So I got an email today asking what it is that I eat exactly and what I don’t eat to have clear, acne-free skin after years of being plagued by it.
Move along if you aren’t plagued by this, or skip to the part where I talk about what I eat, near the bottom!
Or just enjoy the photos.
A BIT OF HISTORY:
I started getting pimples right around the time everyone does — teenage years. I tried to avoid makeup for most of it, but you can’t really cover the texture of the skin, only the colour, and that’s crap with acne because your face just looks like the moon’s crater.
I luckily never got any deep scars from it, but it always seemed as though my skin cleared up, and then the next day a new bump would form somewhere.
The worst I ever had it, was when I was in Montreal for the first time, but I know it was partly because I didn’t bring cleanser or a moisturizer with me for the first few times, and washed my face with SOAP. Yes, harsh bathroom soap.
I looked like a teenager with raging acne all over again.
Then I discovered that it was all cause to what I was eating. I can testify to this because I’ve tested the waters a couple of times (by accident or sometimes trying new things), and sure enough, my skin would break out.
Disclaimer: This is the only thing that’s worked for me to keep my skin clear. Once I started realizing what the fat content was in things I liked to eat, it’s when I stopped eating them and my skin stopped breaking out.
I simply cannot process those items properly (hence the acne), and it is even worse for me because when I eat at home, I eat practically no processed or canned items, which makes my body get used to a certain way of eating.
HOW AND WHAT I EAT AND AVOID EATING
I want to say that this is not easy to follow at first or stick to, but now it’s become habit for me.
I don’t even miss all the junk food I had before, and occasionally I get a craving (deep fried spring rolls are a big one) but then I think about how much a pimple sucks, hurts and leaves a mark on my face, and the craving dies.
I do it because I’ve become disciplined at avoiding otherwise tasty junk — it is not worth it to me and my face.
I have something in the morning.
Photograph of my breakfast that I took in Portugal, 2011
I drink at least a cup of tea each morning, 1 teaspoon of honey and some milk.
Sometimes I eat a meal (mostly leftovers).
Sometimes I wait until just before lunch, or until I can’t take it any longer. I am not really a big fan of breakfast, but I do need something inside of me about 2 hours after my first cup of tea.
When I eat fatty meals, I don’t do it all the time
Creamy pastas, homemade curries, anything French.. all that fatty, delicious food can only be eaten ONCE a week or less. More like once bi-weekly, or once a year.
Photograph I took of shrimp pasta my partner made, 2010
If I eat creamy pasta on Monday for instance, I don’t eat creamy, fatty foods until about Thursday, so that my body has time to process all the butter and fat I put into it.
So for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I stick to lower fat items, like tomato-based sauces for pasta without cream, butter or fat.
I don’t drink what I don’t understand
Alcohol is fine, but I am not a big drinker, so I don’t touch that stuff unless I’m tricked into thinking it was something else (e.g. Italian iced tea!)
I tend not to drink any kind of pop, I avoid smoothies, and even juices can be chock-full of colorants and sugars. I make my own smoothies at home with my stick blender, and water and eat is as crazy as I get.
In addition, if you look at the ingredients in almond milk, they add oil.
I tend to avoid unless pushed (e.g. only pop is available), and if I can avoid drinking oil, so be it. It helps my skin.
I cut back on sugar
Diabetes runs in my family. If that isn’t a big reason to cut back, I don’t know what is.
Sugar also apparently nourishes the bad bacteria in your skin, not only causing acne (if you are prone to it), but also wrinkles by breaking down collagen and attacking the structure of your skin.
ALL SUGAR whether it’s agave, honey, cane, vegetable (corn, beet) sugar, or any kind of sugar you can dream of, has been proven to be pretty bad for you in large quantities.
That said, I DO eat sugary cakes and things… and I don’t avoid sugar completely, but I am very conscious that it is not good for me or my skin.
When I try something new & delicious, I wait 3 days
That’s about how long it takes for me to see if my skin is affected by it or not. Acne doesn’t appear suddenly, it creeps up on you.
