After a years-long struggle with cystic acne and undiagnosed Lyme Disease, former InStyle magazine beauty editor Jolene Hart learned to heal herself by changing her diet and harnessing her positive energy. Today, she spreads her message through her brand, Eat Pretty, and her latest book, Ignite Your Light.
In the eighties, my mom founded her own food co-op to get organic foods we couldn’t find in the grocery store. She was holistically minded and a nurse, so she would always link what we were eating to how we felt. I grew up knowing there was a deep connection, a deep power, between me and my food.
Towards the end of high school and into my twenties, I had a lot of acne that turned into cystic acne, large painful pimples deep under my skin. By the time I became a beauty editor for InStyle magazine in the late 2000s, I had also developed eczema. I had access to celebrity facialists, expert dermatologists, and I could sample just about any skincare product line that I wanted. It should have been a dream job, but I was struggling with the pressure I felt to be a face of the beauty department. I was supposed to be glamorous, yet I was covering up my skin every day to hide my acne and eczema. I had a favorite concealer I used so often that when they stopped making it, I asked the company to send me the rest of their stock because I couldn’t live without it.
Whenever I consulted an expert, I’d ask, “Is there anything I can do in my diet? Can I make any changes there that will help?” I was shot down every single time. The doctors would say that there was no connection – just take this pill, put this cream on, do this facial, and come back once a month. I didn’t feel confident in my own intuition yet, and I didn’t have the resources to educate myself more deeply. But having my concerns dismissed didn’t sit well with me at the time, and it wouldn’t sit well with me years later when I would face the medical mystery of Lyme Disease.
In my busy twenties, I never felt I had a reason to prioritize cooking. I was a vegetarian who occasionally ate fish, but mostly what I was consuming was high-glycemic foods. But after the 2008 financial crash, I left InStyle to become a freelance journalist and to attend the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and I began to gain a deeper understand of the connection between skin health, diet, and lifestyle. I started picking up where my mom left off.
Through my research, I learned exactly how blood sugar levels impact hormones: high-glycemic foods would spike my blood sugar, causing a crash later on. This was creating hormonal imbalances in my body and setting the stage for a blood sugar roller coaster that became the catalyst for cystic acne. I was prescribed antibiotics for my acne, which in turn disrupted my gut health and caused my eczema. Eventually, I learned how to naturally reduce the inflammation in my gut. I gave up gluten and began incorporating greens and healthy fats into my meals. After one year of shifting my diet, I saw a dramatic change in my skin.
But my health journey was far from over. After giving birth to my son, I was experiencing a lot of stress in my life. I was one-year postpartum and my son was having health issues of his own. During a last-minute business trip, I woke up in my Airbnb and felt as though a switch had flipped. I was having sudden bouts of tachycardia – where my heartbeat was over 240 beats per minute – after simply bending over. I became extremely sensitive to light and sound. Simple tasks like going to the grocery store became nearly impossible. I couldn’t pick up items on the lower shelf. By the time I got to the checkout line, I didn’t have the energy to put my groceries on the conveyor belt. It was profoundly debilitating. I had crashed and couldn’t bounce back.
People talk about a dark night of the soul, and this was mine. Doctors kept telling me I was completely fine, that there was nothing wrong. It felt like living in a horror film: I was waking up in a body that looked the same but was completely dysfunctional.
I had two heart surgeries to try and correct the tachycardia — neither of them worked. Tests for Lyme Disease are notoriously unreliable, so it took five more years to finally be diagnosed as positive. At some point during this eight-year journey, I realized I had to connect to my own power. I told myself, “If anyone is getting me out of this, it’s me.” I needed to conserve my energy. I also needed to stay positive. Negative self-talk starting the moment I woke up in the morning had the power to completely derail my day. My mindset became so important. It was all I could control at that time.
Living with a chronic illness made me realize what I’ve always loved about beauty. It’s not that I love red lipstick because it’s such a great color. It’s that when I put it on, I feel an energy shift within myself. I’ve become aware of how my personal energy and mindset affect my health—from my relationships to my home environment. Because of this, I learned how important it is for me to protect that energy.
I’m still working my way toward remission from Lyme. My goal is to be able to run again. This summer, I woke up and walked up to three miles a few times each week. One day, my hope is to throw on my running shoes and run five miles.
Lately, my view on life is that it’s exhilarating. I can handle 2020 better than I would have been able to handle last year, or the year before. I don’t care how hard it is, I know I can show up. Sometimes, I do fall flat on my face, but I’m so glad to be experiencing this life as crazy as it is. Now, I just want to be there for my son, and the rest is gravy.
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