Lees deze post in het Nederlands. This post is part of a series. Start reading here!
I imagine you don’t read my blog because of the exciting plot twists, the thrilling action or the cliffhangers. But sometimes, as a writer, you need to build up the tension by explaining the problem, offering a possible solution, while withholding the results. Sorry 😉
Anyway, I imagine you must all be on the edge of your seats by now. The attentive readers will have noticed that my dietary adventure is secretly nothing more than a mission impossible that can only lead to a lot of impressive action scenes, drama and character building. At least, my initial reaction was:
I’m sorry, what?! What the hell. But… but… but HOW?!
And with good reason.
What my friend suggested is actually an adapted version of the low-carb diets that are popular amongst people that want to lose weight, like the Atkins and kego(genic) diet. Interesting fact: the ketogenic diet is also prescribed to children with severe epilepsy. The primary goal of this diet is to force the body to (mostly) burn fat instead of carbohydrates, which results in the production of ketones (this is called ketosis) that replace glucose as the source of energy for your cells.
Although your body is perfectly capable of making this adaptation, switching to this kind of digestion is an enormous shock to your system. After your glycogen reserve (which serves as an energy source when the levels of glucose in your blood drop below a certain threshold) is depleted, it takes a while before your body gets used to accepting ketones. This period of adaptation is called keto flu. And oh my… that name is no joke! For almost a week, I was suffering from nausea, sleeplessness, fatigue and a very, very foggy brain.
So that sucked.
Oh, btw, did I already tell you that I am an enormous foody, that I get extremely hangry and managed to successfully couple happiness to good food somewhere in my childhood? Let it be clear that I spent the first few weeks walking around with a couple of murder eyes that scared my partners to death.
Aside from the physical side effects of my new diet, I also entered the two-month phase to which I lovingly refer as “The What The Fuck Do I Eat Now?! Phase”. Obviously, I knew it was going to be a challenge to survive on a low carb diet within our food culture. Almost everything we eat is mostly carbs –not to mention added sugars in meat– and especially finding a suitable lunch when eating out is simply impossible.
But I did not panic, I just had to start crowd sourcing! Thus, I started looking for food blogs, read all of the nutritional information on products and asked friends and acquaintances for advice. And this is how that went down:
Low-carb expert (enthusiastic): Don’t worry, it might seem tricky in the beginning, but all you really have to do is start your day with an omelette and vegetables! Totally delicious and surprisingly satiating.
Me: Ehm… I have an egg allergy.
Low-carb expert (slightly less enthusiastic): Oh. Well, just eat a big bowl of Greek yoghurt. That’s also full of protein and fat, you’ll need that anyway.
Me: Yeah… I’m not allowed to eat any dairy
Low-carb expert (worried): Oh.
Right… that’s tricky, indeed… eehm… oh, well, just eat a lot of nuts, right?
Me: That would literally kill me.
So… thát was a treasure hunt. My initial conclusion was that I could only eat vegetables (no fruit!), mushrooms, meat and fish. But after a long search and many experiments I am now living on tahini, soy yoghurt (the one without sugar), hummus, carrots, Atkins crackers, avocado, sausage, pickles and lots and lots of broccoli and cauliflower. And when my cravings for baked good become unbearable, I will indulge and slice up a pumpkin, bake the slices and tell myself they almost resemble sand cookies. Seriously, this is a thing ❤
When I discovered that I can also eat sugar free candy and chocolate with 99% cacao (in moderation), my quality of life improved significantly. And seriously, lying awake until 3 AM because cola zero is literally the only option next to water… I would not wish it upon my enemies. So, when I found out that there are light versions of tonic (and I can secretly mix myself a G&T), you could hear my sigh of relieve in Oslo.
So, it’s a diet…
Although I started this mess purely for medical reasons, I can’t deny that this eating pattern was designed to lose weight with relative ease. Or put differently, it is quite a challenge to eat enough calories. Which I noticed… I lost almost ten kilos in the last three months.
The pressure, especially for women, to be a certain size can be enormous and I can’t deny that these societal expectations have their influence on me. I am not unfamiliar with feeling insecure about the way I look and although I try to manage these thoughts in a healthy way, I definitely do not always succeed.
So, if I’m completely honest… I’m happy I lost some weight. I enjoy my improved confidence. I enjoy having less kilos to carry with me when I’m doing sports and I enjoy the significant improvement of my running abilities. I enjoy the many compliments about the way I look. And all of this motivates me when I just can’t anymore and want nothing more than quickly eat a cheese sandwich and get on with my day.
But at the same time, I realise that this focus on weight in our society is extremely destructive. And I wish my confidence was not so directly influenced by my body. But what I find most difficult is the way other respond and the assumption that losing weight is my main objective, even though it was never about that.
I don’t want to be the hyper-healthy-foody who is better than you, because I manage to lose weight. I honestly do not judge others because of the food they choose to eat and I definitely don’t think that everyone should eat like me. It’s a personal choice, for medical reasons and at the moment my only hope.
What about my skin?..
…because that’s what all of this was about. Well, the answer is actually twofold and before I go into details, I first want to explain what I mean when I say that my eczema is bothering me.
When I am talking about eczema, I am usually talking about the rash (the red skin with a different structure that is covered in small wounds), the allergic reactions and the enormous amount of inexplicable itchiness. However, another problem that is caused by the disease is the fact that my skin is utterly inapt in moisturizing itself, even the parts without the rash. Seriously, my skin is so dry it regularly cracks for no apparent reason. So, in the rest of this story I will distinguish between the eczema, the rashy parts, and the rest of my skin, extremely dry but otherwise healthy.
So, the first part of my answer is: Yes, my skin is a lot healthier and most of all… fat(ish). For example, the dessert-like phenomenon on my shins completely disappeared and the areas without eczema on my back genuinely feel like the skin of a baby. It is obvious that my body manages moisturizing a lot better and, whether it’s because of finally eating necessary nutrients or leaving out carbs, I even have pimples! Jep, that is something I celebrate. This means that my maintenance routine is considerably shorter because I don’t have to apply my basic creams as much as I used to.
On the other hand… the eczema itself did not improve at all. Although I did not measure this quantitatively, I would not be surprised if it’s even a bit worse than before. The impacted areas are just as large and just as irritated, allergic reactions are intense and the itch STILL FUCKING SUCKS!
So… am I calling this experiment a success? I don’t know. It is clear that this diet improves the overall health of my skin, but it just does not influence the disease at all. I’m still dependent on hormone creams, tar creams, bandage shirts… And the relieve I was hoping for? Never came.
Nevertheless, I am convinced that healthy skin is a good basis for disease management, albeit indirectly. Because let’s face it, even at the worst times my eczema covers at most 50% of my body and that leaves a lot of skin that I now have to care less for.
Because of that, right now, the large amount of energy that I am putting in surviving this diet is worth it. But the desperation about my eczema, the disease, is still very high. So, I need to find a solution. Fast.
Curious how this ends? Continue reading here!
Picture by Abel Planting, baked goods by Le Perron.