“Real People, Real Paleo” is a series of posts written by real people who were inspired to share their Paleo story with you. There is such diversity in the challenges that bring us to a Paleo diet and lifestyle and in what we hope to achieve by adopting them. These stories are intended to be a place of inspiration, written by real people, showing the diversity of our needs and our approaches to this way of eating and living, and explaining how each individual’s implementation of Paleo meets their needs. By sharing these people’s stories with you on my blog, I hope to redefine what Paleo success is. I believe that Paleo is about being healthy enough to thoroughly enjoy life, whatever that means for you, and about sustainability for our entire lives. If you are interested in writing up your story, please email my team at [email protected]
Did you have a nickname when you were at school? I did. Mine was Flaky Blakey. Sad, right? This was because of the white flakes that used to fall onto my shoulders, covered by my (compulsory) dark navy school uniform. I was an itchy teenager, because I had psoriasis – and it was made even more miserable for me, because one of the symptoms of my condition happened to rhyme with my surname.
It started on my scalp, and gradually new, itchy patches emerged in my eyebrows, behind my ears, on the side of my nose and on my elbows. By the time I hit my late twenties’ it covered my entire scalp, my knees and also developed in smaller patches on my chest, elbows and tummy. It didn’t look nice, it was itchy, sore and in truth, it made me miserable.
We talk about psoriasis, how it looks on the skin, which moisturisers might help ease the itching and which treatments are available for it. But we don’t often talk about the emotional side of psoriasis. So let’s look at some statistics.
Here in the UK, The Psoriasis Association commissioned a survey. They uncovered some startling facts. 77% of psoriasis sufferers admitted that the condition was a ‘problem or significant problem’ that affected their quality of life. It’s thought that 1.8 million people in the UK suffer from it – and 10% of those people have at some time considered suicide. 10% might not sound like a lot, but according to those figures, that amounts to 180,000 people. In the US, the National Psoriasis Foundation estimates that those with psoriasis are twice as likely to experience depression. The figures are, indeed, shocking.
For 25 years I diligently doused my scalp with prescribed steroid lotions, rubbed steroid creams into my knees and elbows and washed my hair with coal tar based shampoos. The treatments didn’t always work. At best, they would take away the inflammation for a couple of days and then the patches would return, angrier, redder and itchier than they were before. I stopped going out and seeing friends (it’s hard to hide thick, white scales when they’re on your eyelids) and I only ever wore white tops. During my early twenties I was prone to bouts of severe depression, so was put on anti-depressants. I also suffered with constant digestive problems. Hairdressers and doctors would visibly wince as they parted my hair to look at the raised red, scaly patches. Overall, things weren’t looking too good.
In the summer of 2013, I did some online research and found some people had found success healing psoriasis using their diet. This made sense to me. Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition – what appears on the skin is just a reaction to what’s going on internally – so healing yourself on the inside (rather than just slapping creams on the outside) seemed logical. Added to this, my diet wasn’t exactly nutritious to begin with. Up until now, I had been basically living on pizza, pasta and cheese. I decided to give the AIP (autoimmune protocol) a try. What did I have to lose?
Within two days of following strict AIP, my psoriasis patches seemed much less swollen and sore. Within a month they had calmed down so much that I started my reintroductions. I kept a food diary, and noticed that sugar, egg whites, nuts and cow’s dairy seemed to trigger inflammation, sometimes within hours. But it wasn’t just what I wasn’t eating that was important: my diet was now very nutrient-dense. Lots of veggies, oily fish, seafood, organ meats. A therapist I went to see suggested I take up yoga and gave me a book on mindfulness to read.
Eight months later, I realised I hadn’t been scratching my head. Just over a year later and all I have left of my psoriasis is a small patch the size of a coin on the back of my scalp. Nothing on my knees, nothing on my elbows or tummy. I still get flare-ups – especially if I’m feeling stressed or if I have too many late nights – but nothing like before, and it quickly starts to fade once I start looking after myself again.
Sometimes people I speak to are sceptical that diet can help autoimmune diseases like psoriasis. But to me, it makes sense that a highly nutritious diet, along with good quality sleep, exercise and reduced stress would help. I can’t recommend the AIP diet and lifestyle highly enough if you’re struggling with autoimmune disease. None of the conventional treatments for psoriasis that I’d been given really worked long term, which to me, reaffirms the belief that to heal effectively you need to start from the inside. Not only do I feel fitter and stronger than I have in years, I’ve lost weight, learned to make liver pâté and have discovered that I actually like tinned sardines with the bones still in. I haven’t felt depressed, either. And, for me, it’s all been down to the AIP diet and lifestyle – I honestly couldn’t recommend it enough. Good luck on your healing journey.