice cream.)
All in all, I don’t exactly WANT to be a legume-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, grain-free eater. Gluten free I can wrap my head around, but as I said above, completely ridding one’s diet of all grains seems a bit drastic to me. So far we’re still experimenting with this diet in our house. I want to give it a little more time, and see how things with my skin change as I continue eating this way. So far though, my skin flare-ups have decreased in severity and have stayed calmer for a longer period of time than they had been before I began eating paleo. I was hoping to see a change in the zit break-outs in my face as well, but so far that has not changed. Pat, though, has been losing weight, so there’s another bonus!
As for gluten free, I plan to continue with that as much as possible. If I’m following a paleo lifestyle, the no-grain thing already eliminates the gluten, so I don’t really need to worry about it. It will become more of an issue though on a day when I’m allowing myself a ‘cheater’ day or meal. Will I forever avoid beer, pizza, cookies, baguettes?? The answer is most likely no. But I haven’t missed wheat or wheat products all that much, so this gluten-free lent has been a great learning experience in that regard. I will, however, joyfully be partaking in my son’s birthday cake when we celebrate on Easter. And I know I will love every bite!