Simple dietary solutions for skin allergies

September 6, 2012 · 12 comments

in Loving food, Seeking holistic health

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For whatever reason, I’ve suddenly been running into people who want to know how both my daughter and I cleared up our skin problems by simply watching what we eat.

This is actually a good time to revisit the issue because back-to-school week has many parents worrying about packing healthy kids’ snacks and lunches — especially when allergies are an issue. It also can’t hurt the rest of us to get that complexion under control for looking good during the upcoming fall/winter holiday party season!

As a lot of you know from my blabbing on this blog, I had horrible acne for most of my life. There was also a stint with allergy season rashiness and overall dry skin. Then came the post-divorce freak-out, when my neck and upper back erupted into thick, itchy blotches that took years to get rid of. My daughter Gabi had problems too. From infancy, she had a severe eczema that plagued her through toddlerhood.

Today, we both have quite nice skin. We never took a single antibiotic or prescription drug. Most of the credit goes to the our basic eating regimen: gluten-free, sugar-free, cow milk-free and soda-free. We also rarely have fruit. No red meat either  (Gabi is vegetarian). But dark leafy greens are an important food group…I could go on and on.

Instead, I’ll link you here to our food list which is based on the teachings of my dear friend, the noted Chinese herbal medicine master Jeffrey Yuen.

The only thing I should add is that we didn’t find any quick fixes. Changing eating habits is a sloooooow, challenging process because we’re talkin’ lifestyle issues. But once we got into the flow of the new life, we’ve discovered that we are truly what we eat.  :)

If you have any questions, comments or stories of your own, do tell!  xo

 

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Skye September 6, 2012 at 8:48 am

1. I believe that prayer heals, even skin issues. As a child and through my teens, I had a few skin issues, the more severe being eczema, dermatitis and cystic acne. I went to various dermatologists without any success, sometimes not even temporarily relief, only topical and oral meds. I had a prayer book and found a prayer for physical healing and prayed it and meditated on the verses. I prayed specifically about the eczema as a teenager, because it embarrassed me the most and so many were not sympathetic to me or thought it was contagious. I wholeheartedly believed prayer would work above anything and I wasn’t surprised when it did. I haven’t had another episode with eczema in more than 15 years. I try to remember that when I have other things going on and I remembered people who prayed for me until they changed.

2. A few years ago, I tried acupuncture for the first time and left the experience feeling nothing. I expected some zen moment or a great high, but walked away thinking I let someone put holes in my body, other than my few piercings. The next day, however, something kicked in. I felt a sort of zing and a charge, as though my cells and nerves were waking up. 2 treatments later, my friends noticed my skin glowing. Several treatments later, so did I. And I shed some weight too.

3. I am not fond of sweets, so I don’t have too much of them. I don’t like fruit too much, so I have it rarely. For me, a little fruit helps…I’m not sure what, but it brings a balance. I’m glad I don’t like the taste or I might have too much. I like carbs, but I find the more of them I have, the more bland my face looks. I don’t eat red or white meat, but fish about every other week. I love vegetables raw, steamed or juiced. I drink almond milk but I do eat dairy cheeses…big weekness. I think the vegetables mostly help keep my skin in check, but I’ve read the omegas in fish are good for the skin.

3. As a person of color, I’m not afraid to use sunscreen regularly. Suffering from sun allergies and eczema that was exacerbated by sun exposure as a child, I either had a prescription sunblock or OTC covering me as a kid just to go outside or I could get burns and rashes in minutes. Those issues have healed since, but I still dab on some sunscreen or try to wear a hat or longer sleeves during the summer.

2 Skye September 6, 2012 at 8:51 am

*Misspelled weakness.

