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 151: How Eczema Changed My Life (So I Could Help Others) w/ Rakhi Roy, MS, RD, LDN

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Eczema is a common skin condition that can, ironically, make people feel very isolated. My guest today will share about her journey with eczema, and how it inspired her to become an advocate for others with this skin rash.

Or, listen on your favorite app: iTunes (Apple Podcasts) | Spotify | Stitcher | TuneIn | Subscribe on Android

My guest today, Rakhi Roy Chowdhury, holds a Master’s in Dietetics & Nutrition and a BA in Anthropology & Theatre.

She is an actress-turned Registered Dietitian with more allergies than the average person. Her theater and film career had to take a back seat due to constant eczema flareups that prevented her from going to auditions and booking work.

After realizing nutrition played a pivotal role in managing her eczema, Rakhi embraced a change in career to devote her time to helping others like herself.

She is now a board licensed Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, and helps others manage their skin conditions, balance digestive issues, and follow their bliss.

Join us as we talk about Rakhi's journey with eczema, interesting observations about how eczema shows up on different skin tones, and more.

Has your eczema been misdiagnosed as hyperpigmentation? Let me know in the comments!

In this episode:

  • Rakhi's journey with eczema
  • Why is Rakhi so passionate about advocating for those struggling with eczema?
  • How does inflammation show up on darker skin?
  • How does Rakhi track her symptoms?

Quotes

“For me, it'll be a lot of fermentable types of foods and grains that will start to make me itchy and I do notice it with the histamines.” [11:47]

“I don't think this experience is a negative thing. I think it makes you humble. You have to give yourself grace in these moments and really find out what it's teaching you.” [16:16] 

Links

Find Rakhi online

More Than Skin Deep PDF

Follow Rakhi on Instagram

151: How Eczema Changed My Life (So I Could Help Others) w/ Rakhi Roy, RD FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jennifer: Hi, Rakhi. Thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate you being here on the show especially because I know that we followed one another for a long time and I feel like what you're doing and the information that you put out there in the world to help support people especially in the eczema community is just so important so it's an honor to have you here.

Rakhi: Oh, thank you for having me. Thank you so much. I've been a long time listener of your show so I'm honored and I think you're doing amazing things.

Jennifer: Well thank you. So, why don't you share with everyone your story about… Because you have eczema and you have other things going on as well because it's more complicated. A lot of times people just say, “Oh, I have eczema.” But when you really dig down into it there is oftentimes other things going on as well and the story is more complicated. So what's your journey with eczema been like?

Rakhi: Yeah. So, I was diagnosed with eczema when I was six months old and I was living in New York at that time. So I have the lovely luck of having the, I think they call it the allergic march where the holy trinity which is not just eczema but I have allergic rhinitis which I've had surgery for and I also have asthma. So, I think when I was in elementary school things were really bad for me and I was going to the allergist and I was on multiple weekly allergy shots like four in each arm I mean it was crazy. As a kid I'm looking back now going like, “Wow, how did I…” I was a brave little kid I don't know. I'm scared of needles now I have no idea what happened.

Rakhi: So, when I was not getting better my allergist did say, “Around the age of seven or nine you probably have to deal with your environmental allergies and so you probably should be moving to either one of two places, Arizona or Florida.” So, my family is all on the east coast so my family was like, “Okay, let's take a trip to Disney.” So, I was nine years old. I went with my mom, my dad and my brother down to Florida. And I kid you not and I really still don't to this day understand how my eczema cleared up in a week. The weather just completely changed me. I think it was, it's kind of like how they say your immune system is a bucket. So we removed a lot of the environmental factors that were really dampening on my immune system, my body when I was living up in the northeast and it finally had a chance to calm itself down. I mean, it was drastic enough an improvement to the point where I was eating everything that I had never been able to eat. My body was just not reacting hypersensitive to anything.

Rakhi: And my parents were like, “Okay, this is going to change the course of her life and she's so young that we should make this move.” So my parents did apply. So, they're retired now but they worked in the federal government so they were able to transfer jobs. It took a three year process but I think I just started middle school. This was right after actually 9-11 we moved from New York to Florida. And I mean, I grew like a sprout. My body caught up to everyone in my grade. I grew four inches I think that in that one summer. And I put on weight and I mean I was doing a lot better when it came to my skin and a lot of my food allergies.

