“Hey, Pizza Face. Yeah, you.”
My inner voice was merciless as I gawked at my reflection in the mirror. How did it get this bad?
Red and pustulous, my skin was as angry as I felt.
The breakouts had started when I was 12. It was an insidious onset; but by the time I was 15, my acne was omnipresent. To make matters worse, no treatment seemed to alleviate the problem.
My dermatologist was miffed by my body’s unresponsiveness to the various face washes, prescription pills, and medicated creams that we tried. Nothing was working.
I got so desperate that I decided to take Accutane, which was a powerful drug that required the patient to sign a contract in acknowledgement of the associated risks. At 15 years old, I did not care. All I wanted was to have clear skin. But my parents asked me to discontinue taking it after two months because I exhibited an extreme personality shift.
A few years later, my dad—a doctor—became a strong advocate for alternative health care, which included embracing a plant-based diet. He read books like The China Study, which found conclusive results that dairy products are inflammatory and can lead to cancerous growth. His findings caused him to encourage me to pursue alternative ways of treating my acne.
I was finally convinced to visit a Naturopathic Doctor, which is the type of physician who focuses on preventative health care through alternative treatment methods. His recommendation aligned with my dad’s: change my diet, and more specifically, cut out dairy.
It was the push I needed, and I began to religiously remove dairy products from my life.
A month later, I was marvelling at my skin. Not only was my acne completely gone, I had also simplified my facial care regime to a mild, natural cleanser.
My life had changed.
But the initial transition from eating dairy to not eating dairy was a lifestyle adjustment, which brought its own set of challenges. Surprisingly, craving milkshakes, ice cream, and other dairy-based sweets were not the only hurdle I had to overcome.
My friends and relatives were resistant to my new restrictions. After all, food is ingrained into culture; and I come from the deep South, where butter and milk are staples at any level of the food pyramid. This meant that eating out became more complex, as many places did not offer dairy-free menu items aside from salads. I also had to work with my parents—my mom in particular—to find meals that I could eat while I still lived at home.
That being said, those who loved me, and knew my struggles, saw the visible results and celebrated with me.
After those first few months, I became the poster-child for a dairy-free diet. One of my friends decided to try it out with me. She is also dairy-free today.
That was seven years ago. Ever since then, I have sought out ways to care for, and heal, my body through my diet. This is not only for the sake of my skin. My consumption of dairy products also influences my energy level, mood, and ability to focus.
Thankfully, the world has become a friendlier place to people like me and my friend. Nowadays you can expect to find alternatives to cow’s milk at most coffee shops and restaurants. In some, you can even find vegan (i.e. dairy-free) options, which is encouraging progress.
In my own kitchen, I’ve discovered a world of possibilities. For example, almond milk has become my go-to for coffee creamer, and it tastes great in oatmeal; and frozen bananas, avocados, spinach, and cacao powder are amazing additions to any smoothie. I also love cooking an array of soups that are both healthy and filling.
The sky is truly the limit, even when you’re trying to eat a plant-based diet (tip: Pinterest has a great online community of healthy-minded folks. I’ve found some of my favorite recipes on there).
Looking back, it is still amazing to me that, all along, the answer was simple: return to the earth’s remedy, which is the food that it provides. Therein lies the most powerful drug of all.
Author: Sarah Anne Brown
Editor: Erin Lawson