How Can You Tell If You Have Inflammation? Anti-Inflammation Challenge: Week 2

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.

Anti-Inflammation Eating: Roasted Beets with Lemon-Walnut Pesto

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.

Anti-Inflammation Eating: Pork, Mushroom and Greens Soup with Ginger

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.

His response:

  1. Paleo diet
  2. Ancestral sleeping patterns
  3. 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?

Anti-Inflammation Eating: Roasted Coconut Chicken with Squash and Chard

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.

Anti-Inflammation Eating: Venison Patty and Kale-Fig Salad

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?


  1. queen of string says

    Can I add yeast infection treatments to the list of things that make you sick. I’m fairly sure that it was those “one pill, taken orally sorts out your problem” type pills that made a serious contribution to the difference between my body coping with all the other stressors and spectacularly not. ( aforeign object, left after surgery was causing the severe thrush I was experiencing).

    I would, for that reason add fermented drinks to the list of helpers that worked for me. Kefir made the difference for me, allowing me to return to some semblance of normal most of the time. I dont think it’s cured the problem, but it is certainly keeping it down to a dull roar.

      • queen of string says

        I can only answer for my own experience and yes, for me the difference was enormous. Probiotic yoghurts and drinks had made a very small difference when I had tried them. I tried kefir without holding out any hope for it being any better. The kefir made a huge difference ( within 2 weeks) and as long as I continue to drink some from time to time, it seems to hold back most symptoms. I dont think for me, at this time, it’s a cure, but it certainly provides great relief from symptoms. As I understand it, the combination of bacteria and yeasts in kefir are different to yoghurt, though visually, they are quite similar. Somewhere like Cultures for health would probably have more about how they are different. ( I am not affiliated in any way). Like most people on a journey from all kinds of auto immune problems, it’s a case of finding what works for you. Anyone who wants to try kefir, might get it ready made in the grocery store (try the organic fridge) or as a powder starter or maybe on freecycle/craigslist if you want the proper grains.

      • says

        Kefir has a combination of yeasts and bacterias – yogurt has just bacterias. Kefir is one of the best fermented foods you can eat. Adding fermented foods to your diet every day (and not just the same old ones) is about the best thing you can do for yourself. I still have about 4 gallons of beet kvass left from last summer and tons of fermented veg as well. Never enough though!

        And Erica I will take this challenge if you will come cook for me. :p

  2. says

    I felt the need to use a lot of words to say not much of anything, so I made a post of it on my blog.

    Something To Think About

    Basically, I’ve made some small advances…which is fine, since I made a rather small commitment to this in the first place. :)

    BTW, your food looks amazing!

    • says

      Thanks Annie! I posted on your blog. I think Haphazard is just fine here. Truthfully, in non-“challenge” mode I already think I eat pretty well, probably like you, it’s just the recent auto-immune thing is prompting me to push for “stricter”.

  3. says

    I have mainly been butting up against 3 things: expanding my cooking repertoire to cut out some of the offending foods, my incredibly busy schedule and some unavoidable life stress. The last I think can be helped by taking care of myself, but the first two involve some careful planning. Even with cooking ahead it’s hard to work a 9 hour day, then 4 more hours at my second job, then get home and have time to have a snack, pack lunches, get in some type of activity and unwind before bedtime. I usually end up being awake way too late. This schedule is why I’m hammering out a grocery list and emailing myself recipes while I’m at work as well as planning two walks for the weekend and my other activity goals. On the other hand, I managed to beat back some strong comfort food urges this week. Mindless potato chip eating really is not going to make me feel better.

    So I’m not feeling wildly different physically but I have a feeling that will even out once I can get a handle on how to best integrate changes into my life.

    • says

      You are managing so much! I’ve got nothing but respect for how well you seem to be juggling all that AND taking on a healthier-eating challenge but little in the way of advice for how to make it easier or simpler. :) I think sometimes, some situations are just hard and busy and there’s no point sugar coating it. Sounds like you work your ass off. If you are making lunches for people who eat grains / aren’t on the challenge, I’ve taken to freezing pre-made sandwiches 5 or 10 at a time on the weekends. I just assemble all of them with meat and cheese (no veg, obviously), stick them in wax paper bags individually and freeze. Then putting my kid’s or husband’s lunch together daily involves one less step. Would that streamline things a teeny bit for you, maybe?

      • says

        Thank you! I’ve definitely been recruiting my boyfriend to help out*, and this weekend I took a long stretch to prep a bunch of food for the week so I’m feeling a little ahead of the game this week! It’s also the balance of when to not worry about things; yesterday a long sunset walk was going to do me more good than making salad dressing, so I went for the exercise and sanity break instead. I do need to remember the sandwich prep idea, because some days pulling out the bread AND the meat AND the cheese AND the lettuce AND the mustard feels impossible.

