Many of my friends know that I've been on the anti inflammatory diet for many years (roughly 7 years as I write this!) I am often fielding questions like: how and why I got started, how I’ve stayed true to it throughout the years, have I seen improvements in my pain levels, and does it really help?
I will begin this by saying I'm no doctor! These are only my experiences and how I’ve seen change in my body since beginning this diet in 2012. I’m a firm believer that food is medicine, but if you have chronic pain or an illness, always consult your doctor first to make sure there aren’t any serious conditions that need other attention.
For a quick bit of history into why I even found this diet in the first place, we have to start with the fact that I’ve been plagued with back issues for as long as I can remember. My back has severely gone out 2 times, leaving me unable to walk for a number of weeks. If you’ve never had this sort of pain, I’m incredibly jealous of you. If you have had this sort of pain, well then you know what I’m talking about!
Every time my back has gone out, it has been incredibly unexciting. I had no major injury, no epic accident to speak of. The first time, I went to pick up a pencil on a desk, and that was it. The second time, I bent down slightly in my car to pet my dog, Josephine, and out it went. What I’ve learned over time is, your body can be slowly building up to the point where the simplest movement is all that is needed to put you out of commission.
When my back went out in 2012, I went to many different therapists and regular doctors. The regular doctors just wanted to give me pain pills and muscle relaxers, and if you know me, you know I’m not about that life. I had mild success with acupuncture, but no long term successes. I went to a handful of chiropractors who treated me like a revolving door, ie: “Crack! Pop! That will be $80, and see you next week.”
It wasn’t until I found Dr. Nick Thompson at Maple Street Chiropractic (in New Orleans) that my life changed significantly.
He was very hands on and took the time to really talk to me and see what was going on with my pain. Not only did he walk me through strength and stability exercises, but his approach is whole body, meaning that what you eat can have a major effect on the pain you are experiencing.
Because of him, I was introduced to the anti-inflammatory diet. I had never heard of it before, but I was willing to try anything at this point. I had major fears that one day I would need surgery, as well as being worried of an inability to dance or walk properly again, so when changing my diet showed itself as an option, I jumped in full force.
Let’s start with some basics on inflammatory foods, and the main things the diet suggests you should be eliminating if you are interested in going this route. Inflammation comes in many forms, and this diet can be very beneficial to everyone! Perhaps you have joint pain, eczema, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, heart disease...these are all things that have been linked to chronic inflammation and can be helped if you adopt this way of eating.
I'll go ahead and start with the elimination list, and follow with the list of foods to consume. The inflammation causing items that you should avoid if you want to dive in like I did:
FOODS TO AVOID:
*white foods (that includes white flour, white rice, bread, white potatoes and pasta)
*dairy (milk, cheese, butter…)
*vegetable oils (corn, peanut, safflower…)
FOODS THAT ARE GREAT AND YOU SHOULD TOTALLY HAVE!
(This list should be super long, but I’m going to include the top foods that I really focus on in my daily life)
*vegetables! eat your greens! (kale, spinach, broccoli…you name it!)
*fruit (especially berries!)
*avocados (for healthy fats)
*nuts (walnuts are great for omega 3)
*turmeric (important to consume this with black pepper to get all the anti-inflammatory benefits that turmeric has to offer)
*salmon (if you are a meat eater)
*small amounts of aged parmesan (if you aren’t vegan)
*hard boiled eggs (if you aren’t vegan)
Now I know this seems daunting, but it IS doable, I promise! I also found it really exhilarating to create new things in my kitchen! When I started this diet, I was not a vegan yet, so removing dairy was a hard one for me. If you are not interested in being vegan and doing this diet, no problem! While you should still eliminate dairy and red meat to be anti-inflammatory, you can enjoy fatty fish, like salmon, to get a bunch of omega 3’s into your diet. I ate chicken and other fish as well back then for protein, but stayed away from all other meats.