If I don’t break out, I can eat it again, but not every day unless it’s roasted beets or something.
Photograph I took of Marinated Tuna and Avocado at ND Sushi and Grill omakase, 2012
I avoid heavy amounts of fat all at once
I noticed that my body hates it when I eat curry everyday for instance, and my skin breaks out like mad because it is 50% fat from the meat and the full-fat coconut milk I use.
I used to love eating banh mi (still do, in my head…I remember the flavours), because of the sweet, the crunchy and the liver pate, but DAMN that stuff made me break out.
I can’t eat food that has been mixed with fillers like liver pate, but I can eat things like foie gras.
Stuff I absolutely cannot eat: Mayonnaise (all forms) & Cream Cheese!!
I avoid almost all commercial sauces and condiments of all kinds
This is a tricky one.
Nothing tastes good without a great sauce, but you don’t know if the sauce came from a box/bottle/factory, or if it was made in house with real stuff. The key to knowing what is what, is to see the colour. If it looks too red, too yellow, too bright, it is probably full of colorants.
I read the ingredient labels very carefully if I do buy anything.
Most restaurants slather their stuff with sauces, so unless it’s a reputable restaurant I am familiar with, I say ‘no sauce’ to almost every meal. Or ‘sauce on the side’, so I can check it for myself without scraping it off my food.
All sauces I eat, are usually what my partner makes from scratch.
He tends to use a lot of wine and tomatoes like the one in the Osso Bucco recipe pictured above, and I really like that flavour profile. Otherwise, I also like balsamic vinegar in sauces (adds something), soy, or Worcestershire sauce.
If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
I avoid butter or oil substitutes, including all types of mayonnaise, aiolis and other fancy mayos
For instance, I also don’t eat anything where I suspect there’s been lard or shortening.
Either the food is made with butter or a real oil, or I don’t eat it.
Yes, mayonnaise is eggs, oil and a bit of water emulsified, but it’s too much fat in a sauce (see Rule #1 above). EVERY. TIME. I eat mayonnaise, I break out.
Of course, I also don’t eat anything swimming in butter, and I don’t pour melted butter on anything I eat.
This can be hard to discern in a restaurant unless you have a feel for what their food practices are like, which is why I try to avoid eating out unless it’s something like Japanese food where they don’t tend to use a lot of fat.
Vietnamese pho seems to be the one exception for this, but only the pho soup itself, not the spring rolls or anything deep fried that is oh-so-tasty.
I avoid almost all processed meats
Goes without saying that anything in the fridge, and not at a butcher shop where they slice it for you, I don’t eat.
Oscar Meyer-anything, or processed pre-cooked, ready-to-cook meat meals in packages are pretty much avoided.
I also avoid eating ground meats, like ground pork or beef because again, they put a lot of fat in there, and they also use all parts of the pig (the head, cheeks, tongue, ears — I saw this on TV too.) Yes, it’s real meat from those areas, but I don’t know what the quantities of real meat to fatty junk meat is.
Every time I eat meatballs, or chilli or anything with ground meat, I break out like mad.
Some deli meats are fine, but not the ones where you see large bits of fat, or where you KNOW it is processed meat because it bears no resemblance to the original shape of the cut of meat.
For instance ham — ham, is part of a leg of a pig, so I better see a semblance of a bone on the middle like so, you shouldn’t see a big blob of pink with no discernible meat in it.
That second “ham” (if they can call it that, because who knows what went in there), is processed it with something else to make it a puree to create those perfect square or circular slices.
Other acceptable deli meats: prosciutto, and turkey on occasion, but I tend to avoid anything that doesn’t look like real meat (i.e. too processed, too neat, too clean looking).
I avoid ALL sausages, even ones made in-house
Even sausages claimed to be made in-house, I avoid. NO SAUSAGES.
They add quite a lot of fat from the animal, which is what makes it taste so good, especially kolbassa, one of my childhood favourites from Poland.
I haven’t had it in years, but I certainly can’t eat it now. 🙁 I saw them make it on TV, and it was 50% fat, which is probably one of the reasons why I broke out so much.
