When Healthy Eating Becomes Too “Healthy”

(TW for disordered eating)

I wanted to write a follow-up to my post about eating salmon every day for clear skin – I got a lot of “likes” on that post, so it seems like it’s a topic of interest, or at least intrigue, for many.

First of all, you may be wondering: how is my skin doing? Am I still eating salmon every day? 

The answers to those questions are that my skin is doing okay – it’s not perfect, mind you – and I am NOT eating salmon every day anymore. 

I was eating salmon daily for a while, and my skin really did improve (I was also limiting my sugar, gluten, and dairy, as those also seemed to be triggers for acne for me.) But even so, my skin still never fully achieved perfection. 

I have a friend who on Facebook is an advocate for fighting against disordered eating and fatphobia. Her posts have recently challenged me to think about my own relationship to food, and my own dieting habits. I realized that I was slowly getting stricter and stricter with my diet – I was eating salmon daily, but also cutting out multiple other foods. I was looking at food only in terms of “will this make me break out or not?” I began to be afraid to eat many foods, even small amounts of them. At the same time, sometimes I really craved eating some ice cream or a cookie! But I felt stuck in my rigid diet because I knew eating those things would make my skin break out. 

I had to be honest with myself and admit that this was unhealthy, and probably verging on disordered eating. And I’ve got a history of disordered eating (look up the term “orthorexia”), and I didn’t want to get to that place again. I wasn’t afraid of becoming fat or overweight, but I was terrified of having bad skin, of looking less than perfect. Acne-phobic? Imperfect-phobic?

I had also really wanted to clear my skin naturally – not using any sort of pills or topical medications or anything like that. I had hoped that eating the right foods (and not eating the wrong foods) would just balance my body out on its own. But instead, I think I set myself up to try to reach an impossible goal. I realized I was so preoccupied with what I was eating, and so scared of my skin breaking out, that it was affecting my life, and that I needed to make a change. 

Last month I allowed myself to buy some benzoyl peroxide cream and a salicylic acid body wash. I thought I’d start with over the counter stuff, and then if I needed to, I could always make an appointment with a dermatologist. I’ve been using the topical creams/washes and it has helped lessen the frequency and severity of my breakouts – although again, I cannot claim to have perfect skin. 

It’s really hard for me to do things in moderation. I tend to be an all or nothing girl. I’m learning to have more balance in my life. It’s better for my mental and physical health. As much as I want to naturally cure my acne, I may just be a person for whom that is not possible. And THAT’S OKAY! Taking medicine or using acne creams does not make me a failure (I’m saying that for my own benefit, I’m an Enneagram 1, you know!)

I think it’s healthier for me to be able to eat a bowl of ice cream every once and a while without worrying what the effects will be on my skin. I’m not saying that I don’t still desire to eat good, healthy foods – but I am no longer striving so hard for perfection. Mostly healthy (or even somewhat healthy) can be good enough. 

I’m also trying hard to be okay with imperfection in my skin. As much as I envy people who have perfect skin without even trying, I’m just not a person that has that. I have been trying so hard to make myself become that, but that’s not who I am. Just like there are people of all sizes and we shouldn’t put pressure on anyone to become one particular size, maybe we shouldn’t put pressure on people to have perfect skin either. It’s not realistic. 

Can we widen our standards of beauty to include a little bit of imperfection? I know we don’t see it that much in the media – we see the photoshopped faces of models and celebrities, and they all seem like they have perfect skin. 

Maybe by owning my own skin imperfections, I can be an advocate, just like my friend on Facebook. Maybe by posting the picture of myself, even with a huge pimple, I can encourage others to embrace themselves, “warts and all” (or “acne and all,” I suppose!)

Each individual is going to have to make their own call on deciding if their relationship to food is healthy or unhealthy. You may cut out certain foods or food groups and for you, it is not disordered eating. (Take for example, if you have celiac disease and have to cut out gluten.)

I think it’s also important to consider why eating a certain way is important to you, or why you feel like you “have” to do it. Are you trying to live up to a certain standard (a certain weight, a level of skin clarity?) Who told you that you must live up to that standard? Is it something you want to do, or are you feeling pressure or shame from others?  

Personally, I’m still going to eat salmon regularly, because I do think it has benefits not only for my skin, but my overall health. And I’m still going to try to limit sugar to some extent, because that makes me feel the healthiest. What I want to avoid is obsessing over every bite of food I eat and feeling trapped in my food choices. If my husband makes me a special dessert for my birthday, I want to be able to enjoy it guilt-free. Everything in moderation, as they say. The older I get, the more wisdom I see in that piece of advice.

Thanks for reading. 

*If you are in a cycle of disordered eating and need help, don’t hesitate to reach out to a friend or even to a national helpline like NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association 800-931-2237)

One thought on “When Healthy Eating Becomes Too “Healthy”

  1. This is so good. Thank you for sharing. I have to admit at almost 50, pimples still love my face. Those who catch me on Saturdays without makeup can attest to my “youthful” appearance. LOL


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