Rakhi: But the one thing that then was a problem that I had to deal with was my allergy symptoms, my sinuses, because there are so many trees and grasses. So I did go back on allergy shots and that seemed to help through high school but I had to get surgery. So I've been through a lot of things that maybe just your average eczema sufferer doesn't really go through which is just the skin. I've had…

Jennifer: And what's interesting too about you is that you became a registered dietician and you also do a lot of advocacy for people who are struggling with eczema. Why is that so important for you to take? I mean, you've told me you are a knowledge junkie, you love learning and collecting data and being able to share it but why around the community that has or struggles with eczema why are you so passionate about this?

Rakhi: I think because most people who have eczema live in isolation and they think they're the only one who's going through this in the world. You'll go into a dermatologist's office and you won't see the other patients who they're seeing who probably has what you have so you think you're just the only one there and it's very isolating. And it wasn't until my early 20s I had just graduated from undergrad that I finally got to my… I was with a new allergist and she was helping me as much as she could. And then she was like, “I think someone needs to really help you with your diet. That's not in my scope of practice. I can give you allergy shots.” She even started allergy drops which has not been I think passed by the FDA. There's allergy drops where you put it under the tongue but it wasn't, I think it was going through clinical trials.

Rakhi: She was like, “I think someone needs to really help you here.” And I had never heard of a registered dietician before and so I was like, “Okay.” And this was the time when I was actually pursuing acting and I was on camera all the time and my face was just flaring up so bad it was unrecognizable and I would have puffy eyes. And so, just for vanity reasons I was like, okay, I'm just going to go get this thing done and once and for all. And then I'm going to never look back and I'm going to continue my life.” But it changed me, it changed the course of my career. I changed careers because I was like, “I need to get this information out to people.”

Rakhi: And one of my favorite quotes is that knowledge is power but only when it's shared. And for me I think if you don't know certain things you will be living in this isolation for a really long time so I think sharing your story is very powerful. What works for me obviously is not always going to work for another person so I'm always going to say that. But at least having the options of knowing what is out there then when you have that knowledge you can go from there and know these are the interventions I can do and maybe this is going to help me so.

Jennifer: I wanted to ask you a question. Before we had started this interview you had talked a little bit about how eczema, you've discovered that eczema and the redness of asthma shows up differently on different skin colors which makes total sense. But I can recognize in listening I was like, “Okay that makes sense,” but it's also a little surprising too that we're now in this day and age and just starting to figure all of this out. And so, for anybody who's listening to this who may not… I am during the winter months I'm pretty pale, during the summer because my family is half Sicilian, I get pretty tan. But for somebody who is of a darker complexion and that's just genetically who they are maybe somebody looking at that might say, “Well, you look fine.” But in reality that redness or that inflammation is showing up in a different way. Could you share a little bit about what you've discovered around that?

Rakhi: Yeah. So, I mean and this is also, this is not my words, I was actually learning about this from a dermatologist who deals with people in his clinic in New York with skin color and having eczema. And a lot of the medical textbooks around dermatology really focus on lighter skin tones specifically of the Caucasian race. So, a lot of times when other ethnicities do come into a dermatologist office… Especially for example I'm of Indian descent so my skin is naturally a wheat ish brown color. Now, when I was younger I was a lot lighter in the parts of my body that are lighter in my hands and my feet so when it's red I can definitely notice it but the rest of my body that tans more it ends up turning like a grayish color and it looks like it's just hyperpigmentation.

Rakhi: So, it was really interesting because in the winter times when I was younger my mom would be like, “Did you go out in the sun?” I'm like, “No, I didn't it's winter. I don't know why I got 50 shades darker.” Well actually, I'll say I'm 50 shades of brown all over my body. I just never understood like certain parts of my body for example the lower back of me it's never exposed to the sun but it's the darkest part of me. And it wasn't ever that I had a raised rash but it was always dark and I was like, “This is weird it's just pigmented like that maybe. Okay, fine.” And even my face would always have a dark, not a dark cast but a grayish cast. I did have bright glowy skin and then when my inflammation starts to clear I notice my skin has a glow like orange undertone to it finally, it just brightens up.

Rakhi: And I never would think anything of it just thinking maybe I just wasn't out in the sun. And then when I heard this dermatologist speak in his lecture he was like, “No, this is common and a lot of dermatologists mistake this hyperpigmentation in people who are of color.” And you can even be of Asian descent too and it might not be red it might just be a darkish color, gray undertone. And they think it's pigmentation and they'll just give them a skin lightening cream but it's really eczema. And sometimes or if they think it's eczema they might say it's mild but really for the skin to turn that dark it's probably moderate to severe. So they're not even getting the proper treatment.

