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. 

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Would You Eat Salmon Every Day for Clear Skin?

***Check out my follow-up post (written 3 months later) here!***

I’ve had really bad acne in the past – it was so bad that when I was a teenager, I had to go on Accutane because nothing else would clear it up. I don’t think I have (or at least I didn’t keep) many pictures of myself during that time because I was so ashamed of the way I looked. Thank goodness smart phones were not a thing back then!

As an (almost) 34-year-old, one might assume that my days of dealing with acne are behind me. Not true! Unfortunately, I still deal with breakouts a lot. Normally it is a minor annoyance, a few here and there that most people probably wouldn’t notice all that much.

The past few weeks however, my skin just exploded! I was getting at least 3-4 pimples a day, and many of them were large inflamed ones. Everything I tried seemed futile. I cut out gluten, sugar and dairy from my diet (which often seems to help), I was using a skin-clearing mask nightly, I tried to make sure I was drinking plenty of water… but the breakouts kept coming in full force.

If you’ve ever had bad acne, you understand that feeling of fear, of feeling like your skin is not in your control anymore. You feel helpless, and it’s one of the worst feelings in the world. And if you’re like me, you also feel really ugly – I think due to my past struggles with acne, my skin condition really affects how I view myself – whether I feel good or bad, pretty or ugly…

I was desperate and didn’t know what else to do, so I turned to my trusty Clear Skin Prescription book by Nicholas Perricone. Maybe you’ve heard of the “Perricone diet?” Nicholas Perricone has written numberous books about anti-inflammatory diets that are supposed to be anti-aging and help you get clear, beautiful skin.

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My Obsession: Down the Rabbit Hole

Orthorexia – an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy

We’re about to go down the rabbit hole into my obsession with having perfect skin and beating acne. Last chance to turn back…

Image result for down the rabbit hole

To give context for this post, in another post I talked about my struggle with acne and the connection it had to my body image. I talked about how I had taken Accutane and the worst of my acne had cleared up. And while it had some pretty substantial results, it was not a complete miracle. I found that I still got breakouts more often than I wanted.

By this point and time, I was hyper-sensitive to any breakout, whether it was one or 100. Even one blemish was too many for me. After having gone through a few years of my face being completely covered with acne, I think when even a few spots started coming back, it triggered significant fear in me. I was determined that I would never go back to looking like that.

A pivotal point in my life was when I found the book, “The Clear Skin Prescription” by Nicholas Perricone. I remember being in a used bookstore and coming across it, and thinking it was worth a shot. The book is based on the premise that diet is the main contributor to inflammation in our bodies, which causes acne. So, the book outlined a very specific low-glycemic diet, which recommended cutting out sugar, even sources like bread and certain fruits and vegetables. This was over 10 years ago, before Keto and Paleo were big – so it was a concept I hadn’t heard of at that point.

I had always heard that what you ate didn’t affect your acne. I read it in teen magazines under the “Acne Myths” section, and it was plastered all over posters at the dermatologist’s office: FOOD DOES NOT CAUSE ACNE. Young and naive Erica never thought to question that “fact” and so I never worried about my diet. And since I didn’t have any weight issues, it meant that I ate whatever my heart desired, such as ice cream for breakfast and lots of fast food.

I decided to give the diet a try, and lo and behold, it really did make my skin look better! (You’ll notice I said BETTER and not perfect.) With this newfound information that diet was the key to clear skin, all I had to do was find the perfect combination of foods to eat (or not eat) to solve all my skin problems. And thus, I spent the next several years in search of the ultimate clear skin diet.

(Here’s where the rabbit hole really begins…)

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