Here are 7 bizarre diets I’ve tried on my path from acne to clear skin.
Not one of them truly cleared up my skin, except one, but it would have killed me if I’d kept going with it.
Yes, I know the following sounds crazy, but it is all 100% true:
I went raw vegan for 8 months.
80/10/10 raw vegan, actually. (That’s 80% calories from carbs, 10% from protein, and 10% from fat.)
A typical day looked like this: Wake up, eat a whole honeydew melon and a big plate of raw spinach for breakfast. Stomach hurting from volume of food already. Sneak out of the dining hall with 5 bananas stuffed in my coat to eat for a snack an hour later when I’m starving again. An hour later, eat said bananas.
At lunchtime, eat 3 apples and 3 oranges. Stomach hurting again due to extreme stretching. 1 hour later, eat 20 dates to try to get some more calories. Can soon feel the sugar rush pounding in my skull. 1 hour later, I’m starving again – eat a handful of chia seeds or almonds.
At dinner, eat a big plate of mixed pineapple and melon, along with 3-4 kiwis and a big plate of raw salad greens. Yum.
Pros: 100% clear skin. I mean absolutely ZERO zits over the entire 8 months. The best my skin had EVER been since I was 12 years old. This is probably why I stuck with it for so long. Lots of energy. No body odor whatsoever. Voluminous and glossy hair. Strong fingernails. Easy poops daily–this was huge for me, since I had been constipated most of my early life. I would have kept doing this forever except for the cons…
Cons: Extreme and dangerous weight loss: I got down to 110 pounds, from normal weight of 125 pounds. I’m 5’9″, so I was a total skeleton by the end of these crazy 8 months. BAD. Could not share food with anybody at social gatherings, because I was 100% strict. I had a major fear of cooked food as being poison, because that’s what the raw vegan experts wrote in their books and blog posts and juicing videos. Egads. Also, having to make not one, but TWO trips via bicycle to the farmer’s market every week, because I could only carry about 30 pounds of fruit on my back each trip, and I noshed through about 50 pounds of fruit per week. Extreme social isolation: my college roommates hated hearing my raw vegan proselytizing and told me to bugger off, basically. Ouch. I don’t blame them, honestly! Obviously not a sustainable diet, though I can’t argue with the 100% clear skin – how, then, could I incorporate the skin-clearing benefits of the 80/10/10 raw vegan diet, while avoiding the calorie deficiency, mineral deficiency, and social isolation problems?
Hindsight: Excellent potassium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin C, and prebiotic fiber content. Zero fluoride exposure because I was eating all organic fruit, and wasn’t drinking any tap water. Low iron and low PUFA are huge wins for acne. However, I couldn’t eat enough calories to maintain weight, and my lips started hurting from all the fruit acids. Extreme social isolation took its toll.
I went low-carb Paleo for 3 months.
This sounded like a good idea after being raw vegan for 8 months. I broke my raw vegan stint one day around Christmas, when I was down to 110 pounds, by frying up and eating 1 pound of bacon, followed by an 8-egg omelet with 1/2 pound of shrimp. That felt amazing, surprisingly, so I figured I’d continue, and give very-low-carb Paleo a shot!
Typical breakfast: 8-egg omelet. Lunch: 1 pound of ground beef. Snack: 1/3 stick raw butter (straight in the mouth, thanks – I’m feeling so hardcore I don’t even need to put it in my “certified mold-free” coffee!). Dinner: 1/2 pound shrimp or octopus or some other weird thing, with 1 can of coconut milk.
Again, this was right after being raw vegan. Raw fruits and veggies, then straight to meat, eggs and butter. Can you imagine a more insane pendulum swing? Like I said, I’ve never been very good at easing into things.
Pros: I gained back 20 pounds in 2 months, to a healthy weight of 130 lbs. And I could eat cooked food again! Hooray!
Cons: Literally the WORST constipation EVER. Like I said, I’ve been struggling with constipation my whole life, but this was INSANE. I was learning how to do circular abdominal self-massage to get those poo rocks to try to budge a little, and taking megadoses of Miralax. I also felt like a slug. I also had literally zero energy – it was hard to get up off the couch and do much of anything. Finally, I got into some major beef with a vegetarian housemate who hated the stink of cooked octopus pervading the house. Come on, seriously? What’s not to like about the smell of the sea? So I ended up having to cook outside on a hot plate. In the dead of winter. Good thing I was living in California!
Hindsight: Way too much iron from red meat = constipation and fatigue. Way too much protein led to low-grade protein poisoning and body shutdown. Not enough carbs = not enough energy to do stuff, like, you know, move around. At least for my body (despite what the keto folks say). Not enough manganese, magnesium, potassium, or vitamin C led to chronic fatigue.
