Inflamation Nation: Causes & Cures
In a recent interview in the Boston Globe Tom Brady and Giselle Bündchen's private chef described their daily eating habits. The next day, the New York Post declared that the only thing worse than Tom's diet is death.
Typically I take anything a New York paper says about Tom with a grain of salt but in this case, it's easier to list what they don't eat versus what they do eat: no alcohol, sugar, white flour, trans fats, caffeine or dairy. This diet is not for the average human and Bündchen-Brady's are anything but average.
What caught my eye was that they also avoid nightshade vegetables, which include tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms and eggplant. Nightshades, it turns out, have become a victim (fairly or not) to the recent dietary buzz surrounding inflammation. Unless you've been living on Mars, it's hard to miss the onslaught of diet and exercise advice being given in the name of staving off inflammation. So what exactly is inflammation? And is it really that bad?
My new year's resolution is to make my bed every morning. Coming home to a tidy bedroom after a long day makes me feel good. So a typical morning is me running around with my toothbrush in my mouth hopping around my bed, tucking and jumping from one side to another. Yesterday was no different until BAM! Knee to the corner of the bed frame. Down I went. Mother &*$%@#.
While I lay there missing my train my body leapt into action. White blood cells were immediately sent out to check out the damage and start the healing process. Throbbing, redness, warmth: all signs that our body sent out an inflammatory response to heal itself. The same thing happens when we get a cut, a cold, a virus or a sprain. So, inflammation = good, right? Well, kind of according to the medical community.
The trouble begins when your body's inflammatory response gets out of whack. Instead of turning it on only to fight a cold, infection or stubbed toe, it stays on all the time, wandering around looking for trouble. The problem is, it keeps getting mixed messages and those white blood cells get very confused when they can't find anything to do. So instead they hang around causing damage (attacking healthy tissue)...just because there's nothing else to do. (like bored teenagers, right?)
So what is causing our bodies natural response to injury and illness to go of kilter? The medical police and lifestyle guru's have rounded up the usual suspects: poor diet, chronic stress, lack of exercise, excess weight, environmental issues (1st or 2nd hand smoke, air pollution), undiagnosed food allergies...All of these things, over time cause distress. Our bodies want to help but the normal responses aren't working because there is really nothing to fix from the inside. Our bodies are confused. It's all very Inside/Out, isn't it?
All funniness aside prolonged chronic inflammation is dangerous. Any inflammation, be it acute or chronic, is a signal that something is wrong. When it comes to chronic inflammation, there aren't always obvious symptoms. Something feels off. Exhaustion, poor complexion, sore muscles or joints are all signs that you could be suffering from chronic inflammation but those symptoms aren't exactly setting off alarm bells and often go ignored. Who has the time to address every ache and pain or zit? Over time, if left untreated things like heart disease, cancer, arthritis, lung disease and depression are thought to result from chronic inflammation.
Bottom line: chronic (bad) inflammation is a condition likely caused (in part at least) by the contemporary american diet and lifestyle choices.
The Stuff We Know We Know
*Notice I said avoid? For goodness sake, enjoy a donut. Savor it. Don't beat yourself up over it and don't do it every day.
Play With Your Food
Find a way to make eating healthy fun and interesting. Whether you set out to eat the rainbow or eat the seasons, you'll find that you are trying new things and preparing food in different ways. You'll discover that real food tastes good.
Six Cookbooks to Get You Out of Your Food Rut:
Back to Tom and Gisele's vilification of eggplant and tomatoes: don't avoid whole food groups because a celebrity does. Bread and eggplant aren't bad unless you exhibit an intolerance for them. A lot of us have food allergies or intolerances that go undiagnosed, causing unnecessary stress on our bodies. Common culprits include wheat (gluten), nightshades, peanuts, soy, shellfish and dairy. If you suspect an intolerance, talk to your doctor or trying going without it for a few weeks to see if there is a change.
Side note: my intolerance to dairy and wheat manifested itself in the form of severe skin rashes all over my face---and not until my 30s.
On my most excellent of days, I wake up super early, meditate for 5 minutes and then go break a serious sweat doing something challenging. In all honesty, those days don't happen very often. A good day is a few minutes of quiet, mindful breathing and a long walk, maybe some push ups and planks in the hallway while my kids take a bath. Set real goals and give yourself a break.
Also: Hug people. Hang with pals. Look at other people's faces. Read a book. Laugh out loud for real. Speaking of LOL. Try try try to put all the devices down, especially right before bed. Which brings us to...
Before my kids were born every book I read listed a good night's sleep (12+ hours) as beneficial to a child's overall development and health. As important as diet and hugs. So why, when I became a mother did I start sleeping less? Lack of sleep has been scientifically connected to poor diet, brain function and higher levels of stress. We live in a over-stimulated society and I'm as guilty as anyone of mindlessly scrolling though Facebook or Twitter when I should be reading or sleeping. It's time to stop thinking of sleep as a luxury and more as a necessity.
I write about this because it's my daily struggle. I'm too easily taken in by flashing lights and incoming message alerts. I eat fast food more than I care to admit because I'm tired. The thing is, every time I have a good day I feel amazing. Every time I have a bad day (i.e. spinning my wheels on social media, robotically consuming bad food at my desk, no human connection) I feel downright awful. I want to teach my kids (who don't understand a world with omni-present devices) the good stuff so I keep trying to get it right.
As for Tom & Gisele they were spotted in sharing a plate of loaded nachos at a swanky ski resort in Montana. No word on whether they got the salsa on the side but it was reported that they looked happy sitting across from each other, making eye contact.