So, as I’ve heard with so many other stories, I tried everything. Everything. Cream and lotions and balms and masks. Then antibiotics and antibiotic creams and the pill. Then laser therapy and a shit ton of makeup caked on so thick that it would only fool people if they stayed at a certain distance and I didn’t move or do anything or else it would come off! And scarves. Lots of scarves.
I just wanted it to go. I wanted smooth perfect skin I saw in all the commercials around me. The perfect skin the supermodels had - the ones I was obsessed by from the age of 14. (Nikki Taylor - remember her?) My skin made me feel self-conscious and ugly as I tried to fix it, pick at it and hide it. All through Uni, my first jobs afterwards, as I tried to get a dancing career off the ground and at drama school I did my best to manage the problem. It was futile.
At one point I thought, ‘Well, I have to start eating better’ and fixed myself a fruit smoothie only to develop even more angry skin reactions. Friends would say, ‘It’s just hormonal’ but by then in my early 20’s I was frustrated and didn’t think that I should still be dealing with hormones. Come one! I wasn’t a teenager anymore! WTF was going on?
Enter The Sunday Times Magazine supplement of all things. In the back of the main magazine is a health column - or there was - and someone had asked a skin health question. Well, whoever wrote this column saved my life because she advised going to this naturopath in SW London who worked miracles. (I’m pretty sure she didn’t say that but after 15 years of knowing them it’s accurate)
I had to fill in an extensive medical history form and note every genetic blip in my family. In their modest clinic, I sat and explained my frustration, exasperation and desperation. Please for the love of all the croissants help me get rid of this acne bullshit!
He was kind, friendly and so very understanding and he explained that he thought I had Candida. I’m sorry, what-ti-da? And so down the rabbit hole we went.
‘Candida albicans is an opportunistic pathogenic yeast’ is what old Wikipedia says and I had to look up pathogenic. It means causes disease. The way he explained it to me was that I had an overgrowth of yeast in my body that was interfering with pretty much every system in my body. And since the skin is the biggest organ it can handle a lot of pressure. I won’t die of acne but I might of something more serious going on inside me. So the body delegates and sends crap to the skin to just get it out of the way whilst it rolls it’s sleeves up and tries to fix more pressing issues. In a nutshell.
Side note - This is my understanding of my issue and what happened to me and please let’s be sensible and remember that I’m no doctor, naturopath or medical professional. Obvs.
It turns out I was chronically unwell - not that he told me that on the first visit, he didn’t want to freak me out - but my system was in serious trouble and he told me that my body was failing to absorb most nutrients. Not good.
How had this happened? How had my system become so monumentally out of balance?
My nutritionist thought it interesting that just before the bad skin started I had a massive injection of antibiotics in a hospital in Quito when I was 18 - Seriously, huge needle in the bum! I thought it was a good idea to dive into a pool of water on a walk through the forest. Bacterium -1, me - 0. I was doing significantly less exercise than I had been doing at school so maybe not optimal functioning and pumping out the toxins.
I can’t tell you how extremely grateful I was to be speaking with someone who seemed to have an idea of what the hell was going on. A deep, comprehensive understanding of what could be causing my skin problem and I was relieved and convinced. It made sense but I was also out of options. I had spent years flailing about looking for answers. No doctor or skin ‘specialist’ had been able to help the acne. So, I followed his advice to the letter and my instructions were as follows.
Cut out all sugar, in every form, right now. Sugar feeds the yeast beast!
No alcohol - especially beer and wine. No problem.
Nothing that is white: rice, pasta, bread.
Also, no bread. Yeast heaven! But I could have flatbread like pitta. Toasted best as it reduces the yeast more apparently.
Mainly, 70% of every plate of food was to be vegetables. Okaaaay.
And even in the first 2 months, I wasn’t allowed fruit. No wonder my fruit smoothie didn’t help. Even natural sugar in fruit needed to stop at the beginning to give my system the space to heal.
Even with the £300 bill for the consultation including the remedies they make themselves that help detox the body, take the stress off the system and put all the nutrients back in, I was determined and off to go food shopping with no idea of what to buy. Plus I had a long list of supplements to find and there were only about 2 shops in London that stocked them. This was where I could find almond milk for example because the copious alternatives to dairy milk in every supermarket that you can find now just didn’t exist back then. Being vegetarian or vegan was not popular and sugar was hiding in everything. I became a label reading fanatic. The sugar, sweeteners, milk and yeast extract added to so many foods became non-negotiable and I quickly learnt how to make meals I liked within the new strict parameters.
