Testimonial written by: Tim B.
This is a pretty long post, so here are the “Cliff’s notes” if you want to save some time:
- Acne ended up being the best thing that happened to me. Without it I never would have turned my health around. Here’s how it all went down:
- I was 25 years old and having a fine career serving on a Navy submarine.
- Things were great, except I had really bad acne. It sucked for many reasons. Like people not taking me seriously. Not getting girls. Those sorts of things.
- I tried typical treatments like antibiotics, skin creams, and Proactiv. Nothing worked. Doctors told me diet didn’t have anything to do with it.
- I read some books saying diet did have something to do with it.
- I changed my diet, cured my acne, and my whole body transformed.
- I later learned about Paleo and realized I had been following its principles to get my skin clear.
- Now I help other people beat acne by using Paleo principles.
Here’s the full story . . .
So there I was at age 25, an officer serving on a U.S. Navy attack submarine deployed somewhere in the Western Pacific ocean. I was leading a team of 30 men as Officer-of-the-Deck, driving the submarine and directing tactics as we fulfilled our missions deemed vital to U.S. national security.
Looking back 10 years later, it was quite the responsibility. Here I was, a 25 year old kid, giving orders to a highly-trained team where the wrong decision might end up in a phone call straight to the President.
A billion-dollar warship that could destroy a small fleet was doing whatever I told it to do.
I was respected among the crew, liked by my fellow officers, and had developed professionally to the point where the Captain could trust me in this role – to be his representative in carrying out the ship’s mission, often while he was asleep!
All this sounds great. And it was. It is an experience I will value and remember forever.
The only problem was . . . I had ACNE. Really bad ACNE!!
I’m not just talking a couple of zits. I’m talking about the kind of acne where you do a double take. Not just pimples but severe redness over my entire face. Massive inflammation.
Basically, I was breaking out like I fourteen year old who has just hit a growth spurt and discovered dirty magazines for the first time.
Most of us have probably been through it . . . in high school!! Yet here I was, a full-grown adult, giving orders to men nearly twice my age . . . and I had zits. Lots of them.
Who wants to take orders from a pimply-faced kid??
Can you take someone like that seriously??
Here’s the thing. As a guy, we’re expected to not care about stuff like that. We’re expected to be tough, not care how we look, and just “be a man.”
But I cared. I wanted to not just play the part, but look the part.
I loved being “in charge.” I loved driving the ship – the adrenaline rush of maneuvering at night with my eyes glued to the periscope, calling out rudder orders and speed changes to ensure we remained undetected and clear of fast-moving merchant ships plowing through the nighttime seas.
On our most classified missions, I felt like I was in Hunt For Red October. I was calling the shots. Like a man!
Then my watch would be over and I was shot back to reality. The lights were on and everyone could see me and my horrific face. The worst part – I had to go debrief the Captain on everything that happened on my watch.
Before seeing him my first stop was the bathroom. Most of the time I would catch myself before looking in the mirror. But sometimes I would forget, accidentally look up, and see the horrific mess on my face. When this happened my heart sank.
Dejected and embarrassed, I would force myself to the Captain’s stateroom. All I wanted was for him to judge me based on my performance driving the ship. Maybe he did, but I figured he couldn’t help but look at my pimply little face and immediately lose confidence in me. I looked him squarely in the eye, gave him the rundown, and got on my way. He never said anything about my skin.
The debrief over, I would retire to my stateroom and try to find something else to occupy my mind with.
At sea the hours go by fast but the days go by slow. There was a lot of time to think. I mostly thought about my skin and how great my life would be if I could just have clear skin.
I continued to break out. It never got better.
Anytime we pulled into port I would have a chance to do something for my skin. Naturally, I went to dermatologists for help and it was always the same – more antibiotics and more skin creams.
I remember asking them if diet had any impact and their response was that it had nothing to do with acne.
They say that being a dermatologist is the best deal because patients never die and they never get better. Now I see why.
I continued these treatments like a good patient and even supplemented them with the most popular treatment out there – Proactiv. I first used this stuff when I was 19 or so and it seemed to work like magic. But after a few months it didn’t. I was desperate so I tried again.
Of course it didn’t work. So I went to advanced dermatologists and had expensive laser treatments done. A few times it seemed like these worked, but only for a week or so. But they did empty my wallet!
So there I was – living in San Diego in my twenties, with beaches and beautiful women everywhere, feeling like I was missing out on my best years . . . all because I had pimples. What a joke. I felt like I had tried everything.
Then something happened.
Right when I was at rock bottom and about to accept having acne forever, I started noticing things. A book here, a website there – little pieces of information saying that what we eat and how we treat our bodies impacts how we look. Most of these had “anti-aging” themes, but a few mentioned acne.
