If something is wrong with anyone, look first to the stomach. - Arnold Ehret
It would be hard to imagine two things that seem less related than beauty and poop. For women especially, the subject seems like the ultimate taboo. Although both rituals are executed in the bathroom, and are very intimate – we rarely, if ever, make the connection between skincare and digestive health. For the purpose of this article we'll call it elimination, which is a little more digestible (pun intended) and hopefully more comfortable to read.
We live in a chronically constipated society. Our elimination habits are something that most people would rather not think about. And yet, as the title of one of my daughters books so accurately points out "Everybody Poops". Being constipated is both physically and mentally uncomfortable. Finally, modern medicine has started to make the connection between digestive health and mental health – with our healthy gut bacteria being the key to improving a wide range of ailments. When you have strong digestive fire, your body is working properly. When you have weak digestive fire, something needs to be done to strengthen it.
The underlying cause of constipation varies from person to person, and can be something as simple as dehydration, or not getting enough fiber- to more serious digestive disorders. In the modern world much is being done to disrupt the healthy bacteria in our guts. From chemical exposure and stress, to foods grown in poor quality soil with pesticides, virtually everything about contemporary life is disruptive to the gut. Bloating after meals, excessive gas, not eliminating at least once a day, having painful bowel movements – none of these conditions is normal, but it is often seen as such. I am not a doctor, but I do advise looking at regularity and digestive comfort as the key component of overall good health and skin health.
So how does this relate to skincare?
If you ask me for advice relating to skin problems, one of my very first questions will be – how often do you eliminate? While there is a range of normal, I personally believe that the range is too broad. Most Americans eliminate somewhere between once a day to once every three days. This is considered "normal" but to me it seems kind of insane. Three day might be normal if you are eating an extremely light and clean diet, but for most people I believe that at least once a day is ideal. As it relates to skin – chronic constipation is a big factor in contributing to inflammatory skin disorders like eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Teenagers, and especially teenage girls really struggle with these issues. Teenage hormones, poor diets, food allergies, and nervous disorders can all be contributing factors to skin issues (like acne) that many teenagers suffer from. Of course teenagers aren't the only ones who deal with these issues. As women especially, the fluctuation in hormones that occur on a monthly basis contributes to the bodies digestive irregularity. Balancing out the irregularity will help regulate the hormones, so that hopefully you get to a place where it is less dramatically cyclical, and your skin is more regular as well.
Elimination is part of the bodies natural detoxification process. A healthy gut not only helps properly eliminate toxins, it also helps regulate nerves, hormones, and boost immune function. When our gut bacteria is out of whack, inflammation and gut permeability "leaky gut" are common side effects. This bacterial imbalance is a breeding ground for inflammatory skin conditions, as well as other potential discomforts. When your body isn't moving waste properly it is hard to feel good in your own skin!
So how do I advise improving digestion and thus improving skin health?
1) Get grounded in your elimination habits, and make time for them. So much emphasis is put on breakfast being the most important meal of the day, and then rushing out the door. How many people are sitting at their work or school desks uncomfortable, constipated, and not in a situation where it feels comfortable to release? These habits lead to chronic backup, discomfort on all levels, and potential skin issues.
My morning routine advice is to focus on hydration and elimination before eating anything, or going anywhere if possible. Breaking the fast in the morning "break-fast" should be light, hydrating, and easy to digest. While I recognize that everyone is different, and some people do wake up ravenous – I advise truly listening to your body. Are you eating because you are hungry? Or because you think you should? Our digestive fire builds throughout the day. While it isn't advisable to eat a heavy dinner and go straight to bed, it is OK to go from light to heavy throughout your day. With your heaviest meal being dinner, your body has the window of sleep to digest and move it through.
2) Pay attention to foods that make you feel bloated or gassy. This can be a little tricky, because if you aren't used to eating fiber rich whole foods, you might think that these healthy foods make you feel uncomfortable. Cleaning up your diet is the best way to digest well, and move things through. Trigger foods that slow digestion are typically heavier foods like meat, dairy, and processed grains. When you eat lighter foods that are higher in water content, they move through your system more efficiently.
3) Eat light to heavy within the same meal. Without getting into food combining, the easiest way to explain is focusing on eating light to heavy. So often people eat water rich foods after a heavy meal (take watermelon as an example). This is a great way to upset your stomach and confuse your digestive track. It is always best to eat light water rich foods alone, or only with leafy vegetables. Cucumbers are a common offender that make their way into poorly combined meals. Eat the cucumbers alone or with salad. Pickles are a slightly different story, because the vinegar helps them combine with other foods. Another article is needed to go into all of the principles of food combining, but start paying attention to how different food combinations make you feel.
4) Hydrate! Drinking water with lemon and ginger first thing in the morning is a great way to boost digestive fire. Keep hydrated throughout the day by eating foods high in water content. Eating your water is a good way to make sure you're getting enough.
5) Eliminate processed food, and get plenty of fiber. These two things usually go hand in hand when you eat primarily plant based whole foods. The only foods that are truly void in fiber are animal products and processed foods (juices being a different story). I believe that our issues of chronic constipation are due to a chronic lack in soluble fiber.
6) Eat and chew mindfully. Eating fast and under stress is something that we've normalized in our culture. It wreaks havoc on digestion. Even if you are eating healthy food under stress, your digestion can be effected. While I recognize it isn't possible to never be stressed when eating – do your best to avoid it.
These are the tips and tricks that have worked for me over the years. Digestive health has been vital to my overall health and it's something that I didn't always have under control. I used to be called crazy for talking so much about elimination, and yet I was constantly constipated. Skin health and digestive health are undoubtedly related. Although I am not a doctor, I am very passionate about the subject because I have experienced the benefits. If you are suffering from chronic skin issues you must investigate your diet, and pay attention to your digestion.