I know what you’re thinking: "In pursuit of perfect skin"; how vain! It’s true—not unvain. But I do have a few skin conditions that I’m always trying to remedy, including always-there dark circles, a chronic scalp condition that I haven’t been able to kick, and I’m prone to genetic eczema on my legs (thanks, Mom). The scalp issue is the toughest—it’s a constant flake that is bigger in size than dandruff, like peeling skin. I’ve seen doctors, dermatologists, and have tried almost every scalp treatment, shampoo, conditioner, and oil on the market—only one comes close to healing it. It’s Nucifera, and it’s become one of my holy grail products.
But I want to get to the root cause of these skin issues. Because of my scalp condition, the skin around my hairline is always a bit rough, bumpy, red, and/or irritated at any given point. Cute, right? For most of 2014 I gave up gluten, which didn’t work. Maybe it was time to try something new, I thought. Should I eat more fat? I never ate dairy regularly, but I do enjoy a great cheese plate, and ice cream is one of my all-time favorite things to eat. One of my co-workers, our deputy editor Elle, always has amazing skin and her hair is the kind that has consistent character, which must start with a healthy scalp. She consumed full-fat dairy on the reg, without blinking an eye. She’s a bit of a foodie and sung its praises, as I was trying to keep it to a minimum. I do think that dairy is an inflammatory food, but I’ve also been reading a good deal of the virtues of healthy, well-sourced fats. So I took a page from her book and started having dairy for breakfast, either a cup of 4 percent fat vanilla Siggi’s or White Moustache in Greek or Kiss flavors. I started looking forward to it, and at first my body responded well. I think it helped cut the caffeine from my coffee and kept my blood sugar steady—so I added a second serving almost daily.
Pretty soon I was having two or three yogurts a day, because yogurt for dessert is 100 percent better than ice cream, right? ;-) And with that, I was having more coffee because I found that my body could tolerate it well—even though I’m a fast caffeine metabolizer. (At this point, I was outpacing my co-worker by a long shot.) After a few weeks, though, I noticed bloating, puffiness in my face, more breakouts, and a scalp that was flakier than ever. Could it be my newfound love for full-fat dairy? The additional coffee? I had to find out.
I originally committed to cutting dairy for two weeks to see what happened, but those two weeks quickly extended to three, and then a month. After the first week, I limited my caffeine intake to one cup per day (with the exception of one weekend day) and noticed a huge difference, too. Here’s what happened:
1. My period became more regular.
I’ve had an irregular period since day one of my very first cycle. Back when I was 15, I was prescribed hormonal birth control and for a while it was regular—until a few years ago, when I was bleeding for weeks at a time. After that, I went off birth control because I was scared by that symptom and have been using this app to regulate my cycle. It’s slowly been getting better using the food and lifestyle tips in the app, but when I cut down caffeine and dairy I noticed a big difference in regularity, flow, and typical period symptoms—I barely had any, and my period came on time for the first time in months.
2. I received lots of skin compliments the first week.
Interestingly, people were saying things like "You look so well-rested!" or "You look really pretty today," in addition to a few straight-up skin care questions, like "What are you doing differently?" These came the first week of giving up dairy and caffeine. Damn, did I look that tired before? In any case, my chronic under-eye circles will literally never go away, no matter how clean I eat. I should probably learn how to just embrace them.
3. My bloating subsided.
There’s nothing like waking up with a flat belly and going to bed with a distended one. Bloating is a telltale sign that something you’re doing during the day, whether it’s something you’re eating, drinking, or stressing about, is not agreeing with you, even if you’re playing by all the "healthy rules." I’m not sure if it was the coffee or the dairy—my guess is that both played a part—but since then I’ve been bloat-free unless I consume something that doesn’t agree with me (like too many cruciferous veggies, raw almonds, or coconut milk).
4. At long last, my workouts were showing results.
I move often because if I don’t, I’ll go crazy. Movement is part of my daily practice to keep my body and mind in sync. I sit most of the day #thatdesklife, so fitting in a daily sweat sesh is nonnegotiable. I was actually spending less time doing really tough HIIT workouts and more time running, SoulCycling, and doing yoga, and after week three I was able to slip into some clothes from this summer that had been too tight during the winter. I even saw an ab!
5. Hormonal breakouts still happened. I got one giant chin zit.
You know the one: the loyal, persistent, faithful, shows-up-every-damn-month zit? She still popped in for visit despite my little detox. It comes in the same spot every time—on the right side of my chin—and I have to say, I was bummed that this happened. This month it was one of those deep, painful ones that incubated for a full week before surfacing, which makes me think that I’ll need to try this longer than a month to see results. You win some, you lose some.
6. Cashew butter is my new favorite healthy fat.
When our social team pulled me aside and told me to taste test a nut butter that apparently tasted like frosting, I was hesitant. Nut butters, especially peanut and almond, make me super bloated. I’m not sure what’s different about this one by Artisana Organics—it seems to be whipped, and perhaps the cashews are sprouted before it's processed. It's made of only cashews and is indeed delectable enough to frost a chocolate cupcake. I spread it on two Wasa crackers in the morning (and let's be honest, I lick the knife) after my intermittent fasting window is up. It has the same blood-sugar balancing effect as the full-fat dairy, only better, and it doesn't make me feel bloated. With these two observations combined, I'm going to keep this dairy-free thing going for a while longer because this cashew butter makes me feel great!
7. I'm still struggling with my scalp health.
Alas, after making these changes I'm bummed to report my scalp health didn’t budge. I wonder if it’s caffeine in general, something else I’m eating, or an unlucky case of bad dandruff. I’m going to keep trying remedies for this one and will let you know what ultimately works.
Would I recommend cutting dairy if you're having skin issues? Sure, but I personally wouldn't pass on an epic cheese plate every now and then. That's just me (I'm only mildly lactose intolerant, but it builds with quantity consumed as I've noticed by trial). If you do, make sure you find a good healthy fat to replace it. I also think cutting down on caffeine helped me threefold: First, I was drinking more water, and second, I was drinking less caffeine, and third, I was getting better sleep. Starting there might be a better bet. Happy experimenting!