Could the doctors be wrong?
I started reading more. Eventually I came across a 3-day diet regimen that I decided to try. It wasn’t a book about Paleo, but in retrospect it shared the same principles.
The regimen recommended eating high-quality protein – lean meats, Omega-3 eggs, and fish like sockeye salmon; lots of leafy green vegetables; some nuts and seeds; and low-glycemic carbohydrates. The biggest difference from my current diet at the time was in the quantity of the carbs: probably 3x less than what my current diet of California burritos, Togo’s sandwiches, and pizza entailed.
It was so different from how I had been eating that I had to give it a try. I did it for 3 days.
I noticed big changes real quick. On the morning of the 4th day I woke up with tons of energy. My thinking was clearer. My VISION was clearer. I didn’t have any new pimples and it even seemed like they were less red. Of course my acne wasn’t gone but SOMETHING was different.
I can’t describe what an amazing feeling this was. I saw the world differently, as if dirty sunglasses had been removed from my face and weren’t distorting my vision. Things were brighter and clearer.
It was a paradigm shift – I now believed that what I was eating had the power to change everything. How I thought, felt and looked.
Now, making better habits around my diet was a little easier on land. On a submarine – not so much.
Submarines are known for their “great food,” which means great by American dietary standards. Pizza, burgers, canned vegetables, sugary drinks, loads of ice cream. Like eating at a carnival. By the time we got back from a few weeks at sea half the ship was overweight.
This was the biggest challenge for me and I had to come prepared. Probably the thing that saved me the most was the cans of sockeye salmon that I would bring on board with me.
Before sitting down with fellow officers for lunch I would eat a can and get 25-35g of quality protein. With that in my system, I was less likely to eat the usual things thrown in front of me – rolls, pasta, dessert, etc. I stayed away from all the white stuff and just got by as best as possible with whatever canned vegetables were available.
I have a sweet tooth, so I also brought some dark chocolate on board which allowed me to have something “sweet” without all the sugar that the ice cream and rich desserts came with.
I got pretty good at “getting-by” on the submarine. Saturday was pizza night – big, doughy pizza with tons of meaty toppings. Cheese has never given me a problem, so I just ate the top. People looked at me funny for not eating the crust, but it was worth it.
I stayed consistent and within a few weeks knew I was on the right track. My skin was breaking out less. I had more energy. I even had a natural desire to work out – hard to do on a submarine at sea but I got by with some pullups and dips.
Six months of this healthier combo on both land and sea and I looked like a completely different person. I was literally unrecognizable. My skin was perfectly clear and old lesions were almost entirely healed. I was 20 pounds lighter – lean and muscular.
A friend on the sub remarked when I got out of the shower once, “hey, who’s this Calvin Klein model that just showed up? Making me look bad!” My body had literally transformed.
Back on land, walking down the street a woman about my mom’s age came up to me and asked, “what do you do for your skin? It’s like you’re glowing.”
I was dumbstruck. Then it happened again the next day. I had literally gone from a full-blown war with adult acne to the opposite extreme – a stranger complimenting me on my skin and fellow dudes saying I looked good naked.
Thus began a full-blown love affair with natural healing regimens.
For 2 years I got deep into various natural healing regimens. I did 5-day green juice cleanses; I made my own kefir; I made my own sauerkraut.
I even went vegan for about 6 months – eating mostly green smoothies and lots of grains like millet, quinoa, and amaranth. At the time I thought I was being healthy – I felt good, my skin was clear, and I had lots of energy.
But my body got “puffy” and I lost my lean physique. I should have known it wasn’t working for me when I had to eat 10 avocados per day just to satisfy what my body felt it needed – protein!
Thankfully I was on a path to learning about Paleo . . .
After leaving the Navy I ended going to business school where I was able to maintain my healthy lifestyle despite all the parties and socializing. One day I was working out in the gym, doing some pullups and pushups, and an undergrad came up to me and said, “are you doing CrossFit?”
I had no idea what it was, but I quickly learned and had a new workout regimen. Given CrossFit’s stance on nutrition and relationship , Paleo naturally followed.
As I learned about Paleo, I thought back to a few years earlier – to what I first did to get my skin clear. I realized that I had looked and felt my best when I was eating quality meats, lots of vegetables, and the right kind of carbohydrates. I was basically doing 80% Paleo back then but had never even heard of the term.
So I started changing my diet again and quickly became “Paleo” again. At the time CrossFit was also very big on the Zone Diet – the idea of balancing the quantity of protein, fat, and carbs based on lean body mass. I found it a little dogmatic and thought my intuition would serve me better, so I just took the main ideas and applied it to my Paleo food choices.
