Living with Lupus

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Disclaimer – I’m not a doctor and any information/advice I give is purely based on my own circumstances and experiences.  Please consult a medical professional if you want further advice or read the literature available.  Some of the photos below may make for uncomfortable viewing.

This was a really hard post for me to write, mainly due to the photographs I show below.  I’m not high maintenance but I do like to look nice and for me to put photos out there on the internet, looking my worst has been a tough one.  I nearly deleted the post, but in the spirit of explaining why I eat the way I do etc I thought it was important to understand a bit more about my condition, and if it helps anyone else in the same boat then it’s worth it….

I was always the one with no energy whilst growing up.  The one who was always tired, who could sleep all day and then nap and then still feel exhausted.  I could’ve spent all day lying on the sofa and still fallen into bed absolutely wiped out at night.

And I just thought it was normal.  It wasn’t until February 2013 that everything changed.  One day, whilst out with my mum I developed a rash on my chest.  Luckily there was medical centre nearby so I popped in to see the nurse.  She diagnosed an allergic reaction and gave me some antihistamines – but they didn’t help.  

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How it started, on my chest

The rash got progressively worse, covering my hands and started to track up my arms and neck.  I went to see my local doctor when I got back home who also said it was an allergic reaction but gave me some steroids to help fight it off.

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Tracking up my arms and hands

Didn’t work.  By this time the rash had really taken hold.  It had spread over most of my face, except a small portion around my mouth and everything had swollen up.  My nose was twice the size it normally is and something much bigger than allergic reaction was definitely going on.  I called the dermatologist and got an emergency appointment that afternoon.  He took one look at me and diagnosed me with SLE (Subacute Lupus Erythamatosus) and then took some blood and did a biopsy to confirm his suspicions.  I had all the classic symptoms apparently (the rash on my face was the biggest indicator – known as a butterfly rash due to the pattern it makes).

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I really struggled with putting this photo out there, but it’s the best way to explain the butterfly rash – and the size of my swollen nose!!
For reference, this is what I usually look like!

I was told that there was nothing I could do to cure it, it would be with me for life – I might never have another flare or I might get one next week and no-one knew specifically what caused it.  Theories about stress etc were thrown about but there is no hard and fast rule.  I was put on the drug Hydroxychloroquine (an anti-malarial drug which works well against lupus inflammation), a strong course of steroids and told to stay out of the sun forever or it would cause further flare ups.  Anyone that knows me, knows that that is the worst advice I could ever have received – I am a confirmed sun-worshipper and am never happier than when I’m lying on a beach so I was determined that I wouldn’t be the girl in the long-sleeved kaftan,  the huge sun hat, shades, Factor 200+ slathered all over me and sitting under a sun umbrella.

It was at this point that I started doing some research into my condition.  Lupus is an autoiummune condition which means that the body sees something in itself as a foreign threat and starts to attack it but is actually in effect just attacking itself.  Luckily, looking at the bright side, I have the best case scenario.  Systemic Lupus is much worse and it’s when your body starts attacking its own internal organs – luckily mine is just limited to the skin – as Systemic Lupus can be life threatening.  I started looking into triggers and possible cures and came across the SCD diet.  My mum first brought it to my attention as she had been following it as an aid for her ulcerative colitis.  The science behind it made a lot of sense to me.

SCD in a nutshell – It’s a diet that eliminates food that feed the bad bacteria in the gut.  This means no grains, sugars and starches and advocates fermented foods to promote the good bacteria in the gut.  Monosaccharides are the simplest sugars and these are easily digested and absorbed, so these are the only sugars allowed on the diet – found in most fruits, vegetables and honey.  Anything that is starchy or more complex (think potatoes, pasta, wheat, rice, bread etc) breaks down into a disaccharide or a polysaccharide (as does table sugar, glucose, agave, maple syrup etc) and these are not able to be absorbed through the gut walls so they hang around in the gut and feed the bad bacteria.  This results in an overgrowth of them and causes inflammation in the body and can trigger autoimmune conditions.

There’s much more scientific evidence than that and if you’re interested I would suggest reading Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gotteschall to inform yourself further.  Unfortunately, diet is not seen as a cure for most autoimmune diseases by most medical experts (and drugs are big business) so not enough research has been done into the diet in order to have evidence to prove its validity.  But it works for me…When I eat the way I do I feel energised and I have much more vitality and basically just a lust for life.  It’s crazy to me now that i used to think my lethargy was normal and that everyone felt like that.

