Have you tried everything to heal your acne, yet chronic breakouts persist? Sometimes the best way to figure out if there is a dietary connection to your skin irritation is to do an elimination diet to see if you can pin point any triggers.
While reading The Clear Skin Diet by Randa + Nina Nelson, I discovered that so much of their journey mirrors my own experience while healing acne. A big thank you my friends, Eden Rose and Aida Qui, for bringing this book to my attention. Honestly, I am just so impressed with how they translated their experience and how similar my own experience with healing acne was.
My biggest take away from this book, is Randa + Nina’s exploration and concept of utilizing an elimination diet, a concept I also utilized extensively during my healing process— and ultimately what inspired me to write this post.
If you are struggling with acne despite consistent efforts, let’s talk about this concept of an elimination diet and how you can use it to your advantage.
First of all, Randa + Nina start everyone out with some really basic rules based on Dr. McDougall’s findings which are summed up simply: Eat only plant based, whole foods only. Avoid all oils and high fat plant foods. Eat unrefined starches for the bulk of your diet. Don’t worry so much about variety to start, just eat as simply as possible. They are very clear that you must be 100% committed to this lifestyle to get results. If you have been following these guidelines and are still struggling, they suggest exploring an elimination diet as your next step.
“Before you institute the elimination diet, please be sure you have already ruled out other possible triggers discussed in this book, such as vitamin B12, skin care and makeup products, laundry detergents. If you’ve eliminated those as possible influences and been 100 percent compliant on the Clear Skin Diet for at least three months—and are still experiencing new breakouts—you’re a candidate for the elimination diet.” +
In other words, an elimination diet is for someone who has already been following a very low fat diet, rich in whole food carbohydrates for at least 3 months and not seeing any change. If you haven’t gone through these steps, try starting there before exploring more restrictive measures.
When you are dealing with chronic acne that persists despite major efforts, the first step is to become aware of common trigger foods that cause inflammation and irriation in the body. It is important to have a journal dedicated to tracking what positive and negative reactions occur during this time.
COMMON ACNE TRIGGER FOODS
Gluten (wheat, corn, oats)
Soy (tempeh, tofu)
Plant based Fats (avocado, nuts, seeds)
High glycemic fruits (peaches, bananas, apples)
Citrus fruits (lemons, oranges, limes, grapefruits)
These foods are based off foods that are listed in The Clear Skin Diet. They have made these suggestions based on the work on Dr McDougall’s Elimination Diet Guidelines. I would like to point out that trigger foods by no means indicate foods that are “bad” foods or anything to fear! It’s just simply that these foods may be either detoxifying your system too quickly, in turn exaggerating breakouts, or these foods may be triggering inflammation, due to a variety of reasons. It doesn’t mean you need to swear off these foods forever, but just means that your body may require a break from them in order to get into balance. You will find that many of these foods can be added back into the diet without negative side effects as time goes on. Especially fruits, which are incredibly healing for the body.
Healing is definitely a building process and as the body heals you will notice that different building blocks will be required. What you are eating over the course of a few years will change quite a bit. For example, you may be wrong predominately starches right now with very little raw food tolerance. Bit soon you will find your body tolerates raw food better and better. As you watch your body’s signals you will witness that it will call you into deeper levels of healing when it’s ready. So please don’t get frustrated if your diet feels very simple at first. It’s okay. Consistency is the key. An elimination diet is simply a starting point that gives you a clean slate to discover any irritants in your diet.
Also keep in mind that not everyone will have adverse effects to all the trigger foods listed above. Acne is complex because there are so many factors at play and everyone who experiences it will have different sensitivities. This is why some people can go raw with great success and others will have success by focusing on cooked foods. It is why some people can take lots of supplements that help and for others it makes acne worse. It’s not about comparing. This process is all about discovering your own unique balance.
So, what would creating a baseline in an elimination diet look like? Let’s talk about it.
Creating a baseline means that you are eliminating the complexities of your diet and creating simplicity so that you can experiment.
The most important part of creating a baseline is having at least 2 or 3 basic carbohydrates that you know you do well on. For myself— sweet potatoes, potatoes and bananas were pretty steady carbs that my body did well with. Don’t get me wrong, I still had acne while eating very simply however I noticed that it got a bit better. As many of you know from reading my guidebook, from my baseline diet I would experiment by adding in some other foods in and I could tell within a few days if my skin was irritated by that food.