For the life of me, I cannot remember if I had acne during this time. I think I was too tired to even notice! I would expect that I did, due to iron overload and terrible digestion, and the fact that I was still drinking fluoridated water at the time.
I tried “Dining Hall Paleo” for 2 years, back in college.
This was an interesting experiment to try. How to eat Paleo when all that really leaves me is grilled chicken breasts and the salad bar? Here’s how: try to convince yourself you’re doing your best to eat strict Paleo, and ignore the times when you just crack under the pressure and make yourself a white-flour Belgian waffle slathered with peanut butter and jam for Sunday brunch. Oh, but I’ve eating bacon on the side, so that part’s Paleo, right?
There were not a lot of true Paleo options here. Most food options had bread, pasta, gluten, dairy, vegetable oil, beans, or grains in them, so I didn’t have much to eat. As you might expect, I definitely had acne during this time. Not super bad, but definitely not clear.
I tried the Warrior Diet for 2 weeks, while living in Japan.
This was epic. I would basically eat nothing all day, except maybe drink a little boxed mango juice. By dinnertime, I would be starving off my ass and would go to the local 回転寿し (sushi boat place) and eat 16 plates of sushi. For only $22! And it was freaking delicious!
Now I’m a small guy, 125 pounds ish, so that was a huge amount of food to pack in at once.
Pros: lots of energy throughout the day, mental clarity, since I’m not working on digesting large volumes of food. Got to pig out on the most amazing food on this good green Earth. Cons: intense stomach pain from eating so much white rice.
I tried the Master Cleanse for 1 week.
This is where you eat zero food, but drink only water spiked with lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup.
Why did I think this was a good idea?
Oh yeah, because I had ACNE and I would try literally ANYTHING to get rid of it, as should be readily apparent by now.
Well, it was supposed to last a week, but I only made it 4 days. That’s because my sweat started to smell like maple syrup. And I was constipated as heck. The other part of the Master Cleanse is that you do a daily “saltwater flush” – i.e., you drink a quart of saltwater and lie on the couch, hoping to trigger a bowel movement. This did not happen for me. I chugged the salt water, laid on the couch, and nothing happened. No poo. So I ended up just drinking a quart of saltwater, three different times. Okay, after 4 days even I knew it was crazy to keep going!
I tried the Peanut Butter, Applesauce, Honey, and Chips Diet for 2 weeks.
I made this one up.
I was living in a vegetarian group house, and we’d get these big 5-gallon buckets of honey and peanut butter, and giant industrial-size boxes full of bags of Garden of Eatin’ Organic blue corn chips.
This is what my diet looked like: Breakfast – fill a bowl with applesauce, mix in a couple heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter and honey, then cram it down as fast as possible. Snack: more of same.
Lunch: 2 whole bags of Garden of Eatin’ blue corn chips. Yes, 2 WHOLE BAGS – that’s 2,520 calories, and 126 grams of vegetable oil. OHMYGOD.
Dinner: more of applesauce/peanut butter/honey cocktail.
Bedtime snack: more of same.
If it’s not already obvious, I had gone a bit bonkers by this point in my diet experiments. I wasn’t even listening to the experts anymore! To heck with dieting! I had built up so much angst and pressure from doing strict diets for so many years that I was just diving into a glorious 100% binge-fest now. Binge after binge, day after day.
The funny part?
I had middling acne, but not the worst ever. Probably only because the chips used high-oleic safflower oil, which has a lot less PUFA than other vegetable oils. Or maybe because I was actually just allowing myself to eat whatever the heck I wanted, without caring anymore. Less stress about acne means less acne, a key takeaway from this diet experiment!
Pros: allowing myself to eat whatever the heck I wanted, all day long. Wow did that blow off some steam built up from years of strict dieting.
Cons: moderate acne. Also, pretty constipated during this time. Didn’t feel that great, overall, probably due to eating only peanut butter, applesauce, honey, and chips.
I went strict Paleo for about 5 years, after leaving college.
Gawd this was hard, in retrospect. No dairy, no gluten, no grains, no beans. Just meat, veggies, fruit, and nuts and seeds. I would have weird blips in behavior like eating half a jar of almond butter in one sitting. (Sounds like a binge, despite being technically Paleo!) Pros: pretty good skin. The occasional zit, but nothing major. Cons: started having major chronic fatigue, anxiety issues, and full-blown panic attacks by the end. Like it felt like I was dying. Not good. Obviously something wrong with the diet! Hindsight: way too much iron, especially from red meat. Way too much PUFA from eating metric craptons of almond butter. Not enough potassium, magnesium, manganese, or molybdenum (you know, the nutrients you get from whole grains, beans, and fruit/veg). Kind of similar to my low-carb Paleo experiment above, but even worse eventually because it dragged on so long. Also, I developed MAJOR anxiety about eating anything not strictly Paleo. OH GAWD, I just ate some GLUTENS! How will I make it?!?!?!!1 Will my gut become so leaky that I just DIE INSTANTLY?!? This kind of thinking was made worse by reading Paleo books and blogs for 5 years, without any counterbalancing perspectives on diet.
