In the last few years I have read quite a lot of books on nutrition. The underlying message in almost all these nutrition books seems to be that you can control almost anything to do with your health through nutrition. Most of these authors probably don’t intend for this to be the message that comes across; they are merely trying to prove the point that nutrition is a very important factor in obtaining and maintaining good health. While it is true that a proper diet is very important for good health, there are also other factors to consider. The truth is that you are never going to be 100% in control of your health. The belief that every aspect of your health can be reflected through nutrition leads to baseless feelings of guilt and discouragement. Today I am going to share an experience that served as a reminder that it is impossible to control every detail of my health.
WARNING: This post contains somewhat graphic pictures of a skin condition
About 3 months ago I noticed a spot on my arm that looked like a bug bite. It didn’t itch and it just felt like a dry piece of skin so I didn’t think much of it. But after a week or two it hadn’t gone away; it had started to increase in size and had also turned a deeper shade of red. I still didn’t really worry as it didn’t hurt or itch. A few weeks after that I noticed some small red spots on my chest. As I have a history of skin problems I started to panic and went to the doctor right away. The doctor (incorrectly) told me it must be autoimmune, prescribed me a steroid cream, and told me to come back in a few weeks if it wasn’t improving. The minute I heard the word ‘autoimmune’ I started panicking more. I started thinking about my diet. I hadn’t been eating as healthy as I could have been. I had been eating chocolate, eggs, and dairy which aren’t the friendliest foods for autoimmune conditions. Maybe eating chocolate was causing this rash, or maybe it was the eggs? Or maybe I was getting a full blown autoimmune condition such as psoriasis? That was my internal hypochondriac talking.
There was nothing I could really do but wait it out, so that is what I did. For a couple weeks it got worse every day. More small red spots appeared and the older red spots had begun to grow similar to the one on my arm. The spot on my arm was now roughly an inch in diameter, my entire torso (front and back) was covered in red spots, and it was beginning to creep down my inner arms and legs. I showed my brother my stomach and he was genuinely concerned I might have the measles or some other type of infectious disease. At a certain point it became clear to me that there is no single food in the world that could do this to a girl who doesn’t have any serious food allergies and isn’t prone to rashes.
This is me on July 11th, 2014.
I went and saw a different doctor who correctly diagnosed me with Pityriasis rosea; a temporary and benign skin rash. This rash starts with a ‘herald’ patch like the one on my arm and couple weeks later it begins to cover most of the torso, and can last for up to 12 weeks. The cause of this rash is unknown, but it is thought to be viral. After I was diagnosed I felt pretty silly for worrying if eating chocolate could have caused this. As the cause isn’t even really known, I really could have gotten this rash from anything. I work at a health food store and handle money so really the possibilities are endless. It was out of my control.
(If you are dealing with Pityriasis rosea, remember that it is only a temporary condition and that you are not alone. This website has tons of useful information as well as people sharing their experiences and stories with Pityriasis rosea.)
It was hard for me to accept that it was out of my control because I had become so wrapped up in the idea that I could control everything with food, but once I did I felt so much better about it! Instead of wasting all my energy feeling guilty and discouraged, I could get on with my life. I am so very lucky that this condition was not only temporary, had almost no other symptoms associated with it, and no long term effects. I was still able to go about my daily routine and even do my usual hikes and runs. I am also lucky that the duration of the rash from its first appearance only lasted about 8 weeks for me. By the first week in August my skin was almost entirely clear, but for some people it can last up to 6 months.
The lesson I learned from this is not only that you can’t control everything to do with your health, but also the belief that you can control everything, itself, is unhealthy. While its good to have some awareness of what you are putting into your body, it is unhealthy to obsess over every single piece of food. When you are being overly strict with yourself, it is very easy to feel guilty over foods that aren’t even really unhealthy. This puts a lot of unnecessary stress on your mind and body, and we all know that stress is the enemy when it comes to our health! Ironically, not only is stress itself bad for your health, but it often makes you more likely to eat emotionally or binge on junk food.
Of course, it is completely possible to eat healthy without an unhealthy/obsessive mindset. This can be achieved by not being overly critical with yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat a friend or family member and don’t say negative things to yourself when you slip up and eat something unhealthy. In other words; treat yourself with love. Also don’t blame yourself for things that are difficult to control such as an injury or catching a cold. Not everything is your fault. Even if it was partially your fault, being hard on yourself just makes you feel worse about something that can’t be changed! Everybody makes mistakes; it’s one of the best ways for us to learn.
So remember to make sure you aren’t bullying yourself when you are eating healthy. This, in itself, will improve your health as it will reduce unnecessary stress. A little self-love goes a long way! As for me, I am now free from the “mysterious skin rash from hell” (as named by pityriasisroseapictures.net). It was definitely an interesting experience to acquire such a completely random skin condition. I suppose I can’t say it was all bad because I ended up learning a pretty important lesson in the end.
If anyone has any similar stories I would love to hear them in the comments!