The Unexpected Benefit of Caring for One’s Body

Photo by Chris Jarvis on Unsplash

I wish I could say that I had always cared for my body, giving it the nourishment, the care and the love that it needed. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be true. In fact, it would be well into my 5th decade of life that these changes would manifest.

Earlier this month you may have read about what happened when I decided to take wellness and place it front and center of my existence.

But there was another unexpected outcome of that decision that I only realized late last week.

In March 2020, just before the pandemic enveloped the world, a few friends of mine pointed out that I had dark patches on the left side of my face and neck. It was somewhat obvious and visible, because of the color of the patches, bordering on blackish-blue.

As it turned out, my doctor confirmed this was a condition called hyperpigmentation or melasma which can manifest due to a number of reasons, including stress and hormonal imbalance.

Unfortunately, there is no complete cure for hyperpigmentation in the medical world unless you go in for the more rigorous methods of chemical peels and microdermabrasion. There are only ways to manage it and ensure that it doesn’t get worse than what it is.

That didn’t stop me from trying out topical creams, of course. I went ahead and diligently tried applying lotions or Vitamin C serum to see if things would get better. Each month I’d check my face in the mirror and see that there would be nothing different. After a few months of this, I shrugged and decided to live with it. It wasn’t really harmful in any way; the effects of hyperpigmentation are more cosmetic than anything else.

However, this didn’t stop me from reading up on how to reduce the signs of melasma on the face. I was especially curious when I read about how balancing one’s hormones could prove to be beneficial, for a number of things.

But, and here’s the important point, I stopped actively pursuing ‘melasma spot reduction’ as a goal. Instead, I focused on balancing my hormones, which was a much wider spectrum and involved the body as well as the mind.

When it came down to the crunch, it appeared that there were a few things that contributed to a better balance of hormones in a woman’s body. These included:

  • Stress reduction
  • Better and sounder sleep
  • Making one’s diet more anti-inflammatory
  • Regular physical exercise

As you can tell, none of these are overnight cures or quick fixes. But that’s okay because the focus had become something very crucial:

To heal on the outside, we need to start from within

Reducing Stress

Stress reduction was the first thing I began to work on, with daily meditation sessions that started at just 1 minute or so each day.

Around the same time, I began to eliminate other external stressors such as daily social media check-ins. This was when I went on my 60-day social media sabbatical, which would eventually end with me leaving most social media platforms by March, 2022.

Similarly, I began to worry less about things that were effectively out of my control such as the number of COVID cases in the city, whether or not my daughter was studying enough for her exams or whether I would have a sustainable roster of clients to keep my business afloat.

*Fun fact: Once I stopped stressing about these things, they all seemed to resolve themselves rather easily.

Befriending Sleep

I’ve always thought that I’d been careful about the number of hours of sleep that I got, but it was only when I truly stopped checking my phone multiple times through the day and learnt to turn off gadgets at least an hour before bed every night that I learnt the power of blissful sleep.

What’s more, my body knew it too. There really isn’t much I can say that hasn’t been said about the restorative power of sleep. However, the role it plays in the balancing of hormones cannot be underplayed.

Sleep deprivation can lead to hormone imbalance, and the imbalance of these hormones can lead to more sleep deprivation. It’s a vicious cycle. But with a better understanding of how your body communicates and functions is key to making necessary changes for quality sleep.

-Sleep Centre

Once I began to prioritize sleep, the idea of hormonal balance seemed to settle itself deep into my body’s psyche. Going to bed on time became par for the course and staying up late became a bad habit of the past.

Un-processing My Diet

I confess I’ve tried to do the calorie-counting thing so many times when it came to my food but just couldn’t stick with it for longer than two days. If anything, the idea of counting started to put me off food and made me view it with a mix of fear and worry. That was no way to live and I couldn’t bear the idea of waking up every morning, stressing over how many calories I’d eaten the day before.

Instead, I tried a couple of saner approaches. One was to reduce added sugar as much as possible in the food that I was eating. The other was to remove as much processed food from my diet as possible.

Note that these are not black and white rules of ‘No sugar’ and ‘No processed foods’. Instead, I started looking at ways to incorporate more whole foods into my routine. That was it. Nothing else. I still enjoyed the occasional ice-cream or cookie, but stopped feeling guilty about it.

The net result of these two simple changes was that my body began to change, slowly and imperceptibly at first, and more noticeably as time went by. What was happening on the inside was clearly reflecting on the outside.

When you start eating differently, your microbiome will start changing within two to three days. Getting five different vegetables into your diet every single day will accelerate the process of optimizing your microbiome. To enhance the benefits even further, try to make these vegetables as many different colors as you can. This means it’s much more likely that you will encourage the growth of more beneficial bacteria as well as getting maximum gut-bug diversity. But that’s not the only benefit.”

Rangan Chatterjee, How to Make Disease Disappear

Exercising More Regularly

All through my childhood and early adulthood, exercise had been this thing that I both detested and never made time for. But it took a conscious revaluation of my health to understand that exercise was not meant for weight loss. In fact, exercise is the one simple gift we can give to ourselves that is completely within our power.

The tiny wins of showing up regularly — at the gym, on the yoga mat, in the swimming pool — did more for me than just improve my body.

It started healing me from within

Nowhere was this more apparent than in these two photos that I share below. The picture on the left was taken in July 2020, when I had to send an image of the melasma spots to my doctor, for an online consultation. The picture on the right was taken a couple of days ago when my sister, who was visiting me, observed that the spots on my face and neck had visibly reduced.

I confess I was surprised when I saw them side by side because I’d honestly forgotten about the hyperpigmentation issue!

Pictures of my skin using no filters on my phone camera (L: July 2020; R: April 2022)

The holistic approach to caring for one’s body creates ripple effects that are small at first but have a far-reaching impact in the long run. My skin is ample proof of that, as you can tell.

I don’t know if anything of what I have shared today has changed your opinion on the need to prioritize your health and wellness, but I hope it’s made you think. Our health is truly in our hands and the way to heal our bodies and minds lies within us, if we stay receptive and focus on doing the right things.

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Shailaja V

Shailaja V

Digital minimalist. Writer. Bibliophile. Coach: I teach creators how to grow an organic audience without the overwhelm. More about me: www.shailajav.com