How Psoriasis Can Affect Your Diet

I struggle with my food choices. It’s not that I’m striving to follow an anti-psoriasis diet: None that I’ve tried, including a gluten-free regimen, worked to reduce my psoriasis symptoms.

My ongoing battle is to eat a healthy diet that lowers my risk of developing medical conditions associated with psoriasis.

My most recent annual physical and blood tests revealed that I am prediabetic, have elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, and am close to being overweight. Each year my primary care physician, Christopher Swales, MD, tells me to watch my diet and get more exercise.

Keeping up with my exercise routine is the easier part: Now that I’m receiving physical therapy for my shoulder and hip, I’m able to work out more consistently. But following a prediabetic diet and a heart-healthy diet has proved to be stubbornly difficult.

Health Conditions Connected to Psoriasis

The American Academy of Dermatology’s website displays an informative graphic titled “Can Psoriasis Affect More Than My Skin?” It shows all the many ways psoriasis can raise your risk of developing other medical conditions.

The list includes eye problems, weight gain, Crohn’s disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, diabetes, gum disease, liver disease, psoriatic arthritis, mental health disorders, and kidney disease.

There’s also evidence linking psoriasis to cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and polycystic ovary syndrome. One of the culprits is systemic inflammation, defined as inflammation throughout the body that isn’t limited to the skin. Another issue is insulin resistance.

It’s a game changer to know that the plaques I’m seeing on my skin have a source also affecting my body’s internal functioning. Those who told me that “psoriasis is just a rash” are clearly wrong.

Emotional Eating to Cope

I typically have a self-disciplined and focused approach to life. I like to meet deadlines early and stay on top of my emails and to-do lists. I can sit for hours writing or working. I exercise regularly. But for as long as I can remember I have had trouble staying away from foods that I’d be better off avoiding.

I know enough about my eating habits to write a personalized version of Eat This, Not That. I’m aware that I should try to eat more whole grains and green vegetables, and that I should limit sugary drinks, red meat, alcohol, and fast food.

Here’s my leading theory on why it’s hard for me to say no to certain foods: I eat to feel better. The Cleveland Clinic describes me perfectly: “You sit on the couch and mindlessly munch through a whole bag of chips after a stressful day. This is emotional eating.”

The problem, the clinic explains, is that the “feel-good foods you reach for can actually make you feel worse.”

Still, when I’m feeling low, tired, or anxious I reach for cinnamon rolls or a Popsicle. I like to go to foods full of sugar or fat to cope with stress related to psoriasis. It’s easy to end a day fighting symptoms like itchiness or cracked skin with a big bag of barbecue potato chips that help me forget the physical discomfort.

Strategies for Eating More Healthfully

My approach to improving my diet includes two old strategies that have helped in the past and two new ones I want to try.

Replace Unhealthy Snacks and Food

I don’t think I can stop snacking, at least not easily. But in the past, I’ve had success replacing salty chips or baked goods with healthier options. Some of my favorites include celery sticks, apple slices, baby carrots, and plain Greek yogurt with berries.

I’m also choosing whole grains such as brown rice and whole-wheat bread, and replacing ground beef and steaks with leaner meats like ground turkey and chicken breast.

Shop Mindfully With a Family Member

My family updates a grocery list on a shared digital note. During COVID-19 lockdowns we did great shopping in pairs while buying only items on the list.

Now I’m back to meandering through the grocery store, where it’s tempting to grab junk food off the shelf. Bringing someone with me to keep me accountable has worked in the past. I’ll take my son with me more often, since he’s especially good at pointing out items I should avoid.

Reflect on the Reasons for Stress Eating

A new strategy is to become more aware of the negative emotions behind problematic food choices. The Cleveland Clinic says that root causes of emotional eating can include long-term issues such as chronic stress, long-term anger, and depression.

Psoriasis is one long-term stressor that drags down my mood and emotions. I’m currently enduring a skin flare with the concern that my current biologic of three years, risankizumab (Skyrizi), is no longer effective.

I’ll take the advice to explore how I’m coping and possibly seek outside help such as counseling.

Consult With a Nutritionist

I’ve never seen a nutritionist, but it’s time to make an appointment. I envision an expert evaluating my current dietary habits and needs, then giving me a meal plan tailored to my tastes, health requirements, and budget.

Since I’m doing well keeping up with the exercises prescribed by a physical therapist, I’m optimistic I can do the same with a nutritionist.

I’m more hopeful that my recent visit to see Dr. Swales, along with a renewed commitment to eat a healthier diet, will yield positive results. My well-being depends on it more than ever.

You can read more about my experiences on my website, PsoHoward.

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