For over five years since then I have followed a diet where about 90% of my good choices are “Paleo” while intuitively keeping a good balance of protein-fat-carbs.
When people ask me how I eat, I usually describe it as “I eat food in as natural a state as possible while making sure I keep a good balance of macronutrients that works for me. I keep things simple, don’t deprive myself, and still have guilty binges every once in a while. Most of all I listen to my body.”
When it comes to balancing my “mostly-Paleo” food choices, this is how things usually shake out for me depending on how I’m feeling at mealtime:
- Protein: 1.5x the size of my hand (35-45g)
- Fat: size of two of my thumbs (10-15g)
- Carbs: what would fit in one palm (25-35g)
- Green vegetables: as much as I can handle
I generally eat like this 3-4 times a day, depending on whether I workout and how my body feels. I would say I’m 90% Paleo – some days there might be rice, quinoa, or beans. Maybe a few days a month might be a splurge on pizza – white flour and all.
I’m not perfect Paleo nor do I want to be. To me what’s most important is understanding the principles behind Paleo and building healthy habits around them. With that foundation I can adapt in almost any situation – even at McDonalds if absolutely necessary.
It’s great to see Paleo go mainstream, but when that happens to a movement the essence is sometimes lost. Just like with CrossFit, I kind of liked it better when it was a cult. But that’s okay because a lot of people are turning their lives around. Still, there are lots of “Paleo” packaged goods popping up, often takes a closer look to see if a product really makes sense.
Here’s what “Paleo” means to me:
Rule 1 – Listen to my body above all else. Hey, we’re mammals; we don’t need Dr. Oz, a book, or a website to tap into how our body is feeling or responding to what we feed it. Deer in the woods don’t consult these things – they sniff around, eat this, eat that, and figure out what gives them the most energy and makes them feel like deer. Then they do more of it.
Rule 2 – Keep it simple. For me it’s meat, eggs, plants, root vegetables, nuts and seeds. As close to their natural state as possible. If it’s in a package and has an ingredient list more than a few ingredients long, I’m suspicious until I learn more.
Rule 3 – Be smart. Just because maple syrup is found in nature, doesn’t mean I should drink it like water. I don’t need a degree in biochemistry to know that the body needs three macronutrients, protein-fat-carbs, and that each has a different effect on me. So I find a good balance. See Rule 1.
The last unwritten rule is to embrace the struggle. While my skin showed almost immediate improvement, it took a LONG time to finally figure out what worked best for my body. I needed that struggle – I read so many books and tried so many different things that I forgot to tune into my body and understand how it was actually responding. I think it’s important for everyone to struggle along the way – it’s how we learn!
Finally, for me acne ended up being my greatest blessing. People look at me weird when I say that, but think of how many people go through life without the sort of feedback from their body that I got.
Most people probably have a little less energy, don’t sleep well, or have joint pain. All things that can be lived with and just accepted. And so most people probably go on with life living sub-optimally because they don’t have any indication that anything is wrong.
But not me – I had acne!! When I’m not doing things right, it shows up on my face!!
What a blessing to have such visible feedback AND for it to be so embarrassing that I’m motivated to do something about it. How lucky I am.
Yes the greatest blessing of all is the chance to share my story and help my fellow acne sufferers get clear skin and achieve what they want in life. There’s no reason acne should hold us back from talking to that special someone or having people take us seriously at work.
I hope some people who are “on-the-fence” about Paleo can learn a bit from my story and find a nugget or two of helpful information. For those who might be suffering from acne, they can also get more specific information on my personal website, The Clear Skin Way.
Lastly, I’m honored to get to share my story here on Robb’s site by adding to the life-changing content that he and his team put together every day. Thousands of lives have been changed in the process and thousands more to come.
What a great story, Tim! Good for you for finding something that works…and what a shame the multiple doctors you saw had *no clue* about diet. It kind of boggled my mind how a dermatologist can believe diet *doesn’t* have an effect. When we eat things that don’t agree with us, sometimes our bodies tell us so via the skin. Whether we think of acne as a kind of allergic reaction, or just plain inflammation, why *wouldn’t* diet affect it? Oy.
And thanks for your service! The “silent service” is no joke. Thanks for sacrificing all that sunlight & fresh air to patrol the seas. 😉
Thanks for the kinds words, Amy – glad you enjoyed the story. And I appreciate your support of all us submariners past and present – run silent run deep!!
Awesome story!!! We’ve overcome adult acne too!! We’ve shared our journey on our blog. Love hearing how others heal too from changes in diet and lifestyle.
Michael M. says
Great job bud! Definitely very encouraging seeing how you have maintained this throughout your adult life. Keep it up!
