We are Eaters

I have always liked the idea that natural foods, plants and nature provide the best medicines for our health and wellbeing.  It makes the most sense as we are all connected to the world around us, right?  We can’t live without food.  Food needs the sun, atmosphere and soil etc. to grow.  Our bodies need what natural foods provide.  How long would we last without air?  We need to interact daily with others.  Like it or not we are all human, more connected and at the same time more vulnerable than we’d often like to think of ourselves as.

Well, I invite you to think about it just a little as you read this post, especially in relation to food and you as an eater.

Since starting my nutrition training I have been a fan and follower of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.  Their stated mission is to re-unite the psychology of eating with the science of nutrition.   I understand this to mean that you cannot consider the body’s needs without considering the needs of the soul.  ‘Soul’ meaning the individual person with their own unique body, needs, wants, experiences, emotions, senses, circumstances and responses to life.  My own observation [not judgement] with clients and people in general, is how our attitude to food and eating completely reflects our attitude to ourselves and life.

My experience is that some people view a nutrition qualification as a personal attribute.  As if acquiring this qualification has transformed one into someone who never lets an unhealthy food pass their lips … And, has now morphed into the role of watching and judging every bite others make, like the ‘diet police’!  Well, on both counts, that’s not me!  You may, of course, come across people who do take on and enjoy such a role.  No, I’m just like you but with an acquired knowledge and interest in the benefits of nutrition which I love to share.   I can be your guide, supporter or educator, but not your judge or savior.  I believe that healthier eating is a life-long challenge, a choice and a personal responsibility.  And, because eating is something you and I have to do each and every day, I see it as an ideal opportunity for growth and transformation.  That said, knowledge of food is for the mind but food and eating as an experience goes far beyond this to the very core of our being.

I came across this Instagram post by the_food_psychology_clinic in the UK.  It speaks poetically about how closely connected ‘eating’ can be to our thoughts and feelings.  For some it can often represent a huge internal struggle.   I have consent from the account owner to share it here.

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I eat because… I’m angry, I eat because I’m sad, I eat because I’m fat anyway (so what’s the point – I might as well be bad)… and have a brownie or five or 10 slices of cake, nobody will notice anyway… I eat because I’m lonely – I’m stressed at work – I’ve had a bad day Sometimes, I eat because I’m bored – I’m going to start my diet tomorrow, I’ll say – so I eat tons of chocolate and sweets…maybe I’ll start the diet another time diets suck – what’s the point – I give up I eat because I don’t get the attention I want – at least I can rely on cake to make me feel good today… But I don’t enjoy it anyway – this eating too much – I feel guilt, I feel pain, I feel shame…and yet I just can’t seem to stop -it is easier to put it off until another time – when I have more time, or less stress, or less work or more money to pay…. for a juice cleanse or a detox – maybe a nice retreat in Spain (I need a quick fix – I’m way too fat) it will be much easier this way Why is it so hard for me to be thin – I hate my body and life I’m a failure – I think to myself – every day But I like those two minutes of happiness I get – when I eat something tasty, something good and maybe I don’t want to give that up just yet because without food, I’ll have to deal with what really is not good in my life, in my world, in my heart, in my mind – and that scares me – to tell you the truth. I eat because… I’m hungry – but not for food that’s for sure Maybe I’m hungry for fun, for love, for companionship, for comfort, for a purpose – maybe I’m just hungry not to be fat anymore. #weightloss #weightstruggles #weightstruggle #weightstruggleisreal #slimdown #weightissues #fat #fatloss #weightloss #binge #bingeeatingdisorder #weightlosshelp #bingeeatinghelp

A post shared by The Food Psychology Clinic (@the_food_psychology_clinic) on

I’ve shared this because even though my qualification is the nutrition science bit and not eating psychology, I have found it is quite impossible in reality to separate the two.  I acknowledge everyone as an eater.  If we were purely physical beings, the knowledge of what to eat in the best interest of our health, would be enough.  Like how to put the correct fuel in your car….. petrol and a little oil in this one, but diesel and lots of oil in this other one.  The reality is we are more than physical beings and often our food choices are motivated by unconscious thoughts and feelings about ourselves.  The above Instagram post is about overeating but it could just as easily be about depriving yourself of food.  The point is, its really about negative thoughts and feelings wrapped around eating.  Yet, eating can be a joyous, satisfying, healthy, creative, not to mention completely necessary experience.

