As a rule, I’m generally sceptical of dietary advice for acne. Eat this, don’t eat that – it can take a long time (even on my fast-track elimination diet for acne) to work out if there’s a specific food group which is causing your skin problems.
However, I made very significant (like 0-90% clear) improvements in my acne AND seborrheic dermatitis with the diet I’m going to describe in this post. In about eight days.
Once I added in the mineral/vitamin supplementation and the tried-and-tested principles behind the Caveman Regimen, I was over my acne and thankfully, still am.
I should also point out that I can now eat pretty much what I like and not get acne, provided I stick with the minerals and vitamins as described here – BUT I DON’T.
I still follow this diet pretty much all the time, with the odd treat here and there to keep me sane, because aside from clearing my skin it has a huge effect on my quality of life and energy levels. I feel far more invincible on this diet than I did when I spent my days eating three packets of potato chips, two decent-sized cookies, bread, pasta, pastry-based snacks and a whole selection of other low quality crappy food.
I used to be 200lb and 23% bodyfat (still muscular, but far from what you’d call “fit”). These days, with no change to my gym routine, which consists of absolutely zero cardio (because I hate it) and plenty of weight training (because I love it), I’m now 200lb and 8.7% bodyfat at the last check-in.
This diet is a key component in my bodybuilding regime and it’s the main reason I stay in serious shape all year round with relatively minimal effort.
Learn exactly how, when and what I eat in my e-book, BIG, RIPPED & CLEAR, and find out how to train, how to eat and how to supplement to clear your skin and upgrade your physique as fast as possible.
That’s a whole lotta results – acne, seb derm, fat loss, muscle gain.
SO WHAT IS THIS AWESOME DIET?!
Is the question I can hear you shouting by now. I’ve certainly built it up enough.
It’s called the ketogenic diet. Ketones are made by oxidising alcohols and occur in the body when fat is used for energy in preference to carbohydrates.
The body is able to use them as an alternative source of fuel to glucose, after an initial adaptation period. A few parts of the brain still need glucose to function, but as the body can make glucose out of protein (called gluconeogenesis) this is taken care of by eating sufficient high-quality protein and no carbohydrates.
When you enter the state of ketosis, after an initial period of a few days to a couple of weeks, your body is working like it evolved to and getting all of the energy you need from fat.
Think about it. We need essential amino acids in our diet, from protein. We need essential fatty acids, from fat. Yet there’s no such thing as an essential carbohydrate.
To get into a state of ketosis is both simple and incredibly difficult at the same time. And unless you have enormous amounts of willpower (especially if you live with a baking goddess, as mentioned) it’s going to be a challenge early on.
It’s simple because all you have to do is not eat carbohydrates. It’s hard because all you have to do is not eat carbohydrates, and not eating carbohydrates (or really, keeping them to below about 30g per day) is actually a very difficult thing to achieve.
No starch, no sugar. Nothing but high fat and moderate-to-high protein for each meal, with a few vegetables thrown in here and there for health.
How does this help acne?
So, if you’re going to enter the minefield of ingredient checking and label reading which is keto dieting, you want to be reasonably sure of why you’re doing it in the first place.
Because believe me, there will be times when you want nothing more than to eat even one potato, let alone a bar of chocolate. And any diet where you end up craving a potato is serious business, so the more you understand the more likely you’ll be to want to follow it through.
It’s all about insulin. Insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) are really the master hormones for acne (even more so, I would argue, than testosterone, which gets a pretty bad rap for causing acne).
Read all about insulin and it’s effects on acne here, but for now – keeping it as simple and jargon-free as possible, insulin:
- Stimulates the growth of skin cells, which block pores
- Makes skin cells grow faster, making them more likely to block pores
- Stimulates the growth of keratin-producing cells, which stick skin cells together
- Stimulates the production of sebum, also blocking pores
- Weakens the skin’s natural barrier, the acid mantle
- Stimulates the production of testosterone, which also contributes to all of the above
- Makes the skin more sensitive to testosterone, increasing its acne-genic effects even further
So the message is that if you’re genetically predisposed in the first place, insulin stokes acne like chucking jet fuel on a wood burning stove.
Now, the more carbohydrates you eat, the more sugar enters your bloodstream and the more insulin needs to be produced to shuttle it into your cells.