The only exceptions are really dry, almost fat-free sausages that are kind of gross to eat like chorizo.
It’s just too salty and chewy for me, but that’s an acceptable sausage because you can see the chunks of meat and fat when you cut into it.
Even that, if there is too much white (fat) in there, I don’t touch it. It can be hard to find a good one to eat.
I avoid junk food completely
McDonald’s hasn’t been a place I’ve visited in years, same for any other fast food chain.
The most fast-foody I get, is Chipotle, but even they have started adding lard or shortening to their food, and I broke out a few times eating there.
I consider all delis to have stuff I can’t eat (junk food), even sandwiches (the bread they use is processed, so are the deli meats, and the mayo/sauce they slather all over).
And it sort of gives you the runs if you haven’t eaten it regularly.
I avoid 99% of anything processed, in a box, or in a can
Basically if it’s on a shelf in an aisle, and it’s not a staple like salt, sugar, flour, pepper, pasta, some jams or oil, I don’t even look at it. This includes bread, crackers, chips, sauces in a bottle, dips, canned beans, mixes of any kind… etc
Stuff made at home is fine, or as my partner calls it “homemade junk”. So if I want chips, it means potato chips sliced from real potatoes and fried in fresh oil in a pan at home. Or cakes. Or fish and chips.
Photograph I took of my partner’s fish & chips. SO GOOD. 2010
If I want bread, we make it in a bread machine.
Small exceptions to this rule: canned tomatoes and some jams that I know aren’t full of perservatives.
Even vegetables (like beans) in a can, or ramen in a package, I avoid eating completely. If I want beans, I’ll buy the real thing, soak it and cook it (it tastes better too).
I eat ingredients that are as natural as possible
Photograph I took of some strawberries in Montreal, 2011
Cheese for instance. Those plasticky Kraft cheese singles have nothing on real cheese.
If you eat Kraft singles, and then eat Brie de Mellin or Brie de Meaux and then tell me you prefer eating the Kraftsingles, I don’t think that we can ever be friends*.
Basically it has to look like a vegetable, fruit, meat or original product beforehand, or else I won’t be gung-ho to eat it.
*I’m joking. Sort of. It is kind of an interesting way to filter out similar-minded folks… 😛
I avoid anything that has an ingredient list a mile long
Basically if I can’t pronounce it, I am not willing to eat it. Anything over 10 ingredients makes me shy away from it. Take for instance something like this dip which would have probably been something I would have eaten, pre-regime.
For example I saw this package of Montreal deli dip in the store, and it was a PARAGRAPH of ingredients due to all the things they added. Here are all the red flags for my skin:
- 3/4 cup (175 mL) grated onion
- 2 cups (500 mL) sauerkraut
1 pkg (8 oz/250 g) cream cheese spread 2/3 cup (150 mL) ketchup 1/3 cup (75 mL) mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup (50 mL) diced seedless kosher dill pickle
- 2 tbsp (25 mL) pickle juice
- 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) grated Gruyère cheese
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) diced corned beef (cut in ¼-inch/5 mm cubes)
- 4 tsp (20 mL) toasted caraway seeds
- 1/2 tsp (2 mL) freshly ground black pepper
Can’t eat it, but I could try to re-create it if it didn’t need so much mayonnaise and cream cheese.
I only eat desserts I know
Cakes are my favourite.
I love banana cake, and lemon cake (both of which my partner has perfected making because of me). I also like Pear Tart Tatin (a twiste on Apple Tarte Tatin)
Some delicious Chinese mochi (Lo mai chi) made for me by The Asian Pear! 2012
However anything with whipped cream, or cream cheese, or anything “cream” in its name, I avoid.
This is why macarons are great, but not with a buttercream filling (yuck).
To me, cream doesn’t even have a flavour, just a fatty taste that is yummy when mixed with sugar, so it’s not a big deal for me to avoid whipped cream.
It’s not a big loss for me.