Jennifer: Wow. And that I think is a really important point to be made, no one has ever said that on the show. So thank you for sharing that because I hope that that's also going to help people who are listening to this and going, “Oh, that makes complete and total sense to me because that's my experience too.” And the other thing I also wanted and I hope you're open to sharing is I know that you have a lot of, you're trying to figure out a lot of different things with your own health and you've got a lot of itchy… Is it itchy issues or what's going on for you that you're looking and almost is it histamine, is it this, is it that? You've got a little bit more of a complex picture, you've mentioned some of it before. But where are you right now in trying to piece together your own thing? Because you are still living with eczema, you're thriving with eczema. I mean, I'm sure you would love for it to not be there but where are you right now with everything?

Rakhi: For me I mean, the itching has subsided a lot. I do suspect and I have gotten stool testing and done functional stool testing. And so, I do have gut issues going on. That's something that I'm working on correcting but like with anything really it's really slow. So I've been able to incorporate a lot more things into my diet but I've had a history of IBS. So for me it'll be a lot of fermentable types of foods and grains that will start to make me itchy and I do notice it with the histamines.

Rakhi: Now, one thing that I do think has helped me and not go crazy going like, “What is it,” is I do journal a lot. It's just a mindful tool that I think everyone could probably incorporate instead of going, “Well, I don't know what triggered this.” Because a lot of times it might take three days for something to manifest and see your symptoms. So, I have a journal and I write how I feel and what I ate or what products I use. Because it's not just food it'll be what's touching my skin or the environment that day, what the pollen count is because I'm affected by that too. And I write all that down and then I have the score and I made this up on my own and I call it like an R ride score. It stands for redness, rash, itchiness, dryness, and edema, edema meaning swelling.

Rakhi: So, if I don't have any symptoms present I give it a zero, if it's mild I give it a one, if it's moderate I give it a two, if it's severe I give it a three. And I score each category that day to see what my score is. A top score is a 15 that means my eczema is not managed at all. So, I can see where my days are good and where my days are bad. I try to keep my number under four and I definitely don't want there to be any swelling.

Rakhi: If I have even a one in the edema category I take that as a bad thing. Your skin should not be swollen with pus that might be infection or something like that. If there's a number for dryness I mean I'm okay with that like if it's mild dryness just because eczema naturally you have the transepidermal water loss all the time is just common characteristics so I'm okay with that. But I see the trends, I can see the trends on what I did that day, what I was eating. But I am more sensitive to things like supplements and so I have to be very careful in how I introduce things for myself.

Rakhi: So, right now it's not really so much the itching. A lot of times it'll just be little spots of rashes. For my hands right now because I do work in a clinical setting. I work in nursing homes and longterm care as a clinical dietician and then I work at the department of health and I work in immune nutrition with HIV patients. So I have to go in, right now actually they're not letting me in because of COVID-19 to my nursing homes. But whenever I washed my hands I really notice the difference and it's just like if it starts in my hands it will spread to the rest of my body. So, I'm constantly just trying to wear gloves and not washing my hands whenever possible.

Jennifer: And through this journey do you feel like, I mean there's probably been moments where you have been really unhappy and really miserable in your skin and being like, “Why me? Why did this happen to me? Make it stop please.” But have there been silver linings where you are like, “You know what, maybe there are blessings in the things that happen to us that are not so ideal.” So in your journey do you feel like there's any silver linings that you've been able to experience or realize that somebody listening who's in maybe a not so great place in that moment of like, “Why me,” that might help them see some brightness, a light at the end of the tunnel?

Rakhi: Yeah, no. I mean, I definitely have those moments maybe more so in my earlier, in my mid 20s. I do think life happens for us, it's not against us it's always there to teach us. There's teachable moments in everything. My darkest, darkest days were when actually I was in, I went to India when I was 22 with my mother. We were trying ayurvedic treatment because conventional was not working. And I won't go into the details but it was almost, it was a life changing experience in the way that my body was just not responding well to the treatment I will say it was almost a near death experience for me. And if I was able to live through that moment if anything it just made me stronger.

