I was 15 when I started breaking out in itchy, red patches all over my body. I had no idea what caused it, and I had even less of a clue of what to do. I went to a dermatologist, who diagnosed me with psoriasis, an inflammatory skin condition where your skin's cell production rate goes into overdrive.
Over the next few years, my derm prescribed me more creams, steroids, emollients, and lotions than I can count. The side effects of the treatments sometimes embarrassed me more than my psoriasis: they smelled terrible, soiled my sheets, and burned my skin.
While some of the prescriptions made my psoriasis a little better, I was usually too embarrassed to wear short sleeves or shorts, even in the summer. Every time I faced that fear, friends, even well-meaning ones, asked, “Were you bitten by bugs?” or “Are you sunburned?”
My confidence sank as I dodged questions about my skin and covered up as much as I could. But then, about four years ago, when I was in my early thirties, my psoriasis became itchier, redder, and more noticeable than ever before. It was so painful, I couldn’t go to work. I was going through a breakup, having problems with my business, and eating worse and drinking more than I ever had.
My dermatologist prescribed another treatment, but after reading more about it, I realized it used similar ingredients to chemotherapy drugs. [Editor's note: Methotrexate, which can be used as part of cancer treatment, is also FDA-approved to treat severe psoriasis that doesn't respond to other treatments, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.]
Had it really come to slathering prescriptions several times daily, just so that I could function? I started researching my skin condition and learned that since psoriasis is an inflammatory condition, it can be affected by the foods you eat (i.e., eating foods that cause inflammation in the body can trigger flare-ups).
'I decided to stop using all topical psoriasis treatments.'
Instead, I changed my diet. I decided to eliminate any potentially inflammatory foods: all animal products, as well as processed sugar, alcohol, gluten, and nightshades (like tomatoes and potatoes). It wouldn’t be easy, but the image in my mind of clear and comfortable skin was absolutely worth it.
I’ll admit, it sounded restrictive when I was deciding to do it. My diet before this had been full of bread, pasta, sandwiches, and really anything I could grab during busy days. Plus, I wasn't exactly excited about giving up alcohol. I loved going to bars with my friends and having a few glasses of wine to wind down.
Still, I knew I had to jump in head first if I was going to stick with this new plan. So I started my new diet:
- For breakfast, I drank a green juice every day. I juiced spinach, kale, and apples or pears to add some sweetness.
- For lunch, I usually made a big salad with veggies I had on hand and avocado.
- For dinner, I rotated a few easy, go-to meals (some of them I came up with myself!). One of my easy go-to meals is vegetable stir fry with chickpeas and lentils.
- I still indulged my sweet tooth (sans refined sugars and gluten) by making desserts like cheesecake with cashews and coconut milk.
'It took longer than I'd expected to see any changes to my skin.'
I was disappointed to not see immediate results, but a lot of bloggers I followed who tried clean eating said it took a while for their psoriasis to clear up to change. So I stayed the course.
But then, 13 days after I started, I woke up fully rested. This might not sound like a huge deal, but I realised that for the first night in years, I hadn't woken up in the middle of the night itching. My skin started to look a little less red and a little pinker at this point, too. It was a small change, but it motivated me to keep going.
Over the course of the next two weeks, my skin became clearer and clearer. First, my arms started to look and feel smooth, and they no longer itched. I could finally wear short sleeves without feeling self-conscious about my skin.
Soon after, my legs cleared up too, and I could wear the shorts, skirts, and dresses I had never felt comfortable enough to wear. After three months of my new diet, I was completely psoriasis-free. No ointments, creams, or skin treatments necessary. I felt like a new person, with my confidence higher than it ever had been.
'It's been four years—and my skin has never looked better.'
My clear skin wasn’t the only positive side effect: my previously high blood pressure has gone down to a healthy level, I sleep better than ever, and I have so much more energy to exercise.
I’ve learned that eliminating a few foods is a small price to pay for how I look and feel. Since going vegan, I’ve learned so much more about the food industry, and I’ve become ethically committed to maintaining my diet.
I was so thrilled by the results of my food overhaul, I started blogging about my experiences in hopes of inspiring other people with psoriasis to think outside of prescription medications. I’ve since written a book, Radiant: Eat Your Way To Healthy Skin, and I hear from people daily who followed my plan and are now psoriasis-free.
Skin conditions can make you feel powerless, but my experience showed me that you can get your power back and feel great while doing it. Now, I’m proud of my body—proud enough to wear whatever I want, when I want.
Hanna Sillitoe is a health coach and the author of Radiant: Eat Your Way To Healthy Skin. She shares her journey on her blog, My Goodness, and has followers from all over the world who credit her plan for their clear skin. She lives in the countryside in England, near Manchester.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.