Comfort eating during the COVID lockdown, who isn't??!! And, are you struggling more than usual with skin problems? Could there be a connection? Yep!
We know that some dietary patterns and skin problems are connected. The bread and brownie baking and comfort eating are bound to bring out frustrating skin problems. In the mirror we are not just seeing our strange hair buns, sweatpants and bra-banishing, we are also seeing acne, seborrhea, rosacea and even psoriasis. A new scientific study released in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology right before the COVID lockdown helps explain the connection. It also gives us motivation to put down the brownies and pick up the fruit and veggies again as we move into summer.
News Flash: The Western Diet is connected with inflammatory skin problems.
The study showed that even short-term exposure to a ‘Western Diet’ – characterized as a diet with a high fat and simple sugar content (like my COVID lockdown comfort foods) – predisposes to inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis. We previously thought that the triggering of inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis happened through the development of obesity. But this new study suggests it's the foods themselves. Researchers state,
This means that even if your button pants are not retired to the closet because they've gotten waaay too tight, your comfort eating can still play out on your skin – and not in a good way. ("Button pants", I love the term, who else loves Pluto the Facebook Schnauzer sensation! )
In this new study, mice were fed a diet analogous to a Western Diet (aka the comfort foods we are all eating right now) and researchers identified the inflammatory signaling in skin that leads to inflammatory rashes such as psoriasis and dandruff. By 4 weeks, the mice were also developing the signs of these rashes on their ears! We are past the 4-week mark on lockdown comfort eating. Whose scalp itches, face is flaky or rosacea is flaring? It means that skin rashes happen before the button pants get really tight.
Skin rashes are not the only dietary consequence of our lockdown comfort eating. Acne will flare up too. Acne worsens when you eat high glycemic foods (think sugar and carbs) and lots of dairy (anyone eating ice cream?)
To control skin problems, I’ve always recommended a diet that has at its foundation a high proportion of veggies and plant-based foods.
I created a food pyramid to help us all understand the proportionality of what our diet should ultimately look like if we want to fight inflammation.
In the pyramid, you see veggies at the base; fruits next (they are higher glycemic than veggies); beans, whole grains and other complex carbs above that; healthy fats (like olive and flax oil), nuts and lean proteins above that; and the tiny tip top is where the comfort foods go. Yep, the tiny tip. That included wine!
So, that yummy but relatively small homemade gluten-free brownie topped with dairy-free chocolate coconut 'ice cream' that I just ate while typing up this post is driving my seborrhea flare-up. I know that it needs to be joined in my daily diet by tons of veggies if I am to have an itch-free scalp. I’ll be eating lentil and veggie soup and a salad for dinner to help ‘neutralize’ the pro-inflammatory consequences of the comfort treat that I ate this afternoon.
I also need to rethink what comes out of my kitchen going forward and aim for more veggie dishes and less baking. I'll still bake but I need to put more veggies on the plate more often and fewer brownies. Yep, it's our dietary proportion of daily foods that I think is important and it's how I conceptualize the dietary pyramid that I created. I'm prone to rashes and arthritis and this proportionality works for my physiology. I expect it is important for the physiology of many bodies.
I care a lot about the connection between diet and health. I've followed the scientific studies and developments for over 45 years. That means from 1975 to the present, through Atkins, Pritikin, macrobiotic, vegetarianism, South Beach, My Plate, Paleo, food fermenting, veganism etc! I've written a free eBook summarizing what I find to be the most important elements of a diet that supports a problem-free body. Click here for my Healthy Eating Guide for Your Skin. It includes the pyramid in greater detail, recipes and years of research that I've dedicated to my interest in diet and skin health. It's one of my free eBooks - yep, free, because I like to teach and write about what I believe in and have learned throughout my career.
I also recommend cruising Pinterest or the web for inspiring recipes – salads, veggie soups, bean curries, salmon and other lean proteins with yummy veggie sides – put the creative cooking into fighting inflammation. That's where I got the lentil soup recipe that I made today. The skin will improve and the button pants will feel a little better as we make this transition.
Passing up the comfort eating will be easier as summer begins and lockdown eases. Until then, it takes mindfulness of our daily meal plan to keep the seborrhea, psoriasis, rosacea, acne and other inflammatory skin problems at bay for now. Good luck – we all need it!
Yu S.,Wu X., Zhou Y., Sheng L., Jena P.K., Han D., et al., A Western diet, but not high fat and low sugar diet, predisposes mice to enhanced susceptibility to imiquimod-induced psoriasiform dermatitis., J Invest Dermatol. 2019; 139: 1404-1407
Whitney P. Bowe, MD et. al. Diet and acne. J Am Acad Dermatol 2010;63:124-41. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20338665