You’re an amazing writer and storyteller. Acne brought you to your health and most certainly also brought you to the web to be a well written example for others.
I’ve been in the organic/holistic health field since 2003. I just recently got adult onset acne at 35 years old. I had to really look at my life in all aspects- food, chemicals in the home, stress, etc.
It all led me to this amazing new health phase. After my divorce (to a submarine officer), I had slowly allowed bad habits in to my clean lifestyle.
I’ve removed everything and am back in business. I found this online when googling the bpa in cans and it’s affect on skin. What a blessing.
Your voice should be heard in a larger scale, in my opinion.
I wouldn’t mind you writing an article (or tweaking this one) for my upcoming website for my wellness business. Let me know. It’s great to see others giving info without selling anything. I am constantly sharing my wellness with others and it’s been my pleasure to see those peoples lives change from inspiration.
Thank you Tim. This is encouraging for a guy like myself, 21, suffering the same fate. It’s a sad day when the only person you hate is the one starring back at you in the mirror.
And by starring, I mean staring. Starring role being protruding pimples, I suppose.
Elizabeth Resnick says
Wow, I can totally relate to this! I also cleared my horrific cystic acne with a change in diet. But not until I was in my mid 40’s 🙁 I tried every prescription up to and including accutane, and ate a relatively clean vegetarian diet. I went vegan for awhile too…despite tons of greens my skin (and anxiety and digestion) was terrible. Adding high quality animal protein and completely cutting out grains, sugar and dairy is what finally cleared my skin for good. I now cave a little on the sugar. If I have a tiny bit of dairy I’m fine. Most grains really don’t work for me. It’s so amazing how what you put into your body can change your entire life! I even started my blog, “happy, healthy and hot” to spread the word about how the right food (and healthy personal care items) can help you look and feel amazing. Great story Tim and you look awesome!
LOURENCO INACIO BORGES says
This makes me believe that my path against acne will end well. Thank you for sharing with us this amazing history.
Hi Tim, thank you for sharing your story. You look great! I once had black-heads on my face when I was very young, and looking back, I realize it was all the refined carbs (grains), sugar, and pasteurized milk I grew up on. It wasn’t until 2000 when I learned about the issues with eating grains (refined or not), the importance of healthy fats, and drinking milk. The “Thompson “milkman used to bring us milk in glass containers. I was told by Dr. Joseph Mercola that “wheat is not your friend” among other things. I also learned about the benefits of raw dairy and omega 3 fats, organic eggs (raw yolks) and what is now known as Paleo. I even have a book he wrote on cooking without grains. Did I use it? No because at the time, I found it hard to take when he said, “you don’t need grains”. What? I was also very deficient in calcium and vitamin C. I told him I was taking a calcium supplement, but he replied saying consider trying raw dairy and your calcium problems will be non existent. I researched that when returned from the Midwest. Fast forward 7 years.
I have since had an odd skin outbreak (3 times) that I am researching. I read up on diet and its effect on the skin while in a search trying to help someone recovering from knee surgery. I had told him before the surgery, he needed to be aware of his diet, especially inflammatory foods like bleached flour, candy, processed foods, etc.
This was confirmed when I stumbled upon the kneepainguru’s website. There I also found a podcast and a book on the Paelo diet. I was already eating more unprocessed grains, drinking raw milk, more vegetables, organic eggs, healthy fats, beef broth (the real stuff) and grass-fed meats as much as possible. I gradually gave up the pasta as this was the hardest thing to let go of. Of late it was the big bowl of whole grain cereal with fruit in the mornings. I actually have no taste for it now. How did I do that? This morning I had a bowl of millet, with walnuts, a few raisins, prunes, hemp seeds, flax seeds, butter, cinnamon, cloves, a bit of milk, and some steamed apples. YUM! That held me until 1:30 p.m.
After the podcast, I decided to look at my own situation relative to skin. What is missing? Be aware, the body is holistic and there are other factors that can and will affect overall health. STRESS will affect the physical, mental and emotional health of the body.
I have now been grain free since the afternoon of Dec. 7th going ” cold turkey”. The first 2 weeks it was strange, but it got better energetically. One morning, I could hardly get out of bed. Now, I am testing to see if being grain-free may at least assist permanent clearing of my skin. Note I still have some “mental” work to do as well. I have a dermatologist appt. next week because in the last week there was a bad flare-up. At some point soon I am looking forward to the skin on my body to return to its previous flawless condition. Thanks again for posting this. P.S. “Hunt for Red October” was one of my favorite films. I have been fascinated with submarines since childhood. I saw one in Nova Scotia on display, but the main command area was closed off. Ughhh!