OFF THE BEAT: Eating your way sick

Especially now that school’s up and running, it’s easy to eat whatever you can get on the go.

We stop for a burger and french fries at Smart Alec’s or find ourselves at Gordo’s day after day — the faster and cheaper it is, the better. It’s not that we don’t know that this lifestyle isn’t good for us, it’s just that we’ve gotten better and better at telling ourselves that today is the last time and tomorrow welcomes a new and healthier beginning. Today we have too much reading, too much homework and a problem set due tomorrow, not to mention the hour at the gym that we’ve got to fit in, in order to ward off the harmful effects to our image that might result from lunch.

The problem is, we don’t really have the luxury to prioritize everything else over our food. Food is central to our well-being, and an unhealthy lifestyle is going to get us in trouble down the road. I learned this the hard way when last semester, I broke out in an all-body rash. While everybody else buckled down for finals, I found myself trekking to and from the doctor’s office trying to figure out what had gone wrong.

It turns out that I have an autoimmune disease called psoriasis. I’m prone to it because of hereditary influences, but flare-ups are triggered by physical and emotional stress, an unbalanced diet and just a generally unhealthy lifestyle. It’s easy to trigger but because it is caused by a gradual build-up of unhealthy eating over time, and it is much more difficult to get under control. It didn’t take long for me to suddenly feel overwhelmed.

Psoriasis is a skin problem in which my skin cells speed up their lifecycles: Instead of taking 28 days to die like normal skin cells, mine do it in three to four. This results in ugly, painful and sometimes movement-restricting patches of dry skin, all over my body. While it’s not something that could kill me, it is certainly something that has had significant effects on my lifestyle.

An autoimmune disease, to put it simply, is when your immune system doesn’t recognize part of your body as being, well, part of your body. Your immune system freaks out and tries to fix a problem that’s not really a problem, and by doing so, it actually makes things worse.

Doctors don’t have an easy cure simply because psoriasis is one of those things where both the problem and the solution are highly individualized. Generally speaking though, the idea is that psoriasis and other autoimmune diseases serve as an indication that your body is out of balance.

Food, it seems, can play a large role in both the creation and treatment of these problems. Better nutrients and fewer toxins in your body are crucial in maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Because of this, I’ve given up dairy — our bodies weren’t really designed to digest it — as well as fried foods, fatty foods and foods with too much sugar or fat (for obvious reasons).

Much to my own dismay, I’ve even given up alcohol.

Minor but poor health decisions — like choosing french fries over salad — added up over time, and eventually my body freaked out. It was like my body didn’t know what to do, and so it gave up and displayed all of its frustrations on my skin. I’m not about to say that I’m glad I got psoriasis, but my doctor did. She kept reminding me that I had been mistreating my body, and had I not developed this disease, my decisions may have resulted in other more severe consequences — liver failure, heart disease, or a whole litany of problems. So maybe I’m lucky that I got psoriasis. I certainly feel more in control than I would have felt had I been diagnosed with a more serious problem, and I feel lucky to have a second chance to make decisions that will keep me healthy in the long-run.

Don’t let school and all of your extensive extracurricular activities stress you out or convince you for even a moment that they’re more important than your health and well-being. It doesn’t take much to suddenly find yourself in a situation where you can’t just postpone health. When you do, you will spend more time than you ever imagined wishing you had started making good decisions sooner rather than later. Prevention is always better than treatment.