Abby: Hi everyone, I’m here with Jennifer Roberge today and this is The Eczema Podcast. This is the very first session so I hope you look forward to seeing more of these podcasts. I run a blog called The Prime Physique Nutrition specifically catered towards natural eczema remedies so I’m super excited to have Jennifer Roberge here. She runs an online store called The Eczema Company which caters to both adult and children. Her store basically sells anything from laundry – clean laundry detergents. Is that correct?
Jennifer: Yeah. Laundry detergents, natural skin care, and protective clothing to prevent scratching. And wet wrapping garments as well.
Abby: And she also has a blog called It’s an Itchy Little World dedicated to her adventures and her journey with her son and experimenting with different diets and experimenting with, I guess, different life style changes for eczema. And she shares a lot about allergies, asthma, and her eczema journey as well. So I’m excited to have her on the show today. So hi Jennifer, how’s your day going?
Jennifer: Good, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be your first [laughs] – your first guest on the show. [laughs]
Abby: Yeah, for sure. I’m super excited as well.
Jennifer: It’s my first podcast too, so we’ll learn together.
Abby: Yes for sure [Jennifer laughs]. So today we’re gonna talk about how to prepare for a diet change to help your eczema. Diet is a really hug component in helping eczema. I know I get questions all the time on “how can I change my diet to make it better” so this is basically one way that you could help your eczema get better. Today we’re gonna focus on how to prepare emotionally and physically as well. Especially – it’s hard, not just on the person doing the diet change, but on family members, whether you have a significant other or your have children. It’s hard and Jennifer has a lot of experience doing different diets as she’s given me the inside scoop on all the kinds of diets she’s done. And so she’s gonna talk about different diets and how to mentally prepare yourself for it.
So Jennifer, what types of diets have you done before, to help you son’s eczema get better?
Jennifer: We’ve done quite a few and the first one we was really the most successful ’cause it was the most drastic for us at the time. We were eating a lot of processed foods and really didn’t know any better. And so we – the first one we did was an elimination diet of the top, basically, eight common allergens. So things like soy and gluten and dairy and we even added corn and a few other things. Anyway the top – the fish and the shellfish and all of that. So because it was eliminating a lot of the big food groups and it made us – it required us to do a lot of from-scratch cooking and so we weren’t eating a lot of the processed foods. So that one was our first one. We saw a lot of good results with it.
Then we were trying to get to the bottom of some of the foods that I thought were causing some trouble with my son still. So we dove into something more extreme because I’d heard so many good things about it and it was the GAPS diet. The Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet? Very extreme diet. But it’s a popular one with the allergy and eczema and asthma community as well as autism and it’s a big one for a lot of childhood illnesses. And then we recently have gone into the ALCAT diet. We did an – I don’t know if you’re familiar with ALCAT but ALCAT is a food intolerance test. And when you take the test they give you a diet that they recommend based on your results. So it cuts out the severe and moderate and mild intolerances and tells you the food you can eat that are green. You know they’re, they’re – green meaning, like, good to go. You’re clear to eat them. They’re non-intolerant foods. And then you have a rotation diet, a four-day rotation diet which I love, and it tells you you can eat those foods that you have mild intolerance to every four days. So it kind of – it makes sure you’re eating a healthy balanced diet by rotating these food. So it’s, it’s a good concept. But that’s the one we’re on right now.
Abby: So what do you feel like is the biggest challenge to doing these diets?
Jennifer: For me it’s been getting the family on board. The kids are hard because, you know, kids are kids and they don’t like change and they like their certain foods. They get things that they’re used to eating and then when you change that it’s difficult. You know? But husband are harder. [laughs] My husband –
Abby: Yep [laughs]. I’ve heard from a lot of people
Jennifer: Oh my gosh. I think because I’m in this every day my life is researching diets and safe foods and ways – different ways to clear eczema naturally and skin care – natural skin care that’s healthful. All these things and I’m just in this community and this is what I hear all day long. You know? So I’m – and I research these diets I just – non-stop and it’s looking for the best thing for me and to recommend to my customers or friends or anything. So my husband’s not in this community. He just hears things from me and I think [laughs] sometimes I come home with these grandiose ideas and he’s just like “okay hold on. You want us to do what?”. [laughs]
Jennifer: “We’re going to be eating broth, chicken broth, for breakfast? I don’t know about that.” [laughs] So it’s very challenging. The husband’s – I don’t – I don’t know why – Like, I don’t want to group them into this, you know, general, you know – all husbands are against it. It’s not that he’s against it. It’s just, I think, they need to be – you need to come home with really good proof, you know, is what I’ve found. And at the end of the day, with the GAPS diet – that was the most challenging one we’ve done so far. And I gave him the book and I said “okay, you have questions. I understand. Read about it, here you go.” And do you think he read it? No.