Sugar is another one that is difficult for people, but I tell you, it is the number one thing on my personal list that is most important to eliminate. For real, if you can get past the first two weeks with no sugar, you are in the home stretch. The first two weeks are the hardest for everything listed, as your body will be going through a huge adjustment period and it will be learning to know what life is like without so much processed food, but before you know it, it becomes smooth sailing!
WHAT THIS DIET HAS DONE FOR ME:
I’ve had so many benefits from adopting the anti inflammatory diet into my life. The first thing was not something I was aiming for, but it happened anyway. I lost weight, and I lost quite a bit of it. I’m completely honest when I say I had no desire to lose weight when this began. It was a non issue. I was thinking about eliminating pain from my body and that was it. But in one year, just adapting to this way of life, I went from 158 lbs to 128 lbs. Thirty pounds in a year. Thirty pounds that was adding pressure to my lower back and that I had to carry around with me daily. That alone changed my life dramatically!
(I want to add that I’ve never thought of the anti-inflammatory diet as a “diet”. If I had done that, I believe I would have failed very early on. I view it as a way of life. My new way of life. A life where eating whole foods is medicine and where food has positive influences for health, pain management, and positive change.)
My energy also changed. No longer eating processed foods and sugars like I used to, my energy went through the roof! I remember specifically at around the one month mark, I couldn’t believe how much energy I had, and the feeling was incredible. Whole foods are amazing!
My pain on a scale of one to ten in my daily life used to hover probably around a seven. Really. All the time, I had shooting pain down my legs, my lower back would emanate pain, I wouldn’t be able to find comfortable positions to sleep in and I’d sometimes cry throughout the night because I couldn’t get rid of the pain. Now, I would say I’m a two on that scale. Do I have bad days? Of course I do. I’ve not been “cured” entirely, and I’m never 100% pain free. This is no infomercial and I’m not trying to sell you a pain free existence! But, is my day to day pain the lowest it’s ever been in my life? Yes. It is. So much so that in general, I don’t think about it, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Now, in the past two years I’ve added a lot of exercise to my life, but I want to say that when I first began this journey, my first few years were just diet and mild stretching. I didn’t do any intense workouts, and I really wanted to see how food could heal me. I’m grateful for the knowledge I’ve learned over the years, and I’m happy to pass on what I can so that others can feel better, too!
My biggest suggestion if you decide to try this diet is to be patient in the months to come. I definitely recommend jumping in full steam ahead and not only eliminating one or two things from your diet, but all of the things I’ve listed! You won’t get the full benefits of this diet without tackling this thing head on and really going for it. However, healing takes time. I’ve offered people information on this diet in the past and their frustration came quickly, having expectations of being pain free in a matter of weeks. Allow your body to take the time it needs, treat it kindly, feed it well, and change will happen slowly and steadily. Every body is unique and different, so embrace the time it takes for YOU to change.
Lastly, I want to say that no one is perfect, and that includes me! When I began this journey, I dove in 200% and did the most extreme version I could possibly muster for this diet. I wanted to be pain free, I took it very seriously, and I didn't budge on a thing. I was this way for the first four or five years, being unbelievably strict with myself and not having any room for mistakes. While I'm thankful that I was able to actually be this devoted, I'm completely aware that it's not for everyone, and that even includes me sometimes. This year, I've allowed myself to be a little more relaxed and to enjoy my life just a little more. Do I still eat anti inflammatory about 95% of the time? Yes, I do. But do I also have the occasional vegan/gluten free donut that contains sugar, or a piece of bread every once in a blue moon (most likely because my husband bought a loaf and it's been staring me in the face for days)? Yes, I do. And I don't beat myself up about it! Do the best you can for yourself, and forgive yourself if you have an off day. It's ok!
Hopefully this helps you if you've ever been interested in this diet, if you've ever wondered where to begin, or if you were curious if this was the right thing for you! Let me know if you have questions. Enjoy the journey, I’ll be rooting for you!