One thing that breaks my heart is seeing well-meaning people spinning their wheels while trying to heal themselves.
They’re fired up, ready for action, but inadvertently (or maybe not so inadvertently) take a couple of wrong turns that end up completely sabotaging their efforts.
In a genuine attempt to get people who want to be on the right track back in their lane, I’m going to share with you the biggest mistakes people make when trying to follow an anti-inflammatory diet .
You might find yourself nodding along as you read. Maybe you can relate to some of these missteps and roadblocks, and if so, I wouldn’t be surprised because I see it all the time. Just realize that wherever you are now, that can be your starting block.
Mistake #1: Not giving food sensitivities the attention they deserve.
Most of the clients I see have some type of chronic, inflammatory condition (autoimmune disease, thyroid disorders, adrenal dysfunction, skin conditions, digestive issues, cognitive/mood issues) where identifying and addressing food sensitivities could play a critical role in their healing.
Many people who come to see me have already tried – or claim to have tried – eliminating at least gluten, cow’s milk or both. However, I would say about 90% of them still continue to eat the foods occasionally, calling themselves “gluten-light” or saying “I don’t eat much dairy.” I’ll even get “Yes, I’m 100% gluten-free!” only to then see their 3-day food intake record includes a slice of sourdough.
I know one little slice of sourdough seems benign. And I don’t say this to call people out. (Well, maybe a little.) Truthfully, my intent is sincere: I simply want to help you understand that eating foods you are sensitive to – even in the smallest amounts – will continually re-light the fire of inflammation. To put it bluntly, if this pattern of a little here and a little there gets put on repeat, you will never see improvements in your symptoms.
The suspected foods need to be COMPLETELY eliminated for a minimum of two weeks. Ideally for four to six weeks in order for you to really know if you are having a reaction.
Mistake #2: Focusing ONLY on food sensitivities.
On the other end of the spectrum, I see people who get hyper-focused on only eliminating foods they are sensitive to but not otherwise re-balancing their diet. I see this especially with gluten. And while I think eliminating gluten plays a big role for many, it’s not the panacea to wellness.
For example, a person solely focused on ditching gluten can tend to search the gluten-free aisle for every processed gluten-free cookie, package of chips/pretzels, or frozen gluten-free pizza they can find.
How do I know this happens? Because not only do I see clients doing it, I started my own journey dancing on the edge of this path.
I know some people (myself included) have found themselves desperate to calm acute inflammation, and eliminating certain foods can do that, even while replacing them with others that aren’t ideal. And honestly, I don’t completely disapprove. Packaged and prepared gluten-free foods can be used – for a short time – as a beginning strategy for clients whose lifestyle just isn’t conducive to buying and cooking whole foods, especially if their current food habits veer drastically from that.
I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when my daughter was only six weeks old. Dealing with a new, debilitating autoimmune disease AND a newborn baby didn’t leave much room for poring over cookbooks and creating new ways to prepare delicious, wholesome meals that catered to my needs. But through lab testing and an elimination diet, I confirmed I had strong sensitivities to gluten and casein, so I had to do something. While I did make an effort to eat mostly organic and non-GMO, I didn’t care if that gluten- and casein-free food came from a can, a plastic bag, or the freezer, because not only was I new to this way of eating, I was freaking hungry, and so, so tired.
So, while the quick fixes are just that, in order to really see long-term, positive results, eventually your focus has to switch to balancing the rest of your diet, which means:
- lowering your sugar intake, which includes eating less of all refined carbohydrates
- making vegetables one of the biggest part of your meals
- enjoying organic, pastured animal protein in small amounts
- consuming good, anti-inflammatory fats (fish oil, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, grass-fed butter or ghee)
- limiting processed inflammatory fats (soy oil, canola oil, peanut oil, margarines, etc.)
These are long-term, non-negotiable shifts that will ensure you are getting the nutrients you need for your cells to function properly.
Which brings me to my next point…
Mistake #3: Being afraid of fat & calories.
