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Since I had a baby on February 20, my life has certainly changed. Fortunately, I’ve dealt with a lot of times of stress, upheaval, and change before, having gone through years of working 30+ hours/week in college, then entering medical school, and then starting my own business and running it for the past six years. Some of the same coping mechanisms I used to deal with professional challenges have applied now — establishing daily minima that must be done each day, planning my days out in advance each morning, and having a positive attitude and lots of self-compassion.
But one thing that has often suffered in times of stress has been my personal life and, namely, self-care. I’ve gained as much as 30 pounds during stressful times, and have ended up with mono twice in the past ten years — and I wasn’t about to go through any of that again. So adopting Dr. Bowe’s 21-day Dirty Skin Challenge, where you concentrate on your diet the first week, your mind the second, and your skin the third — didn’t sound like a bad idea at all, even if it was one more thing to add onto my plate. (Pun intended.) Of course, given that I am postpartum, my body is still going through a lot of changes including hormonal changes that will impact my results across the board. Dr. Bowe and I spoke offline and we agreed that it was worth starting to implement these changes now to the extent I am reasonably able, just to get on the right path and to start moving in a really positive direction for my skin health and overall health!
Here was my experience with the first week, which focuses on healing your gut through dietary changes that will dial down the inflammation that gives rise to many of the skin conditions we are seeing today:
7 a.m. — The baby cries the minute my husband leaves for work. He’s only eight weeks old, so I can’t complain. We’ve been alternating shifts — I take 10 PM – 2 AM, and my husband takes 2 AM – 7 AM. I’m tired as I feed him this morning, and I groggily go through the motions. I grab the day 1 smoothie and my lunch, both of which I pre-made yesterday, as I head out the door. stayed on plan
12:30 p.m. — I’m hungry and realize I haven’t eaten yet. Today’s lunch is the Big Hearty Salad. I have five pounds of baby weight to lose still, and eating salads at lunch seems to help. (I used to eat “half of anything I wanted” for lunch, but postpartum, it’s salads, sushi, or bust for lunch). The salad is actually pretty good. stayed on plan
5 p.m. — A venture capitalist I know sends an email and says she will be in town tomorrow unexpectedly; can I get in a meeting at 4? I’m not fundraising for my business, but I think these connections are helpful. I’ve arranged for my nanny to be at the office only until 4, so I scramble and call. She can’t stay late, so I spend the next hour trying to figure out who can fill in. My father-in-law steps in, and I’m ecstatic.
7 p.m. — My husband is home and watches the baby, while I go to run on the treadmill and shower. Afterwards, the last thing I want to do is cook, but today’s suggested menu calls for pineapple chicken skewers. While home cooked food gives you more control over calories, sugar, fat and potential additives, I just don’t have the energy. I go to a local restaurant, Hello Bistro, and order the steamed shrimp over a salad to go. It still fits in with Dr. Bowe’s guidelines in The Beauty of Dirty Skin, so I feel satisfied. Progress over perfection, right? stayed on plan
10 p.m. — I know I will regret not making the smoothie for tomorrow morning, but I’m too tired. Between part-time breastfeeding (3-4 feedings in the evening and nighttime), plus feedings every 2-3 hours until 2 a.m., I decide to be compassionate towards myself (Dr. Bowe wouldn’t want me to stress about this, after all!) and I head off to sleep until I’m woken up again at 1:30 a.m. Given that I’ve read ahead in The Beauty of Dirty Skin, I know that sleep and stress both impact my health and the health of my skin, so I know that realistically, this is a challenging time to try to tackle this plan. But, I’m still giving it my best shot, which Dr. Bowe thinks is really impressive!
7:55 a.m. — I’m pleasantly surprised to wake up almost a full hour later than usual. (Since I go to sleep around 1:45 am – 2:00 am, I sleep until the first time he cries after my husband leaves). I feed the baby, and remember I didn’t make my smoothie for the day last night. I decide that oatmeal is easier, add in some berries, and call it a meal. stayed on plan
11:30 a.m. — I order lunch to-go from a local salad bar, sticking as closely to Dr. Bowe’s “Big Hearty Salad” recipe as possible: greens, tomato, cucumber, pepper, broccoli, chicken, and some raw almonds and sunflower seeds. They don’t have figs available, but I sneak in apples instead. (I never was a huge fan of apples, but they’re all I wanted during pregnancy, in every form possible: Raw apples, sliced apples with peanut butter, apple juice, apple sauce — it was crazy! Apparently some of it still lingered). I enjoy the salad and pick at it all afternoon. stayed on plan
6 p.m. — Craving shrimp fried rice. The Beauty of Dirty Skin 21-day detox calls for wild salmon, 2/3 a cup of quinoa, and unlimited vegetables. I decide to compromise with myself: I order a salmon sushi roll (brown rice) and a ginger side salad from a local sushi restaurant, and pre-make the green smoothie for the next day. I also order an extra sushi roll and side salad for lunch the next day. It is empowering to know that I’m making really healthy choices for my body and focusing on my health. stayed on plan
7:15 a.m. — I wake up to the sound of the baby crying, and I feed and change him. I’m currently in love with these little sets from Carter’s — they come with a onesie, pants, and matching hoodie — and they tend to be in happy primary colors that I love on him. I’m tired, but I resist the urge to go back to bed. I pack up the bottle bag (diaper bag is kept in my car), lunch bag, laptop bag, my purse, and the baby, and head to work.