Jennifer: And did he complain about it afterwards? Not as much. [laughs] ‘Cause I told him. I was like “if you’re questioning it, go ahead. You’ll see for yourself like I did. But he didn’t do it. So anyway he, he kinda learned to grin and bear it and put up with the diet and – but he was questioning me all the time. Which, you know, it’s good. Because it makes – it makes me question myself and my decisions. And so I have to have a good case for doing something. And, you know, changing children’s diet constantly – it’s, it’s not something that you should go about lightly. It can be dangerous if you’re not careful. So –
Jennifer: And – yeah. So anyway, I would say that’s difficult. The kids, the husband, learning to cook differently and finding new recipes is a real challenge and you have to adapt. Like, I like to adapt current recipes too. And sometimes that can be really difficult depending on how much you’re eliminating. Like with the GAPS diet you have to go completely – you have to go with a whole new recipe book and I’ve actually – now on the ALCAT, I’ve totally gotten rid of recipes. I mean, I might use a recipe for pancakes, but other than that I make food just so simply that it’s just so easy – it’s so much easier. I’m not following recipes so it’s –
Abby: That’s great.
Jennifer: – it’s better. Yeah, so –
Abby: I know for a lot of my clients – well, first of all like you mentioned: the husband thing. It’s definitely really hard for a lot of the husbands to get onboard. For my clients who do the diet, they’ll do it but then they have to cook something separate for their husbands so that’s really hard. And then the part about looking into recipes – it’s, it’s such a big shift. Like at the beginning they usually have research a lot of recipes, look for new recipe books. It’s definitely a huge lifestyle change.
Jennifer: It is. And, you know, you made the point about making different recipes or different meals for different family members that maybe aren’t participating in the diet – we’ve actually never done that because it, it’s just a lot of work. So what we do is I cook one meal and – let’s just say for breakfast we all eat the same thing. So, like, GAPS diet we were all having suet for breakfast. Everybody complained, people didn’t like it, but we had suet for breakfast. My husband went to school and at the time my daughter was going to a daycare, so they ate differently away from home. But when they were at home, to support my son mostly and because it was too difficult to make another meal, they ate the way we did. So they weren’t exclusively on the diet because they were eating other things outside the home. But when they were with us they ate the same way – and, you know, I had snack foods that, you know, they could eat but maybe my son couldn’t have. But my husband felt guilty doing that. You know? He didn’t want to eat these foods that my son was craving and really wanted – he didn’t want to eat them right in front of his face. So we found it was, like, kinda solidarity and sticking together and, like, all eating the same thing. And it was so much easier for me. Like, I didn’t drive myself crazy trying to cook multiple meals and – so it was better that way.
Abby: So do you have any tips for people starting a new diet? Especially since there’s so many types of diets. Do you have tips for people starting it mentally and emotionally?
Jennifer: I do. You know, the best tip that I can give is to prepare your – give yourself a start date that’s a little bit ahead of time. So I usually – let’s say it’s the end of October now – I’d probably give myself a month so I couldn’t start the diet until December first. At least a few weeks, give yourself, to prepare. Because it’s – if you just start all the sudden, you’re – and without any background preparation or research or anything, you’re going to probably fail. I mean, it’s just – it’s not reasonable. You might need to stockpile your kitchen, you need your research. You know, make sure you know the safe food list inside and out; what foods you’re gonna be eliminating. You find the safe recipes online. You need to have a list of recipes that are safe or that were not safe but you’re gonna alter them and how you’re gonna make those changes. And preparing your kitchen with foods either that you make yourself and freeze or that you, you know, you’ve purchased from the store that are safe. Because if you get a craving and you don’t have a food – a safe food – that you can substitute – if it was me, I would eat the, the bad food and kill the diet and have to start over again. You know? So I know – I know from past experience that I have to prepare myself and have that – the – all the safe foods ready to go. ‘Cause if I don’t I’m, I’m just gonna cheat and –
Abby: It can be dangerous –
[both speak at once]
Jennifer: – start over again on most of these diets.
Jennifer: I think – it can be really tempting if people don’t have the right foods ready to go. So my, my whole thing is like prepare foods in advance, freeze them, and stockpile your kitchen, and find the recipes you can use. Don’t be like, you’re starving, it’s five o’clock, you don’t have any clue what you’re gonna make so you go online searching for a recipe. You can’t find anything good so you just make something that’s not safe. You know? Or you go out to the store to buy a prepared meal that’s not safe. So, give yourself time. That’s it. Don’t jump-start into a diet too quickly, that’s the biggest thing.