The Clear Skin Diet emphasizes brown rice and oats as a main staple. I personally didn’t do well on grains for quite some time, however others seem to tolerate it well. Being willing to experiment and discovering what works for you is really what this “diet” is all about.
I really love the focus foods that Randa + Nina give to their readers to focus on. They recommend starting with carb-rich cooked foods in order to create a baseline for yourself.
The Clear Skin Diet recommends focusing on: “Rice (brown rice is preferred) Cooked green vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, swiss chard, lettuce, collards, string beans, asparagus, spinach. Cooked yellow and orange vegetables, such as carrots or sweet potatoes, beets, beet greens, chard, artichokes, celery, summer squash.” +
Sweet potatoes and squash have been such a blessing for me at certain times in my life, especially when healing from acne. I love they have recommended these gentle carbs as staples for a skin healing diet.
From my experience, foods that created minimal detox were definitely best. For many that will mean focusing on whole, cooked foods to start with. For others they may be able to focus on mostly raw foods. You will likely have an intuitive sense about where this balance is for you — or you may need to experiment some. It’s okay if you do, just be patient and willing to try.
In general, raw foods will stir up a lot of detox which can exasperate symptoms in the body which is why they are not always ideal for an elimination diet. This may not be true for everyone, some see their skin improve greatly just from going raw. However if you have been trying this for months without improvements, considering experimenting with cooked foods may be helpful.
The Clear Skin Diet guidelines are also strict against not consuming fats — plant or animal sources. In my personal experience, going low-fat helped me substantially. However I have never been completely fat-free for longer than a day, because it makes me feel really off kilter. But when I upped my fats from none to just a 1/8 teaspoon of hemp seed a day, I felt really good. The addition of that very small amount really did it for me. You may find that it’s way too hard to eliminate all fats at once, so you can gradually decrease them over a period of 6 months and feel so much better this way. It is perfectly okay to take your time. I highly encourage you to listen to your body and experiment with where you feel most balanced, and make changes in a gentle way that do not overwhelm your body.
I love that the twins recommend cooking your fruit— although I have never actually tried cooking my fruit! Although so more easily consume fruit now, I struggled with fruit as a trigger while healing my skin. Instead of avoiding fruit, The Clear Skin Diet recommends baking or steaming “apricots, berries, cherries, cranberries, papaya, plums, and prunes.” + This makes perfect sense as a way to receive nutrients but soften the fruits harsh detox effect.
If you desire raw fruits in your diet, try focusing on just low glycemic raw fruits like wild blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and kiwis. If you tolerate these well, you can begin adding in other raw fruits and see how you do.
Randa + Nina also recommend to drink only plain water during this time, avoiding all other beverages, including coffee and teas. These beverages can be so stimulating to the adrenals which can trigger hormone imbalances.
“Salt is the only condiment allowed—this means no salad dressings, lemon juice, mustard, vinegar, sugar, or other condiments. We want to prevent any allergic response and make the diet completely simple and basic.” +
I love the way Randa + Nina break this all down. The goal is to simply your diet so that you can begin to see what is working and what is not at this time.
When you get to a place where you feel a bit more balanced and would like to begin testing out different foods, add one food in at a time.
“In order to test a given new food, eat that new food three times a day, at every meal and in large amounts. Do this for three days, eating large amounts of the test food at each meal. If by the end of three days you are not noticing any breakout or other skin problems, you can conclude that this food is not a trigger food for your acne. You can then keep that new food in your diet going forward. Anything that causes acne through this testing should be eliminated. Once you are ready, move on to the next food in question.” +
For myself, I added foods in pretty slowly over the course of a few days. I was super sensitive though, where I could tell with just a small amount. So for example, I would eat a cherry — and then if I did well on it, I would eat a few more the next day. Then, give it a day or so to observe any reactions.
The girls also bring up an important point that if you are a woman you are more likely to be more sensitive to triggers on your period. Therefore, it may work to your advantage to simplify your diet a bit more during this time.
To a a larger extent, breakouts may be unavoidable as your body heals, but it will get better with time. It is so important to understand that having breakouts in this process do not mean you are doing something wrong, but are a natural occurrence as your body is healing. A bad breakout doesn’t always mean that you need to reassess every little that you are doing. A lot of times it is just part of the process.
I love that Randa + Nina do not emphasize the use of supplements and herbs in the first stages of healing your skin. I remember taking so many out of desperation without fully understanding how any of these herbs were really helping me. For a while, supplements and herbs were too much for my body but as I healed with food, I was able to tolerate more of them.
