Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Book Review: Feed Your Face by Jessica Wu, MD November 10, 2011

 

I noticed Dr. Jessica Wu’s book Feed Your Face last year at my local Barnes and Noble and was intrigued, but I frankly I didn’t want to invest in buying the book so I was psyched to see that my local library had a copy.  There was a simple reason why I didn’t want to invest my money in buying this book – there really isn’t any new information in this book.  Now before you think I didn’t like this book let me explain.  I thought Dr. Wu’s book, for the most part, was well written, concise, easy to read, and contained a lot of good information.  They only thing was – there wasn’t really any new information in this book and you had to slog through lots of celebrity name dropping and ego stroking to actually get to the useful information in the book.  I’ll explain.

Check Your Ego At the Door

Dr. Wu spends a lot of her book reminding her readers of a few things:  she is a graduate of Harvard Medical School, she has MANY celebrity patients, and she used to be ugly but now she looks great.  I do have to say that if the one grainy photo included in the book is supposed to make me really believe that Dr. Wu used to look horrible in the past (acne, bad haircut, etc.) she should get a look at one of my photos from high school to really see how terrible one can look (I had an extremely unflattering haircut in high school coupled with grossly oversized glasses, not meant as an ironic fashion statement, and awful acne) and reevaluate her statement.  But I digress.  How many times do I have to read that Dr. Wu attended Harvard Medical School and that she has a large celebrity following?  I found the fact that she constantly harped on these details to be a massive turn off for me.  Neither of those issues made me want to read her book more.  They actually made me want to read the book less.  But the real kicker for me came with the following encounter Dr. Wu related in chapter 5 of the book (pages 99-100):

Not long ago I spent the evening at a charity fund-raiser in West Hollywood.  (One of my patients organized the event, and she was kind enough to snag me a ticket.)  It was a raucous scene –  a welcome change of pace from the buttoned-up medical conferences I usually attend – and I was enjoying the music, the dancing, and the free-flowing Champagne.  Suddenly I caught the eye of a handsome young actor.  I’d seen him professionally (during a routine exam at my office), but the thought of his sweet, shy smile and cool blue eyes still tied my stomach in nervous knots.  He waved and began making his way though the crowd.

I don’t usually develop crushes on celebrities, no matter how handsome.  After all, I am a doctor, a professional.  I went to Harvard, for crying out loud!  But this man is so charming, so charismatic, so unbelievably dreamy, that he usually travels with an entourage of swimsuit models and Hollywood “It Girls,” all clamoring for his attention.  That night, however, he was uncharacteristically alone.

We exchanged somewhat awkward hellos, and then, to my delight, he leaned forward to whisper something in my ear.  “Could we … go somewhere?” he asked.  He smelled like palm trees and expensive aftershave, a dizzyingly sweet combination.

I thought about my husband, home alone, probably reheating those noodles from last night’s dinner, sitting among a pile of work papers at the kitchen counter, dripping stir-fry sauce on his tie.  But I couldn’t help myself.  I followed the actor as he cut a path through a jam-packed dance floor, past throngs of tipsy partygoers, and led me into a dark, dimly lit hallway near the bathrooms, tucked out of view from the crowd.  All I could hear was the thud, thud, thud of my heart in my chest.  I can’t believe this is happening, I thought.  I can’t believe this is happening!  I held my breath as he leaned in and asked the question I’d been waiting to hear:

         “Um, could you take a look at this rash?”

Come on!!!  Really???!!!   Did the above story really need to be included in this book???!!  I have to say that these types of stories coupled with Dr. Wu’s incessant need to remind her readers of her educational background and current roster of celebrity clients were a huge problem for me with this book.  And that’s a real shame since the book contains lots of valuable information but you have to get past all the superfluous information in the book to get the real facts that can help your skin look its best.

One last thing in this category – Dr. Wu also uses her book as a way to settle scores with, if you are to believe her, is a rather old-fashioned and sexist professional dermatological community.  Dr. Wu takes pains to explain why she prefers to dress in sexy stilettos and skin-tight skirts instead of boring, boxy clothes and how most other dermatologists won’t take her seriously because of her choice of clothes.  Take for example the following (page 340):

There’s nothing more annoying (or more self-confidence-crushing) than being ignored or excluded because of the way you look – whether that’s because you’re a geek in glasses who can’t roll with the cool kids (that was me in high school) or because you’ve embraced your love of Louboutins and, subsequently, people think you’re an airhead.  (Sometimes that’s me now.)  But you know what?  Every year when it comes time to pack for the AAD Conference, I don’t reach for my most conservative duds.  Instead, I pack the hottest thing I own and a kick-ass pair of heels, because when they call the featured speaker to the stage, I can hold my head up high.  There is nothing like that long walk from the back of the room to the podium, the moment when 8,000 doctors realize they’ve flown thousands of miles and shelled out hundreds of dollars to listen (and learn!) from me: the petite woman from the party, the one who just doesn’t look like a doctor.  Knowing that I’ve earned the right to speak as a medical expert (and look damn good doing it) is the best feeling in the world (right up there with graduating from Harvard Medical School and getting paid to examine half-naked celebrity hunks).

Now while I think that a discussion of sexism in the medical community is important and necessary I found it disconcerting that Dr. Wu used her book as a vehicle to try to shame and reproach her fellow professionals.  Isn’t there a better time and place for this?

