More Than Meets the Eye

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the ... healthiest eater of them all?

Beauty product sales in the United States rose 7 percent to $1.5 billion between January and July 2010, as reported in "The Seattle Times." And women invest an estimated 3,276 hours applying makeup and dressing to look their best throughout their lifetimes, according to a study commissioned by Australian beauty company Skinbliss.

Current research indicates, though, that your appearance is influenced by more than just your makeup techniques, jeans brand or eye cream. Factors such as your dietary habits and attitudes also play a role.

And of all the numerous contributing factors -- including genetics, ethnicity and age -- your dietary lifestyle is one you can change.

Skin Deep

Improving your complexion may begin with improving the length and quality of your sleep.

"During REM sleep, we de-stress and our body and skin heals itself," said Dr. David E. Bank, a dermatologist and director of The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery, in Mt. Kisco, New York.

REM, which stands for rapid eye movement, is your deepest sleep state. Although people's specific sleep needs vary, adults typically require seven to nine hours per night.

From a dietary standpoint, improving your sleep may require limiting caffeine and alcohol. In addition to interfering with your ability to fall or stay asleep, both substances can reduce skin hydration, according to Bank. Avoid large food quantities and fatty or spicy foods near bedtime. For some people, a light snack, such as yogurt and fruit or oatmeal with milk, enhances restfulness and sleep quality.

"Overconsumption of refined sugars and refined carbohydrates can lead to decreased enzyme function," Banks said. "This leads to poor skin structure and function ... [and] can lead to premature aging of your skin."

Common refined carbohydrate sources include cane sugar, candy, sugary baked goods, frozen desserts, white bread, instant rice and pretzels. When purchasing breads, cereals, rice and pasta, check the ingredient list to ensure that whole grains are listed first.

If you have difficulty meeting your nutrient needs through foods alone, supplements may provide benefits.

"Dietary supplements are a good insurance policy to ensure proper nutritional support for your skin," said Banks. "Try to find a good food-source multivitamin. Often lab-created vitamins are not as well absorbed and not as bioavailable as food-source vitamins."

Dietary supplements can sometimes cause side effects and interact with medications, though, so it's best to seek approval and guidance from your doctor before you begin taking any.

If you are prone to acne, the most common skin disease in the United States, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, consuming more vitamin A may help manage your symptoms. In fact, retinoid creams, which are often used to treat acne, derive from the nutrient. Foods particularly rich in vitamin A include chicken and beef livers, carrot juice, carrots, kale, spinach and cantaloupe.

A Fabulous Figure

In her book, "The Beauty Diet," registered dietitian Lisa Drayer suggests upping your fiber for an improved figure. Fiber keeps you satiated, contributes little to no calories and occurs naturally in a variety of nutritious foods. Soluble fiber, the form prevalent in beans, carrots, peas and potatoes, promotes nutrient absorption and helps your body rid itself of toxins in a timely fashion -- attributes that keep your figure in "top form," according to Drayer.

The vitamins, minerals and antioxidants found plentifully in complex carbohydrate sources are what Drayer calls "beauty nutrients." Refined foods, such as white-flour products, can offset your blood sugar and detract from the health and appearance of your teeth, skin, hair and body shape, but whole, natural foods can help you feel and appear radiant.

Drayer's list of "top beauty foods" includes wild salmon, which provides protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids; sweet potatoes, blueberries and tomatoes, which are lush in "anti-aging" antioxidants; low-fat yogurt, which contains "beauty-enhancing" calcium; and walnuts, a valuable source of the antioxidant vitamin E and healthy fats. For an antioxidant-rich dessert, choose dark chocolate.

Many beauty-conscious women avoid eating fats, a scenario that can detract from your wellness, moods and appearance, according to Drayer. Rather than avoiding fats, aim for moderate intake of the healthy varieties, such as nuts, seeds, cold-water fish and avocados.

Your diet should also contain about 25 percent protein; eating more protein than your body needs will result in stored fat. Protein boosts collagen production, skin firmness and lean muscle tone. Healthy sources include fish, low-fat dairy products, beans, lentils, skinless white-meat poultry and egg whites.

To avoid puffiness, or bloating, limit high-sodium foods, such as canned soups and vegetables, processed meats and cheeses, and deep-fried foods. Staying well hydrated also guards against bloating, so routinely consume water and other hydrating foods and beverages, such as caffeine-free herbal tea, low-sodium broth, skim or soymilk, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

What Lies Beneath

A study conducted by Leslie Zebrowitz, a professor of psychology at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, showed a significant link between personality traits and attractiveness. Participants with commonly perceived "ugly" personality traits appeared less attractive to others over time. Female participants who were outgoing and talkative during their teen years remained more beautiful to males into their 50s.

Although having physical traits considered beautiful by the masses may boost your chance of experiencing happiness, Zebrowitz's research indicates that feeling happy and confident in your own skin plays a crucial role in your attractiveness.

"There is a direct relationship between our attitudes and what we eat and the resulting body appearance," said Simon Casey, a psychologist and author of "Secrets to Emotional Wealth." "When we feel emotionally negative inside, inevitably, our mindset reaches to the point of a 'we don't care' attitude on the outside."

Eating too little can damage the appearance of your face, skin, hair and figure. Losing too much weight can remove the sparkle from your eyes and the smile from your lips. Compulsive and yo-yo dieting, in which you repeatedly lose then regain weight, can slow your metabolism and trigger weight gain, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.

And overeating poses problems, too.

"When we use food as an emotional comfort or when it becomes our 'drug of choice,' we care less and less, even though we are suffering the consequences of getting bigger," Casey explained. "As we continue this practice, our lives become a vicious cycle. We eat to feel good, but shortly after finishing a meal, we become guilt ridden, depressed and hate our body."

Potential consequences of emotional eating habits are anxiety, low self-esteem, health problems such as eating disorders and heart disease, and self-loathing.

"Poor body image can create lifelong consequences that will impact us emotionally, physically, psychologically, financially and spiritually," said Casey.

If you are willing to make appropriate efforts, you can improve your confidence, body image and self-esteem, leading to increased attractiveness to yourself and others.

"Establishing positive body image starts with understanding how your emotions work and how to master them," Casey explained. "The ability to know, feel and deal with feelings are ultimately what raises the person's self-esteem as well as their self-acceptance."

It also requires shifting your attitudes and reactions toward others. Positive changes are difficult, for example, if in the face of another's "perfect" physique you make negative self-comparisons.

Casey admits he sees this all the time, and it's especially telling when even those with "perfect" bodies succumb to such behaviors, complaining and saying they "feel fat."

"We need to stop running to others for help and start taking charge of our lives," he said. "This is how we can empower ourselves. Ultimately we have to believe that we are good and start treating ourselves according to that belief."

For boosted body image, NEDA recommends viewing yourself as a whole person, rather than fixating on body parts. Consider the remarkable things your body can do, and surround yourself with positive people. Wearing clothes that fit, practicing gratitude for healthy and delicious foods, and avoiding fad and restrictive diets can also help.

Particular foods and nutrients, as part of a balanced diet, provide exceptional emotional benefits. A deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids, for example, can trigger depression and mood swings. Top sources of omega-3 fats include cold-water fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and canola oil.

Ensuring that your diet contains enough of what Dryer calls "beauty-boosting" carbohydrate sources also promotes the production of feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin, in your brain. Look to carbohydrates that stem from whole grains, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. While it isn't necessary that all of your carbohydrates have to originate from such sources, most of them should.

By: August McLaughlin

Photo Credit

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"More Than Meets the Eye" courtesy of LIVESTRONG.COM