I’m six months into a dietary change that is curing my lifelong eczema. I haven’t known a day in my life without the itchiness and inflammation of this chronic skin condition. But I’m on my way to being free of it for good.
Writing that made me nervous. It also made me want to cry. It’s been a long road.
After 47 years of unrelenting discomfort, I actually have hope of relief. Eczema has been the constant plague of my life, more manageable in my younger years but depressingly intractable in the last decade. I’ve tried virtually every cream, ointment, oil, elimination diet and supplement known to medicine and the internet. Each trial was the same: high hopes to start, followed by grim resignation at the end.
I was never going to give up. But in my heart I had honestly accepted that eventual death would be the only lasting way out of the hopelessly faulty casing I had been given to live in, and that daily – worse, nightly – suffering were simply part of the cards I had been dealt in this life.
But I was wrong. With the help of my cousin, a genius acupuncturist and integrative medicine doctor, I learned this year that chronic eczema doesn’t have to be a life sentence. I learned that despite my outwardly healthy diet, lifestyle habits and consistent weight, I was much more ill inside than I knew. I also learned that the human body is a complex, powerful machine that has enormous capacity to regenerate and recover.
Chinese medicine says the skin is a reflection of the gut. Eczema has been my body’s message that something is wrong deep within. My microbiome is out of balance, my gut is leaky, and my beleaguered skin is the last line of defense.
It feels good to be taking on the root cause at last, instead of futilely tamping down symptoms as they pop up at the skin’s surface. I’ve spent my life using steroidal creams and ointments, which only quieted the symptoms – and likely fed – a growing underlying issue. People were always telling me about their friend or relative who cured their eczema by eliminating dairy, or eggs, or wheat. I tried it all. But I hadn’t tried it long enough, or in the combination that was right for me.
This time, my food prescription is straightforward and strict: no gluten, sugar, fruit, potatoes, alcohol or yeast. Timeframe: indefinite, but not forever. As long as it takes.
It hasn’t been easy. My cousin warned me I would get worse before I got better, and this summer was a whole lot of worse. My system went bonkers. Inflammation raged. I was torturously itchy: I could neither function during the day nor sleep at night. My skin was bright red, then rough and reptilian, then super dark, then it all peeled off. If not for my cousin’s steadfast confidence, I would have thought for sure I was on the wrong path.
But my skin is finally clearing up, like the sky after a violent rain storm. I’m completely off cortisone creams. The frenzied, incessant itchiness has abated.
My body is rebuilding itself from the inside out. And all I’ve done is subtract some foods and add others. It’s bizarre how simple it is. So easy, and at times so hard.
I’ve had plenty of practice with failed elimination diets in the past. I now view those efforts as trial runs for this final battle. Food is the fuel to my internal arms race: I take in ammunition for the good guys and starve/attack/eliminate the enemies. One day I’ll eat more normally again, after the war is ended and peace restored.
I haven’t had the energy or mental focus to write. Even as I’ve felt better this fall, I’ve hesitated to jinx this crazy experiment by speaking too soon or optimistically about this journey. I still cook of course, to feed my husband and the little people in my house (all but one of which are now taller that I am). But it’s not so fun to write about food when I’m not really eating it.
I know many of you come here, as I do, for Thanksgiving help. And I didn’t like disappearing on you all with no explanation. So I just wanted to pop back in to let you know I’m still here, and thinking of you, and truly missing sharing with you and hearing from you.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, because it’s all food and no gifts. I won’t be able to eat many of my favorites this year – no stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes or pie – but I will appreciate even more the food I can eat and the power I have, through my simple food choices, to heal myself.
From the Thanksgiving archives
- Thanksgiving planning timeline (Google doc)
- A host’s guide to Thanksgiving
- Thanksgiving meal planning
- Buying a turkey
- Cranberry tea [post] [printable]
- Alice Waters’s carrot soup [post] [printable]
- Spinach dip (without the mix) [post] [printable]
- Three-ingredient artichoke dip [post] [printable]
- Thanksgiving turkey, dry brined
- Thanksgiving turkey, split and roasted
- Creamy chicken and rice soup (for leftover turkey) [post] [printable]
- Macho salad (for turkey leftovers) [post] [printable]
- Balsamic vinaigrette [post] [printable]
- Quinoa arugula salad [post] [printable]
- Arugula, pear and parmesan salad [post] [printable]
- Fennel, orange and avocado salad [post] [printable]
- Candied walnuts (or pecans) [post] [printable]
- Kale salad with honey-mustard peanut dressing [post] [printable]
- Shredded kale and brussels sprout salad [post] [printable]
- Kale salad with cranberries and toasted walnuts [post] [printable]
- Wild rice confetti salad [post] [printable]
- Bread stuffing for a crowd [post] [printable]
- Brussels sprouts Gjelina [post] [printable]
- Buttermilk cornbread [post] [printable]
- Easy cranberry sauce [post] [printable]
- Foolproof mashed potatoes [post] [printable]
- Green beans with feta and balsamic vinegar [post] [printable]
- Maple glazed sweet potatoes [post] [printable]
- Quinoa with sweet potatoes, red pepper and feta [post] [printable]
- Roasted brussels sprouts salad [post] [printable]
- Roasted butternut squash [post] [printable]
- Roasted cauliflower Gjelina [post] [printable]
- Roasted cauliflower with parmesan and olives [post] [printable]
- Roasted fennel with parmesan [post] [printable]
- Apple pie with crumb topping [post] [printable]
- Apple snacking cake [post] [printable]
- Cinnamony apple crisp [post] [printable]
- Gingerbread cake [post] [printable]
- Pear torte [post] [printable]
- Pecan pie (no corn syrup) [post] [printable]
- Persimmon bread [post] [printable]
- Pumpkin applesauce cake [post] [printable]
- Pumpkin bread with chocolate [post] [printable]
- Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies [post] [printable]
- Soft ginger cookies [post] [printable]
- Derby pie [post] [printable]
- Caramel dip for apples [post] [printable]