3 JIll Hamburg Coplan September 6, 2012 at 2:39 pm

OMG Betty, I know celiacs who had such a challenge eliminating wheat; conquering sugar is a hard thing unto itself, giving up meat another pretty large challenge, important but not at all easy…in recent years I became lactose intolerant and dairy’s not super hard but it does mean making different foods for the kids who still appreciate cheese, so it’s troublesome. I’m a bit high cholesterol which feels like a pretty big challenge to relearn cooking around…(Soda, the only easy one.) …AND you gave up fruit, too? I am in awe, can’t imagine how you even meal-planned without some kind of spread sheet with an alarm … check list? please say more if you want. I would love to know (if you ever have time) what a typical, say, 3 days of meals looks like under this regimen. Very daunting! Thanks as always for your interesting thoughts.

4 betty ming liu September 6, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Skye, at one point in my life I was thinking of becoming an acupuncturist and I started taking a lot of classes with Jeffrey Yuen. One of my favorites was on pediatrics. He said the best medicine is love, that while treating kids, reassuring hugs and the affection of caretakers can go a long way in speeding the healing process. Guess also prayer fits in there. And I’m a fan of acupuncture too. Yoga also does wonders for calming down me and my body.

Jill, I should clarify on the fruit. I don’t range far in fruit variety. I’ll eat an apple or pear a few times a week. Sometimes blueberries. But I stay away from everything else.

Meal planning is simple for me but I fuss a little more when I’m feeding my daughter. This morning I had a cup of hot pomegranate tea with a bit of honey and unsweetened hemp milk and a bowl of homemade lentil and zucchini soup. Lunch was one of those yellow yams, baked, along with some about an ounce of goat cheese (it’s the only form of cheese allowed, if you look at the food list, and then sparingly) with a few brown rice crackers. For dinner, I’m planning broiled trout, a little quinoa and some spinach. Today’s snack was a handful of unsalted roasted almonds and apple juice spritzer.

Last night I made dinner for my vegetarian/pescatarian daughter and she might have leftovers again: cod cakes made of cod, quinoa flakes, egg, potato and chopped parsley. With that, she had spinach, black bean soup (canned), some soy sausages, a few slices of avocado.

I’m glad you’re asking about what I ate today, a good day. Because I’ll admit it, I am a social eater. So that means cheating with a cookie or two, a piece of bread, a hunk of “real” cheese or a regular slice of strawberry shortcake. And if I’m on vacation, everything restriction might go out the window. But I know what the game plan is and I always go back to it. It’s actually very helpful to have a clear framework that organizes my eating life!

5 betty ming liu September 6, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Jill, I forgot to add one thing. The three most demanding aspects of this diet for me are as follows:
1) I have to make an effort to grocery shop so that there is good food in the fridge. Otherwise, we just eat whatever.
2) Washing all those leafy greens is time consuming!
3) It takes an effort to remember to soak the beans over night and then to cook them without burning the pot.

6 HyperGamma September 7, 2012 at 9:16 am

Betty,
I guess I am lucky. I don’t seem to have any health problems and can eat what ever I want. Though my metabolism has (finally) caught up with me. I try to eat a balanced diet from the five food groups : Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Dairy, Proteins. My personal belief is that God put all of these things on the earth for the constitution and use of man. Who am I to say God is wrong. I probably don’t get enough ‘fresh’ vegitables and fruit. Mostly because it spoils so fast. I do grow berries and apples. I have a Wheat grinder and have been into home canning off and on.
I probably could survive for at least a year on what i have carefully stored. A few years back they had cases of Oranges for really cheap so I bought two cases. I gave one case out as part of christmas gifts. Then I found out about all I could bottle was orange juice and marmalade! I tried pickling some carrots. I was surprised how sweet they turned out.
I eat alot of potatos. My ex-wife was Peruvian so we had potato’s almost every meal. (Potato’s come form Peru, where they have over 3000 kinds)
So I guess you would say I am on the “see food diet” -I see food and I eat it!

7 betty ming liu September 7, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Lucky you, HyperGamma!