        * he helped Sunday night by making incredible biscuits. I ate two very small ones.

  4. Vestpocket Farmer says

    I’ve done better with the eating thing, and I DO feel better for it. YAY the crock pot! A nice piece of meat in there when I go to bed and no-thought-required brekky. Just have to remember to do it in a timely manner. Bleh.

    I have not gotten the old tv/vcr down out of the Anne Frank room, and yesterday evening managed to twist my knee chasing a pig in the dark. Ouch. Complete with icing to get the swelling down. So, the designed exercise program thing will have to wait a day or two until I’m sure of my knee again.

    Doing a *little* better on the sleeping thing. That could certainly still use improvement. Am contemplating demanding naps of the Universe. We’ll see how that works out.

    Been several crazed days in a row—high stress for *me* though I guess some people deal with such regularly (like, being away from the house more than two blocks…). Mostly ultimately good stress; got tons of things done—but stress is stress. Coming up on my seriously busy time of the year, so I had better either have built up a cushion of coping or get better about demanding that three days not attack me at once. :-P

    • says

      Considering the high stress it sounds like you are handling things really well and I’m thrilled to hear you are feeling better for it! The sleep thing is hard. In order for me to get the sleep I KNOW I need (I would prefer 9 hours a night, but can make do with 7) I feel like a lot of my “life” has to slide to the back burner. Hard tradeoff.

  5. Janell says

    I am doing really well and feeling great. At the moment I am currently starving. I went to the Flower and Garden show today. I didn’t find any appropriate food options, so I am headed home for some healthy grub. Not sure if becoming overly hungry was the greatest choice?

    • says

      Awesome! Maybe keep some nuts or a packet of jerky or a apple in your bag? When hunger/low-blood sugar hits it can be hard to make healthy decisions. On the other hand, I’ve noticed I’m not getting those uncontrollable MUST EAT feelings on a slightly lower carb diet. You?

  6. brenda from ar says

    I didn’t “assess”, but I’m following along to learn more. Have found two “good meat sources” within 60 miles, but both are sold out. Our little farmer’s market will open in a couple of months. However, I have access to fabulous farm eggs. So mostly I’m just making do, but have noticed a little improvement just from reducing sweets, avoiding the usual comfort food culprits, adding more fresh store veggies, adding a few supplements, and walking more. After my initial excitement with this challenge, I went through some kind of fear of being deprived, and wanted to run to the store for a 1/2 dozen glazed donuts (something I haven’t even touched in the last two years – weird), but then got a hold of myself. I’m staying with the program in a low-key kind of way to trick myself into thinking it’s just a small step, just short term – so as to avoid the gung-ho, then fall off the wagon approach. I’m thinking if the benefits become more noticeable, it will all kind of fall into place over the long term, without having to play mind games with myself. Thank you Erica for getting me going.

    • says

      I think this is a good approach. Several years ago I changed our oils away from canola, margarine and occasional shortening to olive, coconut, butter and animal fats. After I had that firmly in place, I incorporated more whole grains. Then we dropped most processed foods. Then joined a CSA for a summer. Liked that, so started gardening the next year and dining out less. Then came hunting for venison and eating local farm eggs, and buying only good pork and chicken from the store. Now I am working on reducing sugars overall and changing those we do use. Once that’s done, I’ll work on either finding raw dairy or reducing/eliminating grains. Each step has been gradual, but once firmly in place, we haven’t fallen off the wagon. The grains will be the most difficult, I think.

      • says

        But also decide for yourself if elimination of grains is necessary for you and your family. For some people certainly but I am not convinced that all grains, in all forms, in all preparations, are inherently evil. The Nourishing Traditions people have a nice take on this I think. That said if grain free works for you, excellent!

    • says

      I agree with Annie. I am for the little changes. When I got pregnant with my daughter, I weighed just shy of 200 pounds. I delivered at 260. Back then it was a question of Jack-in-the-Box, or Taco Time (never been a McD’s girl, even when I was fat!). Baby steps are so important. When my daughter was born, 40 pounds fell off me, then walking and gardening and counting calories for a year or so took off another 50, then weightlifting and functional fitness work and continued honing in of what is a healthy diet basically transformed my body and helped me shave off another 10-15. And now I’m at the point where at a low-activity 160 I feel pretty low-energy and out of shape because my happy place physically is a fit 155. My point here is, we all start somewhere, and it really doesn’t have to be a life-revelation type thing – it can be the small things that become habits. In fact that’s probably the best way to stick to it.

  7. says

    Hoping to get back to everyone individually Sunday but right now it’s balls-to-the-wall time to get ready for this catering event later tonight. Just wanted to share that today (Sat), as I was prepping various things for this event, I ate an Asian-style baked pork & beef bun mindlessly – I was checking them to see how they tasted and then without even realizing it had eaten an entire one, more or less. Hello, wheat! Hello, soy! Hello sugar! This is a big thing I’m trying to work on – thoughtless grazing. I tend to finish off the kid’s plates instead of making myself a proper meal, or graze as I cook…anyway, all was going pretty well but I stumbled over the wagon today. That’s ok though – the key thing isn’t perfection, it’s progress. Good job everyone for making the changes that are appropriate for your health and life situation!

  8. says

    Great post, very important subject. Processed food is primarily designed to be mass produced and stay preserved for long times – it’s a wonder more people do not feel more ill more of the time. I am encouraged by all the comments here, that people are realising about these issues and taking action. Small steps are best , i think, for most people. Cigarettes, pot, alcohol are all ingested substances which are basically bad for you. It’s easy to see withdrawal effects in those cases – not so easy for the transition from normal-to-healthy diets. I think lots of people get headaches etc during these transitions, making it harder to stick with it. So little steps is okay, if required.
    I like your site.

  9. says

    Well, I’m trying. I’m really trying. But I’m not sure how this stuff all sorts out for me. Inflammation? Definitely, I was eating all that processed crap and had a completely unhealthy diet. And I have ulcers.

    BUT. I’ve read up a little on the anti-inflammation diets. The problem is, I have high cholesterol (which I wrote in response to Week I’s post). So I don’t know how to put an anti-inflammation diet into place when I also need to get and keep my cholesterol down.

    I am mostly trying to eat a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, and whole grains and not too much meat. I’ve noticed that this diet (touted as high-energy by some) leaves me fatigued. It’s the lack of protein. I can’t eat nuts as they make my stomach hurt. Grrrr I love almonds! But, high-protein seems to equal high cholesterol.

    So, HELP!!


    • Carolyn Thomas says

      Beth: I am brand new at this blog site, but am much interested. One thing that I know from my chiropractor is that high cholesterol is the body’s response to high inflammation. And he touts that cholesterol medications damage the liver…. not good. So, eat the meat. I have a high Nordic genetic component to my makeup and I have that vegetarian /low cholesterol diets make me feel terrible. I feel much more energetic and healthy with a goodly amount of meat based protein in my diet, especially salmon! Meat also takes longer to digest so it stays in the stomach and intestines longer. One of the suggestions for ulcers by many physicians is to eat more frequently, smaller meals to that the stomach acids have something to work on instead of your stomach lining. I found that meat and cheese made my stomach hurt less.

      I’m no dietitian or medical professional, but I know what makes my body feel better.


    • Ginger says

      I also am not anywhere near a doctor, but I have/had high cholesterol for years as well. I’m sure it’s genetic, as my mom’s numbers are high too and she’s been a vegetarian and distance runner for 30 years. My doctor was starting to make noises about putting me on medication and pushing a pamphlet in my hands with a horrifying “low cholesterol” diet. No butter? No eggs? I promptly threw the thing away, started exercising, taking fish oil, eating more veggies and fruits (of course), but also more lean meats and *tripling* my daily whole egg intake. At my next annual check-up, I’d dropped 14 lbs, my cholesterol was back in the normal range and my triglycerides had toppled. I really think the whole eggs helped – there’s quite a bit of research out there that yolks can help raise the good cholesterol and balance out that HDL/LDL ratio. But my numbers weren’t sky-high and everyone is different so your mileage may vary. I do agree with Carolyn though – eat the meat!

  10. languagegirl says

    any chance of passing along the recipe for Pork, Mushroom and Greens Soup with Ginger? It looks amazing, and even though I don’t eat pork I’m sure I can adapt it! Thank you.

  11. Alicia says

    I’m wanting to know the recipes here, especially the pork, mushroom, greens soup. The beets look yummy, too! I have rheumatoid arthritis and am always looking for new recipes to try.

  12. Ginger says

    I third the call for the Pork, Greens & Mushroom soup recipe! As easy as soups are supposed to be, I’ve made too many disappointing, bland soups to feel confident that I can just wing it.

  13. laura says

    meat and dairy are highly inflammatory for me…. once i cut it out my inflammationkissues went away. i eat lots of fruit, veg, legumes and limited whole grains and nuts, o feel great now!!

    • laura says

      i forgot to mention i eat coconut, hemp, and olive oils too. after only 3 years off meat, dairy and most processed foods, my husbands eyesight has actually improved about 30 percent. we have lost weight and increased energy, stamina, and sex drive. this high meat diet is dangerous… in a few years, heart disease from this paleo fad is going to skyrocket… mark my words. be careful with these extreme diet fads!

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