This is an anti-inflammatory diet story.
My hand clenched like a claw.
The dull ever-present pain constricted my fingers and ate away at my sanity.
I hadn’t been able to fully extend my right arm for almost three years.
It’s June 2017, I’m 36 years old and I have a problem.
Despite being an athlete most of my life, I’d never taken very good care of my body. A combination of football, basketball and baseball, (including 4 years of Division III baseball and a few years of post-college semi-pro ball) coupled with poor diet, too much alcohol and 15 years of professional work slumped over a computer have yielded untold damage to the joints of my right hand, wrist and elbow.
When I was younger, the pain would go away.
At 36, it does not.
Twenty years of abuse and neglect took their toll in the form of early onset arthritis, tendinitis and a legitimate case of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Inflammation is a bastard.
The inflammation in my elbow was so bad my right arm will only extend to a disturbing obtuse angle of 150 degrees. Which in and of itself would be fine, seeing as our elbows are bent the majority of the day, if it weren’t for the inescapable dull throb of joint pain gnawing away at my soul.
I was 211 pounds, and though my height helped hide the weight, there was no denying my poor health and the impact it was beginning to have on my quality of life.
Today is August 17, 2018, I weigh 187 pounds.
More importantly, I have a full range of motion in arm again (without any surgeries or procedures) and such a significant reduction in pain, I often forget it was ever there to begin with.
Not only did I regain full use of my arm for the first time years, but my energy levels have gone through the roof. I’m 37 years-old, but I feel 25.
Every bit of the way I feel today is due to reducing inflammation in my body.
This is where I learned to follow the pain and found a diet that changed my life.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
I’m not a doctor, nutritionist or dietician, so please don’t take the rest of this article as a recommendation or even solid science.
I was in pain. I did a shit ton of reading on chronic inflammation.
What follows is what worked for me.
What to Eat
“When you walk into a grocery store, you’re walking into a pharmacy.” ~ Dr. Oz
What you put in your body has a direct correlation to how you feel.
I’m not going to reinvent the wheel and list out what you should be eating. Google, “Anti-Inflammatory Diet” and you’ll find all the same articles I found during my research.
This is one my favorite anti-inflammation reference articles: 11 Food Rules For The Ultimate Anti-Inflammatory Diet.
Here’s the ten-cent description of an anti-inflammatory diet: reduce acid, reduce inflammation.
If you’re looking for more information on what acid does to your body and how to reduce it, start with Dr. Daryl Gioffre and his website: Get Off Your Acid.
Don’t blame me if you decide to travel down this rabbit hole.
What NOT to Eat
When it comes to an anti-inflammatory diet, it’s more important what you don’t eat, than what you do.
As a general rule of thumb I stay away from four major groupings of food as much as possible:
- Sugar — Outside of naturally occurring sugar (such as sugar found in fruits and vegetables), sugar is pretty terrible for you. Not only that, it causes drastic swings in your metabolism (and mood) and for purposes of the anti-inflammatory diet, increases acidity in your body and can constrict blood flow.
- Dairy — The National Dairy Farmers Association may put out a hit on me for saying this, but dairy just isn’t that good for you. There is a tremendous amount sugar, dairy is generally very acidic and your body (even if you’re not lactose intolerant) struggles to digest dairy.
- Chicken — Chicken is incredibly acidic. Chicken does have many positive health benefits, but inflammation is an issue, cut chicken out of your diet and replace it with beef and fish.
- Processed Food — This may come as a tremendous surprise but unnaturally occurring chemicals, (such as preservatives and flavor additives), found in processed food increase acid in your body and cause inflammation.
If you just stay away from these four food groups you’ll feel better in days.
General Rules for the Anti-Inflammatory Diet
I would like to share a couple thoughts that will help guide your anti-inflammatory journey:
- Live by the 80/20 Rule — I still drink coffee and beer (both highly acidic), I just make sure they fall inside my 20 percent. Live anti-inflammatory 80 percent of your life and you’re going to feel tremendous.
- Stay Away Anything Acidic — Reread the section above. Stay away from acidic food (and beverages) as much as possible. Which means NO SODA. Soda is terrible for you. NO SODA.
- Find a Routine — The anti-inflammatory diet is much easier when you can lock into a routine. This goes for all diets, but is just as true for this one.
Additional Methods to Reduce Inflammation
The food you eat isn’t the only way to reduce inflammation. Here are a couple additional methods I use which seem to have produced positive results.
I was first exposed to cold showers (and cold therapy) on James Altucher’s podcast when he interviewed Aubrey Marcus about his new book Own the Day, Own Your Life.
I was five months into my anti-inflammatory diet journey when I heard this podcast and was immediately game to try cold showers.
It’s been more than six months and I’ve only missed five days. I ❤️ cold showers, for so many reasons, but do believe to some extent they help reduce inflammation.
Here is some actual research:
- A 1994 study found a drastic decrease in uric acid levels during and following exposure to a cold stimulus.
- A 2009 study analyzing 17 trials involved over 360 people who either rested or immersed themselves in cold water after resistance training, cycling, or running. It found that 24-minute cold water baths were effective in relieving sore muscles one to four days after exercises with a water temperature of 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit, or 10 to 15 degrees Celsius.
Cold showers can also stimulate fat burning. Brown fat is the good fat, which generates heat to keep our bodies warm, and is activated when exposed to extreme cold, according to the Joslin Diabetes Center, a Harvard Medical School affiliate.
I’ve been intermittent fasting on and off for the last year. My best results have always come in conjunction with intermittent fasting.
Here is my favorite guide to intermittent fasting from James Clear: The Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting.
If you’re looking for a way to hold yourself accountable, I recommend Kevin Rose’s app, Zero (named for the amount of food you eat while fasting) as a simple way to track your daily fasting.
NOTE: Intermittent fasting can work a little different for women. Here is a great article on how women can set themselves up for success with intermittent fasting.
Drink as much water as you can ever day.
Water serves as the vehicle for all chemical reactions in the body as well as the primary mechanism to flush out toxins from the body. Proper hydration becomes paramount to reducing inflammation in your body.
When my elbow pain was at it’s worst, I did what any self-respecting ego-driven male would do, started self-medicating with a consistent regimen of Advil and bourbon.
I became obnoxiously irritable, lashing out at my wife through dramatic overreactions to even smallest comment or request.
At the time, I kinda thought maybe I’d just become a dick. Maybe all my insurance Internet fame had gone to my head? Maybe…
Or maybe I was living with constant dull nagging pain that was often at it’s worst when I was doing two of the three things I loved to do the most (working out and writing).
By focusing on reducing my inflammatory, over the last year my I’ve flipped my life upside-down, for the better.
I’m me again.
…and my arm works (which is always positive).
Here’s another tremendous list of anti-inflammatory foods: 30 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods.
Follow the pain.