My experience with an inflammation diet by Cynthia D’Amico-Graham

bowl of crunchy Cheetos
Considered a high-inflammatory food

I had never been on a diet:  ever.  I believe in eating relatively healthy and in moderation and exercising to maintain a healthy weight, but I do not believe in counting calories and restricting  my choices of food.   I’m a bit of a hedonist and tend to give into cravings.  So, if I wanted a serving of tiramisu or a bowl of Cheetos, I would indulge myself.  Well, maybe, my choices weren’t always so healthy, but I was  able to maintain a reasonable weight. Alas, life has a way of challenging you and I was finally faced with the reality that I might have to give up my hedonistic dietary habits.

Inflammation is the theme of this blog this month. In the midst of a digital dialog with my sister-in-law, she asked me about inflammation diets. I confessed that I knew little about them. I told her that I had heard positive and negative comments about the role of food and inflammation. When I started reading Formerly Known as Food, I thought of Cynthia. It turned out that she had tried an inflammation diet. I asked her if she might share it with my readership. Never shy to express her thoughts, she agreed. Thank you Cynthia!

Over a year and a half ago, I developed rather significant sacroiliac joint and low back pain. The pain was so unbearable, I had difficulty walking even 1/10th of a mile.  I sequentially pursued treatment with physical therapy, anti-inflammatories and epidural steroid injections.  Physical therapy resulted in no reduction of pain, so I decided to pursue pharmacological treatment.  OTC anti-inflammatories gave me significant relief but also caused laryngopharyngeal reflux.   Despite stopping the anti-inflammatories, my sore throat,  secondary to the reflux, persisted for months.   I realized that the only way to reduce the damage done by my reflux was to go on an anti-reflux diet.  I was finally having to resort to the dreaded D word.  Not only that, but I was going to have to give up my favorite foods including tomatoes and tomato-based products.

Not long after that, I was told by my urologist, that I had a large kidney stone and to avoid future kidney stones, I would have to, yes, you guessed it,  restrict my foods further and go on a low oxalate diet.   That would mean reduction of some of my favorite foods including greens, nuts, beans and soft cheeses.

I went from medications to  epidural steroid injections which offered me incredible relief which lasted only a week or two at most.  I was not a candidate for surgery, so I was feeling quite desperate.  During my most desperate, my friend shared how her patient was on an anti-inflammatory diet to treat her chronic pain condition. She apparently achieved nearly 100% pain relief from the diet.  The gods were having fun with a woman who swore to never diet, but apparently the gods were not having quite enough fun. Yes, I decided to go on yet another diet.  Although I was already on dietary restrictions, a review of the foods I would have to give up was significant.  I ceased consumption of  dairy, gluten, sugar and red meats.  Many of the foods that were anti-inflammatory such as greens, beans and nuts, I could not eat as part of the anti-reflux diet.  What I could never do for vanity, I was willing to do for my pain.

I knew inflammation was a primary cause of my pain, so I was hopeful that the anti-inflammatory diet would reduce the pain at least to some degree.  So, what was my response? I was definitely eating the healthiest I ever had in my life, but how did I feel?  Well, I remained on the diet for 10 weeks.  I was so hopeful that I certainly would have been a good candidate for a placebo effect.  Every day, I would wake up hopeful that my dietary efforts would reduce my pain.   If the diet did have an effect, it was so small that it was difficult to consistently detect.  My pain persisted throughout the 10 weeks.

Although it did nothing for my pain, the diet did have an impact on me in three ways.  The first was weight loss.  With so few food groups to consume and the omission of fats and sugars,  I experienced a seven lb. weight loss.  I appreciated the weight loss, but I was not on the diet for weight loss and was unwilling to remain on the restricted diet for that reason.  Second, my gastrointestinal tract never felt better.  I no longer experienced any bloating and any type of stomach pain or discomfort.  Previously controlled by cravings alternating between sweet and salty foods,  I no longer experienced these cravings

Gluten free foods are considered non-inflammatory

Once I decided to terminate the diet, I slowly sequentially introduced the different food groups.  The only food group that I have not fully re-introduced has been gluten.  I recognize that gluten was the source of my frequent stomach discomfort.  Although I do not have celiac disease, I suspect I have a sensitivity to gluten.   My alternate cravings for salty and sweet have returned and I now am left to decide how much I want to restrict my diet to eliminate my cravings.   So, although the anti-inflammatory diet had no impact on my pain, it did open my eyes to my digestive health and how my food choices impact my eating behavior.  Will I ever return to the anti-inflammatory diet? I would not rule it out.  For a woman who has always resisted dieting, that is a big concession…

Next week: Food Diversity-Based Global Food Systems for Food Security and Health: Post-COVID19 Implications by Dr. Kalidas Shetty

Cynthia D’Amico-Graham was raised in Woodbridge, NJ near a river and a tidal marshland where she fished in the summer and ice skated in the winter.  She graduated from Rutgers College with a BA in Psychology.  Not having a clue what she wanted to do with her life, she decided a Ph.D. in Health Psychology sounded reasonable.  Well, she was not really thinking about the five years of studying, clinical practica, research, dissertation and internship.  Graduating with a Ph.D. from the Chicago Medical School, she still wasn’t sure whether she was a researcher or a clinician, so she did a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Duke University Medical Center which confirmed she was absolutely a clinician.  Her focus as a clinician has been in neuropsychology, specifically traumatic brain injury. She has been employed in medical, psychiatric and private practice settings. 

Cynthia had no interest in learning how to cook until she and her husband moved to France for his job.  She was unemployed, bored and eating some of the best food in her life in cafes and little family restaurants on the French Riviera.  She decided she  wanted to create recipes  in her own kitchen.  Although she never mastered French cooking, she is ‘competent’ in Italian and Mediterranean cuisines.  She loves to swim, hike trails, read, play piano and do jigsaw puzzles with her daughter during COVID.   She currently lives in Raleigh, NC with her husband and daughter.  

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