Back in October, I wrote about my struggles with self esteem because of my imperfect skin. I wrote that piece to encourage others to find confidence without feeling like they have to buy into the multi-billion dollar beauty industry. And I also wrote it to help myself maintain positive thinking.
But it's difficult to think positive and be confidence one hundred percent of the time. Only a couple weeks after I wrote that article, I broke down into tears when I woke in the morning and felt five new, painful cysts forming underneath my skin. I called my mom sobbing. She encouraged me to go back to the dermatologist.
It was well-intentioned advice. But a dermatologist probably would have either put me on an antibiotic or offered me Accutane, neither of which I wanted. I wanted a solution that didn't involve medication.
So instead, I started keeping a food journal. Each day I wrote down what I ate, and how many cysts I had. I used this technique several years ago to figure out that my chronic migraine headaches were actually caused by all the cured, processed meats I was eating. When I stopped eating so much salami, pepperoni and bacon, the migraines went away.
I also started drinking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar every day. My boyfriend swore to me that apple cider vinegar keeps his skin flawless, and while I was skeptical, I figured it couldn't hurt to try it.
Lo and behold, my skin started to get better the first five days I was drinking the vinegar. However, on the sixth day, the cysts returned, and I figured that the improvement must have been just a coincidence. But when I looked at my food journal I discovered that the night before the cysts came back, I had eaten a bowl of ice cream.
Armed with the theory that sugary foods could be the cause of my problem, I went to the Internet to try to find more evidence. Sure enough, I found one article which explains how insulin causes acne, and another which explains how drinking apple cider vinegar can help control insulin production.
And thanks to Katie Couric's documentary, Fed Up, I know that your insulin levels increase dramatically when you ingest sugary foods like ice cream, pastries, soda, even fruit juice. And I know that sugar is in an awful lot of things where you wouldn't necessarily expect to find it. There's sugar in salad dressing. There's sugar in marinara sauce. There was sugar in the Eggo waffles I was eating for breakfast every morning. Seventeen grams of sugar to start my day. No wonder my skin was suffering.
As soon as I concluded that sugar was probably the cause of my problems, I quit sugar cold turkey. For the last two months, the only sugar I have consumed is the natural sugar contained in fruits and vegetables. I have been drinking apple cider vinegar every day. And my skin has never looked better.
I'm writing this piece not as an advertisement for apple cider vinegar or for a sugar-free diet. I still stand behind my argument in my last post about my skin--buying fad beauty products does not bring you confidence. I'm writing this piece not to encourage anyone to go in search of an unattainable beauty ideal; I'm writing it to encourage everyone to listen to the poignant and powerful ways that your body has of communicating with you.
If you are in pain, your body is probably trying to tell you something. My migraine headaches were a message that the chemicals in cured meats were hurting my body. My cystic acne was a message that sugar was doing the same.
The crucial flaw of western medicine is that the body does not even get to participate in its own healing process. If I had gone to the dermatologist and gotten a prescription for Accutane, my acne may have gone away, but I never would have addressed my excessive intake of sugar. Similarly, if you take an Ibuprofen for your headache, you are probably not addressing the root cause of your headache: dehydration, hunger, fatigue, stress, etc.
In the western world, we like immediate, easy solutions to our health problems¬--instant relief without having to do much work for it. Our pharmaceutical industry encourages us to have this mentality. The more pills that a drug company can convince us that we need (or convince our doctors to prescribe), the more profits they can make. Who's really benefitting here?
Of course, this is not to say that we should entirely relinquish western drugs. We should be grateful for the medicines that keep us healthy, but at the same time, we should more frequently ask whether they are really necessary. Oftentimes, a drug only provides temporary relief, while lifestyle changes like cutting sugar, exercising, and practicing mindfulness can permanently improve your health. Figuring out which lifestyle changes you need to make may involve some trial and error. But as soon as you find the right answer, your body will tell you. Trust me.
Refusing pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving this year was one of the hardest things I've ever done. But my body is thanking me for the dietary change I have made. My complexion is still not perfect, but my cystic acne has pretty much disappeared. My skin is no longer in pain. It's a happy ending for this chapter of my battle with my insecurities, and a new beginning on my journey of getting to know myself.