10:35 a.m. — I feel fortunate to be in a position where I am the company owner and can bring my baby to work everyday, and in a building where the landlord is OK with it. I’m in the process of converting an open office down the hall into my personal office and nursery, but in the meantime, the baby is in the office with me and my coworkers. Usually it’s fine, but today he’s crying and fussy, and the nanny is having a hard time getting him to quiet down. I give it a shot, but I realize I have to be at the dentist at 3 p.m., and it’s frustrating. Thankfully, I can’t stress eat or reward myself with food — I have sushi and salad with me, and I devour it early. Again, being mindful of my choices is helping me to make decisions that favor my health and will keep me calmer in the long run (rather than giving in to that huge sugar boost and subsequent crash). stayed on plan (sort-of)
2:30 p.m. — Dentist appointment and then 3 calls/meetings to go. I realize I’m stressed out again and also hungry, but I didn’t prepare any snacks. (I normally don’t snack.) I check Dr. Bowe’s book, and stop at a convenience store on the way to the dentist and pick up some trail mix. It’s not my favorite, but at least I don’t overeat that way. Of course, this is not a weight loss plan. It’s a skin healthy plan that begins the healing process from the inside out. So, I’m not necessarily trying to lose weight so much as get my overall health and skin health on track. But, I do know that many people on the plan have lost quite a bit of weight, so I am being mindful of that as well.
7:30 p.m. — Calls finally done. The baby is fussy and my husband also had a long day. He offers to take us out for some ribs and macaroni and cheese from a local family-friendly BBQ place we both love. I grimace, knowing that it’s against the plan, but at the same time, I’m tired. I devour a few ribs, some mac and cheese, and even have a light beer — but I also stop at the salad bar on the way home and pick up a salad for the next day. (Balance.) veered off plan
10 a.m. — Hectic morning. Dropped the baby off at my mom’s (she watches him two days per week) and then had to head to my OB/GYN for my follow-up appointment. (I realize it was supposed to be six weeks postpartum, but due to work, I’ve called and rescheduled twice). When I show up, they let me know he’s in surgery and is running an hour late. On top of that, I realize I forgot to eat breakfast and to bring my lunch. I start to berate myself, but then realize this is just what happens when you’re working full-time and a new mom. #AdjustmentPeriod, not #HotMess. veered off plan
1 p.m. — I have a quarterly employment review with one of my staff members. We go over his performance, and he receives the feedback well. Then I head home to finish up the day there and eat my salad, because I am #Starving. stayed on plan
4 p.m. — I realize I’m starting to like eating salads for lunch, because they can be broken up into smaller servings that I can eat throughout the afternoon, rather than have a long lull without any food. That said, I see I have a 5 p.m. Pilates appointment on my calendar, and I’m frustrated. I feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels all day long without getting much done.
5 p.m. — I have a hard workout at Pilates (apparently, eight weeks postpartum is the mark where they no longer feel sorry for you!), and then I pick the baby up, and then I get another hour of work in once my husband gets home. It’s late, I’m tired, and he grills chicken and vegetables from the book for us. I sneak in a glass of wine, (which is actually totally Bowe Glow approved given that it’s red wine), do a little more work, and get ready for a long night with wakeups at 10 p.m., 12:15 a.m., and 1:45 a.m. stayed on plan
9 a.m. — I drop the baby off at my mother’s. It’s funny — the first time I left him, I felt super guilty that I wasn’t that upset leaving him. It had been four weeks since I had done anything on my own, and I was looking forward to a mani/pedi and some downtime. But now, now I feel that mix of guilt and longing mothers talk about whenever they leave their children for the day, even though I know he’s in the best hands possible.
