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From high school to young adulthood, I struggled with acne. While this originally seemed to be a normal symptom of puberty, my acne continued into adulthood—in fact, it got worse. Over the course of my adolescence and early adulthood, I tried just about every marketed cosmetic product for acne or improving skin. Some of these skincare products did nothing; others just kept my acne somewhat at bay. Others did work, but left me with other pesky symptoms like overdried, flaky skin. Mostly I just figured out how to cover up my acne with a good concealer rather than dealing with the root of the problem.

During this time, I also struggled with terrible PMS symptoms, specifically very painful period cramps. Unfortunately, like my acne, these cramps only got worse with age, becoming so debilitating that I was forced to miss class or work on occasion (like many unfortunate women). At that time of the month, I was married to my heating pad and was diligent about taking naproxen to deal with the pain—treating the symptoms, yet again, instead of getting to the actual cause.

Why fiber? 

These had seemed like unrelated issues, though certainly bothersome (to say the least!), until I was struggling to conceive. While searching for answers to my fertility questions, I came across the book WomanCode by Alisa Vitti. As part of her program for helping women understand and care for their hormonal health, Vitti touts the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, hormonal, and overall long-term health benefits of a high-fiber diet. Around the same time, I listened to a podcast interview with Tanya Zuckerbrot, dietitian and founder of the F-Factor Diet, and she also emphasized the wonders of fiber. Fiber? The same fiber my grandma talked about that’s famous for giving one gas? The idea seemed a bit outdated—but at that point, I was willing to try anything natural to get pregnant. Consuming the recommended amount of fiber was supposed to help balance one’s hormones and benefit one’s reproductive health.

Both Vitti and Zuckerbrot say that adult women should be getting upwards of 25 grams of fiber every day, but most people in the United States only get nine to ten grams—quite the discrepancy! Fiber is vital to our health because it acts as a sponge that soaks up excess estrogen as well as toxins in our blood (which come from our diet and toxic products in our environment) and eliminates them through our digestive tract. Put simply, this maintains the appropriate amount of estrogen and keeps the body’s pathways of elimination—the liver, the gut, and the skin—clear and free to do their intended jobs. This fit with my concurrent goal of switching to nontoxic cosmetics to help balance my hormones and return to reproductive health by reducing the toxins I was putting in my body—fiber could help eliminate the toxins already in my body.

How I did it

I reached the recommended daily fiber intake without fiber supplements, as my goal was to eat real, whole foods that contained fiber and other nutrients, rather than just adding fiber supplements on top of whatever else my diet included. To do this, I started my day with a fiber-full smoothie: frozen fruits (raspberries have the highest fiber content per serving) and frozen peas (also full of fiber) or kale, coconut water, natural peanut butter, chia seeds (lots of fiber per serving), ground flaxseed, and maca (not matcha) powder. For snacks, I ate an assortment of veggies (sweet potatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts), beans, and nuts. I also ate “avocado toast” on fiber-rich “crackers” called "Scandinavian Bran Crispbread". They don’t taste like much, but are filled with tons of fiber per serving (sounds appetizing, I know). Sometimes I put natural peanut or almond butter on them instead of avocado and olive oil, or even baked them in the oven for a few minutes with mozzarella cheese and a couple pepperoni slices. For dinner, I usually ate a smaller version of what I’d eaten for lunch—protein, whole grains, and lots of veggies. Another benefit of fiber is that it makes you feel full longer because it takes longer to digest, so you don’t have to eat huge meals to feel full. Of course, while consuming this much fiber, it’s important to drink a lot of water (so you don’t get bloated or gassy!).

Reaping the benefits

I committed to getting 25 to 35 grams of fiber every day, and after just one month of eating this way, I could already see and feel the benefits. Without excess estrogen floating around in my body—the cause of many PMS symptoms and reproductive problems—the period I did have before finally getting pregnant was not painful or accompanied by heavy cramps. And with toxins being eliminated through my gut instead of through my pores, my long-time adult acne seemed to miraculously clear up, and my skin finally looked healthy and radiant. I didn’t feel the need to wear much makeup at all—and I hadn’t felt confident without concealer in years. In general, I felt better than ever; I had more energy, more confidence, and felt healthier and stronger. I could finally stop using the band-aid approaches to my acne and PMS cramps—learning more about the benefits of fiber pointed me to the root cause of both.

While I did make other diet and lifestyle changes recommended by Vitti in WomanCode, the first change I made, and the change I focused on the most, was increasing my fiber intake. The benefits I reaped from making this dietary change were certainly enough to motivate me to continue to eat this way even after I became pregnant. I had discovered not only the reproductive benefits, but the beauty benefits of fiber. The best beauty products, I learned, are not what we put on our bodies, but what we put in them. I could have saved myself a lot of money spent on skincare from eating this way sooner!

While it might sound a bit strange to center your eating around fiber, the potential benefits of doing so make it definitely worth a try. A fiber-focused diet naturally leads you to choose vegetables, fruits, and real foods over sugary, processed foods that slow down your gut and clog your pores. There’s no counting calories or focusing on weight loss—yet the outcome is improved overall health, from the inside out. Whether you’re looking to lessen your PMS symptoms, clear up your acne, or just improve your long-term health, I can’t recommend this way of eating enough: a natural approach to healing yourself from the inside out.