I still see a lot of people gripping tightly to old paradigms of managing their health by controlling the amount of fat or calories they eat.
Some people have a genuine concern about fat intake with regard to heart disease, although current research dispels the myth that dietary fat – even saturated fat – is related to increased cardiovascular risk. For the most part though, I see a fear of gaining weight (eat fat, be fat) or skepticism around the concept (fact, really) that letting go of calorie-counting can be synonymous with maintaining a healthy weight.
I recently had a client who was very ill – she was experiencing horrible digestive issues and fatigue. However, what was most upsetting for her was her inability to lose the 15 pounds she had gained over the past couple of years. Holding onto the weight was such a pain point for her that (before seeing me) she went on an extreme, low-calorie diet, knowing that would exacerbate her condition. And it did.
We have to get out of this scarcity mindset.
Nutrient-dense foods feed the trillions of cells our bodies are made of and act as the GPS guiding us to health….and a healthy weight. These foods will fill you up and change your palate for the better – lessening cravings for sugar, refined carbs, and processed foods.
Fat regulates your blood sugar, increases satiety, and promotes tissue healing and proper immune function. Your brain itself is made up of 60% fat.
Good health is not as absolute as calories in and calories out. Different nutrients and lifestyle practices direct different hormones and other physiological processes in our bodies that determine how our metabolism works, how we store fat, and how we burn carbohydrates.
THIS IS GOOD NEWS.
It means putting an end to dry chicken breasts and steamed vegetables every night. You can enjoy an (organic) chicken thigh, even with the skin on (gasp!). Eat the egg yolk! Enjoy some guacamole! And guess what? Vegetables are really delicious – and satisfying – when you prepare them using good fats and oils. Not to mention, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K found in vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods are only absorbed when you eat them with…you guessed it…fat).
Believe, my friend.
Seeking out the good stuff is just as important (maybe more so) as avoiding the “bad.” If you’re still not a believer, read this.
Mistake #4: Not taking supplements consistently.
Getting nutrients from food whenever possible is ideal. But, even if your diet is pristine, there are issues with our soil that have lowered the nutrient levels of our foods. On top of that, underlying conditions like digestive issues or genetic variations can make it harder for your body to absorb nutrients adequately. So supplements are often a critical component of healing from any type of chronic condition. They can aid in helping alleviate digestive symptoms (including healing a leaky gut) as well as aid in lowering inflammation, balancing hormones, detoxifying, and replenishing nutrient deficiencies – all factors at the root of illness.
Unfortunately, while lots of people say they are on supplements, what I hear from almost every client I see is, “I’m not good about taking them.” The fact is that because their impact is cumulative rather than immediate in most cases, they simply don’t work unless you take them on a regular basis. Supplements need a combination of time and consistency in order to truly work effectively.
Everyone’s needs are different based on their specific condition and current nutrient status, so I strongly recommend working with a professional healthcare provider (ideally getting appropriate functional lab testing done, micronutrient analysis, and other condition-specific labs). But a beneficial starting point for most with chronic, inflammatory conditions: high-vitamin cod liver oil (check with your physician if you are taking blood-thinning medication and try algal oil for a vegan substitute), a multi-strain probiotic, and a whole-food, multi-vitamin/multi-mineral.
Don’t be dissuaded by the recent hype stating that supplements don’t work. Yes, it’s true that there are a lot of low-quality vitamins out there and a lot of companies making empty promises. But supplementation, when done correctly (ideally with professional-grade products under the supervision of a qualified practitioner), can be essential.
Again, you won’t usually see results immediately, so while it can be hard to be patient, it’s important here to take the long view.
Mistake #5: Changing things up constantly.
More often than not, I see clients (and friends) self-diagnosing and constantly changing up their diet and/or supplementation regime. One month they are incorporating a new supplement based on internet research. The next month they are convinced a new food sensitivity might apply to them – it’s gluten…no it’s grains…nope, it’s FODMAPs….actually, I’m pretty sure I should be a Vegan.
