Have you ever tried going off chocolate for lent? Such a simple symbolic gesture. It’s really just supposed to make us reflect on a time when Jesus spent 40 days and nights fasting in the desert. Where I grew up in Northern Ireland nearly everyone did this.
The thing about lent is that it’s 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. But the period of fasting or intentionally trying to be a better person only officially lasts for 40 days. So this means that you can have 6 days off during lent.
That suited me fine when I was a kid, because my birthday lies in lent. So does St Patrick’s day, a few of my cousins’ birthdays, and several Sundays. So growing up I’d have a day when I could eat chocolate every week during lent.
But then in 2010 I decided I would “do lent properly”. I set my intention to go off chocolate for the entirety of lent. I stuck it out, and something really interesting happened that I hadn’t been expecting.
The acne that I had suffered from since my early teens got markedly better.
At first I thought “Hallelujah! I’ve finally outgrown my acne!” At the tender age of… you know what? We don’t need to talk about my age! Let’s just say that I was no spring chicken.
Granny had always reassured me that everyone had acne as a teenager, and not to worry, because I too would outgrow it. Suffice to say I had left my teens behind quite a long time before.
Easter told a different story…
Easter Sunday arrived, and so did the Easter Bunny. As usual I enjoyed my Easter Egg, and chocolate, and whatever dessert was going (my mum makes a cracking rum chocolate mousse).
Unfortunately about 2-3 days later it appeared that the Easter Bunny brought back my acne as well.
“That’s interesting” I thought. “I’d better see if this was a coincidence”.
So I went back off chocolate again for a few more weeks. Sure enough my skin improved again. And after I reintroduced chocolate, you’ll never guess what happened… I had a breakout.
But it was clear that it was taking my skin at least a week or 2 to clear up after each dalliance. And that it took about 48 hours for it to start breaking out, and another 2-3 days for the spots to reach their zenith.
This was the catalyst that led me on a quest to identify other dietary factors that could affect my skin. My curiosity was well and truly piqued. I did find lots of other culprits, and pretty soon my path led me to the Paleo diet.
It turns out that the Paleo diet is an antidote to many modern scourges.
Before trying diet I had tried all the conventional medical approaches to acne…for at least a decade and a half. These had started with fairly innocuous treatments like topical benzoyl peroxide. But each rung on the treatment ladder became more and more toxic, and I tried all of them.
Topical antibiotics paved the way for the oral contraceptive pill, which permitted the use of oral antibiotics and eventually roaccutane (a treatment notorious for causing psychiatric disturbances severe enough to result in suicides in many young people). The roaccutane worked… briefly.
What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that these conventional acne treatments could have long lasting or permanent effects on my health and metabolism. I also discovered that the link with acne wasn’t a recent one. The oldest published research that I could find linking diet with acne went back almost a century.
All of this was a revelation:
- Diet could be a powerful ally in the battle for better skin
- Conventional drug treatments weren’t always the most powerful tools in our arsenals
- Drugs were often used to suppress symptoms caused by other imbalances, but seldom got to the root cause
- Antibiotics are being seriously overused when they aren’t necessary. We’ve all heard about the threats from antibiotic resistance. We need to conserve antibiotics for when they’re necessary, and if a dietary change can do the same job, then an antibiotic isn’t always needed
- Many of us are victims of a mismatch between our genes, our environment, and our gut microbiomes
I couldn’t unlearn the valuable lessons from my own experience. But I also discovered that conventional medicine was nowhere near ready to embrace these findings. This led to a terrible conflict between what I was learning, and how I was allowed to practice in paeditrics. Something had to give…
…It turned out that something was me.
And that was the first step on my transformation into The Food Phoenix.