I have been troubled by my skin for years now. It may not be the most obvious, as when my skin is good, it is great…but I have suffered from eczema, dry skin, red patches, acne, sensitivity and food-related flare ups. Most tend to be related to changing climate, hormone imbalance (I have PCOS) and most of all stress. During one study month in college I spent two weeks attempting to study at home instead of the library because a red rash appeared all over my face, due to drinking coffee – which was one thing I certainly couldn’t live without while studying. Another time, while on holiday in Spain, I got a rash of red spots all over my back and arms from using a chlorinated swimming pool and had to avoid the pool for the rest of the week. When I’m very stressed I also tend to get a weird type of eczema on my face that stings and only goes away with a prescription cream. Such fun. But through all of these trials and tribulations, I have learned to understand my skin, and deal with it to a certain extent. I have also learned that my skin is like a mirror for everything else in my life. It is the first thing to react to stress or upset and I have begun to listen to it (finally!).
Certainly what I put in my body has a huge influence on how my skin behaves, particularly when stressed. All the usual culprits, sugar, dairy, caffeine etc have clearly demonstrated this in the past. Years ago a doctor remarked that once his patients gave up dairy, their skin cleared up immensely. Obviously at the time I decided not to believe him – probably because I didn’t want to give up ice cream and milk in my coffee. Years later, I feel that my attitude has changed. My baseline of what is normal and okay to eat health-wise has altered dramatically. I now no longer think I have to eat chocolate every day of the week in order to not feel deprived. Eating for a healthy body and to have energy has become paramount. A big part of this shift can be attributed to looking at how my diet contributed to my skin problems. The Healthy Skin Diet is an amazing book detailing exactly what you should (and should not) be eating for different skin conditions. I have learned so much from this book, and really become aware of how many things I was eating that were wreaking havoc with my skin. I brought it to Australia with me and back again, and I think I have read it cover to cover about 10 times at this stage.
One of the coolest coffee places in L.A.
Coffee is probably my one addiction. I could give up bread, sugar and possibly even alcohol (that sort of makes me sound like an alcoholic…for the record, I am not) but I don’t know if I would ever be happy to give up coffee. It’s such an everyday treat, and I definitely notice the kick it gives me…or rather the headache and fuzzy head I have without it. Since reading the Healthy Skin Diet I have cut way back on my caffeine consumption, I am now down to one cup a day, and some days (which are admittedly few and far between, but they do exist) I don’t have any.
Recently I have been extremely stressed by work, and my skin has decided to revert to a “study month” type state that I hadn’t seen for a while…needless to say, it’s been a barrel of laughs. Eczema, spots and random dry patches are daily occurrences. In addition to that I have lost some body fat, while experimenting with a personal trainer. Karen discusses in her book how fat can store the toxins that influence skin health (or lack of) and how losing fat can cause these toxins to be released into the bloodstream…with an ensuing skin disaster.
So as lent begins, I have been reduced to drastic measures in an effort to win the battle against the blemish. Since Ash Wednesday I have cut out all dairy, processed sugar and caffeine (ouch -it hurts to even type it). I have also tried to reduce how much wheat/gluten I eat as it is inflammatory for us all as discussed by I Quit Sugar’s Sarah Wilson. The first 3 days were…hell. I had a fuzzy head until 2pm, when I then hit my afternoon slump and slept terribly at night. It felt like all my muscles were on slow motion and getting myself to do anything in a relatively quick fashion was near impossible. I had a 10 km race yesterday that I ended up cycling to and from (I am not a great cyclist…its a long story…and I don’t know how I thought it was a good idea) and was exhausted for the rest of the day.
However this morning I woke before my alarm, with a new sense of peace and a lot more energy. My skin has calmed down considerably – it is by no means perfect but it’s definitely somewhere further along the way. It does mean that I may be seriously considering a dairy free future, and without the caffeine kick…sad face. I have already tried to remedy this dilemma: scrambled eggs made with almond milk and coconut oil have become a regular breakfast, and I am currently trying every combination of warmed almond milk/soy milk and spices/cacao powder/vanilla that I can come up with. No luck with the coffee replacement just yet, but almond and coconut scrambled eggs are delicious.
But…what about chocolate?!
I am starting to experiment with raw cacao powder and different concoctions. So far, there is no success on the actual chocolate front, but I have made a few batches of brownies -and they passed the test with my “regular food” eating housemates. Below is a rough (still not quite exact with portions- and tend to use whatever I find in my cupboard) recipe for sweet potato “skin friendly” brownies:
Baked sweet potato all mashed up
- 1 medium sweet potato
- 1 cup raw cacao powder or coco powder
- pinch baking soda
- 1/2 cup coconut flour or almond flour (I used a mix of both)
- about 1 cup almond milk
- 1-2 tablespoons flaxseed oil (good for your skin!)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- 1 vanilla pod
- 2-3 medjool dates
- 1-2 teaspoons stevia (or sweetener of your choice)
- 1/2 cup pecans
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Soak the dates for 50-60 minutes in water to soften them. Peel the sweet potato and bake until soft (40 minutes at 180 degrees did it for me). Mash the sweet potato and mix in the flaxseed oil, cacao powder, 1/2 cup of almond milk, stevia, baking soda and coconut/almond flour. Peel the dates and blend them together with the vanilla essence. Add this blend to the main mixture, along with the centre of the vanilla pod. Break the pecans into smaller pieces and mix in.
At this point I tasted the mixture and added a little more almond milk and cacao powder as it was quite thick and not quite chocolatey enough – adjust as you like. I ended up with quite gooey brownies rather like a cake, if you prefer them drier hold the almond milk. Grease a baking tin with coconut oil and pour in the mixture.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is nicely brown and dark.
When ready, let it cool for a few minutes and then serve with some Nobo dairy free ice cream – I used the vanilla and coconut flavour. Enjoy!