8 betty ming liu September 7, 2012 at 7:06 pm

I’d also like to share an experience I had with a friend when I accompanied her and her little girl to a dermatologist or some kind of allergy specialist. Watching them interact with the doctor left me FURIOUS.

The guy was pleasant enough. But he looked at our little friend and her deep rashes — and all he could do was prescribe one medication after another. It was very clear from the way he was talking that he had no sense of why these breakouts were happening. Why do they keep telling kids to take Benadryl when it doesn’t fix the problem??

When we left, I told my friend that the doctor was just a drug pusher. Something to keep in mind….ask your doctors about their training in nutrition and I’ll be you’ll find they took very few classes — if any — in med school.

9 Kristin Schwab September 10, 2012 at 11:10 am

I have always had horrible allergy problems (thanks, mom) and developed eczema during my last year at NYU. Now when I’m stressed, the seasons change or it’s humid, I get blotchy rashes on the inside of my elbows. I like to put an ice pack on it when it gets bad and sleep with the tube part of a sock on so I don’t itch at night. (PS: Did you know that itch creams like Cortisone actually breakdown layers of your skin? If you use them too often it becomes permanent!)

I’ve definitely cut back on complex carbs, dairy and sugars, though I can’t get over white rice and the occasional cheese snack. I don’t eat nearly as much meat as I used to and have pretty much completely cut out juice and soda. Still, I don’t think I could ever go as extreme as you. I also haven’t figured out how to have enough energy for hours of dancing without some of these things.

How hard was it for you to stop eating many of these things? How long until you felt completely in control of what you wanted to eat?

10 Kristin Schwab September 10, 2012 at 11:15 am

Also curious to hear your thoughts on soy meats. I have always been afraid of them simply because of how processed they look and the fact that often, you have no clue what’s really in them. Any advice?

11 betty ming liu September 10, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Kristin, I had no idea you had skin issues. You always looked so good in class! First of all, I’m no expert on this stuff. But I think complex carbs are a good thing — that’s what you get from beans. (But little tiny beans like black-eyed peas and lentils. Not lima beans and such because they’re too starchy.)

My diet varies somewhat with the season and my lifestyle. Up until I went back to full-time reporting, I was practically meatless. But the constant running around has me eating more meat for quick energy, and I want to try to get off of this asap. So I’ve been reaching for more protein-y non-meat options like quinoa. For breakfast these days, I’ve been making cream of buckwheat which sticks to the ribs and has lots of protein too.

Now that I’m older, I also take some dietary supplements. If you had a good acupuncturist/Chinese meds person, they’d be able to give you guidance on that. (My link in the post to Jeffrey Yuen explains his branch of Chinese medicine and includes a link to a site that lists practitioners trained by him.)

As for getting a handle on this regimen, I struggle with it every day! Some days are easier than others. Eg, at this point, I almost never have pizza, burgers or fries. I just don’t. But if I’m eating out and there’s a good-looking breadbasket on the table….

Also, I am pretty disciplined because i suffered so much with the rashes. During the worst phases of the post-divorce horror show, I could see that eating certain things would set me off. So that scared me into staying away from things that would irritate my condition.

As for soy “meat” substitutes, they call into two categories. One has gluten, the other doesn’t. I don’t do gluten, although these products can taste really good. The gluten gives them texture and body. But there are other soy things that are totally delish! I grew up eating this stuff in Chinatown….

Did you ever boil milk? And if so, did you you ever notice the skin that would form on top when the milk cooled? That’s what a lot of these soy meats are made of. This is called soy curd. You make the soy milk, it’s boiling hot, and you skim off the cooling top. It can be dried and then reconstituted. Chinese monks are famous for their veggie meals with mock duck, mock chicken, etc. I really enjoy it.

12 Kristin Schwab September 12, 2012 at 10:14 am

Oh yes, I meant simple carbs. Whoops.

Really interesting to hear about soy meats. I never knew a lot of that. I guess it’s like anything else. You just have to read the label before you buy.

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