Inflammation is your body’s natural way of healing itself when you’re injured. It’s actually a really, really good thing. If you slam your thumb in the car door your thumb will become inflamed as your body sends in the immune system to shut down any invading bacteria and begin to heal the wound. You can see the results in your big red thumb. That’s called acute inflammation.
The immune system is a powerful thing and has a lot of weapons in its arsenal to attack and destroy any invading germs and rebuild the homeland when things go temporarily awry. All is fine and good until immune system friendly fire starts taking out your healthy tissue. When the friendly fire is extensive, that’s when you’ve got an auto-immune disease of some kind, like lupus, celiac’s, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and many, many more.
But even without an official auto-immune disorder, a lot of people have levels of ongoing, chronic inflammation that is damaging to the body. How can you tell if you’re one of them?
Well, I’ll make this easy. Do you:
- Eat a typical American diet – lots of low quality meats and dairy, packaged foods, refined carbs and food products that include corn, soy and wheat ubiquitously?
- Work a job or jobs with long-hours and little emphasis on “work-life balance?” (This can include stay-at-home-momming, moms)?
- Feel stressed? Not occasionally because you’re hitting a deadline on something important or you’ve got pre-race jitters, but a lot – about money, jobs, kids, spouses, the environment, politics, the neighborhood, the move, the illness, or whatever is keeping you up at night?
- Rarely spend time outside or engage in moderate activity (gardening, walking, skiing – whatever floats your boat)?
- Drink too much, smoke too much, do anything else naughty (well, except that) too much?
- Take a lot of medications for things that should be normal body processes, like digestion (heartburn, constipation, diarrea, acid reflux meds and more – Aisle 5!)?
- Feel tired all the time?
- Wake up feeling bloated or puffy?
If a few of these sound a little too familiar, that’s a sign you’re probably suffering from chronic inflammation. The more I read about this inflammation stuff, the more I think our entire “modern American lifestyle” seems pretty much designed to make us sick.
If you want more than “how do I feel” observational stuff, there are a lot of blood tests you can have done to measure various markers for inflammation. Mark Sisson, the author of The Primal Blueprint, goes over these tests in good detail here if you are interested.
So, uh, great – we’re all suffering from chronic inflammation. But what do we do about it?
Well, I went right to the source and asked Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution, what he’d distill as the three key things to avoiding inflammation.
- Paleo diet
- Ancestral sleeping patterns
- Ancestral activity patterns
In other words, we do just what we committed to this month: eat lots of veggies, lots of wild fatty fish, wild or pastured meats, little or no sugar, alcohol or packaged and refined carb products. Sleep enough and move enough (in both cases, probably more than we are now.)
Many of you brave readers made the commitment to do this thing with me and put your anti-inflammatory stake in the ground too.
So how are you doing a week into the challenge?
Me, I’ve pretty much stuck to the plan this past week. Last night (Thursday) was the hardest because I have a catering event on Saturday and I began early prep work, including making ginger-dark chocolate ganache tarts (with Theo chocolate, no less…my favorite), dark caramel sauce and dill and feta flatbreads. There was a substantial amount of inflammatory temptation in those foods, I can assure you.
I did “cheat” insomuch as I took tiny tastes of the ganache and the caramel to confirm the flavor, but we’re talking seriously minuscule portions. Otherwise I’ve been strict: I managed to celebrate my daughter and her great report card at the neighborhood ice cream shop without partaking, and I’m doing shockingly well at ignoring the half-bar of premium dark chocolate with coconut that’s kicking around my purse somewhere.
Exercise has been good: lots of walking with the kiddo in the stroller and one session at the gym this week. Not quite what I was striving for but more activity, more time in the sun and fresh air, more stretching of the legs.
I also saw a naturopath and have a few leads on new good traditional doctors. The naturopath said take more fish oil and add turmeric to my supplement regimen.
And for all this, I’m feeling much better, honestly. I can’t say what in the combination of cutting out alcohol and carby food, getting more sleep or being more pro-active about my health should get the lions share of the credit. I suspect it’s the combination of all these things, but I really do feel like my old self: more energy, more focus, more stable moods, less zombie-like, less resentful of reasonable demands on my time and energy.
So for now, although my over-riding health concerns remain unchanged, at least I feel pretty good.
What about you? Have you stuck to your Anti-Inflammation Challenge goals? Has it been harder or easier than you expected so far? If the challenge has been a real challenge, what’s been the most difficult aspect? Do you think this kind of diet and lifestyle is something you could stick to? Most important – how are you feeling? Better, worse, or about the same?