This Diet Finally Cleared My Cystic Acne—When Nothing Else Worked

mbg Contributor By Nina Nelson
mbg Contributor
Nina Nelson is an actress, YouTuber, and co-author of The Clear Skin Diet.
The Diet that Finally Cleared My Cystic Acne When Nothing Else Worked

In 2014, I was a 20-year-old girl with a burgeoning career in the entertainment industry struggling with suicidal depression. Why? The answer was written all over my face.

Sudden cystic acne breakouts brought my acting career to a screeching halt, destroyed my self-confidence, and turned me into a hermit. I consulted with dermatologists and other experts, tried a variety of medicines and treatments, but nothing worked for long. My acne always came back with a vengeance.

While desperately trying to find information about acne, I discovered there are cultures of people in the world who never get acne. These lucky people lived in places like Okinawa, Japan; Papua New Guinea; Eastern Paraguay; and certain parts of Africa.

What these disparate cultures had in common were low-fat, unprocessed, starch-based, plant-centered diets. The research was very intriguing, so I decided to switch up my game. What did I have to lose?

Within three days of my new regime, I had no new breakouts. In six weeks, my acne had receded dramatically, and my skin was actually clearing. Clearing my skin and recovering my self-esteem meant I could get my life back, and this diet allowed me to take control. Here's exactly what I ate to get rid of my severe acne:

Acne before and after

1. I ate only plant-based foods—no animal products.

I focused on whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. I learned to rely on the power of sweet potatoes and yams, which are loaded with skin-affirming vitamin A (and they taste fantastic, too!).

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2. Unrefined starches became the cornerstone of my diet.

Starches are low in fat, low in calories, and high in satiation (meaning they will make you feel full and satisfied). Mashed potatoes and brown gravy—I make it with a vegetable-based broth—are my comfort foods. Who wouldn’t feel better sitting down with a big warm bowl of creamy mashed potatoes slathered with delicious gravy? I feel good just thinking about it!

3. I avoided all oils.

While not all experts would agree with this advice, for me, cutting oils out made a huge difference. My skin quickly stopped feeling so greasy. Plus, cooking fat-free is actually quite fun; you can sauté with water or broth and bake with applesauce.

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4. I avoided high-fat plant foods.

Nuts, nut butters (think peanut butter and almond butter), seeds, olives, coconuts, avocados—these foods get between 70 and 95 percent of their calories from fat. My skin personally didn't do well with all that fat, so I steered clear (and my skin stayed clear).

5. I ate only whole foods.

On my skin-healing diet, I focused on whole foods and minimally processed foods. I avoided refined foods like white rice, white flour, white bread, cakes, cookies, potato chips, etc. When I wanted a crispy snack, I ate a crunchy fruit or vegetable instead of greasy chips. It made all the difference!

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6. I ate simply and repeated meals for long-term success.

When I find a meal I like, I eat it over and over again! If I enjoy it, I know I can stick with it. I actually love rice and beans. Really! I not only could eat them every day, but I actually do.

But even though I might eat rice and beans each day, there’s still variety. I vary the type of beans cooked—one day might be lentils, another black or pinto beans, cannellini or limas. Of course, there are also many different types of rice—basmati, jasmine, long grain, and short grain. Even when you are eating the "same thing," it’s still different. I found that keeping the base the same made it easier to cook everything, prevented decision fatigue, and increased the chances of success.

After my skin had been clear for a while, it seemed like I was onto something, so I wrote my book, The Clear Skin Diet with my sister to help other people suffering in the same way. I would have never thought that a devastating skin breakout would lead to being able to help people also suffering with debilitating acne. What looked like a curse actually ended up being a blessing.

For more information on how to eat for clear skin, check out our full list of the biggest acne-causing factors.

Want your passion for wellness to change the world? Become A Functional Nutrition Coach! Enroll today to join our upcoming live office hours.

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