Have a think about what your relationship with food is?  Does it mirror how you feel and think?  If you recognize yourself in any of this, the knowledge of healthy eating will not be enough.  It might even become a stick for you to punish yourself with.  More bad feelings?  That won’t help!  The issue is not a lack of knowledge.  Practicing some mindfulness and self-inquiry around eating, or working with someone that has a greater understanding of eating behaviors, might help.

The food psychology clinic is UK based and you can make contact via the Instagram account. I am only aware of one Nutritional Therapist in Ireland who deals in this particular area of work.  Here: www.straightforwardnutrition.com

Finally, I can’t count the number of times people have told me stories like “Oh, so and so died…… and s/he was so into healthy eating”!  There is no promise of immortality in choosing to eat a healthier diet.  The point of dealing with food or eating issues is that you can feel better today, have a better quality life than if you didn’t and possibly live a little longer.  This is not without it’s challenges but it is within your grasp.  As human beings we know we are affected on many levels by factors other than by what we eat, but this is the one area where we can reclaim some personal power over our own well being.

© Limelight Nutrition 2019

Acne and Diet

Acne is most common in teenagers and young adults but does affect many people to some degree or another, for their entire lives.  Acne Vulgaris is the medical term for this skin condition.  Sounds awful!  You didn’t need to know that, right? 🙂  But, acne means ‘eruption’ and ‘vulgaris’ means common.  These common skin eruptions can take a variety of forms and severity.  Mild acne consists of whiteheads and blackheads, moderate – pustules (pimples) and severe acne – cysts and nodules that may leave scaring.   Whatever the severity, most sufferers feel that this condition, which can affect the face, neck, chest, shoulders and back, puts them in the spotlight of attention, and not in a good way!  We know that beauty is not just skin deep but we also have a tendency to feel very conscious of skin blemishes when they show up. The psychological impact of the condition, especially with the more severe type, may cause anxiety or depression and this should be acknowledged and addressed as part of any treatment programme.  If you take the conventional medicine route with problematic acne, you may not find support for this idea that what you eat matters.  However, science is now showing us that certain foods are a factor in causing and perpetuating acne but there are also foods that can help fight it.

Anatomy of Acne

This is the simplified version just to give some background before we get to the nutrition.  There are a number of physical factors involved in the formation of acne which are, keratin (skin cells), the sebaceous glands (oil producing glands in the skin) that produces sebum, and the hair follicles (from the root up to the surface of the skin).

An overproduction of keratin (forming dead skin cells) and/or sebum (connected to androgen hormones) can clog up the hair follicle at its opening onto the skin.  This can produce mild acne.  If the follicles remain blocked this can lead to overproduction of bacteria deeper down that have nowhere to go and therefore increase in number.  This increase in bacteria is a red flag to the immune system which consequently produces pus (dead immune cells) and inflammation (sore, red inflamed skin – pimples) as a response.

From a functional and nutritional perspective therefore, we would be looking at the underlying systems involved in a) skin production, b) hormone balance, and c) the immune response.   So how come some people get away with eating rubbish and have no acne?  Well, there is of course a genetic element which makes one individual more susceptible to acne than another, but on the bright side we are now discovering our genes are not set in stone.  A new area of study called Epigenetics shows us that our genes can be influenced and modified with dietary and lifestyle changes.

