Looking outside Western Medicine
As a teenager, my step-mom took me to see my first naturopath doctor. Dr Hecht. I was struggling with terrible teenage acne and had tried the traditional route for a couple years. He looked at me and said "you are clearly allergic to milk". It had never crossed my mind that food and skin health were related.
Prior to seeing Dr. Hecht, I had tried from either a dermatologist or general practitioner: tetracycline (antibiotic), minocycline (antibiotic), retin-a (synthetic vitamin a), accutane (another, very strong vitamin a derivative), benzamycin (topical antibiotic), differin (topical vitamin a derivative), birth control pills (yazmin, orthotricycline, loestrin, microgestin), and more.
Clearly, this wasn't a dermatological issue, it was a symptom that happened to be coming out my face. NONE of the above medications worked, and some wreaked havoc on my guts.
Contrary to what Dr. Hecht said in our visit, I actually don't think I am allergic to milk. However, around that time in my life, my relationship with food changed. I went from eating whatever I felt like to an "I can't eat that" eater. (Now, I'm more of an "I choose not to eat that" eater.) While it's become an easier part of my life to navigate and one I've ultimately became grateful for, in the beginning it was a challenge.
My step-mother suggested "try cutting out chocolate, don't drink dairy" and other foods that can exacerbate skin issues. After seeing Dr. Hecht, (and being on every acne medication ever) I reluctantly did my first "elimination diet". I felt terrible about myself with my skin as it was, I wanted more than anything for a clear complexion. I would try anything.
I cut out everything, Grains, Beans, Dairy, CITRUS, SUGAR. Basically, i was like "WHAT CAN I EAT?!" My favorites at that time were: pizza, french fries, sugared cereal and candy.
That summer, I don't even remember what I did eat because I'm sure all i focused on was what i couldn't eat. I also don't remember if it even helped my skin. I was probably a brat about it. (A normal reaction to anyone's first elimination diet) I went back to boarding school that fall and caved with 2-3 weeks left of the diet. You're supposed to add each item back in, ALONE, and over a couple of days to a week to see how you react.
My downfall: girl scout cookie season. I ate some tagalongs, thereby ingesting dairy, sugar and grains all at once. (the most common offenders, if you are having a reaction from food). I probably had a stomach ache to say the least, I can't remember, i just remember eating the cookies and then going back to life at school as usual.
More than Physical Symptoms
Around my Junior year at boarding school, I started having terrible panic attacks, followed by depression (I also still had acne). It was pretty intense and came on suddenly. I basically was afraid to do ANYTHING outside my routine for fear that something might set off a wave of panic followed by inconsolable daydreams of irrational situations. I worried at all times. They started having me see a therapist at school. In addition to that I was on at one time or another: klonopin, zoloft, prozac, wellbutrin and lithium. Lithium and Wellbutrin after trial and error, seemed to be the one to get me through my last year and a half of school.
I was still eating whatever I wanted, despite my body and mind freaking out and my skin not improving, i still wanted a pill solution.
Foods I ate frequently: white rice with salt and butter, omelets (on certain mornings) with white toast, turkey sandwiches on ski days (2-4 of them depending on hunger), pizza, chicken fingers, chicken mcnuggets, french fries, sugared cereal, boxes of swedish fish candy, soda, swiss miss cake rolls, you get the picture. I did eat fruit too but in no way was I eating a balanced diet. I was following the glorious food pyramid we were taught in the 80s, 6-11 servings of grains a day! (nailing it.) I think i ate some broccoli, i tried to like salad.
I mention this list specifically because this type of food is referred to as the Western Diet. It's high in carbohydrates, processed and refined foods, low in vegetables, healthy fats and nutrient dense foods. It has been linked to: anxiety, depression, acne, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, limiting the variation of microbes in the gut, cancers, general inflammation and general chronic health problems, to say the least.
By the end of high school, i still had acne but the birth control had helped a bit. I ate terribly but was learning that more vegetables were probably a good idea. I graduated, still on lithium and Wellbutrin. I'd gotten into a good college and was going to study theatre. I had xanax as needed for when i had panic attacks. Things were looking up. I knew that food was connected in some way to my emotional and physical symptoms but it wasn't "bad enough" for me to actually make a lifestyle change.