And the more insulin is produced on a constant basis (while you’re throwing candy bars down your pipe like a ten-year-old on allowance day) the more your cells become resistant to it – termed “insulin resistance” (read this post). Which means your pancreas needs to produce even more insulin to have the same effect, and it’s a vicious cycle.
A cycle ending with diabetes, actually. (As much as a cycle can “end” anywhere…)
Insulin resistance in acne patients, and in fact most people partaking in the standard western diet, is a common feature and in order to get it back to healthy levels, drastic action can be needed.
Many people, me included, find that once insulin production is reduced as much as possible, acne all but disappears. Many seb derm sufferers (and dandruff sufferers in general) see the same.
And the ketogenic diet, including as it does no foods high in carbohydrates, is a great way to feel healthier, more energetic and above all (fingers crossed) get clear. It’s even possible to put on lean weight with this diet if you want to, subject to how big your appetite is.
Once you hit that magic state of ketosis and feel the benefits on near constant energy levels, I doubt very much you’ll want to go back to eating like a slob.
Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s some science.
What you’re allowed to eat
Any diet which keeps your daily carbohydrate intake below about 30-50g per day will put you into ketosis after a few days. If you’ve really been binging on the sweet stuff, maybe up to two weeks.
So eat any of the following, as you like:
- Low-carb dairy (mainly butter, but also cheese and high-fat cream)
- Non-starchy, leafy vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, spinach, salad, etc)
- Oils (olive oil and coconut oil are great)
- Salt, pepper, spices – salt is important to maintain sodium levels on this diet
I’m not going to give you any recipes – this isn’t another cooking blog – but suffice it to say that with good quality ingredients and a liberal application of seasoning and spices you can make enough meals out of the above to stop you getting too bored.
If you want to lose weight, eat enough to keep you below the calorie maintenance threshold. If you want to put on weight, eat more. Believe me when I say that if you feel hungry at all on this diet, you need more fat and protein.
I personally shun breakfast, because mornings are a time for kicking ass and taking care of business and breakfast slows me down. And despite not eating for a 16-18 hour period every day, I’m never hungry.
What you can’t eat…
All the old “good stuff” – anything containing much at all in the way of carbohydrates will risk knocking you out of ketosis and spiking that insulin, undoing all that hard work and potentially giving you more pimples.
This includes anything starchy and especially anything sugary. Even fruit should be eaten in fairly limited amounts, and not bananas or oranges since they’re just too sweet.
And for those times when you’re craving carbohydrates (and you will, in the early days) just make sure you’ve always got some cold meat, or cheese, or nuts easily to hand, so it’s no extra effort to eat them rather than junk.
Pre-planning, pre-cooking and pre-packing your meals is an excellent way to make sure that sticking to this diet is as easy as possible, so you’re not caught without a meal to hand and tempted to drop into the nearest burger joint for a quick fix.
Checking you’re in ketosis
To check you’re actually in ketosis, you can buy little strips called “Ketostix” (from a pharmacy or online) which you urinate on and they change colour to indicate ketones are present.
Aside from the huge number of acne and seb derm success stories which abound on internet forums and from messages I receive, there are a LOT of other benefits to being on the ketogenic diet, which I’ll just briefly mention to save time but which should be taken extremely seriously:
- Vastly improved body composition – fat loss while maintaining muscle. I went from 23% bodyfat and feeling like turd to 9% bodyfat and feeling indestructible in the space of seven weeks. SEVEN WEEKS. Move over, Fat Fighter clubs around the world.
(Find out how exactly you can achieve awesome results like this in my bodybuilding-with-acne e-book here. Why wouldn’t you?!)
- More energy, and more consistent energy (no periods of hyperactivity and/or lethargy throughout the day)
- Sharper mind – because of having more energy, you also benefit from having far more focus and less “brain fog”
- Lower insulin resistance – greatly reduces your risk of diabetes, heart attack and obesity
- Constantly feeling satiated – done properly, you’re just never hungry. So there’s no distractions, and no uncomfortable stomach rumblings during the day. You just eat when it’s mealtime and you don’t really have to think about food for the rest of the day.
There you have it – the keto diet for acne. The way I eat and the only way I recommend you eat if you want to feel like Superman all day long. Give it a try and who knows, it might help or even completely clear your skin.