There are lots of different types of anti-inflammatory diets, but the one Vanlaanen follows is the Whole 30, as explained in It Starts with Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways. Here’s the basic idea: For 30 days, you eliminate all added sugars (real or artificial), alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, and white potatoes from yourdiet. In addition, you can’t eat foods with carrageenan, MSG or sulfites. While these ingredients don’t necessary cause inflammation for everyone, they’re the most common culprits—so after avoiding them altogether for a month, you may add items back into your diet one by one to see how different foods affect you. And of course, part of the allure is that you’ll train yourself to get into the habit of eating whole, healthy foods—rather than relying on processed foods or other dishes that aren’t doing your body any favors.
Thinking about trying an anti-inflammatory diet yourself? It’s obviously pretty restrictive—so sticking to it (even for a limited period of time, like 30 days) is no easy feat. Luckily, these tips from Vanlaanen can help you succeed—and get the most out of the experience:
Establish a Support System Before You Start
For Vanlaanen, that meant getting her mom to follow an anti-inflammatory diet with her so they could commiserate with each other and help each other through those times when they were craving something on the do-not-eat list. “I would definitely encourage you to find a support network and to give yourself reminders of why you’re committed to this,” says Vanlaanen, who would also write why she was following the diet on Post-It notes and stick them in random places as constant reminders. Even if you can’t convince anyone to follow an anti-inflammatory diet with you, you’ll want to explain to friends and families members what you’re doing and why—so they can help remind you of it when you’re running low on willpower.
Look for Fun New Recipes
Finding new dishes that are just as delicious—but anti-inflammatory—was what really helped Vanlaanen get excited about sticking to the restrictive diet. Acorn squash lasagna was one of her favorite anti-inflammatory recipes: To make it, you take a peeled acorn squash and slice it into thin noodle-like strips. You then layer those strips with one pound of ground beef or turkey (seasoned to taste), the vegetables of your choice, pasta sauce, and chopped fresh basil, adding a little sauce to the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking. Cover the whole thing with tin foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes to an hour. These types of tasty meals ensure that eating anti-inflammatory foods doesn’t feel like such a huge sacrifice.
Don’t Give Up Your Social Life
While it may be almost impossible to eat out while following an anti-inflammatory diet, that doesn’t mean you have to skip out on dinner with friends. Vanlaanen would eat most of her dinner before meeting up with friends, then just order a small simple salad at the restaurant. “Of course, everyone had questions,” she says. “I figured out a quick, concise way to explain that, ‘I’m on an anti-inflammatory diet to help my immune system so I just ate at home, but I’ll eat a salad now so I can hang out and enjoy your company.’ I think if you can share your motivation in doing the anti-inflammatory diet, people are interested and want to hear more.”
Keep a Food Journal
Not only does this help you monitor your cravings and ensure you’re getting enough food while you’re in the middle of the 30 days, but keeping a food journal can also help you see what triggers inflammation in your body after the 30-day period. This kind of system is what helped Vanlaanen realize that, while quinoa didn’t bother her, corn made her feel sluggish. “It’s a good tool to help you create an anti-inflammatory eating plan to implement long-term,” she says.