As a clinician, this is one of the most frustrating things for me. But as a patient, I get it.
It’s so easy to see a practitioner, get a hint of what could be wrong and then take that to the internet, reading and researching until you decide you need to do MORE to address this condition! Or you read an article or talk to a friend who describes a similar issue and their solution, and that gets you thinking her fix should be your way of life, too.
But, these strategies aren’t one size fits all. And when you constantly change the variables, it’s nearly impossible to ascertain what approaches are actually working. If you have a clinician you trust, or you get to a point where you feel good about your plan, give it a chance to work its magic.
Remember, your body is complex. Sometimes one system needs to fully heal (e.g. the digestive system) before it makes sense to move on to something else. And often times, if you’re not seeing results, it’s because you weren’t being consistent with your original plan.
Mistake #6: Not acknowledging the role chronic stress plays in healing.
Addressing many aspects of your diet can be critical, but the truth is, if you don’t learn to manage stress effectively, you will never heal completely.
When you are in a state of chronic stress, stress hormones can become dysregulated which can suppress your immune system, cause digestive issues (including increasing gut permeability), increase weight gain, and cause systemic inflammation.
As we all know only too well, stressors can come in many forms. To name a few: long-term relationship issues, financial pressure, overworking, overtraining, inadequate sleep patterns. And the fact is that while we may be able to limit stress, it will not ever completely stop, making it even more essential that you find consistent practices that work for you. If you need some ideas, try these five simple tips.
Mistake #7: Not having the right action plan.
Your action plan (or lack thereof) can get you off track in one of two ways:
A. Having a vague goal (“I want to clean things up” or “I’m going to tighten up my diet next week/month/after the holidays”)
If you’re not specific enough with what you want your RESULT to be, it’s hard to map out an action plan to achieve it. And in order to reach your goals without feeling overwhelmed, the plan should be broken down into clear, achievable steps that motivate you to get started and keep going.
B. Making the action too ambitious or unsustainable (e.g. trying to make more changes to your diet than you’re ready for, or doing a two-week cleanse that makes you so miserable you celebrate the end of it by polishing off a pan of lasagna)
When you make goals that don’t align with your readiness or willingness to make changes, you’re destined to crash and burn.
This is not just based on practicality, it’s physiology.
Your brain releases the happy/motivational hormone dopamine, every time you achieve a goal. No matter how small that goal is. Conversely, every time you fail to meet a goal, there is a reduction in dopamine, killing your motivation.
So, it makes sense to think about how motivated you are, make a plan that meets you where you are, and then break things down into small, actionable steps to get there.
Planning for and working towards long-term change may not be as seductive as a promise assuring you that forcing down an apple cider vinegar elixir for a week will heal all that ails you, but it’s far more effective.
If putting together an action plan is something you need help with, check out this video that walks you through how to stick to an anti-inflammatory diet. And I also have a tool for you with over 30 action step ideas that you can integrate into your individual lifestyle.
It’s my sincerest wish that you use the tools I’m providing as a way to learn how to integrate the principles of an anti-inflammatory diet so you can rid yourself of symptoms and fully enjoy life for many years to come. I hope this sheds some light on areas where you could be unknowingly sabotaging your best efforts. And I encourage you to see this as an opportunity. If you’re not on the right track already, it’s likely you’re right next to it…you just need to take those last steps. Once you do, you’ll be on the path that will lead you to your happiest, healthiest life.
p.s. I’m working on a more comprehensive program to guide you through this path to healing while making it as painless as possible. To make sure I create content and build a program that you truly want and need, I would love to get your input by taking this quick survey.
For more information about food sensitivities, inflammation and a personalized, step-by-step plan to heal, check out my book, INFLAMED: Discover the root cause of inflammation and personalize a step-by-step plan to create a healthy, vibrant life.
Excellent article Shelly Malone!
Thanks, Jen. So glad you found it helpful.