Acne and ED, Interlude: You Are What You Don’t Eat
If you want to read the whole series in order, start here:
And so here I was, at a crossroads. I had committed to being a vegan. I wanted nothing to do with meat. And yet I was broken down mentally and metabolically. Worse, I was doing nothing but accumulating scars on the most visible part of my body. I agreed to at least indulge my mom in exploring another way of eating.
As I mentioned before, my mom is into Crossfit. And the people at her gym introduced her to a way of eating called the “Paleo Diet.” She was convinced that if only I started eating bacon, I’d be cured. I did not harbor such preconceptions when I suspiciously opened up Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint and started reading.
And I read the Primal Blueprint with a serious amount of skepticism. It basically told me that the lifestyle I’d been living and the diet I was following was completely wrong: my high-carb, low-fat, moderate-to-as-high-as-I-could-get-with-hemp-powder-and-brown-rice protein diet ran directly against the Primal Blueprint’s guidelines. Moreover, my sleep and exercise were, according to Mark Sisson, completely off-base and out of rhythm with my body. I finished the book in one night, and went to sleep with my brow furrowed.
I wasn’t convinced. After all, everything I’d read since becoming vegan said the opposite. How could eating meat be good for me? Weren’t egg yolks the reason for heart disease? What about the China Study?!*
It wasn’t until I borrowed Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat from the library that things started to make sense.
According to Taubes, the science behind the low-fat, high-carb diet is inherently flawed. The FDA adopted the low-fat mantra after confusing correlation with causation. The connection between dietary and somatic cholesterol has been debunked time and again, although the results of those studies have been purposely obfuscated by the government and the media, or else just simply misunderstood.
Moreover, if you look at the rates of heart disease, diabesity, and related diseases, you’ll see a direct correlation between them and the adoption of the low-fat, high-carb diet (circa the 1980s). And there are scientists today who are proving causation in study after study after study.
(For more on that, check out Taubes’ 2004 article “What if it’s all been a big fat lie?” in the NYT, then read the book–and if you want to get seriously serious, read Good Calories, Bad Calories, Taubes’ 400+ page tome on the subject.)
Anyway, I’m not here to argue about plant-based versus animal protein diets (today). Just to explain why I decided to give Paleo a try.
Now that I had at least decided to proceed with an open mind, I borrowed my mom’s copy of the Whole30 and got to work.
The Whole30 is a tough-love 30-day diet and lifestyle change meant to help you cold-turkey transition to a healthier, cleaner way of eating. For people who approach it from the Standard American Diet of processed foods, it’s a shock to the system–no sugar, trans fats, packaged anything–that probably results in weight loss and huge medical benefits (I say “probably” because the creators of the Whole30 suggest that this isn’t about weight loss but about establishing healthier food habits). But there’s a shock to the system for recovering veg*ns, too: when you shift your diet from grains, grasses, beans, and legumes to animal proteins and healthy fats, you are fundamentally changing the way your body runs and reacts.
And since I’m no stranger to 30-day diets and transformations, I figured I’d give it a go. Why not? Giving up food wasn’t new to me. Every “diet” I’d tried was about what I couldn’t eat. Even though I constantly thought about the things I was eating–trying to trick myself into looking forward to egg white pancakes or packets of “green” meal-powders–it was always within the context of the things I wasn’t eating. And god forbid I go “off-plan” and cheat–then it was open-season for ED to start shooting me down with reminders of how horrible I was for eating the things I “couldn’t” have.
I was pretty much convinced that the Paleo thing would just be another list of foods I couldn’t have. And, technically, by starting with the Whole30, it was: No grains. No beans. No peanuts, for god’s sake.** No dairy.*** No, no, no. I even went further and did an autoimmune protocol, which means excluding potentially allergenic foods that cause or exacerbate everything from autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis to acne (the latter, of course, being the reason I tried it). On the autoimmune protocol I further limited my diet by excluding “nightshades,” which are a class of vegetable that contain “alkaloids[, which] can impact nerve-muscle function and digestive function in animals and humans, and may also be able to compromise joint function.” These foods include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and any pepper, from sweet to hot.
And so this was how I found myself eating a breakfast of scrambled eggs for the first time in almost a year. (Okay, fine: scrambled egg whites. I had read and understood Why We Get Fat on an intellectual level, but ED doesn’t listen to intellect–ED only knows that there are more calories in whole eggs than in egg whites.) This was how I found myself enjoying tuna fish for lunch. (No mayo, but it’s surprisingly good with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and Italian spices!)
The Whole30 went well–in fact, while I wasn’t weighing myself, I visibly lost my vegan belly bloat.+ My acne, though by no means cured, was hugely alleviated. In fact, I was able to stop taking the doxycycline I had been prescribed during the vegan disaster.
Now that the month was over, however, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I still hadn’t completely gotten rid of the acne, still hadn’t completely committed to the idea of eating animal fat, still hadn’t moved past the 30-day diet mentality.
Staring into the abyss of “what next,” I failed to recognize that I was so busy concentrating on the foods I couldn’t eat that I had forgotten to consider the ones I could.
*The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell is the number one document to which the veg*n community turns to validate the high-fat:cholesterol connection. Denise Minger of Raw Food SOS debunks the China Study here.
**No peanuts because no legumes. Apparently, as a defense mechanism, legumes contain a indigestible anti-nutrients called “phytates.” Phytates make all of the nutrients that Fitday calorie counters tell us we’re eating unavailable to our bodies. Moreover, peanuts contain proteins called lectins, which permeate the lining of our digestive tract and wreak all sorts of havoc on our guts and bloodstreams.
***Not a problem for me, since I’d stopped eating dairy in January of 2011. I’ve since had one container of Greek yogurt (July 2011-ish, if memory serves), and I felt so horrible after eating it that I haven’t looked back.
+Ah, the dreaded bloat. My yoga-and-vegan-induced weight loss lasted until November or so…After that, I started to gain weight and lose muscle (in part due to the fact that I wasn’t able to exercise at the level I had previously due to my ankle). But even after I returned to working out (and working through the pain), I couldn’t seem to get comfortable in my own body.
I will admit to taking progress photos for the sake of the Whole30. I have not done so since, nor do I feel the need to anymore. I’m posting them here solely to demonstrate the physical change that occurred after giving up veganism. Here is what happened after a month and a half of “Paleo” eating: