February Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Day 1, Making The Plan

A few days ago I asked my readers to weigh in on what February challenge I should sponsor on this blog. Overwhelmingly, people in comments and on the Facebook page voted for an anti-inflammatory diet challenge. Those of you who wanted a debt diet, don’t worry – you’re next. Multiple bloggers, including possibly me, are planning for No Spend March.

If you do a little Googling you will find that an “anti-inflammatory diet” can mean anything from…

Dr. Weil’s Pasta and Asian Mushroom diet, which looks exactly like a mainstream healthy hippie diet “should” look (beans, tofu, hemp seeds, limited meat, etc.):

to Mark Sisson’s Primal Meat and Fat diet, which is…well…not endorsed by the American Heart Association, to say the least (they don’t usually like is when you sandwich “vegetables” between saturated fat and more saturated fat):

When you look into diet plans you learn everyone has their Golden Calf, so I’m not here to tell anyone what to eat. (No, I’m here to tell you how to grow what you eat!) Do what works for you, and if you want to follow along with a Primal meat diet or with a vegan juice cleanse, and that is what makes you feel strong and rocks your world, go for it!

I’m not a doctor or a dietician, although frankly that might be an advantage here, given how ineffective at promoting health the standard American dietary advice has been in the past few decades, but I am pretty good at looking for patterns.

Here are some common elements I see in diets which purport to reduce inflammation:

  • Lots of vegetables are good
  • Fatty seafood like salmon is good
  • Berries are good
  • Nuts are good
  • Sugar is terrible
  • Processed foods are terrible
  • Sleep is important
  • Regular exercise is important

I’ve looked at three major “diet” lifestyles that purport to follow a more traditional way of eating and claim to help people suffering from inflammation-related disorders: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, which focuses on traditional methods of preparing foods, and The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf and The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. The latter two are very similar and spring from the idea that human physiology hasn’t changed much since long before the advent of agriculture, and therefore the human body is not evolved to digest grain and many common “staple” foods of civilization.

I am drawn to a more traditional eating philosophy because most “modern” American eating seems to be a thoughtless stream of convenience crap non-food which hasn’t made anyone I know healthier or stronger. All the food philosophies I looked at for purposes of an anti-inflammatory challenge are pro-meat, pro-fat (to varying degrees) and moderate to low carb. Nourishing Traditions advocates whole grains prepared in a traditional manner, like a fermented sourdough, but shuns refined and highly precessed carbs. Paleo and Primal are very similar in eschewing all grains. Paleo further advocates the elimination of dairy and legumes, while Primal suggests minimizing these foods. All three agree that sugar is pretty much the Devil.

Frankly, if I had to pick I’d rather follow a Nourishing Traditions type diet for the rest of my life than a Primal/Paleo type diet, because Nourishing Traditions allows almost all food as long as you can ferment it, and sourdough bread and cultured cheese are fantastic. On the other hand, I’ve got some motivation to go a teeny bit crazy on this anti-inflammatory thing, and I’m willing to roll the dice on the more radical grain free options of Primal and Paleo for a while.

My decision to narrow down to the three lower-carb options listed above is purely arbitrary, based on what makes sense to me. I hope you’ll join me in whatever way is right for you.

February 1st, Making The Plan:

Actions: Get a baseline health assessment on paper. Take the time to write down how you are feeling, what physical concerns you have and what new or ongoing illnesses, allergies or the like are bothering you. Record your height, weight, basic body measurements, how much you sleep most nights, what typical meals look like, how much alcohol and caffeine you drink and your exercise habits. Be honest! If you smoke or do other health impacting things, put those on your assessment too. Take a “before” picture, because there’s a chance anti-inflammation might also mean anti-baby-weight-ification (that’s my thing, yours might be different).

Diet: Assess what makes sense for you. I’m going down a Primal/Paleo route for the next 29 days. I plan to eat lots of veggies, meat, eggs, seafood and fruit with very limited quantities of dairy and legumes and no gluten. I’m going to drink lots of water and tea and stay away from caffeine (maybe one cup of coffee in the morning…), alcohol and sugar including, for now, “natural sugars” like honey, maple syrup, etc.

Exercise: Incorporate more movement into your days than you normally would. This doesn’t have to be crazy stuff. My goal is to walk / interval sprint 15-45 minutes most days, attend a functional fitness class at my gym 2 days a week and play with the kids.

Sleep: Take this seriously, it’s so important and so often neglected. I need to figure out how to restructure my day to get more sleep. I want to adjust computer time if possible to allow for one hour of screen-free time before bed. But I also need to be realistic about how much sleep I will be able to get with a still-nursing toddler.

That’s all for now: make a plan – make your plan – and set your goals for this anti-inflammation challenge. Fridays in February will be anti-inflammation update days where I hope everyone who is participating will check in. So get your plan together and get your baseline assessment done before this Friday.

As an added incentive to keep the momentum up all as we attempt this, I’m personally giving away a copy of either: Nourishing TraditionsThe Paleo Solution, or The Primal Blueprint at the end of the month to one reader (winner chooses which book they want, open to U.S. residents only, sorry international friends!). To be entered, participate in the anti-inflammation challenge and comment on each of the Anti-Inflammation Friday posts (there will be four of them) letting the rest of us know how you are doing and what challenges you are encountering.

Are you in?


  1. says

    I’m looking forward to your posts on this topic! I already have a copy of the Primal Blueprint, and I’ve actually been following it since about the middle of last week. I’m hoping to lose weight and get healthier. And I hope the same for you.

  2. says

    I wasn’t going to participate, but I think I might after all, in a very informal way. We already eat a diet that is very similar to the Primal Meat and Fat diet, and I have some very recent lab work that will be a good starting point for me. I don’t have any real goals in mind…I couldn’t care less about my weight, and while I have some aches and pains, they are minor. Except for migraines…I haven’t read yet whether an anti-inflammatory diet can help with those.

    On the other hand, my husband complains of pain a lot (he’s a construction worker) and if I can get him on board with this, he may notice more benefit than I do.

  3. says

    You are certainly on track with anti-inflammatory changes like less wheat/simple grains! I did a 30 day juicing experiment last fall for inflammatory issues. Amazed at the outcome – 31# weight loss! When I resumed a normal diet, I soon realized wheat was an issue. I quickly became bloated and began aching again. Switched to sourdough breads and whole grains (incorporating Nourishing Traditions’ advice thereto!) and can tell a world of difference. I resumed juicing along with raw foods 1-2 meals each day because I feel so much better with all those enzymes at work! I still eat a light meal in the early evening with my husband. Looking forward to following along! And I will be joining you in March!!!

  4. Tammie Haley says

    This is a great challenge. I very much agree with on your common elements. If we did just what you are proposing
    ■Lots of vegetables are good (fresh and organic as possible) (Don’t forget the fresh herbs.)
    ■Fatty seafood like salmon is good (wild and not farm raised) (also include good fats from plants.) (Omega 3, 6 and 9 in the right amounts.)
    ■Berries are good (Organic)
    ■Nuts are good (Organic)
    ■Sugar is terrible (too much isn’t good. Honey and some whole juice sugars is ok)
    ■Processed foods are terrible
    ■Sleep is important
    ■Regular exercise is important (including stretching, yoga, walking and some weights)
    We all would be soooo much healthier. I work in science and this is very much what the research is starting to show us.

  5. Colleen Byrum says

    May I suggest that we consider adding up to 4000 I.U. D3 (cholecalciferol)? Together with drastically reducing sugar from my diet (kept the wine), D3 has been a major player in getting and keeping me off chemo (Methotrexate) , Plaquinil, and Relefin (auto-immune disorder treatments). Everything you need to know is here: http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/ And for some searing motivation to stay off sugar, Dr. Robert Lustig is a must-see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM And if that isn’t enough (though it will be, especially for bio-chem geeks) read the New York Times article, Is Sugar Toxic? Good luck everyone! P.S. There’s sugar in ketchup, off the shelf bread, most processed gluten-free products, salsa, chips. Read labels :-)

  6. Kathy says

    I’m totally in! I’ve been planning to take on a plant based diet for the next 30 days and love that I ran across your post today, declaring the same general idea of finding wellness in your foods. Mine starts tomorrow tomorrow with a lot of juicing vegetable greens. Best of luck to all of us.

  7. says

    I just discovered Nourishing Traditions while looking for recipes this past holiday season. I’m not completely on board with the philosophy (that or paleo), but I think there is a lot that does make sense, particularly regarding the amounts of processed grains we eat. I’ve been paying a lot more attention to that while cooking this last month, so though I don’t think I’ll be as stringent as Erica I do think I want to start incorporating more of these food philosophies into my life. I’m also trying to watch my budget for some possible future large purchases, so I’m more about using up what’s in the cupboards before making any radical transitions. OK, I did pick up some more coconut flour last night to continue adventures in grain free baking.

    I’m going to start by keeping a food journal to really see what food choices I am making. I think I’m also going to try to limit my alcohol intake especially beer, up the amount of seafood we eat, try to eliminate mindless refined grain eating (AKA sandwiches on crappy bread because I’m feeling too lazy to cook and such), finally get a pressure cooker so we’ll eat more beans, investigate what supplements might be beneficial as someone hitting my later 30s, and use my exercise videos and/or do something active such as hiking or hooping at least 5 times a week. One place I know I will indulge is in eating out occasionally, but at least there I know I can visit a local, quality restaurant instead of opting for easy take out or fast food.

    Maybe by the 29th I’ll be ready for the budget challenge!