The Hormone Connection

Both male and female bodies make hormones called androgens.  Androgens are known to trigger increased production of both keratinocytes and oily sebum.  They increase during puberty and women’s bodies produce more of them during pregnancy as well as with oral contraceptive use.  Acne is one of the signs of increased androgen production in women with PCOS (poly cystic ovarian syndrome).  Acne often signals hormone imbalance.  There are a number of dietary and lifestyle factors that can throw male/female hormones off balance.  In a complicated series of processes hormones are made, used and eliminated by the body.  Hormones can be considered as ‘messengers’ delivering a message to a part of the body to initiate a response.   An overproduction of two hormones in particular can disrupt normal function, these are cortisol and insulin.  Long term unresolved stress, diet and other lifestyle habits may increase production of both cortisol and insulin.   These two are very much connected to our ‘survival’ response which trumps reproduction every time.

The immune factor

The immune response is also an automatic survival response.  An army of immune vigilante detect an overproduction of bacteria in the skin and the immune system sets to work.   The skin becomes inflamed, swollen and painful.   The white pus from the pimple is a collection of dead immune cells.  This is the body’s way of expelling the infection.  This buildup of bacteria is also why a doctor will often prescribe antibiotics.  It makes sense except it doesn’t resolve the problem long term.  While antibiotics kill pathogenic bacteria they also kill your friendly bacteria which ironically work closely with your immune system to keep you well.  Taking antibiotics may only make matters worse in the long run.

On the Surface

It might seem logical then that ‘unblocking the pores’ would solve the problem entirely but acne is not just a skin deep condition.  That said, exfoliating the surface skin is an important step in removing the keratin layer of dead skin cells.  There are natural ways to achieve this without going to a lot of expense.  For example, mix some baking soda and little water to make a paste.  Add 1-2 drops of pure essential oil of Lavender.  Start with 1 drop.  Rub it into the skin and leave it for 5 to 10 minutes.  Wash it off with lukewarm water.  You can access lots of homemade natural exfoliates for acne prone skin online.   Baking soda has a low pH to sooth inflamed skin.  The Lavender also has a soothing, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effect.   Apply a little Aloe vera gel after exfoliating as a soothing and natural toner.  A little coconut oil will help moisturize and heal the skin.

Below the surface

You might by now accept that a diet high in sugar, processed foods and factory farmed animal products can fuel heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer but you could easily add acne and immune and hormone imbalances, to this list.

Treating only the surface will not be enough to banish acne.  Researcher have found certain foods specifically, dairy [milk, cheese, milk chocolate], white refined carbohydrates, sugary products and fast food contribute to acne.   Dairy promotes the production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) which may contribute to increased production of keratinocytes, and foods with a high glycaemic load increase the production of insulin, which can stimulate androgens, known to cause an increase in sebum production.

Remove, Reduce or Replace

Dairy:  Where possible remove or reduce especially milk and milk products.  Replace with plant milks and yogurts.  You can get cheese made from nuts, for example, almond, cashews, coconut, soy, hemp and peas.  Or choose different options, like nut butter, hummus or guacamole instead of cheese.

High GL food:   Remove or reduce high glycaemic load foods.  These include white refined products like bread, pasta, rice, cakes, sodas and fruit juices.  Replace with low glycaemic load foods.  A link to a pdf list of common foods is provided below.  Examples of low GL grains are quinoa, millet, barley, oats and buckwheat (which is not wheat by the way)

Fast food:   The problem is you’re never sure what’s in there.  Convenience food is made to taste great with chemicals, highly processed oils, salt, sugar and cheap ingredients.   Increase home cooked meals in place of convenience foods.

Stress:  Stress can come from worrying, rushing around, anxiety, not getting enough sleep, over exercising and large gaps between meals or skipping meals.  Whatever the source, your body responds to stress with increased production of cortisol.  Remember it knocks reproductive hormones off-kilter.  Do a mindfulness or relaxation practice daily.   Make sleep a priority.  Eat regularly.

Nutrients that help flight acne

Now to the good news!  Increasing your intake of plant foods especially vegetables with some fruit, that are rich in antioxidants and critical nutrients, can do a lot to fight acne.  And, whilst restoring beautiful clear skin you’ll have the added benefit of restoring health to every cell in your body.  Here are some specific nutrients and foods that have been widely researched and shown to help clear up acne.

