How Sweet It Is

Sweet-Potato-940x626

Did you know that children who are blind from birth still smile when they are happy? That may hardly seem a revelation, but think about it for a second. Babies, who have never seen a smiling face, never learned to attribute that facial expression to happiness or really any emotion whatsoever, still replicate it themselves. We are each born with the same emotional template, the same paintbox that colors our worlds and our faces serve as the canvas on which we tell our story.

Any painter will tell you that an unblemished canvas is vitally important to creating your magnum opus. Hours are spent building the framework, then stretching the canvas so that it is free of puckering and wrinkles, followed by application of the primer to create a sleek texture on which the paint can reside. However, a canvas, being that it isn’t alive, and not subject to all the permutations created by the unique biology there in, is far more malleable than the human face. When that takes on puckering, wrinkles and blemishes the story it tells begins to change.

My face began to change when I was 11 years old due to acne. Since this coincided with the onset of my menses, my doctor declared the puss blossoms on my face to be a symptom of hormonal readjustment due to puberty. I was promised that with proper care, my breakouts  would subside over time. She even went so far as to offer a prognostication “Trust me, you won’t be dealing with this on your wedding day.”

It soon became clear that my issues exceeded the normal flux of adolescence.  I went to dermatologists, aestheticians, hoarded products advertised on late night television and sought out holistic healers. None were able to yield significant change. Through out the years I became quite adept at applying make-up to compensate for my battered canvas. I simply came to accept that I didn’t have the makings of a great beauty. C’est la vie.

My demolished skin simply became part of me. I was used to strangers stopping me in the street and offering homegrown remedies. It was humiliating, but they saw their intrusion as justified, after all they were only trying to help. Being that I was in and out of varying gradations of chubbiness, my diet was a constant source of curiosity to my nosy, would be saviors. While in recent years there have been size acceptance movements, I find it highly unlikely that those plagued by acne can anticipate the same.

We live in a culture that believes a televised make-over can rectify all. We don’t care about the underlying causes, just disguising all symptoms…they annoy us. Despite the fact that my bathroom counter-top was over run with various cleansers, acne in women is associated with being unclean. We are happy to believe that women with acne are toxic, and that toxicity flows forth from their pores and leaves it’s evidence on faces, backs, what have you. Holistic practitioners love the word toxic, and television talk shows love to interview them. Ergo, people who watch these programs suddenly believe that they have tapped into a rich source of information of which the rest of the world has been deprived, and they must share their bounty.

“Purge your body of toxins.” They say.

What in this world isn’t toxic? The experience of life itself is toxic. Even if you could definitively create a diet for yourself that was devoid of free radicals, refined sugars, saturated fats, toxins, whatever catch all is making rounds in the news at current, you can’t account for all aspects of your environment. Fluoridation in the water supply (U.S), smog in the air, UV rays from the sun, all these things take their toll.

“And that is why we must fast, to purge ourselves of impurity.” We hear.

The body is in a constant stage of purging and cleansing itself. Ever hear of the lymphatic system, the liver, kidneys? While it is true that constantly flooding our systems with unhealthy substances can overwhelm our natural filtration system, suddenly depriving our bodies of these only to go right back to our old tricks does absolutely nothing. The better plan is to be conscious about what we take into our bodies and what benefits or consequences come from doing so.

My doctor’s promise that I would not be dealing with acne on my wedding day became a bitter reminder of my persisting flaws the day I became engaged. At first, I made the mistake of buying every bridal magazine I could get my hands on. There in I read articles promising the secrets to flawless wedding skin, wedding checklists that advised getting a weekly facial until the big day, but there was nothing there I hadn’t tried, and nothing salient.

As of the incarnation of this blog, I’ve had a renewed interest in what benefits foods can bring the body. My past experience with acne had familiarized me with retonic acid and Accutane. Retonic acid or Tretinoin I’ve dealt with in the form of Retin A, a gel applied topically to the skin. While it never rid my face of acne, it remains the only medication I’ve used that somewhat lessened the explosion (with exception to the week before my cycle.) Accutane I never used, as the possible side effects (Crohn’s disease, liver damage, severe depression, even miscarriage) seemed to outweigh the benefits. Both drugs however are really just refined forms of vitamin A. This got me thinking, why not just consume more vitamin A in my diet.

I’m not a big advocate of taking supplements or really anything in excess. I wanted to incorporate my vitamin A through naturally available food sources and in levels that wouldn’t lead to vitamin A poisoning (essentially the risk associated with Accutane.) Vitamin A is one of the fat-soluble vitamins (as are D,E and K) which means it can build up in your system over time. Increasing my vitamin A dosage was not something I could be flippant about.

I decided that the safest method for increasing my intake was to replace one meal a day with a sweet potato 19218IU (384% DV) of vitamin A per 100 gram serving http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/food-sources-of-vitamin-A.php#Fh71PzFsv4zREu9O.99 For the past three months I’ve being keeping to this regiment. I have seen a decrease in my acne, in fact this is the first time in my life that my skin has actually been manageable enough to where I can consider seeking treatment for my residual scars.

Admittedly, I didn’t take a true scientific approach to this experiment. There can be no control group as I am not a twin.  I cannot definitively rule out other variables as being the cause for acne reduction. I also began a strict walking regiment at around the same time, and therefor increased my water intake, which has been linked to reducing acne. However, I have done this in the past (in my mid twenties, I worked out no less than an hour a day and was drinking a gallon of water a  religiously, but still had persistent breakouts.) In a strict scientific study, I would be eating the same diet every day, which I do not, with the exception of having a sweet potato for breakfast. I can’t say that this is a miracle cure for all, but it has worked quite well for my uses.

For me, this diet is doable. I have adapted various recipes to keep my breakfast from becoming monotonous. For the most part, I microwave a sweet potato and dress it with a different garnish, sometimes salsa, or maybe chutney, occasionally a couple tablespoons of artichoke bruschetta (each of these are made in advance of course.) In an upcoming blog I will be sharing one of my recipes for sweet potato with apple & pomegranate chutney. While I don’t necessarily recommend you commit yourself to a sweet potato a day, it can’t hurt to work a dose of vitamin A in now and again.

As of yet, I have experienced no side effects that I can link inextricably to my diet change. I did experience an outbreak of thrush over the holidays, which can be brought on by too much vitamin C (100 grams of sweet potato have 33% of your dietary requirement for vitamin C.) Thrush of course can also be brought on by over indulging in yeasty treats such as wines, breads, pastries and other things that I gave myself the green light on during the holiday. That, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had thrush prior. Incorporating acidophilus tablets into my morning routine seems to have done the trick.

Sweet potatoes not your thing? Check out this article for alternatives.

I’m far from a magnum opus by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s nice to wake up to a clear face in the mornings. If I can get that by forfeiting frosted flakes for sweet potatoes, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

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