Rakhi: I don't think this experience is a negative thing. I think it makes you humble. You have to give yourself grace in these moments and really find out what it's teaching you. For me, it taught me that I am a fighter and I see all the other warriors out there and they are also fighters. And I'm trying not to get emotional here. But it taught me to, I mean I changed my career really to help others in this arena. And so, I also think it's important to not play a victim. I mean, wallow in your space, let the emotion out but then pick yourself up by the bootstraps and go like, “I'm going to fight this.” And recognize when you do need to seek help, don't try to DIY everything, Google everything, and do it on your own. Realize that maybe you don't have all the answers and that's okay, that's not you giving defeat. There's someone else out there that might be able to have the answers for you and you don't have to suffer through this all on your own.

Jennifer: Yeah that is so true. That is such a good point to make because it can feel really dark. It's funny people will say, “Oh my gosh, well you know so much.” And I'm like, “I'm not the smartest in the room. I'm not.” And it's okay, I'm glad because if I hit a wall and I'm not sure what to do I'm going to start, “Okay, let me get in touch with this doctor, let me get in touch with that doctor.” You know what I mean? There's a reason why we have people in the world that are at that next level. And it's great to be able, we don't want to just have them to have them they're there to utilize and to seek support from. So, I'm really glad that you brought that up and the idea that no matter what type of help you need. I also want to say too it's important if you're in a dark place to get help, to get help also emotionally. Because emotion, this can be very emotionally upsetting to go through very dark, dark times.

Jennifer: And so, it's just so cool to have you on the show. It's funny because for those of you who don't know Rakhi was on one of our office hour calls that we hosted and it was so great because she has such good information to share about different connections with eczema and skin issues. And so, it's my hope that Rakhi will agree to come back and she could talk more about some things that she has a great story and she has so much empathy and so much wisdom about things. But I would love Rakhi if you'd be willing to also share a bit more too about the clinical side of things and looking at food and diet and some of the really cool immunologic things. Rakhi knows a lot about all different types of things and she's learning and reading research it's just really cool to listen to her talk about these things and hoping maybe she'll come back and share some of it with us sometime.

Rakhi: Of course. I mean, like I said I'm not the expert here either I'm maybe a few steps ahead of maybe just someone else who's still going through this. But I mean, at the same time there are so many different connections that I've made through my journey or talking through other people. What was really beautiful is I went to the first ever FDA meeting for people who have eczema. It was a patient focused drug development seminar. There was over 500 people there I think virtually and in person.

Rakhi: And what was beautiful was that they gave us all badges and it said expert on it. The doctors didn't have an expert badge, nobody else really had an expert badge it was the patients. Because they were like, “You hold the knowledge more than we do.” And that's what it really is, you have the knowledge just you need to share it. Because that's really how I think this community is going to the next level. If we share what's not working for us, it's not like, like how many more lotions are going to come out really? We don't need another lotion. You don't need to research how many other different variations of a lotion needs to be made. And if anything, it's funny because they did polls at this meeting and the number one concern was not dry skin it was itchiness.

Jennifer: Interesting.

Rakhi: It's like a 100 page report and they have the information now, they published it. I think it's, you can go to www.morethanskindeep.com or just Google it and they have the report. They have the full video footage in there and yeah the poll was number one was itching.

Jennifer: That's really crazy. Yeah we'll have to talk more about some of these issues again. I would love to have you come back and talk about this. Oh my goodness it was so good to have you on the show. And for everybody who wants to check Rakhi out and connect with her she has a great Instagram account, she's got a website. What is your website?

Rakhi: My website is littleblissnutrition.com. And my Instagram…

Jennifer: Yeah go ahead.

Rakhi: I just changed it.

Jennifer: Yeah what is it now?

Rakhi: I just changed it I made it more targeted so I could connect more with people in this community. Because Instagram you need the attention span of two seconds so you need to get them while they're hot. So, my Instagram has gut skin nutritionist. It's gut.skin.nutritionist and so you can just type that in and let's connect. I would love to meet everyone.

Jennifer: Yes and we'll put all of the links and all the resources that you talked about in the show notes. All right. Thanks so much Rakhi I appreciate having you on the show.

Rakhi: Thanks Jen.

“For me, it'll be a lot of fermentable types of foods and grains that will start to make me itchy and I do notice it with the histamines.”


Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS is an integrative Clinical Nutritionist and the founder of Skinterrupt. She works with women who are fed up with chronic gut and skin rash issues discover the root causes and create a plan to get them back to a fuller, richer life.


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