After a month on the anti-inflammatory diet, David reflects on how he feels and how the whole diet experiment has gone. He now knows firsthand what it’s like to be a patient of his wife, Chicago’s Northsore pediatric dietitian, Betsy Hjelmgren.
Admittedly, I hadn’t thought it through. I’d just decided that I was in, a surprisingly casual response from an otherwise circumspect middle aged suburban dad. I’d long been aware that these jeans had been tightening and that I hadn’t been feeling healthy. Injuries had replaced exercise. A month later I’m shocked I’d made that initial commitment.
I needed a “reset.” And I knew it.
But what the hell is the anti-inflammatory diet?
If there’s one thing I know, my wife Betsy is smart. Twenty years of wedded bliss have taught me that when it comes to nutrition, diet, or anything related to food that to her I defer.
Betsy made an audacious claim that my diet could be impacting how my joints felt. What? For years I have had aches and pains. My knees hurt. My back hurts. Years of athletic game play had created a perennial state of ache.
But I don’t diet. I just don’t. That’s for other people.
Growing up, I knew to eat fruits and vegetables. I knew to avoid “junk food,” limit soda and steer clear of processed foods. Logically, I’d always made the connection between food and weight. I viewed my weight as a sign of my overall health. It never really occurred to me to consider what role the actual food I was consuming was playing. I figured if I stayed active and avoided too much junk food, I’d be fine.
During our first “vlog” my eyes opened wide. Betsy made it abundantly clear what this diet was going to entail. Half of the foods I love were banned. How was I going to do this? No flour. No sugar. No Omega 6 oils (what the hell is an Omega 6). Avoid processed foods. It didn’t really dawn on me what I was getting into. I was skeptical. But I was in. I can do anything I put my mind to. But, in layman’s terms this came to mean…
- No cereal (other than Cheerios)
- No soda
- No chips
- No bread
- No pizza
- No ice cream.
- No cakes, pies, candies.
What the hell?!
Anyone who gets to truly know Betsy knows that if you are all in with her, she’s all in with you. When she knows someone is counting on her, she comes through every single time. This was going to be difficult. But we were doing this together.
Betsy acknowledged that current research about the anti-inflammatory diet is not conclusive. There’s a grey area when it comes to what is allowed and what’s banned regarding this diet. Betsy allowed small amounts of honey and the aforementioned Cheerios. Had she not, I’m not sure I would have made it through the month.
Was I perfect during August? No. A couple of times Betsy corrected me for eating something I shouldn’t have. Who knew that BBQ sauce would get the banhammer? I freely admit that a couple of times I knowingly dribbled a little ketchup (contains sugar) on my hash browns. One night I also snitched two fries from Alyssa. Other than that, my conscience is clean. I needed to be imperfect. I know myself, and had I been completely obsessive about this diet, there would be little chance of long term success. If I am going to suffer through a month of this, there had to be a long term benefit. 99.9% compliance would have to do.
The lessons I learned were many.
Without question, I have developed a fundamental appreciation and high level of empathy for any human being required to go on ANY sort of restrictive diet. THIS. IS. HARD.
I eat too much. My calorie consumption has always focused on the wrong things. It’s not just about a few late night oreos or an extra serving of chips at lunch. Stuff I thought was ok like granola bars and fruit snacks are processed and unnecessary. Historically, I’ve tended to fill up on foods that serve only as filler and offer little nutritional value. This had to change.
Now that I have hit the month-long reset button, the big question remains… How will this play out moving forward? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s easy to say that I will most certainly continue with many of my new “good habits.” I would love to say that I am always going to substitute fresh fruit for pancakes and syrup, but I am not sure that’s wholly realistic. The thing is, I don’t miss a lot of the foods I haven’t eaten this month. I don’t think it will be difficult to eliminate soda from my general diet. I don’t think it will be difficult to eliminate most sweets. I am hopeful that I can limit my intake of processed foods to perhaps a third of what they used to be.
Although Betsy argues that this was not about weight loss, for me it certainly was. My goal weight is 198 pounds. On August 1, I tipped the scale at 218 pounds. On August 31st, it read 209.5 pounds. I’m very happy about this, especially since I haven’t been able to do more than walk all month due to a knee injury suffered ironically on August 1st.
The big question remains, do I feel less inflamed? Has the diet had a noticeably positive impact outside of the aforementioned weight loss?
The answer is a resounding YES.
About 4 weeks into the diet, I realized that I had not been lethargic for almost the entirety of the month. August had been completely void of that typical late afternoon malaise. Perhaps this is because I haven’t been eating a lot of sugar, I can’t be sure… but there was a noticeable and legitimate improvement. There have been little to no early/late afternoon slumps. Without question, I feel better. I actually feel healthy.
But what about the inflammation? Within 10 days my back felt noticeably better. Granted, I did have to take a 5 day dose of Prednisone during the middle of the month for unrelated reasons, but that was after I had already noticed an improvement. Did the arthritis in my right knee disappear? No. But my general health and well being is noticeably improved this month. I have a “pep in my step” that I hadn’t felt in many months – maybe years.
Who’s this diet for?
Would I recommend this level of a restrictive diet for just anyone? No, not directly. It’s WAY too restrictive, and no offense, only I have unfettered access to Betsy. But I do think that anyone can learn from our experiences and make noticeable and simple changes to their eating habits and lifestyle.
It’s easy to eliminate soda.
It’s easy to eliminate chips and other non-essential junk foods.
It’s easy to limit the sweets.
It’s easy to reduce bread intake by having open faced sandwiches.
It’s easy to substitute ground chicken for ground beef.
It’s easy to eat a piece of fruit instead of a baggie of fruit snacks.
While it’s definitely NOT easy – for me – to eliminate pizza for a month, the fact is that I DID eliminate pizza for an entire month. And if I can eliminate pizza for a month from my diet, anyone reading this can eliminate anything from theirs. The restrictiveness of this diet has reminded me what it means to be healthy and has inspired me to make changes that benefit my long term health.
Looking ahead, on September 2nd I plan to begin a slightly less strict version of the anti-inflammatory diet. Why? Because I feel good and I don’t want that to end. My joints DO feel marginally better, and by sticking with this to a certain degree I believe I will lose another 10 pounds by the end of the calendar year. Ten less pounds on these knees can only help.
As for September 1st? Pizza. That day is reserved for copious amounts of glorious pizza.