I’ve stopped eating most chocolate altogether
Cocoa powder is fine, but no more chocolate. Milk chocolate or white chocolate (my favourites) are chock full of fat. Plus, they sometimes put modified palm oil (WTF? MODIFIED oil?) instead of butter or anything that’s a more raw, real ingredient, so that it keeps better as a preservative.
It all makes me break out, even the fancy chocolates.
The only chocolate I can eat in the world, is in Lyons at Voisin because they make their own chocolate at the back with cocoa powder, butter, milk, and a lot of stirring over double boilers.
They don’t buy it pre-made from a factory like 99% of the chocolate made out there.
As further incentive, I don’t end up eating any insect legs, rat hairs or anything that ON AVERAGE you will find in any given bar of chocolate.
According to the FDA, a chocolate bar may naturally contain pieces of insect and rodent hair.
Well, they don’t consider it “adulterated” unless there’s 60 or more insect fragments found in a 100-gram sample.
Apparently, bugs ride on the tropical cocoa beans all the way to the factory and are never removed from the mixture.
And when it comes to rodent filth, the level of concern, or “action level,” is 1 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams (which may be of concern to you).
I avoid most restaurants if I can help it
Exactly for all the reasons above. The worst for my face, are Chinese restaurants. All the oil, fat, sugar, deep-fried stuff… I can’t eat there.
People who eat out with me on a regular basis, know that I tend to only eat at Japanese restaurants or certain hand-picked places that are safe.
Otherwise, I tend not to eat. Or I go, but then I pick something that is the LEAST creamy-sounding on the menu.
I still do love my pho though.
I avoid eating too much fish and seafood though
I could become a pescatarian very easily if I had to (but my doctor says I have to eat meat).
I take omega-3 pills now, because of the mercury and PCBs in fish. It’s scary what it all does to your body, but I love ALL seafood, and I could never give it up, but the cholesterol is not fab for your heart.
I just eat it once in a while, while avoiding 100% eel (unagi), farmed salmon and tuna about 99% of the time because they are the biggest culprits of PCBs.
(Tuna is easy to avoid for me, I’ve never liked the taste to begin with.)
OMG WHAT DO YOU EAT THEN!?
I am sure this is what you’re thinking right now, but rest assured, my diet is very diverse and varied in all the right places.. the bottom line is:
I just can’t eat junk or in a junky manner.
I don’t avoid eating fat completely, or tasty food (on the contrary), I just KNOW what works and what doesn’t for me to keep my skin clear.
(Hey you asked!)
Again, if it doesn’t look like it comes from a fruit, vegetable, or animal, I am hesitant to eat it.
For very fatty dishes like Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian or Indian curries, creamy pastas, Tartiflette or anything with lots of delicious fat in it, I eat it ONCE, and never more than 2 meals in a row.
I basically can’t eat luxurious food every single day. Not only would I get fat, I will break out like nobody’s business.
It’s surprising what my body has reacted to, and now that I sort of know the boundaries of what is good and what isn’t, I know how to stay in line to keep myself healthy.
This works for ME and if it can help someone else clear up their skin, they should give my regime a try.
A TYPICAL DAY OF WHAT I EAT
I try to eat a lot more vegetarian meals just because I find meat very heavy on my stomach now…
Quantities: Full plates and bowls. Not over-sized, not under-sized.
The fattiest meals and drinks of the day are pizza, and my smoothies because of all the cheese which is 30% – 50% fat and the yoghurt which is about 5% fat (I mix 10% fat with 0% yoghurt).
Oh, and that avocado is full-fat and nommy.
Once in a while on the weekend, he makes a grand dish like Tartiflette (caramelized onions, potatoes, bacon all topped with melted Reblochon cheese), or Osso Bucco (osso bucco cut of meat braised with a nice red wine sauce with tomatoes, garlic and onions, over pasta and vegetables), or any other dish that is eaten once a week or less.
I love all of those meals, and yes I do on occasion miss eating that junky food that I’m wired to crave, but as I said, it’s not worth it. I just quash that craving with something else I love to eat.