That’s what Ashley felt during the next week.
The wedding was almost here and now she had to figure out how her lifestyle factored into her body’s oil rushes. Exercise and stress were fairly straightforward to assess, but with food things got more complicated.
Time to give Star another visit.
An hour later she was at the ocean house watching Star mix a bunch of spices into a pitcher of orange tea.
“The thing is, Ashley,” Star said as she swirled the pitcher and whispered something that sounded like a half-dozen words of an ancient language, “it doesn’t have to be complicated. The body likes pure, natural foods. So if you stay away from the processed stuff you’ll be in good shape. Also, keep a journal so you can keep track of what your body likes and what it doesn’t respond to that well. Write down everything you eat in one column. Make a note of any physical symptoms you experience in a second column. Then, in a third column, keep a log of your emotional state. Then look for patterns – that’s how you’ll filter it down to know what foods work best for you.”
Ashley nodded, thinking the emotional log was an interesting twist.
Star took a couple of glasses from the cabinet above her and started pouring the tea, “Remember, the food you eat is only useful to a body that can digest it. So, if your body isn’t working properly, the food, and I mean any kind of food, you put into it becomes your enemy,” Star handed Ashley a glass, “Have you been properly supporting your digestion?”
“I have, that's been a great help.” Ashley eagerly answered.
“How’s your meditation coming?”
Ashley, less eagerly taking a sip, “Honestly, I’ve kind of slipped with it lately.”
“You really need to keep it going, Ashley, if you want your skin to look it’s best for your big weekend. Remember, achieving balance is a total body thing, and that includes the mind.”
“Okay, Star,” Ashley said – her days of privately rolling her eyes about Star’s hippy trippy stuff were long gone.
After she’d finished her tea, Ashley drove home – stopping first at the drug store to get some Q-Tips and a copy of Women’s Health magazine - and gave Jessica a call. “So with this journal thing,” Ashley said while examining the grinning fitness model’s sculpted arms on the magazine’s cover, “It should help because there’s really only two sides to food that I really notice right now; one is the slightly annoying discomfort that I’ll have to deal with, the other is the part that loves the taste and doesn’t care about the consequences.”
“The food journal isn't something to overlook, I have a cousin who did that to figure out that food additives were causing his cystic acne,” Jessica said.
“Hmm, interesting,” Ashley said thumbing through the magazine.
“Yeah, in fact I had another cousin who used a journal and discovered that food dyes were causing her ADD – same triggers, different result. Also, my aunt did the same thing to learn that gluten was causing her adult acne; it was a slow reveal though – once she suspected it was the gluten, it took 6 weeks of abstaining from it before she saw results.”
“Wow,” Ashley said.
“Yeah, food really affects everyone differently. And even if you get the major stuff right, there’s still plenty of little things that can mess things up for you.”
“You know, I get occasional acne too,” Ashley said as she closed the Women’s Health and tossed it on her desk, “I’d bet there’s some small thing in my diet that the spark for it – maybe along with figuring out the trigger for my oily skin I can catch what it is and cut it out too.”
After they’d hung up, Ashley dug through the desk drawer and found a dust covered, old blue notebook she hadn’t even opened yet, “Looks like you found your purpose,” she said quietly.
Ashley then spent the rest of the afternoon doing her best to keep her mind off the wedding; a little online shopping, paying some bills, and getting a two mile power walk in before she went to pick up the kids. She even watched some baseball with her husband later that night, which although a surprisingly good way to unwind before bed, couldn’t get her to shake that jittery feeling the looming big day was causing her.
So the next morning she got her food journal going.
And after a few days of tracking food a searching google for the consequences of her food choices, it was almost impossible to see how food wasn’t the enemy in all of this.
It seemed like every food was a trigger for something, and where she used to enjoy eating without every really thinking about it, now taking a trip to the market or going out to eat was like walking through a mine field where she had to avoid the hidden triggers at all costs.
On top of that, her butterflies only got worse and she feared any minute it would show up on her skin. “Stress…” she sighed gazing into the mirror before doing a 12-minute callisthenic workout she’d read about in the Women’s Health.
When Thursday rolled around, she was still going hard at her research online, trying to nail down any and all correlations between her oily skin and her body and she came across something interesting:
If there’s a gatekeeper to almost all of your health problems, it’s stomach acid. The ability to produce adequate stomach acid is the hidden key to controlling many skin conditions. Without enough stomach acid, your body can’t keep the proper balance of beneficial gut flora, and opportunistic bad bacterial starts to creep where it shouldn’t be. An imbalance of gut flora provides a challenge for your body every time you eat the wrong foods.
She remembered the digestive furnace Star referenced, and what supplements she had to use to keep it on. “If that website is correct, then it’s possible that my low stomach acid opened the door for bacteria to travel where it’s not supposed to be, like the small intestine, and that’s somehow triggering my oily skin.”
