You could be doing everything right. Soaking your beans, eating your veggies, and avoiding anything with sugar, gluten or dairy. It’s hard work, but you do it because you’ve been told that this is what you have to do to finally get clear skin. And while all of these things are part of the equation, there’s the second part that is often not talked about; the part that literally determines how your body handles the food you so lovingly prepared for yourself. So instead of focusing purely on what you eat, you may wish to try changing how you eat to get clear skin.
Let me share a little vignette from my life. Most of the time I get to work from home, but at least one day a week I am in an office. Because I’m only in the office one day a week, this day is usually fraught with meetings, deadlines, and anything that makes the most of my time while I’m on site. On days like these, lunch is normally eaten around 2:30 pm, at my desk, while finishing up a project and answering emails. My lunch can be the healthiest of lunches – usually, it’s delicious leftovers from the night before – but as I scarf it down, barely tasting it, and distractedly doing other things, without fail it forms a hard ball in the pit of my stomach. Often I feel bloated, overstuffed, and definitely not nourished.
The food was right, but the environment in which I was consuming it was so, so wrong.
And I know I’m not the only one who eats like this. (I try my best, but sometimes this nutritionist needs to heed her own advice!)
Often we don’t prioritize the time to create a space to eat in a calm, mindful way so that our body has the capacity to digest and assimilate the nutrients it needs from the foods we eat.
So, what can we do to change how we eat so that we are getting the most nutrition from our meals to help nourish our skin?
Here are three simple things to help with your digestion that you can try at dinner tonight…
Skip the Ice Water
Like many people, I was raised in a household where it was normal to have ice water or a tall glass of cold milk with my meals. And for some of us, drinking cold water with meals is the only time during the day where we even think to drink water. The main reason why this can be problematic and compromise your digestion is that Energetically your stomach is a “hot” organ that contains stomach acid, which is needed to break down food and protein. Consuming cold water when eating meals can extinguish your “digestive fire” by diluting your gastric juices.
Instead, trade your ice water for room temperature or warm water, and sip this water throughout the day up to 30 minutes before your main meals. Yes, I know, ice water can have a refreshing and enjoyable taste, but I promise you that over time you will get used to room temperature water and even come to prefer it. Try flavouring your water with fresh lemon, cucumber, or berries to make it more exciting!
Chew Your Food
Digestion starts in your mouth. Your pearly whites aren’t just there to brighten your smile but to also mechanically break down your bites into smaller, easy to handle morsels so that the rest of your digestive tract will have an easier time. Chewing your food mindfully and longer than 2 seconds does three very important things for your digestion. First, it allows you to actually taste your food!
Second, chewing releases saliva in the mouth, and saliva contains a very important digestive enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates. If you experience bloating, burping or acid reflux immediately after eating, it’s possible that you didn’t chew your food well enough. Carbohydrates don’t get a second chance at digestion until they reach your small intestine, so unless you chew your food really well and get that saliva flowing, the carbs are going to sit in your tummy and ferment, creating gas, until the stomach empties.
And lastly, chewing signals the rest of your digestive system to let it know that there is food coming, so it better get ready. This triggers peristalsis and the secretion of important digestive enzymes that will break down the food into its smallest parts so it can be absorbed and used by the body.
Chewing your food really well is one of the simplest things you can do to improve your digestion, clear your skin, and feel better overall. Start by taking slightly smaller bites, placing your fork down while you chew, and then count how many times you chew. On the next bite, try and increase your chews by 5. Eventually, chewing your food will become second nature and you won’t have to even think about it.
De-Stress Your Meal Times
Whether it’s a lion chasing you or a challenging email at work, your body responds to stress the same way by diverting blood away from the internal organs into the extremities so you can run away from danger. This essentially shuts down all digestive processes, and any food you’ve consumed sits in limbo in your body waiting for you to calm down and digestion to fire up again. If you experience occasional bouts of stress, this is ok, however, so many of us live in a chronically stressed out state that digestion is never fully functioning. This means that we’re likely not breaking our foods down into the nutrients we need to build healthy cells and nourish our skin. This can lead to inflammation of the gut lining, food allergies, and bacterial overgrowth in the gut – all of which can cause or exacerbate acne.
Being more mindful at meal times takes a conscious effort. If possible, begin by eating your meals away from a screen (TV or computer), and sit quietly at a table. Play some nice background music, and create a warm, inviting environment to have your meal. Practice your chewing and eating slowly, allowing yourself to really taste your food. You might even be surprised that you’ve been eating foods you don’t actually like once you allow yourself to taste them. You may also find that by eating more intentionally and slowly, you don’t need to eat as much, so you’ll feel less full and less discomfort after meals. And because we are social creatures, any opportunity to share a meal with a loved one can help with digestion, and ultimately the health of your skin.
Some of these links between how you eat and your acne might not be super obvious on the surface, but that’s why I feel a holistic approach to rebalancing your body to heal your acne can be so profound. Finding the next supplement or cream or superfood that promises clear skin is one approach, and for many of us, it’s our first approach. Sometimes we get lucky and it works, and for others, it only gets us so far. So by reframing our perspective and looking beyond just what we put in or on our bodies, to what we can change to support our bodies in their healing is incredibly empowering.
You have more power over the health and clarity of your skin than you think.
So I’d love to hear from you. What can you do to try changing how you eat to get clear skin?