Zinc – top food sources pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, chickpeas, beef, lamb, wholegrains, beans and spinach.  Best supplemental forms zinc acetate, gluconate or sulfate.

Turmeric – add it to soups, curry dishes, golden tea, smoothies or stir-fries.  The supplemental form is called curcumin and is now widely available.  It has excellent anti-inflammatory properties.

Probiotics – Gut health has become increasingly associated with the health of the skin and immune system.  Taking a probiotic helps to increase your army of friendly bacteria to win the fight against infection.   An imbalance in microflora with more pathogens (bad bacteria) resident than good ones, can be a contributing factor to acne.  Probiotics can be found in supplement form or in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, live natural yogurt and kombucha.  Consider taking a course of probiotics especially if you have taken antibiotics to treat acne.

Green tea – The polyphenols in green tea have been shown to reduce sebum production and skin inflammation, even when applied topically to the skin.  Drink it daily for a few weeks to see the effects.

Omega 3s – These fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.  Freshly milled flaxseed or chia seeds are a good plant source.  Oily fish such as wild salmon, mackerel and sardines are also a good source.  It can be taken in supplement form.

Vitamin A, D & E:  These are the fat soluble vitamins that are found to be low in individuals who have acne.  Vitamin A is present in orange, red and yellow foods in particular, for example, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin apricots but also in dark green leafy vegetables.  Vitamin E is abundant in peanuts, fresh seeds like sunflower, broccoli and hazelnuts.  Adequate Vitamin D levels are not so easily achieved through food sources or sun exposure.  This is one you could consider  supplementing for sure.  If you do, choose Vitamin D3.

These nutrients have one thing in common – they have anti-inflammatory properties and the root cause of acne is inflammation by various means.

Finally, avoid using chemical products on the skin as these may irritate and inflame the skin further.  Treat the skin gently and with natural products.

I hope you find this helpful.  If you want to read more about treating acne in a natural way I have provided a link to Dr. Axe’s  website below.

© Limelight Nutrition 2019

Further information:
  • Dr. Axe link to – Home Remedies for Acne
  • Glycaemic Load of Common Foods – link to PDF list  Here
  • Photos Source:  Google Images

Santa, You Better Watch Out

When Santa got stuck up the chimney he began to shout … “you girls and boys won’t get any toys if you don’t pull me out”!  How, how, how… did Santa get stuck up there?  Hmmm.. it looks like he could have Syndrome X.

All grown up now, I can take an objective view of this Jolly ol’ fella who may have added some magic to my childhood memories.  Although I sometimes wonder at the scale of psychological damage inflicted in the name of Santa, on the innocent, who offer only pure belief and love in return.  I know that my own mother made a conscious effort to play down the character of ‘Santa’ with us kids because she was so devastated to find out in her own childhood that he wasn’t real.  And, at our office Christmas celebrations one year, a colleague recalled how, at age 12 and being the oldest child in her family, she got ‘the truth’ along with her Christmas present.  In one swift and traumatic moment she was handed a new pair of gloves and leveled with an instruction to grow up, as she watched her younger siblings open their Christmas toys.  “You better watch out, you better not cry”, even though you’ve been snookered by a lie!   I thank my mother for having the wisdom to save us from at least falling hook, line and sinker for the phantom that is Santa.  Anyway, I digress!

What is Syndrome X ?

There is no direct connection between Syndrome X and Santa or Xmas, the season of stress and over-indulgence, but indirectly it seems like the perfect occasion to talk about this health condition.  Syndrome X is also called ‘Metabolic Syndrome’ [MetS].  MetS is a metabolic imbalance.  This means that how your body metabolizes and stores energy is off balance.  The physical manifestation of MetS is ‘fat around the middle’, also called visceral fat.   Scientists now know that storing fat around the middle of your body rather than anywhere else, has major health implications, and studies show that it increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and cancer.  But, you don’t even have to be overweight to carry fat around the middle.  And, it’s not only about what you eat, your diet is just one contributing factor.

Continue reading “Santa, You Better Watch Out”