Abby: That’s definitely huge. What about – how about getting family members onboard? Any tips and tricks for that?
Jennifer: Yeah, so – I have to say, for myself and for the family, I like to give ourselves – like I said, that date. A start date but I also try to give them an idea of how long we’re gonna be on the diet. Tentatively, right? ‘Cause things can change. You might have to ch – you might have to alter the diet and extend a little long. But I try to say, like – for the first elimination diet we did for my son, we did it in about – I think we gave ourselves a month before we started adding food back in. And my husband was asking me all the time “when are we gonna be stopping this diet? When are we gonna be able to eat bread again? When are we gonna be there?” You know? So I gave them a start and a stop date, that helped a lot. And then I, I sat everybody down and we talked about why it’s important that we’re doing the diet. What do we want to see change? And my son was old enough when we first st – well, not when we first started to do it. But as we’ve done some of the other diets he’s been old enough that we can reason with him and tell him. It’s like “you know how you feel, you know. How do you feel when your skin’s itchy and it’s red and it’s dry. And, you know, we’re gonna try this diet to try and help your skin. We don’t know if it’s gonna work but wouldn’t that be cool if it did?” And, you know, try not to give too many false hopes but I try to encourage him too. You know? And see that, like – he can start to see how foods can impact his health. And so it’s been an interesting learning lesson for our family.
And with the GAPS diet, especially, I was talking to them about the extreme changes that we might have. I tried to prepare them in advance that we were gonna be eating broth every single meal, you know. And just – if there’s anything extreme, it’s important. I find start and stop dates so they can get their head around it a little bit. And, you know, what we’re trying to d – why we’re doing the diet. Why is it important. I want them to know, you know. I can’t expect them to make really crazy drastic changes in their diet for no reason. They need to – kids need to know to, why it’s being done. So…
Abby: Yeah, that’s really important, the point that you said. Especially since I know some of my clients – their husband just gets really discouraged and it affects them as well. Especially if they don’t give an end date, then it just keeps going on and on and they never know when it ends.
Jennifer: Yeah. And if you don’t know what you’re trying to do – what kind of changes you’re trying to see, that too. Because I find, like, with the GAPS diet we were trying to hit certain milestones and my husband – you know, ’cause you keep adding foods back in with that diet. And he was like “well, when – what are we waiting for? Why can’t we move to the next step? Like what, what are we trying to see?” So I was trying to be clear with him and, like, let him know, you know, “hey, we have to make sure this food, you know – there’s no reaction to it and -” So, anyway, it’s important to know what your goals are.
Abby: And just out of curiosity, I know a lot of my listeners and readers might be curious to know, but which diet worked the best for you guys?
Jennifer: The first one, the very first one. When we eliminated the top allergens. So at the time when we did the diet there was only, like, top eight allergens. Now I think they call it the top tend or maybe even the top eleven in the US and Canada. I can’t remember. But – so when we eliminated all those foods that’s when we saw a 95% improvement in my son’s skin. It was real –
Jennifer: – really incredible, yeah. It was – you know, and I have to tell you, I cheated. This is my first diet so we did everything except removed gluten. Okay? And – because I told myself, this is back before, you know, we were as super natural as we try to be these days. And we were eating a lot of processed foods and a lot of bread, a lot of pasta. It was easy and my son loved it. And he was three and we were putting him through all these, you know, changes already with his diet. I was like, you know, I just can’t do that to him. I cannot remove gluten from his diet. We’re gonna try everything else first. So we removed everything except the gluten. The top allergens except gluten. And nothing, nothing changed. Not one thing.
Jennifer: And I said – I was speaking with a naturopath that’s a friend and she said “you know, you really need to gluten”. I said “Oh no!” [laughs]. But we did. We finally removed it and within, like, a day or two his skin cleared up. But it wasn’t just gluten. It was that – it was that combination of foods. Because over – gradually over time we started reintroducing each of those eight foods we had eliminated. And we could clearly spikes in his eczema related to a few of those. So it was dairy, gluten, soy, corn, can’t remember the other ones. But those – the nuts didn’t bother him as much.
Abby: Did citrus?