  8. says

    We are kind of already on the triangle shown in Dr. Weil’s triangle…minus the mushrooms. I am trying to incorporate them a bit more too though. Luckily where we live we can get some great local tropical fruits and veg that we wouldn’t normally get so easily elsewhere. I also was able to kick the soda habit over the holidays – we were staying with family members who only drink diet, which gives me headaches, so I don’t drink it. I tend to stay home and “hibernate” in cold weather, so I didn’t go out and buy any of the “good stuff” – er, so to speak – so I was able to get back on the no-soda bandwagon. Hubby bought some ginger ale last week when I had a bit of an off stomach and I found out it was still full of HFCS and caramel coloring…. so I guess I’m off even THAT until we can get back to the States and start doing homemade ginger ale & root beers.

    All that to say – count me in informally. I know I won’t have time to check in as frequently as I’d like to, but I sure do look forward to reading more and learning from your family and the great comments you get here.

    Oh! And I have a print copy of the magazine for you – I emailed for your mailing address but I know things get stuck in spam for folks – if you throw me an address, we’ll get you a print copy of the debut issue mailed for your clips file! :D

  9. Vestpocket Farmer says

    Okay…I’m in.

    I already have a pretty paleo diet….MEAT. Yay, MEAT!!! Almost no processed foods, unless they somehow happen to wander into my house. Very little grains. No cow milk; I have milch goats. :-) Yes, coffee and also decaf black tea daily. You listed green, white and oolong; is basic black tea a badness? :-(
    I do not keep a scales; past diagnosis of eating disorders makes it a bad idea. I am philosophically opposed to photos. Will just have to work around that.
    I would sure like to get rid of this belly. Bellybellybellybellybelly. :-/
    I would like to not feel creaky and old when I get up in the morning. I miss being physically flexible and enjoying wearing this body. :-(
    Fine—I’ll drag out the little tv/vcr from the attic, and dig up the two Callanetics tapes I have, which is the only exercise regime that has ever worked for me.
    Off to create this month’s farm log form and do the assessment for this challenge. Yay me. YAY YOU!

  10. says

    I don’t know how I’d choose between Nourishing Traditions and The Paleo Solution! Thanks for doing this and your readers are giving out important info, also.


  11. Crissy says

    Ah! I read this post a couple of days ago while I was shoving fistfuls of gorgonzola crackers into my face. They started to make my teeth hurt so I stopped. I’m going to try to stay away from gluten for the remainder of the month. I had been planning to go on wheat fast since reading an article on BoingBoing about the Wheat Belly book. Maybe the reason why I have a belly no matter how thin I get is because of all the wheat I consume(d).

    I’m going to create my health plan for the rest of the month today. I was doing something similar last month, but I got the stomach flu and then the flu about a week into it.

    BTW – I love Nourishing Traditions! My boyfriend turned me onto to it in 2006 and it was my best friend when I was unemployed.

  12. Hesper says

    Ok, a few days late but I am in for the challenge. My motivation, to feel better! I relocated to Illinois in June of 2011 since that time I have not felt good, at all: four sinus infections, four double ear infections, not to mention colds, fatigue, flu, and the day to day cranky syndrome. Its quite ridiculous since i have a good life, basically stress free and self driven. This isn’t working too well for me since my husband travels Monday through Friday, my son needs me to keep his days organized, meals healthy, and transportation to activities until he is able to drive, only 9 more years. We are also gutting a farmhouse so needless to say my current unhealthy “healthy” person condition isn’t acceptable any longer.
    I am a 40 year old very fit woman who enjoys the many challenges of fitness. Hitting the gym at least 5 days a week if not 6 I have a great workout routine and a good 7-8 hours of sleep a night routine. My hours of slumber have increased to 8-9 in the most recent past to present due to illness. My vices though not too bad are caffeine, only coffee but 3 caffeinated cups and 1 decaf cup a day. Alcohol is now 1 night a week and minimal 1-2 glasses of wine. Football season (college and pro) was another story but my resolution time is post Super Bowl!
    I am a good eater though I do not vary a great deal for breakfast and lunch, IBS and digestion issues or just a sensitive stomach. I incorporate a lot of raw nuts, fruits, vegetables, and seafood twice a week. I am probably not consuming enough or even close to a needed amount of fats to absorb my nutrients from all my other healthy choices. I am great with water consumption, organic tea at night before bed but other than that my sugar is minimal but can be tweaked especially honey. I am trying to once again reduce my cheese intake, my only dairy indulgence, milk is not an issue unless it’s soy or almond milk.
    I believe I have more than divulged my beginning state, a photo may happen but right now need to kick myself into high gear and get on the anti-inflammatory diet as a routine in my life. Thank you Erica and all for sharing your start and insight.

  13. says

    You missed one of the best books on the subject, meals that he’ll inflammation by Julie Daniluk. This is an incredible book that explains what inflammation is, how to eat to reduce inflammatory diseases, and the recipes are second to none! Daniluk is a leading nutritionist in Canada and as a Hayhouse author is making some serious inroads into other countries as well. I have read her book and have followed her suggested eating plan and has reduced my inflammatory conditions significantly. Her website is http://www.JulieDaniluk.com should you want to take a look.


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