Having Said All That – What I Learned

It is a shame that Dr. Wu fills her book with so many unnecessary comments because overall her book is interesting, straightforward, and filled with a lot of helpful information.  The premise of the book is that through a healthy diet you can achieve great looking skin.  Is there anything revolutionary about this book and the diet it recommends?  Absolutely not.  The diet Dr. Wu recommends a low glycemic one that emphasizes eating lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and making sure you have omega 3s in your diet.  Numerous people have recommended a diet like this for weight loss and a healthy body.  Dr. Wu connects how certain foods directly affect the skin – both positively and negatively which is interesting.  Unlike the book The Clear Skin Diet which extensively quotes scientific studies in the body of the book Dr. Wu summarizes the findings of studies and then lists her sources in the back of the book so if you want you can look them up yourself.  This makes her book quite readable and accessible though not dumb downed at all.

I did learn quite a few things – like that if you have eczema who should avoid eggs, if you insist on eating a bagel pair it with some fat so that your body digests it more slowly, that almonds will protect your hair from going gray, and if you must have a candy bar have one that contains nuts, like a Snickers, which is better than eating pretzels which are simple carbs and your body just breaks that down like sugar.  Furthermore I learned the importance of eating tomatoes (and I loved that Dr. Wu puts pizza on her list of allowed foods), page 40:

Tomatoes have more lycopene than almost any other food, making them particularly effective at preventing sunburn and UV radiation damage in the skin.  In fact, studies show that eating as little as 20 g of tomato paste per day (about 1 1/4 tablespoons) can reduce the risk of sunburn by as much as 33 percent.

The next time you’re heading to the beach or spending the day in your garden, add some tomatoes to the menu.  You’ll counteract the effects of a day in th sun as well as help prevent wrinkles, age spots, and inflammation (not to mention lower your risk of developing skin cancer).  Even when you’re not lounging poolside, adding more tomatoes to your diet can protect you from the small amount of UV light you’ll inevitably encounter when your sunscreen wears off – or when you forget to put it on!

You can get the same amount of lycopene found in 20 g of tomato paste by eating

  • 1 slice of pizza (with marinara or red sauce)
  • 1/2 cup of V8 juice
  • 6 tablespoons of salsa

Bear in mind that lycopene is better absorbed by the intestines when the tomatoes are cooked.  In fact, the lycopene in tomato paste is four times more “bioavailable” than in fresh tomatoes (meaning it’s four times easier for the body to absorb).  The absolute best source of lycopene (offering the most sun protection) are tomato paste and tomato sauce – so opt for pizza instead of a burger, especially if you are dining al fresco.  Lycopene is also fat soluble, which means you need to pair your tomatoes with a healthy fat to get the maximum benefits.  Try drizzling tomato slices with a splash of olive oil or enjoy them with some avocado.

One more thing: Lycopene may be effective at preventing sun damage, but a diet rich in tomatoes doesn’t preclude the need for sunscreen altogether.  Slather on a minimum SPF 30 every time you’re headed outdoors.

Interesting stuff and well worth reading.

Since I’ve read The Clear Skin Diet (read my review here) the chapter about acne and diet was simply a review for me (avoid sugar and dairy, eat whole foods, etc.).  But there was a curious part of that chapter that didn’t make much sense to me (especially after a client of mine, with whom I was discussing the book, pointed out to me that this had little logic to it) and that was Dr. Wu’s assertion that iodine exposure causes acne.  Now I have read before that excessive iodine exposure will cause acne, but what makes little sense here is that in Japan, where the traditional diet is high in iodine, the national rates of acne are very low.  The Japanese began experiencing acne at the same levels as Americans when they moved away from that traditional diet and began eating a more American diet – high in fat and sugars and low in vegetables and omega-3s.  (See chapter 7: The Former Clear Skin Nation: Japan in The Clear Skin Diet for many more details on this phenomena).  So while it is true that the traditional American diet contains too much salt in it and that excessive consumption of iodine has been linked to acne I feel that singling out Japanese food as an acne culprit (see page 90 in the book) is misguided.

Chapter 6: To Tan or Not to Tan does a good job at going over the dangers of sun exposure and the importance of daily sun protection.  Dr. Wu’s discussion of the Vitamin D controversy (pages 149-151) is well done.  What I really appreciated was the meal plan for her diet outlined on pages 264 – 282.  Though vegetarian options were few and far between (I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years so I’m not going change now) I could see how I could tweak the menus for my use.  I just wished she provided some dessert options besides a strawberry drizzled with dark chocolate.  I found Chapter 8: Eating for Stronger, Healthier Hair and Nails thorough and helpful.  And according to Dr. Wu eating almonds prevents gray hairs so with the amount of almonds I consume on a daily basis I shouldn’t have any gray hairs ever.  The book even contains a chapter on how to make your own skin products at home if you are so inclined which is a perfect area to cover with the economy being as it is these days.

Buy It?

Overall I thought this book contained a great deal of valuable information.  The dietary tips, instructions, and menus are logical and easy to follow though you’ll have to cheat once or twice or go crazy.  Certainly this book made me reexamine my diet, and I got to thinking about how much sugar is contained in everyday foods (like your supermarket peanut butter).   This book could be a valuable addition to a home library though if you want a book that truly covers ALL skin issues purchase Simple Skin Beauty by Dr. Ellen Marmur.  If only Dr. Wu had stopped shoving the fact that she went to Harvard and has celebrity clients down the readers throat.  The book could have been a lot better without Dr. Wu trying to prove to everyone how smart, capable, and sexy she is.  In my opinion, address those personal issues with a therapist not your readers.

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One Response to “Book Review: Feed Your Face by Jessica Wu, MD”

  1. Brilliant review! I too love to research and gain information daily (hence why i read your blog) but dislike very much when people push their own insecurities or ‘love of themselves’ in their publications. It simply isn’t needed and makes the writer appear less capable. I think the story on her wanting to have an affair was shocking, get over yourself and gain some self respect. Personally, I will not be buying or reading a book like this when there are so many other brilliant books out there for our industry. Keep up the wonderful work!


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