I have mentioned that I’m back following the Paleo diet, and I owe you an explanation as to why! I get a lot of emails about PCOS, so I know you guys are keen to hear about what I’m doing to tackle it. The truth is I hate writing about it. Quite a few people I know in real life read my blog and it’s embarrassing having to talk about my menstrual cycle and acne! So if you feel like skipping this post, I won’t be offended!
The last time I properly blogged about my PCOS was in June last year. In that post, my symptoms had all but cleared up. I was having a period semi-regularly and my skin was as close to perfect as I’d ever seen it. Maybe I jinxed myself by writing that post, but I haven’t had a period since writing then (until this week – but more on that below!) and my skin then became worse than ever.
When I went to Montenegro in the first week of August, my skin was pretty close to perfect and I was wearing no make-up with confidence. By the time I got to Ibiza in mid-August, my skin started breaking out. I thought it was a temporary moment of craziness (maybe caused by the heat and humidity) but it never recovered. It just kept getting worse and worse.
I think there were a combination of reasons why my hormones went haywire again. Firstly, I started reintroducing dairy in May. At first I didn’t have any negative reaction, but I think I overdid it by going from one serving a day to three.
Secondly, this was around the time I started strongman training. In June I started classes, and then in July I started training for a competition. Weight lifting boosts testosterone levels and, given that mine are already elevated, it could have just pushed me over the edge. This kind of training is very intense on the body and even if I eat well enough to fuel all the activity, I can’t combat the hormonal effect it may have.
Thirdly, when I started doing strongman I started eating a LOT of grains. Prior to strongman, I was testing the water with rice once or twice a week, but when I started strongman, I was eating rice, pasta, bread and oatmeal every day. I was so hungry all of the time, and I couldn’t stomach eating the insane amount of carbs I needed through potatoes and fruit alone.
Finally, I changed my make-up routine. It recently dawned on me that the change coincided with my increased breakouts. I had a facial in Montenegro and I broke out badly (even more so than I usually do after facials!). I’d gone almost a year without putting any artificial skin care products on my face, and I think my skin just didn’t know how to handle it.
OK, reading all these things back makes me feel like an idiot because it’s obvious why my hormones went haywire. A lot of it came down to frustration. I was annoyed that most people can eat whatever they want without thinking about it, and I wanted to prove that I could too.
Around November/December, I reached breaking point. I had painful, cystic acne not only on my chin and jawline but also on my cheeks and forehead for the first time ever. I felt so uncomfortable and self-conscious. I came *this close* to actually skipping one of my Christmas parties because I felt so ugly, and I would often break down and cry in the shower while washing my face because it hurt so much. I felt properly depressed for the first time in my life. I was actually praying I could trade my acne for other condition on my body which I could at least cover up! I even considered going back on birth control or taking Accutane, which would have been completely stupid as I know I can treat this naturally.
In mid-December, I decided to stop messing around and do what I knew needed to be done. I had been loosely following Paleo, but it wasn’t working – I needed to be strict and get all the grains and dairy out of my life. I had about a week off over Christmas and new year, but I was fairly for two weeks either side (with no plans of stopping now!).
And guess what? Two days ago I got my period (TMI, sorry!) and my skin is finally clearing up. It’s still pretty bad but a lot better than it was even a month ago. These are the changes I’ve made so far:
1. Limiting dairy and grains
I have cheese maybe twice a week, dark chocolate most days, tortillas at Sunday breakfast and rice once a week. I’ve been living on potatoes for carbs but I’m finding I’m not eating nearly as much lately as my training isn’t as intense as before.
I had frozen yoghurt on Monday night and I blew up like I was 6 months pregnant. I won’t be making that mistake again!
Since Rob has been away, I’ve also been eating out less, which I think helps as you don’t know that anything is 100% Paleo unless you make it yourself.
2. No coffee
Coffee itself isn’t related to acne. My problem was that I was having something sugary and milky, in between meals. I went from having coffee once a week to every day during the summer – again, right around the time my skin started going to hell. Hello, 50g of sugar spiking my insulin levels!
I can’t do black coffee so I find it easier just to skip altogether. Once every week or two I will have a treat at Starbucks, but I have soy milk instead of dairy (I know it’s not technically any better for hormones, but it doesn’t seem to affect me as much as dairy).
3. Changing make-up
In June or July, I switched to using a BB cream instead of foundation. I thought it would be better for my skin. I mean, BB used to originally stand for blemish balm, so how could it possibly make my skin worse? Well, it wasn’t until about two weeks ago that I started researching these BB creams and discovered I wasn’t the only person who had a problem.
I switched back to wearing foundation last week. On Sunday morning, I wore BB cream to the gym and I swear to God my skin had broken out by Sunday night. Apparently, some BB creams can work but you need to avoid the cheap brands. Oops.
I seem to have no problem wearing foundation, so why on earth did I change things?! And apparently I can wear Maybelline foundation, but not Maybelline BB cream. Figure that one out.
I know my skin would be better if I just stopped wearing make-up, but I can’t bring myself to do it. It’s a catch-22 – I need make-up to cover my skin up, but wearing make-up only makes my skin worse.
4. Tea tree oil
I’m sticking to my manuka honey and jojoba oil skin care regime which I outlined in this post. I recently started putting tea tree oil on any new spots right before I go to bed, and by morning they have dried out. It’s amazing!
5. Limiting red meat (somewhat)
Red meat raises testosterone levels. I was having it maybe five times a week, but I’ve tried to cut back to twice a week – which isn’t easy given that I love my steak and burgers so very much. I didn’t really cut back on my red meat consumption last time but this time I was so desperate, I was willing to try anything.
I haven’t changed my training at all, as I seem to be responding well to the other changes.
As much as I hate to admit it, I believe diet has the biggest impact on my hormones. I remember when I was a teenager people were saying the link between food and acne was a myth, but certainly not in my case! It’s amazing how just a few dietary can completely change my hormones. I would eventually like to re-introduce yoghurt and some grains to my diet, but I need to be more patient and do it slower than last time.
Of course, I was ecstatic to get my period this week, after seven months without it. It makes me feel like a ‘real’ woman again! And I think Rob and I have a very special relationship, because he gets just as excited as me haha!
This post is getting long, so I just want to finish up by saying that what works for me will not necessarily work for you. I am very adamant that no one should cut food groups out unless they absolutely have to. My favourite foods are all either dairy or grains, and I would much rather have no dietary limitations. Figuring out how to fix your hormones takes a lot of patience and experimentation, but hopefully sharing my experience will let you know that you are not alone!
For anyone struggling with acne, I recommend reading the two most recent posts from my favourite acne-related blogs. This one is an excerpt from Stefani Ruper’s upcoming book (I previously bought her PCOS Unlocked ebook when I first found out I had PCOS and it really helped me) and this one is an article on the link between make-up and acne.
Have you ever struggled with hormonal issues? What have you tried to control your hormones?