I tried a "Clear Skin Diet" for a month... and it (kind of) worked

*Disclaimer: This was the result of my own personal experience. Every body is different and what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. Also, please consult with a healthcare professional before making a significant change to your diet.

As you all know, I have been on a "clear skin diet" for the past 3 weeks. But, before I get into the logistics and final results of this diet, I'm going to briefly discuss why I started it: so, before I got acne I had the clearest skin of my life. Previous to this summer, I never had acne but I also never had clear skin. When I came home from university, I really made it a point to repair my skin because 4 years of school stress, partying, living in a dirty student house in the ghetto, and eating fast food more times than I'd like to admit was really showing through my skin. It was dry, dull, had acne scars and a few blemishes. After 4 months of researching, making my own skincare products (I'll do a post on this later) and learning how to be an informed skincare consumer, my skin did a total 180. In addition to developing a skincare routine that I was able to stick with, I also cleaned up my diet (for the most part) and really kept consistent with my fitness and meditation practice. In short: I was feeling pretty great.

Then, one weekend I got really stomach sick (no, it wasn't COVID). I couldn't keep anything down and after that, my skin started breaking out aggressively. In the span of a couple weeks I had full-out acne. It started around my mouth and continued to get worse each day, spreading to my forehead and even my cheeks. In addition to my skin issues, I was also getting frequent headaches, severe brain fog, mood swings, and was feeling just generally tired and lethargic. I had heard of people going to Naturopaths for symptoms similar to these, so that's when I decided to try it out.

I made an appointment with a Naturopath named Dr. Laura Belus and she put me on this "clear skin diet". I personally really hate the term "clear skin diet" or "21 day detox" (what Dr. Belus called it) or "elimination diet", because it sounds too diet culture-y for me; but essentially it was a 21 day diet focused around eating whole foods and limiting processed, refined foods. Dr. Belus told me that this diet will take some stress off my liver by eating nutrient dense, unprocessed foods. I'm usually the first person to think that "detox diets" are a marketing scheme, but I really didn't see the harm in limiting processed foods in order to incorporate more veggies and nutrients into my diet.

Because my diet involved quite a few restrictions (cutting out dairy, gluten, wheat, sugar, nightshade vegetables, eggs, peanuts, caffeine and soy), she also gave me a supplement to ensure that I wouldn't become malnourished throughout the 21 days. The idea behind all the restrictions is to eliminate foods that can be potentially sensitizing, so after the 21 days the "banned" foods can be slowly re-introduced to see if any affect my skin and/or digestion. The idea is NOT to eliminate all these foods forever, as that would simply be unsustainable (at least for me).

Week 1

The first day I went grocery shopping to buy the foods on the grocery list that was given to me by Dr. Belus. This was food way different from what I normally buy, so I ended up spending around $250 completely re-stocking my pantry and fridge. This scared me at first but a lot of it was bulk and pantry items that lasted me the month like beans, rice, chickpea pasta, coconut oil, spices, almond butter, tahini, etc. My subsequent grocery trips were muuuuuch cheaper; and actually quite similar to what I was already spending before.

In terms of what I made, Dr. Belus gave a list of recipes and a complete meal plan that I loosely got some inspo from, but I really preferred to do my own thing and find my own recipes using the diet guidelines. In hind sight, I probably should have stuck to her recipes that first week because I found it very hard at first to find recipes that I could eat without any major adjustments. Overall, I found it very hard to see past my restrictions so I definitely was not eating enough. Because I wasn't eating enough, I felt pretty tired and a lot weaker than usual. However, on the bright side my stomach was feeling way better, I noticed I got less headaches, my mood was WAY more positive and stable; and I felt less bloated after eating. In terms of my skin, my acne was a lot less red and inflamed, but I was still getting new breakouts.

Week 2

This was the week I was really starting to get the hang of cooking for myself; and I was at the point where I felt I was eating enough and had a lot more energy. I think the biggest adjustment for me was eating more calorie-dense foods that I previously used to not eat much of - such as things like nuts, nut butters, and legumes - to ensure I was getting enough calories in. I really think that having a good grasp of nutrition is really important for doing a diet like this, because it is very easy to under-nourish yourself without proper planning and preparation.

I started putting nuts in my car to snack on before and after work, I brought seeds to snack on during work; and made sure that I had bought and prepped for breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the week. Breakfast was easy because I made a green smoothie every morning so I could blend my supplement in with it; and I would usually make a large portion for dinner so I could have lunch for a day or two after. I actually started really looking forward to making dinner each night; and used it as a time to unwind from my work day. It definitely took more time to make my meals than I would usually spend, but I didn't mind it at all. The fact that I would make large portions to have for multiple days made it worth taking the extra time to me.

