One day, in the spring of 2007, I woke up with this weird rash on my wrists. With no clue where it had come from, I thought maybe it was an allergic reaction to something. I was in college at the time, and I remember the itching being so bad there were several days I wrapped up my wrists with hydrocortisone cream, gauze and bandages just to keep from scratching at it.
Over the next year, it started to spread, until one day my entire body was covered in the itchy bumps. It looked like hives, and there seemed to have no rhyme or reason to it. I was in my early 20’s and was miserable.
Throughout my life, there were always two things that were pretty consistent – I always had dry skin, and I always had stomach issues. And I always just kind of dealt with both. But when that rash started stretching across my body, it began to feel like those two things had found a crazy way to converge and form what became my diagnosis – eczema. With its root causes in stress and digestion (though I didn’t necessarily know that at the time, exactly), I found that as my skin got worse, my stomach did. And if my stomach wasn’t doing so hot, neither was my skin.
The worst days were the ones where the eczema “attacked” my face. It would puff up to the point where I could barely see, starting early in the morning and getting worse throughout the day. I even found myself on the dreaded prednisone roller-coaster for a few months, before weaning off of it and finding help elsewhere.
One primary care doctor, an allergist, four or five dermatologists and God-only-knows how many creams, medications and attempted-natural cures later, I found a dermatologist in late 2010 who prescribed an immuno-modulator topical ointment, and I found the only sustained relief I’d had in years.
Throughout this time – from early 2007 on – I also began to experiment with my diet. I had an inkling that maybe something I was eating wasn’t agreeing with me, and it was possible that if I solved that problem, I could “solve” my eczema, as well.
I remember trying to go gluten-free “the wrong way” back in 2008 or 2009. There were lots of gluten-free junk foods (premade cookies and crackers and pasta), and there was even some experimentation with Franken-foods, like faux-meats and other vegan-y things. Not sure why I felt like I needed “facon” instead of real bacon, but hey, it happens. And I still ate wheat when I was out at restaurants or with my family.
That said, it was still a springboard for looking at my family history, my own current health, and figuring out what, if anything, I could do to make it better.
And since we’re talking about family history… Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, Adult Onset (Type II) Diabetes, high cholesterol, hypothyroidism, difficulty losing weight…are just a few of the things that my family has struggled with. Things that I’m hoping to prevent in myself, and help support their bodies in healing, if possible.
I began where I think most people begin when they want to get healthy – a low-fat, high-carb, whole grain diet. I went from not really thinking about what I ate, to insisting on skim milk, fat-free everything, and lots of whole wheat baked goods. What I didn’t know then, was that I was gluten-intolerant, and that the gluten-intolerance made my digestion more susceptible to dairy-intolerance, as well.
Have you been there, too? Feeling like low-fat cheddar and whole wheat crackers would cure what ails ya? And then it didn’t?
I went down that road for a few years and saw some improvement; I started cooking more for myself, counting calories, and paying attention to what I was eating. I stopped eating fast food, and started watching documentaries about fast food…and other food and agriculture and farming practices. It was eye-opening, and a little scary.
In late 2012 into early 2013, I started reading books about food, too. There was John Robbin’s Food Revolution and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, among others. I thought that going vegetarian was the next step that I needed to feel my best, that I needed to give up animal protein or get cancer, and that eating only fruits, veggies, grains and legumes was the best way to show commercial agriculture that I wasn’t going to support them with my hard-earned money.
And then one day, drifting through the aisles of a natural food market, contemplating whether I wanted to take my health into my hands even further, grab some soy-cheese and become full-vegan (funny story…I’m intolerant to soy, as well), I bumped into an ancestral food nutrition coach. We chatted, I told her what was going on with me, she told me what she did, and recommended the book that changed everything…Lierre Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth.
Have you read it? If not, go! Go now! (Is it weird that I also wanted to write, “Get to the chopper!” there?)
Keith approaches vegetarianism from all the pro-vegetarian angles, including the ones you hear the most – not wanting to kill things just to eat, and wanting to preserve the environment. Needless to say, she dispels those myths, and I learned what an “aquifer” was, and how conventional agriculture – yes, of the non-animal type – is depleting the ones in the US at an insane rate, to the point where the midwest might not be able to support its vast waves of amber grains much longer.
By the Spring of 2013, I was moving toward a more ancestral diet (one of the books I’d just finished reading at that point was Real Food by Nina Planck), and had started using sprouted grains and soaked legumes at home, but still didn’t give much thought to bread and the like while dining out. I had a bread machine, and one of my greatest achievements were some damn tasty sprouted wheat bagels (just wish I’d remembered to grease the parchment paper…those suckers stick good!).
Then sometime around July, I read Wheat Belly, by Dr. William Davis. I started making some connections to my stomach distress and the wheat still in my life, with just about every meal, and a lot of my snacks. My skin was doing a million times better at this point, but my digestive disfunction remained constant.
After returning from a girls’ weekend trip, I decided to cut out the wheat, just to see what would happen. I remember chatting with my friend about it on the trip. It was late, and we’d gotten back to our hotel after a night out, and I said, “You know, I think I’m gonna give up wheat when we get back.” And she said, “Oh, Amanda, don’t do that, you gave up meat before, and it sucked.” “No,” I said, “Wheat. Like bread.” And I did.
And you know what? The consistent heartburn, upset stomach, and…well, other things, subsided. It took about two weeks for me to notice the difference – not having to run to the bathroom every time I ate at a restaurant made it pretty clear, pretty quickly.
From there, searches for wheat-free, gluten-free foods, led me to grain-free food blogs. From there, I stumbled onto paleo and ancestral food blogs. And from there, to books like Dianne Sanfilippo’s Practical Paleo, Nom Nom Paleo by Michelle Tam, and listening to an array of podcasts, like Livin’ La Vida Low Carb, Underground Wellness, and Balanced Bites.
I started finding this amazing new love for food – good food, REAL food – and figuring out how to insert it into my life in a way that made sense to me, and made me feel better.
These days, I’m still struggling with some things, like fatigue (which may have to do with my thyroid, considering my mother and grandmother both have/had trouble with their thyroid). But otherwise, I feel stronger, my digestion and skin have greatly improved, and I love the relationship I have with food.
I don’t shy away from dietary fats – in fact, I think I should probably be consuming more of them. I don’t count calories anymore, and I enjoy the food I do eat – even if it doesn’t generally have grains or legumes. I stay away from wheat and gluten, but enjoy some corn chips or sushi with rice from time to time, or maybe even some tasty, full-fat ice cream. And I do my best not to feel guilty for it, or worry about some kind of “perfectionism” with my diet.
I eat what makes me feel good; I avoid the things that make me feel not-so-good.
It’s hard to rework all of the conventional dogma we’ve been taught over the years, but at the end of the day, real food is real food, and it’s what we’re meant to be eating: meat, fish, eggs, veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds – and fats, delicious wonderful, healthful fats.
I’m happy to be where I am, with my mind and my body and my food, and I’m working every day to continue bettering those internal relationships. It’s not always easy, but as long as I keep moving forward, keep pushing myself to find what makes me healthiest and feel my best, I know I’m on the right track.
Good luck as you continue on your own real food journey; and let me know how yours is going and how you got to where you are now!
Thanks so much for reading!