Jennifer: Anyways it was very clear which ones it was. No, citrus, not so much, no. But it was tomato. Tomato and red pepper and strawberries. [Abby speaks but cannot be understood] A couple random – red, red stuff. It was interesting. But anyway, it was that combination of foods. So it wasn’t just the gluten and it wasn’t those other things alone. It was together. So – and, you know, gradually over time he’s been able to eat some of those things as long as they’re rotated through his diet. If he had them every single day, you know, his skin would be horrific probably. But if he eats them every four days or maybe once a month, that’s fine. So we splurge every once in a while. His dairy – his dairy intolerance has turned into – and a few of his nuts – turned into a full-blown allergy, though, over time. He actually had anaphylaxis to sheep’s pro – feta cheese. And he’s act – he’s also allergic, not as severely, but allergic to dairy and some tree buts as well. But they’re getting better. Through all these dietary changes we’re seeing improvements in that too. So that’s good.
But – yeah, so anyway. We’ve had some, we’ve had some good luck and we’ve had – we’ve had some hard times. I mean, the GAPS diet was not for our family. We did everything really by the book and I found that that wasn’t good for us. The dai – the ghee that they recommend everyday, that they push so hard. It’s not – we both have – like I said, my son had an allergy but ghee is the protein – the milk protein’s removed so it’s supposed to be safer for dairy allergies. And he tolerated it at first. But I think eventually, over time, it built up and it really flared his asthma really badly. So that wasn’t good for us. And I think if I was to go back and do the GAPS diet we would be more flexible and maybe not follow things exactly to the T, like the ghee. The broth is good and all that, but – I don’t know. I just found it to be really rigid, the diet.
Abby: And I have heard that the GAPS diet is effective in, like, the first – either the first couple months or so and then it starts to wear off.
Jennifer: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Abby: Yeah. But the first diet that you did, removing the allergens. The one you did is less strict than an elimination diet, right?
Jennifer: Well it’s technically considered an elimination diet. But I guess there’s – elimination diet’s one of those general terms.
Abby: Yeah, there’s different types out there.
Jennifer: Yeah. We followed – I can’t remember the name of the book. Sue – man, I should’ve gotten the name of it. But there’s a book that we used and she referred to it as “the elimination diet for eczema” or something, I can’t remember. And it was really just the top eight allergens. But then also peas, green peas, you know, ’cause a legume related to soy and all of that. So, anyway, it was interesting. I, I, I would – if anyone’s really considering an elimination diet I think the – I don’t know if it’s the easiest but I think one of the more effective things is doing the, the top allergens. Eliminating the top allergens. Wouldn’t you agree?
Abby: That’s a good start as well, for sure. Especially as you mentioned, the combination of things really irritates the guts sometimes. If you’re eating things that are really harsh for your body. And I get asked this a lot. I get asked whether I can eat foods – eat those allergenic foods again after I’ve stopped them for a while. And once your body’s healed, yes, you definitely can. Or at least, in my case, I was able to. Before I – I used to tingle all the time when I ate the wrong foods. I would tingle in my fingers and just tingle in, like, weird places in my body. And then I would get random flare-ups. But after healing my body and just removing the foods for a long period of time, I’m finally able to eat normal foods again that people would consider allergenic.
Jennifer: Wow, that’s good. That’s really nice. I know that eating them on a rotation diet might be helpful for some people.
Abby: That would help people as well.
Jennifer: That’s why I like the ALCAT that we’re doing. It’s a four-day rotation and I find just that concept really healthy in general. I mean, you don’t wanna be eating the same foods every single day –
Abby: Yeah, for sure. And –
Jennifer: Yeah, I like that concept.
Abby: And just so my listeners are aware, the reason for the four-day rotation is so that it gives your body a break from – it gives your – the digestive enzymes in your body a break so that it has time to replenish itself and it h – it’s less likely to develop allergies that way. So that’s why it help. Do you have any other last words or last words of advice for my listeners out there?
Jennifer: Sure, sure. Just, I guess, to recap again, there were a couple things. I would say is to never jump into the diet without planning. It’s like setting yourself up for failure, really. So take the time and plan it out. Don’t rush into anything. And spend time preparing yourself and your family mentally and physically and get your kitchen ready. And you’ll succeed. I mean if you have the – especially when it’s comes to children, it’s like we find we take less care of ourselves but for our kids we’ll do anything. Right? So I – you’ll be motiv – you have this, like, this unbelievable motivation to help your child. So, like, you’ll sti – help them stick to the diet and, and do a good job. It’s just as a, a mother there’s nothing you wouldn’t do. You know? So…
Abby: Yep, that’s definitely true. So it’s amazing to see you do so much for your kids and for yourself as well. I’m so glad for having you on the show today. If, if you wanna visit Jennifer’s site – do you wanna let our audience know your website so that they can check you out?
Abby: Great, thanks so much and I’m so glad we had a chance to speak today.
Jennifer: Thanks for having me, it was fun!
Abby: You’re welcome. Take care!