There were many more experiments – too many to repeat here – but these are the craziest ones. Hopefully you can see now that I am a crazy, insane diet experimenter hell-bent on finding the magical dietary cure for acne. After all these experiments, I still hadn’t found it! Kind of felt like searching through the jungles of the New World for the mystical Fountain of Youth. Still searching…
I RRARFed for 2 weeks.
This is Matt Stone’s invention… also known as the “High Everything Diet.” It’s the anti-diet for chronic dieters. Eat tons of everything to get your body temps up. (Mine was pretty low at the time – 96.8º or so.) I was starting to develop adrenal fatigue and chronic anxiety problems – major panic attacks that felt like I was dying – so this seemed like a good idea to try.
Breakfast: oatmeal drenched with blackstrap molasses and heavy cream.
Lunch: Waffles? Pancakes? Honestly don’t remember. Oh yeah, I ate a whole bag of those frozen potstickers once.
Snack: CROISSANTS!!! I have missed you so much!!
Dinner: Some other weird thing involving lots of gluten and dairy and vegetable oil.
Pros: Being able to eat literally anything. Blowing off more steam from strict Paleo dieting for 5 years.
Cons: Acne. This definitely did not fix it. I felt better in some ways – reduced anxiety, somewhat – maybe due to having more manganese and potassium in my diet, but overall didn’t feel that great, and my temps didn’t go up much.
A New Hope…
Then, one unprepossessing Tuesday, I struck gold in the strangest of places…
I picked up a strange book called “The Blue Zone Diet” at a dinner party at a friend’s place (she lived right behind a Dairy Queen – kind of ironic, since I was trying to eat only Paleo-approved foods at that dinner party!), and I read it all in one sitting. I just totally checked out of the conversation and blazed through that book – the pages were practically catching fire I was turning them so fast.
My GOD did that book throw me for a loop.
It shook my long-held dietary assumptions to their core.
In one fell swoop, it dethroned King Paleo from the High Seat of the Kingdom of Ultimate Health.
Rather than trying to pick and choose studies to paint some magical, but false, picture about how our Stone Age ancestors ate (ahem, Cordain, I’m looking at you!), the book took the extremely humble (and obvious) approach of studying the longest-lived people on the planet RIGHT NOW, and how they eat.
They weren’t eating much meat at all!
And they were eating beans, grains, and dairy – all the things I thought were big no-nos after being steepd in Paleo for so long. Yet these people’s guts weren’t exploding in a firestorm of lectins and enzyme inhibitors… if anything, they seemed to be living longer and healthier precisely *because* they were eating such foods! (And lots of vegetables, of course.)
Anyway, this book flipped a major switch for me. I embarked on a new odyssey of diet research, digging into hundreds of studies on PubMed, reading many more books and blog posts, and again going down many rabbit holes. I started to analyze all the crazy diets I’d done in the past, and cross-referencing them to figure out which parts I could cherry-pick to make my ideal diet that’s 1) sustainable, and 2) clears up my skin enough that I don’t even notice a zit if I get one.
And I’ll be gol-darned if I didn’t find what I think is The Answer to Acne. (At least, it’s An Answer to Acne. Devin’s Best Current Attempt At an Answer to Acne.)
That answer involves things like:
– Reducing fluoride exposure from pesticides, contaminated food, water, toothpaste, non-stick pans, waterproof raingear, etc.
– Increasing iodine content in the diet to fix thyroid issues, combat lipid peroxidation, and detox fluoride and bromide from body storage sites
– Avoiding A1 dairy, and instead seeking out A2 dairy sources (ideally grass-fed and raw)
– Reducing PUFA content of the diet
– Increasing vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, zinc, and magnesium intake
– Increasing overall nutrient density in the diet
– Avoiding specific types of wheat, while allowing low-Glia-α9 varieties
– Fixing gut health by reducing stress, removing the worst diet toxins and leaky gut triggers, introducing beneficial prebiotics through the diet, etc.
– Fixing iron overload problems by reducing meat consumption, adding smart use of iron chelators to the diet, increasing vitamin C and molybdenum intake, etc.
– Lots more! See my book for the complete run-down.
Hope you enjoyed this crazy list of diets that didn’t work!
Have you tried any weird diets for acne? Post a comment below and tell me about it! 🙂