Over the years I’ve adapted SCD to my own body – maybe this means I’m not following the diet properly, but it works for me.  I find that most dairy doesn’t affect me – I eat all cheeses, yoghurt and cream etc and I’ve added in a few extra things like cacao nibs and some pulses/legumes that don’t cause me ill effects and I also allow myself champagne and the occasional Aperol Spritz even though they contain small amounts of sugar, but basically I stick to a low carbohydrate diet with healthy protein and fats.  I see it as a cross between the Paleo Diet and the SCD.  The majority of the food I eat is wholesome and unprocessed – I just think it’s a healthy way to eat anyway, regardless of whether or not you have a condition that may require a dietary change.  Most of my recipes should be suitable for both with a modification here or there.  And of course all my recipes are grain and gluten-free!

Cured is a strong word, I won’t ever be cured as the condition always has the possibility of flaring up again, but I haven’t to this day had any more rashes and I no longer take my medication (I don’t like taking drugs of any sort) and I honestly believe that this diet has controlled my symptoms.  My condition worsens in the cold as I also have Raynaud’s disease (poor circulation in the body’s extremities) but I can see when I start to get red patches on my hands that I need to take extra care of myself, eat better and stay warm.

When I know the condition is attempting to take hold

Some days I find it tough having an ‘invisible condition’ – everything looks fine on the outside but you’re struggling on the inside with energy levels and feeling run-down etc! People think that just because I look well, that I am well, but that’s not always the case. Although I am definitely lucky to have found diet as a coping strategy!  I’m not saying that it will work for everyone but you have nothing to lose by giving it a try – and if one person’s condition is made the tiniest bit easier to deal with by the information that I’ve put out there, then it’s worth showing my horrible photos to the world!

The best thing is I’ve been sunbathing and lying on beaches ever since and it’s not caused me a single problem!!

Me, the Sunworshipper – captured by Daracle Photography – definitely my ‘Happy Place’

I can play on the beach with my godchildren, I can run around in shorts and a T-Shirt and swim in the sea and I’ve had no ill effects since that first outbreak!

Portugal Jump

SCD has had success in treating Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Lupus, Autism, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Disease, Celiac Disease, Hashimoto’s, Psoriasis and many other conditions.

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14 Comments Add yours

  1. Anne Wood says:

    Dear Emma,

    I have read your, well written, email on Lupus having no knowledge that you suffered from this illness. I had a friend who suffered from Lupus and I know from her how terrible it can be. I had presumed you had the same problems that Annie has.

    I have found your recipes very inspiring and ‘clean’ and not at all restrictive. In fact they are very inspirational.

    Very well done Emma, I am enjoying reading your blog and shall continue to read and cook. I do hope your Lupus continues to be controlled.

    fondest love,

    Anne xx >

    1. Thank you so much Anne – that’s such a sweet comment. At the moment it’s very controlled and I hope it stays that way! I’m glad you’re in good health at the moment too!! Long may it continue. Lots of love xx em

  2. Annie Oxley says:

    I’m so proud of you my darling daughter. I know that you agonised over this post – but if you can help even just one person to recover or improve their health – it will be wonderful. Love you xx

    1. Thanks mama 😘😘❤️

  3. Stuart says:

    Dear Emma, I have only just seen your post about Lupus and am so sorry to hear what you have had to go through but delighted that you have come out the other side – well done, Gorgeous !! Lots of Love, Stuart xxx

  4. Jeffrey Berger says:

    Sharing your story can make you seem vulnerable, but to let people know you can beat your autoimmune disease with SCD is inspiring for all that read about you.

    Emma, your journey may be a steeper climb up the mountaintop than most, although, your self determination, motivation and courage following SCD seems like the best energy to beat the odds of SLE.

    Thank you for letting me read your story. I hope you inspire others to follow your journey. I wish you all the best, always.

  5. Linda says:

    Thank you for being courageous enough to share your story. I’m on a grain free diet also for chronic pain and chronic/stress-related/hormonal migraines. Your comment about “invisible conditions” was right on target. As for the pictures, you are beautiful, never doubt that. All the best in your journey.

  6. Hello Sarie says:

    Ah! Go you! I also suffer with lupus and its the very worse thing ever. Love your positivity. I am currently writing / illustrating a zine about my story. Best of luck and spoons to you xx

  7. Karen says:

    Thank you Emma for sharing! I am so glad SCD has bettered your life! I discovered SCD when my husband was diagnosed with UC this past March and I have been cooking up an SCD Storm ever since . I don’t ever want him to go through what he did when he was first diagnosed ! You on he other hand are Beautiful and Brave. I admire and applaud you for posting your struggle with Lupus. This disease took the life of my best friend over 37 years ago. She developed the rash and then the ‘moon face’ from the steroids she was on and this really took a toll on her (emotionally) during her Jr. High and High school years. She no longer wanted to fight the good fight . If only then I would have known about SCD. You keep posting those pictures and enjoying life and the people around you!!!!!!

  8. stresscoachschool says:

    Courageous blog, thanks for sharing I too have had many health challenges over 25 years, sometimes I am not sure how much to share but it is important we educate people

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