food or foe

Food or foe?

10 March 2011

I’ve become afraid of food. My lifelong eczema has become much worse, and I’ve finally admitted that the persistent red rash is my body screaming that it does not like something I am putting into it. I used to be able to soothe away the redness, with prescription creams or any number of natural remedies I’ve tried. But I’ve finally acknowledged that for nearly 40 years I’ve been treating a symptom, and the problem will no longer be denied.

During my hours of late night research, I found this amusing online pastime – an internet anagram generator – to distract me from trying to rip off my skin. Aside from discovering that Charlie Sheen -> Inhale Cheers, I thought that the anagrams of Atopic Dermatitis (another term for eczema) might help me express myself here, as I, A Dim Artistic Poet tell A Satiric Tepid Mot about my irksome condition.

I don’t want to be Operatic Amidst It – we all have our crosses to bear, and at least eczema won’t kill me (though it may drive me insane). I’m not here to wallow in the condition but to share my quest for a solution – A Impact It Storied – in the hopes that it may help others who are also at their wit’s end.

I’ve suffered from eczema my whole life. For 38 years it was better and worse, but never entirely gone. Suddenly, it’s a whole new level of worse. A Timid Spectator I, I conveniently ignored my skin condition for years, using cortisone creams as necessary to tamp down the itch. But this winter I feel like my whole body is inflamed.

I think a lot about step functions. Not everything moves along a smooth incremental path. Weather is varying degrees of cold. At some point, it’s warm. Then there’s a whole range of warm. At another point, it’s hot. At night, the kids are sleepy, sleepy, sleepier. Then there’s the magic point of asleep.

I’ve crossed over into a different level of the step function. It’s time to take bolder action.

I’ve known for years that eczema may be caused by an allergic reaction, a food intolerance. But I haven’t wanted to do the difficult work of isolating the cause. Eczema is not like regular food allergies – the reaction can be delayed by hours, often days. And an eczema flare-up can persist for weeks, even after the elimination of irritants.

Last fall I had allergy testing done – a couple dozen pinpricks of allergens all over my back – and I tested negative for all food allergies. Since then I’ve been plagued with eczema all over my back, one area that had always been clear before. I didn’t connect the dots until recently, but now I suspect the introduction of all those allergens directly into my skin triggered this winter’s outbreak.

A year and a half ago I went to a Chinese doctor, who put me on an elimination diet for two miserable weeks. We were about to move to Ohio, and I didn’t have the fortitude to continue, especially since my skin seemed no better than before. But the doctor warned me that it takes more time to see improvement in the skin, and when she asked about how my itching had been, I realized I had not been as much of A Scrape Idiot Mitt as usual.

Since then I’ve read that suspect foods need to be eliminated for four weeks before re-introduction to determine food intolerance. It seems like an awfully long period of deprivation, but I am now desperate enough that it seems worthwhile. Already my taste for food is dimmed; I can’t help but wonder whether a bite of bread or glass of orange juice will make my red welts worse.

I may find that after months of food investigation, the eczema is caused by chlorine in the water, or my body lotion, or my laundry detergent. But since the eczema comes and goes, and these factors are constant, I am guessing it’s food. I’m leaving soon for an extended spring break in California, so given that A Impact Riots Diet, now isn’t the time to start a full elimination regimen.

Instead I’m keeping a food journal and doing some selective elimination. As A Drastic Tiptoe Mi, I’ve cut out sugar, which can feed the yeast bacteria that exacerbates eczema breakouts. When I get back from California I’ll start on the most likely allergens: dairy products, soy, egg, wheat, nuts, citrus fruits, shellfish. I’m dejected to discover that nightshade vegetables – tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers – are also common culprits.

It’s been A Distract Time Poi (no, these anagrams don’t all make sense), and this eczema scourge has been A Dictator Spite Mi. My kids and I frequently talk about how obstacles in life are the universe testing how badly you want something. I have my moments of hopelessness, but I am determined to find a solution. If I can find even a partial cause, A Matricide It Stop (me, not my mom). And my one comfort, A Pediatric Mi Tots, is that none of my kids have eczema in a serious way. My mother-in-law would also say that the eczema brings some nice color to my face.

Now that I’ve taken a first step, A Optimist Cared It: I’m hopeful about uncovering the answer to this lifelong mystery. A few months’ sacrifice is a small investment in return for better health for the rest of my life. I’ll keep you posted.

Let me know if you come up with any cool anagrams. Those really tickle me.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue 10 March 2011 at 4:04 pm

I sure hope you find the answer soon. Have a great trip.


Vanessa 11 March 2011 at 12:12 pm

Have you tried a hazelwood necklace? Just bought one for my neice from Maybe you could review one for them.


cg 11 March 2011 at 9:00 pm

hi vanessa – thanks for the tip…will look into it!


Janie 13 March 2011 at 4:53 pm

Very clever! I hate to hear that you are an eczema sufferer, but I am glad to hear that you are looking into underlying issues and hopefully will update us all. I’ve spent most of the last two months in an oil slick of aquaphor, cortisone, and steroid creams so I understand your “pain”. My eczema, too, has been worse this year than ever before…very strange! Any chance I can hop into one of your bags to CA…sure the sun and warmth would help. Keep us posted on your findings!


cg 22 March 2011 at 5:43 am

janie, sorry to hear you have eczema too. it’s a b…ear. =P


JoJo 16 March 2011 at 4:48 pm

OK. Chinese grandma. I have the secret and it’s called vegan. No joke. You sound like a perfect candidate – although you’re gonna have to have tasters to do your dirty work in the kitchen! Maybe you should try it for a couple of months. Become a strict vegan and your body will do the balancing. On another note. Here are some things that are golden rules in my home: It is a manmade & chemical free zone – I only use Seventh Generation cleaning products, toilet paper, paper towels (no bleach) etc. You won’t believe how good your house smells when it is chemical free! Lotions, creams, soaps and shampoos are organic and natural. Make sure you take tepid showers – not hot – as this will dry out your already irritated skin. Eczema is a bitch, but I am sure your body has the power to self-correct. If you are in LA, you better let me know!! oxo JoJo


cg 22 March 2011 at 5:42 am

thanks for the suggestion! you won’t believe all the stuff i’m trying…dietary and otherwise. already have a chemical-free home environment. have tried pretty much every natural topical remedy known to man. now working on elimination of suspicious foods and herbal supplements. i’m a mess! but getting better. thanks for caring. xoxo


lg 3 April 2012 at 10:07 am

I am not sure where you are with your “eczema battle” but I have had the same, lifelong struggle until about a year ago. My dermatoligist recommended bleach baths (yes, ordingary household bleach) – add 1/2 cup to your bath water and soak for 10 minutes or so. Then rinse off in the shower, dry and slather yourself with cream (ie Aveeno unscented, Glaxal Base will work). Use the steriod creams only where needed. Do this a few times a week until your eczema clear. Believe me I have tried so many different things and this simple solution has worked. By the way, I have not found any connection between food and my eczema.


cg 7 April 2012 at 7:30 am

hi lg – thanks so much for sharing. i’ve tried bleach baths too, and i think the concept behind them – reducing bacteria – is spot on. fantastic that you’ve found a solution that has given you relief. a similar method that has worked for me is purell mixed with lotion. i used to be scared of the alcohol, but my dermatologist encouraged me to try it, and it’s life-changing.


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