This new path I was on did not enamour me to my family who felt at best I was just being picky and at worst I had joined some cult. It made eating with others a bit tricky and eating out very difficult. (Read near impossible. I ate a lot of salads) Again, this was before the green juicing age of health and all things alternative namely 2005 and sauces were the enemy. I became the ‘sauce on the side’ girl and I didn’t eat sugar for two and a half years. Boom! It was hard but it was working.
It took 6 months to start to see the difference. My skin started to calm down and clear up, the brain fog lifted as I got more energy and clarity along with a number of other improvements. For example, all pain and discomfort connected to my period stopped. My period would come and go and I would barely notice. I also became very sensitive to smoke. This was back when smoking was still allowed inside and I remember being in a bar and realising that I was struggling. My eyes were stinging and it felt as though my system was trying to shut down. Once I was outside the change was immediate. I had cleaned up my body so much that it couldn’t handle being around toxins for too long.
I became an expert on what worked for my body and what didn’t. I took a swig of cola a few years later just to see what would happen. It was like I had just been injected with a super drug like a bolt of electricity. I was hyper and wired and that was just one mouthful.
Knowing how to help yourself also means knowing how to sabotage yourself and so I did some of that too. (Oh hello, doughnuts and cereal!) I’ve strayed sometimes from the 70% thing but when I’ve noticed some adverse symptoms I know what to do to pull it back. Also, this knowledge stood me in good stead through my pregnancy and the postpartum period. The latter especially knocked me for six but I knew I had support and I could figure it out.
It’s been 15 years since I first stepped into my naturopath’s office and there hasn’t been a year go by that I haven’t benefitted from their help and knowledge. The acne cleared up and I still have the scars to show for it. Those scars remind me that I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t gone through that experience. And yes, I would have preferred to get that education without the pain and discomfort of the acne but I’m not sure those situations exist. The pain and discomfort forces the growth otherwise it’s easier to just continue as before and stick with the doughnuts. Ha!
When I moved to France in 2014 it was challenging on the diet front because of all the meat and croissants and wine and coffee and cheese. Oh my Lord, the cheese. Plus my husband is from the Alps so voila with the raclette and the fondue and I just can’t handle that much cheese and bread - even if he does find goat’s cheese for me!
It was hard with the kids too because the sugar fight is real and the French love chocolate for breakfast which I don’t understand. But food also brings pleasure and I guess as a single girl in London I hadn’t focused on that aspect so much. Mr French loves to make a chocolate cake with the kids and they hate it. Only kidding! What’s better than that!? It’s good to break the rules sometimes and actually the stress brings its own repercussions.
I’ve learnt to go with the flow more and I have to say it’s easier getting more vegetables on the plate since my husband turned vegetarian. It’s funny because everyone thought that I was veggie (cos I do yoga) and that I forced his hand. Ummm nope. Now he sends me videos of cute baby cows. Douche (as in douche bag but douche in French means shower so...there’s that)
How’s your health journey been? Ever suffered from acne? I’d love to hear your story.
In 2014, I packed up my life in London and moved to rural France, oh, and I didn’t speak French. Fun! I’d met my husband-to-be on Facebook (I know, crazy!) and since he had a young son he wasn’t going to up-sticks and come to the big smoke. So, I took the leap and found myself in the countryside. With the cows. Oh la vache!
I spent a good few years learning French like a toddler aka listening A LOT and trying to piece together the complicated minefield that is the French language. (Now I know why toddler’s sleep so much. Brain. Working. Non. Stop.) I get by ok now with the lingo but I still remember how my limited French made me feel disconnected, invisible and unable to share my humour and personality.
I have navigated pregnancy and the birth of my son here, being a step-mum, making friends and finding work. I’ve struggled with the enormous changes that came with moving here, enjoyed the more seasonal way of life, laughed a lot (my husband even made me laugh the day after my Dad died), cried with frustration at my inability to control my life and even understand how l'administration francaise works. I’ve made great friends but struggled to really feel a part of a community. I’ve been lonely, isolated and that wasn’t helped with bouts of mental health issues (post-partum anyone?).
I’m a yoga practising, marmite eating, Kale growing (Yes, Kale has a capital K because it is King), Erykah Badu loving Londoner who is an actress, deep tissue masseuse and healthy eating advocate after a chronic health issue in my early 20’s.
KarenFrenchinFrance is where I talk about all these things and more: my life in France, my discoveries about myself and the French and what it’s like living in France. I started the podcast I am French in 2020 to talk with other non-Frenchies about life in France. Check it out here!