When I found out my best friend had shingles, I knew we could nip it in the bud lickity-split. Shingles suck; yes, it’s true, but they are always (yes, always) diet/stress/lifestyle-related. Therefore, unlike other more elusive autoimmunities, healing shingles has a clear path.
Barrett and I have been friends for almost twenty years; she was there through my psoriasis diagnosis and subsequent healing (changed my diet, changed my life). Curing my supposedly incurable autoimmune disease led to culinary school and an integrated nutritional program. I’ve now been a holistic chef and nutritional counselor for just shy of a decade. As nuanced as it always is, guiding people through their healing process is the most rewarding work of my life.
So now, let’s talk about shingles. Anything expressed on the skin is related to the gut: period, end of story. So, when we see bumps/marks/rashes/anything on our skin, we are asked to examine our gastrointestinal tract. We are also asked to consider our stress, as our bodies can only deal with stress to a point. However, what often happens because of life/responsibilities/etc., is we don’t properly deal with an initial stressor, so more stress is piled on and on until the initial stressor’s weight is too much to carry. Cue the body waiving its white flag. Cue an autoimmune flare. Cue, in Barrett’s case, shingles. We are all prone to getting something — the specifics of the something vary based on our genetic predispositions and is never predetermined — but a body in stress will always cause distress and dis-ease. This is the birth of the autoimmune disease: the body gets confused and starts attacking itself.
Luckily, this is simple to fix. But it’s not easy. It takes a 100% commitment of you choosing to put you (and your health!) first so you can better serve others (your children, your partner, your family, your friends, your coworkers). If your body is speaking to you, listen. Even though we haven’t been on planes in a thousand years, remember: we must put our oxygen mask on first.
Sugar — all sugar, even the “healthy” kind, even the wine kind, even the hidden-in-my-favorite-condiment kind — is the root of all ill when it comes to skin ailments. We must remove sugar and everything that quickly turns into sugar (grains, processed flours, alcohol, dairy) from our diet. Thus, the Shingles Diet is like an extra strict paleo diet: lean meats, vegetables, fruits, herbs, healthy fats, nuts, and seeds. The severity of the shingles outbreak will determine the length of the detox. Once symptoms subside (meaning there are no longer visible shingles), we can reintroduce the removed food groups. This process must go slow so we can notice if any foods cause a flare. If so, it’s our responsibility to honor this information and stay away from those foods if we genuinely want to heal.
Here’s the good news: this new way of eating is NOT, I repeat NOT, a forever way of eating; it’s a right now way of eating. It’s experimentation. When I was healing from psoriasis, I was so scared that I would never be able to eat pasta or drink wine again. Luckily, that was not the case. After 3 months of de-gunking my gut and healing my intestinal lining, I could reintroduce trigger foods in moderation. Now, a decade later, I am happy to report that I can eat anything I want without consequence, within reason. This too can be you, but first comes the hard work.
WHAT TO EAT
—lean protein (wild fish, poultry, grass-fed beef, bison, lamb, heritage pork)
—whole eggs (eat the yolks too…you are missing the bulk of the nutrients without the yolk)
—all vegetables (mainly green leafy veggies and only consume starchy ones no later than lunch)
—tons of bitter greens (the counterpoint to the sweet-taste and they help heal gut imbalances)
—fresh fruits, in moderation (meaning: no more than 1 serving per day, ideally with breakfast)
—nuts and seeds (be sure to vary the nuts and seeds you eat to avoid a latent allergy)
—fresh herbs (consume with abandon)
—healthy fats (avocado, coconut, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, olives, sardines, anchovies)
—mustard, vinegar, dried spices (read labels to make sure there is no added sugar)
—ginger, turmeric, Ceylon cinnamon, collagen, EFA supplement, oil of oregano, magnesium, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, B12 (these are only beneficial if you remove the trigger-foods)
—coconut milk (100% full fat)
—alternative nut milks (make your own or look for a brand that has no gums or carrageenan)
—plain sparkling water (nothing flavored — add lemon if you need some spice in your life)
—regular old good for you water (drink way more than you think you need)
WHAT TO AVOID
Unfortunately, this list is paramount in its importance. What we remove from our diet is always more important than what we add. If you think you can cure yourself by taking supplements while still drinking wine and eating refined carbs, you are mistaken, I’m sorry to say.
—all sugar, including maple, honey, dried fruits, monk fruit, xylitol, stevia, coconut sugar, molasses, cane sugar, brown sugar, brown rice syrup, raw sugar, powdered sugar, glucose, etc
—alcohol, all alcohol (no exceptions, no excuses)
—oat milk (a grain derivative)
—coffee and caffeine (too stimulating, which causes more stress)
—sodas and diet soda (but why are you drinking those anyway?)
—grains (both gluten-free and glutinous)
—legumes (for now, not forever)
—deli meat (processed)
—pasta, bread, pastries, cookies, cakes, chips, anything in a package
—juices (unless you MAKE it in REAL TIME and it is ALL vegetable)
WHAT TO BE SUPER MODERATE AND AWARE OF
—”healthy” treats (Even if those chips are on the approved list, do you really need them? No, you don’t.)
—nightshades, aka tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, white potatoes (common allergens / inflammatory agents)
—too much of one food (This is how allergies form!)
SO…WHAT DO I EAT
—Lots of slow-cooked, warming foods like soups, stews, and broths. The reason behind this is to consume food slowly, and we cannot eat hot food fast! When we eat quickly, we cause stress on a cellular level, which is the exact opposite intent of this detox. We need to slow down to heal. Warming foods aid in said slow down.
WHAT TO NOTICE
—Cravings!!! If you find yourself turning to a particular “approved” food more than you should (you’ll know…), jot it down and consider removing it from your diet. Often our cravings alert us to our allergies. Let’s begin to notice!
Remember, none of the foods from the “What to Avoid” list are inherently bad. Food isn’t good or bad. Food is neutral. It’s just-food. It’s always the dose that makes the poison. Unfortunately, when it comes to an autoimmunity like shingles, the dose had been consumed with reckless abandon in combination with unmanaged stress, which caused the outbreak. This can be reversed. You have the power to heal yourself. Why not make that commitment? What’s standing in your way?
Here’s to your health and willpower. You can do it!
Sarah Pachelli is a nutritional chef and wellness counselor, living in Brooklyn, NY. To learn more about her offerings, visit her site.