The wheels started to churn. She follows a couple more rabbit holes related to bacteria and small intestine, trying to connect the dots. She reads a website which guesses that well over half of all people with acne have an imbalance of bacteria in their small intestine, which leads to digestive issues, vitamin malabsorption, chronic fatigue and more.
“Food might not be the enemy.” She continues her thought -
“If certain things we consumed signaled the specific types of problems we had going on internally, then what if the foods people gave up were actually the key to identifying what kinds of imbalances were going on in our bodies?” Ashley rubbed her palms together, took a deep breath and exhaled, “So… this food journal just took on a whole new purpose!”
She did a couple more hours of research and the next day Ashley got on the phone with Jessica and told her what she’d found. It also included a part about experiencing “butterflies” before big events.
“So, 100 years ago it was discovered that there was a connection between your gut, brain and skin,” she told her wine loving friend, “2 researches, Stokes and Pillsbury saw that emotions played a huge role in the state of your gut flora, and disruptive emotions like worry, depression and anxiety promoted both local and systemic inflammation that would manifest on the skin.”
“Sound lovely,” Jessica chuckled.
“Well, what’s even lovelier is how emotions wreak havoc on the gut. The gut actually has more neurotransmitters than the brain and that’s why it’s so extremely sensitive to stress,” Ashley said.
“Yeah, I always feel the worry in my tummy,” Jessica said.
“Right, stress causes your sympathetic nervous system to trigger the fight or flight response; the result of this is that the hormones influenced by fight or flight cause your parasympathetic nervous system to never turn on. Basically, your body decides to prioritize everything in terms of immediate survival – your body pumps up the blood flow to your skeletal muscles and you’re sent into a high-alert state to take on the immediate physical challenges.”
“That actually sounds useful,” Jessica said.
“If the threat is real, it is,” Ashley said, “but the problem is that it’s not, and when your sympathetic nervous is constantly prioritized, your parasympathetic can’t perform it’s necessary functions like endocrine function, digestion, reproductive function and hormone metabolism and synthesis. Simply put, if you never give your body a chance to work on these functions, they’ll start to suffer and then you’ve got big problems.”
“Yeah, it’s no wonder then that your skin is affected by stress if your gut and your skin are all connected,” Jessica said.
Ashley sighed, “Yep… guess it’s time to see Star again.”
“Oo, Staaaaaar…” Jessica moaned like she was a ghost popping out of a closet.
Ashley loved Jess, but she rolled her eyes and hung up – this was serious business and time was running out.
When she got back to Star’s, Ashley updated her on what she’d learned as Star recorded with her phone a pair of seagulls flying in circles over her house.
“So, here’s the deal,” Star said peering at the screen like the seagulls were magical dragons or something, “you’re going to be experiencing a spike in stress over the next week, so it’s important to trust your body to handle it. But what’s even more critical, is that you give your body the support it needs to deal with this stress,” Star lowered the phone and turned to Ashley, “and that brings us to the parasympathetic nervous system you just mentioned. Want to know the best way to turn it on?"
Ashley nodded and gazed at the ocean, Star wouldn’t keep bringing meditation up if it wasn’t crucial.
“You’ve got to find balance Ashley, and to do so, you need to feel your body, to be fully aware of it; mediation will do that for you.”
“Okay, okay, I know you’re right,” Ashley said, “I’m going to start doing it every day.”
“Good, and there’s something else…”
Ashley looked at Star.
“It’s time you removed all skincare, let your body just be itself for the trip.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me, all skincare???”
“I am not kidding. You can use water, that’s it.” Star walked to the path and after a few steps down the sandy trail, disappeared from Ashley’s sight.
As Ashley walked to her jeep, she felt like Star had spun her around 100 times and then told her to go run a mile. No skincare. She didn’t know if she could do it.
When Ashley got home she made her newest entry:
Oily Skin Detox Rule #14: Stop All Skincare
She called Jessica to apprise her of the situation.
“Okay, so just do the next best thing,” Jessica said, “only use the moisturizer I bought you.”
Ashley looked at the brand new white tube with the chrome top sitting by its lonesome on her dresser.
“Just use it as a cleanser, and if you need to moisturize with it afterwards, it won’t be an issue since it doesn’t have any surfactants in it so you won’t be stripping your skin of anything.
“Hmm, not bad,” Ashley said.
“Yeah, and it also removes makeup surprisingly well.”
Ashley ran her hands through her hair, “Yeah, but only one product a day. That’s crazy. But… I might as well try it out and see what happens…”
“Yeah, go for it, Ash!”
Ashley nodded, “I know, I’ve come this far, I’ve got to see this all thing all the way through.”
“You know it, kiddo. Oh, by the way, about your oily skin…”
“Have you considered it might be related to SIBO???”
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