10 a.m. — I head to a coffee shop to get as much work done as possible. I let my coworkers know I’m going to be working remotely on Slack, and then it’s heads-down for the next few hours. I grab an oatmeal at the coffee shop and a large black coffee. I notice that I’m starting not to miss sugar and milk in my coffee and I think about the antioxidants that are powering up my body and skin. Feeling good about my coffee. stayed on plan
3 p.m. — I realize I’m starving. There’s a great Chinese restaurant with General Tso chicken that is to die for near the coffee shop, but I know I’m going to be going out for date night later, so I grab some stir-fry vegetables and tofu instead. stayed on plan
7 p.m. — My husband and I realize neither of us called anywhere for reservations. We’re both super tired after a long week of work and baby care (even with lots of help!), but we realize it’s important for our relationship to still “date.” We get dressed up and head to Eleven, a local fancy-ish restaurant. I intend to get the grilled salmon and vegetables, but am craving the beef tenderloin with bleu cheese glaze, and my cravings win out. We even get apple pie and split it. I feel sort-of guilty and sort-of not guilty — I’ve eaten more salads this week than I did the entire time I was pregnant, so I figure, why not. veered off plan
8 a.m. — I wake up, and I’m pleasantly surprised this morning when my skin doesn’t seem oily. (My skin was very dry for the first time ever during pregnancy, and then it was oily. But the new diet seems to be controlling it). I apply a vitamin CE serum, a light moisturizer, and some sunscreen. My husband and the baby are downstairs, so I head on down. I’m a bit groggy — the baby kept me up straight until 2 a.m., and my system isn’t used to drinking wine again — and there’s no way I’m making a smoothie or oatmeal. I grab a protein bar and feed/change/play with the baby. veered off plan
1 p.m. — We’re supposed to meet up with some of my husband’s friends. I’m not up for socializing these days, but I go along, and it’s not bad. I order a salad that has a lot of the vegetables Dr. Bowe recommends, but am mortified when I realize it comes with a pound of cheddar cheese and generous helping of French fries splayed across the top. I pick at the vegetables and do the best I can with it. stayed on plan (sort-of)
6 p.m. — I’m tired, my husband is getting a cold, and neither of us feel like heading out with the baby. We order in — shrimp fried rice for me, walnut chicken for him — and we turn in early. Good thing, too — the baby is up every 2 hours, and we’re zonked. veered off plan
11 a.m. — I wake up pleasantly surprised that my husband took the 7-11 a.m. shift and let me sleep again. In turn, I take 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and let him get some work done. I head to the nearby outdoor mall to go look around the bookstore and baby store, and end up picking up a green smoothie and salad from Panera. stayed on plan
7 p.m. — After grocery shopping (together) and a run (just me), my husband and the baby and I are all hanging out. The baby kicks his legs during tummy time but can’t get anywhere yet, and it’s super cute and funny. We play together and I cook soup for dinner with vegetables, lean turkey sausage, and rustic Italian seasonings. stayed on plan
Overall Summary and Results
Overall, I managed to stay on the plan for 16/21 meals, which is 76% of the time. Given that I’m post partum, this is really a great starting point. I’m starting to think about my meal choices, I’m starting to focus on what the food is doing for my body and my skin and I’m realizing that if I can make this much progress during such a challenging time, this is actually pretty workable if you’re not taking care of a newborn!
I wasn’t able to make the recipes, but managed to keep to the plan with an on-the-go, dining-out lifestyle pretty well. The downside of this is that I don’t have a lot of control over everything that goes into the food, but, at the same time, I realize that I’m a new mom and business owner, and sometimes I have to be innovative in how I approach things. Anyway, I know that this is meant to be a toe dip into the full experience and it’s definitely opening my eyes.
From this experience, I learned that preparing in advance is going to be key for me. Meal prep the night before is good, which is what I was aiming to do, but meal prep once or twice per week is even better, because then I only have to make the time and find the discipline on, say, Sundays and Wednesdays. So I’m going to try that for next week (stay tuned)!
At the end of this week, I started to see some changes in my skin. My skin felt less dry, I needed less moisturizer, and my tone was more even. Amazingly, even though I mostly ate out and didn’t exactly follow the recipes or guidelines to a “t”, I was even down a pound and a half. Again, this isn’t a weight loss plan, but healthy eating will typically translate into shedding unwanted additional pounds. Even with all the challenges that I faced this week, I decide that I’m going to stick to it. I’m on a path to glowing, healthy skin. I want to be healthy and energetic and I want to dial down my stress so that I can be more present for my baby, my work, and my family. Week 2 is all about mindfulness and dialing down stress, so I am excited to learn more! This sounds like a week I’m going to really benefit from! Stay tuned!