My family and I have been healthy eaters for as long as I can remember. As a child, I remember my parents switching from being vegetarian to being vegan, then trying out this crazy health diet, before reverting back to being vegetarian, and then eventually dropping the labels and just trying to eat healthy. I grew up avoiding sugar and dairy like they were the plague. I never indulged on Halloween candy unless it had the word “chocolate” in it. (Chocolate was—and still is—my mom’s weakness, meaning that it was the one sugar-filled food that our family was allowed to consume without getting scolded).
After having such an intensely healthy upbringing, I suppose that it’s no surprise that I am now gluten-free, dairy-free, and processed sugar-free. They say that children grow up to be like their parents, and in this case, that is absolutely true. However, the reason I have decided to adopt such a healthy lifestyle is not out of pure motivation or self-control. It is entirely out of necessity. Because unfortunately, that phrase my mom always says is true: If you want healthy skin, you need a healthy gut.
I have had eczema for my entire life. My sister and my mom both struggle with eczema as well, which is one major reason why my family and I always avoided sugar. We found that the health of our skin was directly linked to the amount of sugar we consumed. So growing up, I knew that my skin was affected by what I ate.
For the first sixteen years of my life, avoiding sugar was enough to keep the eczema at bay. I would have the occasional flare up or two, usually around Thanksgiving or Christmas when the pumpkin pie that sat in front of me at the dinner table was just too delicious to resist. But apart from those minor setbacks, my skin was healthy. It wasn’t until I started Grade Twelve that my skin took a turn for the worse. And that is all because of one word: stress.
Grade Twelve is a uniquely stressful experience for many reasons: firstly, you are asked to determine your entire future and decide what you want to do for the rest of your life in a little under four months; secondly, you are told to apply for some type of post-secondary institution and so you have to make decisions about which institution to go to and which faculty to attend and which program to take; and finally, you are required to find some method of paying for this increasingly-expensive education, so you are either forced to ask for more hours at your workplace or else find enough scholarships to cover at least some of the costs of your program.
In other words, after spending the first few months of Grade Twelve applying for university, writing essays for scholarships, and working hard to maintain a 95% average, my body decided that it had had enough. Within those few short months, the condition of my skin worsened. Eczema started emerging on my arms and legs, albeit in relatively small patches. My hands, however, were so swollen that it was extremely painful and difficult to write.
After spending a few months in denial about just how bad my skin had become, I finally admitted that I needed to make a change in my diet. Even though I had not changed my sugar intake, with the added stress and pressure to my system, my body was no longer able to operate effectively with the diet that I had been working with up to that point. A change in stress level required a change in lifestyle. So I reluctantly began life as an officially gluten-free individual.
I will spare you a recounting of the miseries of gluten-free life. Between the disgustingly heavy “bread” and the “crackers” that taste like salted cardboard, it was difficult to maintain my sanity. But lo and behold, my skin improved! So no matter how desperately I missed pasta with meat sauce and baguettes with garlic butter, I was willing to make that sacrifice.
Things weren’t hunky-dory for the rest of my life. I faced new challenges with the start of university, and I once again had to adjust my lifestyle to match my stress level. However, for the time being, I shall leave you with this simple reminder: the condition of your skin is directly connected to the condition of your diet. If you want to get rid of acne, dermatitis, or eczema, one key way of doing this is to adjust the foods that you are eating and increase the overall health of your diet.
My mom said it first, but I will now follow in her footsteps: If you want healthy skin, you need a healthy gut.