Eating for Eczema in 2019

I officially have re-embraced the paleo framework! Getting back on “the wagon” was so hard for me this time and literally has taken over a year and a half or so for me to really commit. I’ve been super wishy washy and back and forth about it and despite what I *know* and had experienced personally, I was still on the fence.

Last Friday I went to see my long time favorite paleo cookbook author, Danielle Walker, IN REAL LIFE. She was my lifeline during my first eczema flare. I have such a love/hate relationship with social media, but honestly I would have never found her without it and I don’t know if I would have made it through that first huge flare without her. My first postpartum experience was pretty traumatic because of my eczema, and when I felt the most alone and isolated and *weird* because absolutely ZERO of people I knew in real life had dealt with anything like I had, Danielle was there on the other side of the internet having walked it before me and shared it.

She shared her story again on Friday night, and even though I had read it and had walked through a good bit of it with her via Instagram, it was like I was hearing it for the first time. She spoke about how all the doctors offered her when she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis was steroids and medication and stressed that diet didn’t cause her condition and would not alleviate the symptoms. When her condition worsened postpartum with her first son and she was unable to lift him out of his crib because she was so weak, she decided it was time to be all in with her diet. She wanted to have more kids and for them to have an actual mom– not just a mom in bed or a mom too tired or a mom that had to stay home all the time. She had to try everything and be all in to the diet change and see if it made a difference if she stuck to it. This was YEARS before paleo was mainstream and she worked closely with a naturopath on an elimination diet to find out her trigger foods and once they figured it out she saw her symptoms decrease within two days.

I was weeping while she was telling her story. It could have been me saying all of those words. With both of my kids during that first year postpartum I reached a point where my skin was so broken and inflamed I couldn’t hold them, nurse them, and pick them up. It was awful. It was like being trapped in my body watching my life happen and it was not at all like I had envisioned it.

So here’s the thing about eczema. Everybody has some experience with it, nobody knows anything about it. It’s different for everyone, some people it shows up as a reaction and for some people it shows up as a symptom. It’s a sneaky, shape-shifter of a disease with more questions surrounding it than not.

Here’s what I know from my experience with eczema and paleo. My entire body was covered with eczema December 29, 2014. I stopped breastfeeding in August of 2015 and starting eating completely paleo. I did a month of the autoimmune protocol in there somewhere, and by February of 2016 I was totally clear. I reintroduced some trigger foods (mostly cheese and gluten free treats) and still maintained my level of healing noticing breakouts on my chin when I ate dairy. During this time I also did UV light therapy 3x a week then 2x a week then 1x a week. I got pregnant in August of 2016 and ate mostly paleo (with the occasional Chick Fil A sandwich) and had absolutely zero issues with eczema throughout my pregnancy. I was totally clear postpartum too until all of a sudden I wasn’t. Once Emmeline was out, and my freezer meals were gone, all bets were off on the paleo life. Cheerios for everyone. End experiment. Cue survival and completely choosing not to prioritize diet over anything else. Did I forget? Nope. I was just surviving on Cheerios and gluten free bagels (which is actually ON POINT for cravings in terms of breastfeeding. I shout it below, but women everywhere: TRUST YOUR BODY!)

A toddler and a newborn is pretty much survival mode anyway… so we did! And it was great. I started a new biologic drug called Dupixent which basically cleared me up in 10 days. It was truly a miracle. I’ve been on it since February 14, 2018 and am coming up on my one year anniversary and am as grateful as ever. Even though I wasn’t supposed to (there’s no research, etc) I was able to breastfeed Emmeline in some capacity until she was fifteen months old which was super special and something I cherish and miss everyday. She weaned herself from that last feeding and even though I wasn’t ready (are you ever ready for your last baby to wean?!) I’m glad it was on her terms and not eczema’s.

And so now, here we are. She’ll be two in May, Lincoln just turned four. The last four years have felt like a LIFETIME and I’ve definitely learned a lifetime’s worth. I’ve learned some good lessons over the years and if you were there, you’ll know that Danielle just hit the nail on the head digging them in even deeper. I’ll elaborate on these more in posts to come and how my experience helped me arrive here, but in a nutshell:

  1. You don’t need permission or approval. You have two eyes, a brain and can do your own research. Learn how to read medical studies, get a second opinion, use your noodle. Don’t just take what one doctor tells you as gospel truth, get a second opinion. Get a third opinion! See a specialist. See a chiropractor. Find a support group. Ask a moms group! Search for a Facebook group for people with your condition. Read books. Find a few sources that you trust (Instagram is seriously great for this) and ask questions, as for THEIR sources. People can be really ridiculous if you’re open about your diet and your health issues. They’ll want to offer their experience (or just their opinion) and just ignore them. If they aren’t one of those few trusted sources or a doctor you trust then their opinion means nothing. You don’t need their approval. Trial and error is your friend, don’t wait for a “positive” allergy or sensitivity test to give you permission to eliminate what you think might be a trigger. Which leads me to…
  2. Trust your body. Every body (and everybody) is different! Coconut oil is one person’s favorite moisturizer and another’s eczema trigger (that is a very specific to me example, ha!). You know you best! You can distinguish what feels normal to what feels abnormal. If you think a medication isn’t working or causing you problems, TRUST YOUR BODY. Doctors will tell you what the studies say and correlations are. Those are all AVERAGES of individuals. Your experience might not line up with the studies, but that doesn’t make it real. Track your symptoms, track your sleep, track your emotions, track your period… all of these things are indicators of how your body is functioning and you can trust what it’s telling you. I knew in my brain that I needed to eat paleo to fight my disease and the flare that was coming. My body could not stop eating Cheerios. I needed those calories and whole grains to make milk, and with enough time, energy and patience I probably could have found a non-gut-irritating alternative to the Cheerios that satiated the craving but I was too tired and hungry. It was hard to reconcile those things (still is) but my body was showing up for me and my baby just like it was designed to– even in the midst of its immune response betrayal (just being dramatic).
  3. You can have it both ways. You can heal with diet and medicine. You don’t have to pick one! You don’t have to choose the natural route or the medically approved route. You don’t have to choose diet and lifestyle OR medication. You can legit do both. Especially at the worst of your flare or whatever condition you’re dealing with medicine might be the best choice so you can function (again, very specific to my example) and take care of your family and self. I think it gets tricky when we lean too far either way! We feel like we have to be crunchy or not, natural or not, health minded or not. You can use oils and also take an ibuprofen when your head hurts. You can eat paleo and use topical steroids. You can do delay vaccine schedule on your kids and inject yourself bi-weekly with a borderline experimental drug that alters your immune system (me again!). It’s not a perfect, black and white world! We gotta embrace the gray.

All in all– I’m not anti– anything. I’ve worked with a myriad of amazing and helpful doctors and midwives– some more patient than others, some more open minded than others. Every interaction has taught me something.  But at the end of the day this is MY life and MY body and MY story– and this is how it’s going down, my friends! Follow along because I know A LOT more than I did in 2015 and I have a way cooler camera.

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