As many of you know I did use digestive enzymes with great success while Inwas healing my skin. I have learned so much about the value of supplementation since this time and how different we all are when it comes to this— so it’s important to feel this one out for yourself. If you aren’t sure, you can eliminate supplements in the same ways you do food and then reintroduce them to see how you feel.
The twins do highlight zinc briefly, with Dr. Leila Masson explaining the importance of the mineral and the benefits she had witnessed of supplementing it for her acne patients. This information resonates with what I have studied from Anthony William, Medical Medium’s work. Zinc is highly supportive to the immune system so it may be worth keeping this one in your daily routine— or at least experimenting with it.
The Clear Skin Diet promotes a fully plant based diet, so the question of supplementing B-12 naturally comes up. They address this by stating:
“We encourage people to follow Dr. McDougall’s guidelines and begin taking a vitamin B12 supplement. We recommend you wait to start that B12 until after your acne has cleared, or up to two years. Research suggests a small percentage of people may be susceptible to acne outbreaks triggered by high doses of B12, like the dose levels found in commercial B12 supplements. This is why you should not begin B12 supplementation right away.” +
The truth about healing chronic acne is that no matter what diet you are following, it can take time. In The Clear Skin Diet, Randa + Nina do also seem to agree as they confirm that if you discover your triggers and find healing within 1-year, you are moving at a great pace.
Some will discover triggers right away and for others it’s just a matter of having some deeper healing to do. It’s really important to understand that it’s not JUST about the foods you eat, it’s about allowing your body time to recover and giving yourself time to let these healing foods work deeply for you.
For example, it took me about 2 years of eating a low fat, high carb plant based diet, exercising regularly, going to bed early and moderating my stress through mindfulness practices to begin seeing improvements in my skin. There wasn’t a quick fix exactly, although there were crutches I found that worked to assist my recovery from breakouts along the way.
If you are interested in learning about the deep causes of acne, I recommend checking it Anthony William’s podcast on Soundcloud. His insights explore the missing link as to why some diets work right away for some and not others. This will also help you understand why some people will need more time to heal than others. His work has helped me understand that acne wasn’t just about my skin, but my immune system as a whole.
Having these deeper understandings can allow us be realistic about our expectations and to cultivate patience in this process. Hands down, anxiety is the most common co-factor of acne. Feeling desperate for a solution is very real. I hope everyone who is reading this finds their missing piece and peace, whether it be through discovering potential triggers or just from letting time pass while consuming a low-fat diet.
For anyone who has read this far, I know your struggle is real and you have tried so much. Only you understand what it’s like, people who haven’t gone through it absolutely do not. Because of that, others can be quick to label any restrictive habits with food as a disorder, without understanding that the fear is caused by physiological effects not psychological ones. Even well meaning professionals can impose this harmful view on their patients, making them believe that their food fixations are all in their heads.
The reality is, a lot of people are very sensitive to foods they eat and chemicals they are exposed to. When you start to understand that certain food makes you feel ill and causes symptoms, you can’t help but become more mindful of what you consume. There is a learning curve involved just like any other new idea you have just been introduced to, it can take time to let your new way of eating feel natural to you.
An important part of my own healing has been acknowledging how my relationship to food, emotionally and socially, has been effected. Acknowledging this has helped me to be more mindful around how I can re-create positive associations and ways of connecting to the foods I did feel safe eating.
Even though food does effect us, it does not have to distresses us forever. Remember that food itself is not to blame for your acne. No food is “bad”, even the ones you discover that trigger you. In fact, there’s a good chance you will more easily enjoy a variety of foods again soon!
It’s important to take steps to cultivate a more positive association by enjoying meals with friends, even if they aren’t eating the same thing! Or invite your curious friends and family over to try your favorite new recipes. We eat with our eyes too, so remember that it can be fun to take the time to make your meals visually appealing. Most importantly, keep the faith that your relationship with food will heal with time, as you do.
If you need extra support, please reach out. It is always better to have a support system, a health coach, or someone you trust helping you get a clear plan together. This eliminates stress and helps you stay focused.
I highly recommend checking out The Clear Skin Diet to absorb all the wonderful information that Randa + Nina provide outside of just the diet itself— tips on skincare, lifestyle habits and even emotional support.
If you have tried the Clear Skin Diet or are doing an elimination diet to heal your skin, I would love to hear from you. Let us all know what IS working for you, in the comments below!
Thank you for reading!
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