Although I got cooking at home locked down, I found it quite difficult and even frustrating eating out. I love eating out and going for dinner, but I found my options were very limited at most restaurants. My choices usually were between some type of boring un-dressed salad and an overpriced piece of fish with steamed vegetables. I actually did not like going out while on this diet because my meals were either unappetizing or expensive and I personally liked the food I made at home much better. I also felt uncomfortable at first being "that girl" that takes 10 minutes to order because she's making all these substitutions and asking a ton of questions. I remember being in Halifax for the weekend and finding it so difficult to find food that I was able to eat and being really frustrated about it. But, apart from that one weekend, eating out didn't end up being that big of a deal because most restaurants are quite accommodating (if you know where to go) and I started making dinners with my friends instead of going out to eat, which ended up being a lot more fun (and healthier) in my opinion.

Some Typical Meals

Week 3

This week just flew by for me and I found myself at the point where I didn't feel restricted because I knew the ins and outs of all the foods I could eat. I followed a few vegan and gluten free recipe pages and YouTube accounts because I found that diet was most similar to mine (minus the soy protein sources). Also, the second week I couldn't stop thinking about eating bread and dessert, but I found that my sugar cravings greatly reduced by this week. I work in a bakery, so I found myself no longer longingly looking at a muffin or piece of cake, wishing I could have some. I also knew where and what I could order if I needed to eat out or was going out with friends.

In terms of my skin and digestion, I was feeling really good. I felt energized despite not having a cup of coffee for 3 weeks, my stomach no longer hurt after eating, I could wear a tight dress to dinner without worrying about being bloated after; and I hadn't gotten a headache the entire time. For my skin, my overall complexion was much brighter and my acne was way less inflamed. However, I was still continuing to get new breakouts.

Week 1 (left), Week 3 (right)

Final Thoughts

Overall, this diet was no miracle acne cure. I went in with the expectation that my skin and digestion would show some improvement, but I didn't expect my acne to completely disappear. In order for my acne to completely disappear, I would have had to have been allergic or intolerant to a specific food. I figured this wasn't the case from before because I could eat literally anything with little to no problem. I think that this fact makes this journey a lot more applicable to a broader audience because, if it was the case that I had Celiac or was lactose intolerant, it wouldn't demonstrate the way that diet can affect the skin for people without intolerances or allergies. I think that lowering the amount of inflammatory foods can definitely help with reducing the inflammation and redness of acne. Although that may not sound like a big deal, I found that my less-inflamed acne was a lot easier to cover with makeup when I was going out and definitely made it a lot less "loud" when I wasn't wearing makeup.

Even though my skin didn't show a huge transformation, I feel significantly better as a whole. Although this diet is much too restrictive to continue long term, I want to continue the habit of eating primarily whole foods and limiting processed and refined foods. So far, it's been 5 days off the diet and I've added back tomatoes, eggplant, egg, soy and natural sweetener (maple syrup). I also had cake the other day for a co-worker's birthday (so I had wheat, gluten, dairy and sugar) but I had a really bad stomach ache after and got a headache immediately, so I definitely want to limit those foods for special occasions.

In terms of sticking to the diet, I found it easy for the most part because this was something I really wanted to do for myself. I really want to improve my skin and digestion so I never felt the need to "cheat", because I knew I would only be cheating myself. Also, the fact that it was only 21 days gave me an ending that I was able to look forward to. However, when I got to the end I really didn't care to eat or missed any of the "off-limits" foods. I noticed the only time I craved sugar was when I was hungry in general, I never craved sugar after eating a meal. I was really interesting to see how fast and well my body adjusted to eating primarily whole foods; as if that's what it's been asking for this whole time.

In sum, was this diet worth it? Yes, absolutely. Will it cure your acne? Maybe, if you have a food allergy or intolerance, but for most probably not. Will it help your skin? Most likely. Should you give it a try? Sure, but consult your doctor first.

I also don't think you need to follow this diet as strict as I did to see benefits. As long as you swap out some refined sugars and highly processed carbs for whole foods like high-fibre veggies, healthy fats and sources of plant protein, I really don't know how you could go wrong.

In terms of my acne journey, it's far from over. I saw Dr. Belus again last week and she agreed that I'm most likely not intolerant or allergic to any of those "off-limits" foods, but they may still affect me in some way (actually I did discover I'm allergic to tempeh). Now, we're going to be doing some testing in order to look at my gut health and functioning in order to try and get some more insight - but that's for another post!

Do you have an experience similar to mine? Let me know in the comments.

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Wellness is not simply a state of being, but rather a conscious, goal-oriented pursuit that spans throughout one's life. 

Additionally, when we feel good, we do good; and that is why I think it's also important to discuss wellness in the context of functionality.


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