At CAMP, we're big proponents of treating yourself post-workout with whatever your heart desires, whether that's a donut from Dough or a six bowl from Fresh Kitchen. Diets are a waste of time, and we work too hard to skimp on food. However, we love the idea of improving our performance here at CAMP through what we eat. Inflammation has been a big buzz word in the health community for a while now, and we wanted to investigate the truth behind the term, as well as how it impacts our workouts and our lifestyles. We asked Danielle Bertiger, a close friend and future RD who is pursuing her Master's in Nutrition at Columbia, to enlighten us and help us understand why inflammation is important. Beyond the Western perspective, we also sought some insight from one of our yoga teachers, Brittany, who is currently in school at the Ayurvedic Institute. Read on to find out why inflammation sucks and what you can do about it!
So to start... what exactly is inflammation? From a scientific perspective, Danielle tells us:
"Inflammation is the body's immune response reacting against internal damage. Acute inflammation is more visible to the naked eye, quickly resolved, and less harmful long-term. It manifests as swelling, redness, heat, and pain. (I.e. a cut, bruise or burn). Chronic inflammation, however, is usually undetected until it becomes a serious problem, such as hypertension or coronary heart disease. Even though both activate the same response system, chronic inflammation starts out on a cellular level- it's low-grade and unnoticeable, but overtime the cumulative effect of activating these inflammatory response proteins in the body can overwork the system and lead to irreparable damage."
Essentially, inflammation can be a good thing when it activates our immune system and helps us heal injuries or minor illnesses. For example, if you've ever wiped out doing a headstand in Yoga and bruised yourself, inflammation would help you heal and get right back into your practice, pain-free. However, inflammation can be harmful when it's insidiously occurring in the background, and it can manifest in a number of ways before it becomes truly life-threatening. Some say that depression, fatigue, and stomach issues are symptoms of inflammation, so if you've been eating a ton of donuts and noticing that your mood has been a little off lately, it might be time to check in with what you're eating.
But what specific foods cause inflammation, and what can we do to prevent it? Danielle states that "Omega 6 fatty acids, trans fats, refined sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, red meat, and dairy are pro-inflammatory," while "Omega 3 fatty acids, dark leafy greens, extra virgin olive oil, blueberries, ginger, turmeric, and green tea are anti-inflammatory." As a future RD, Danielle is all about reducing inflammation by focusing on incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet- not necessarily cutting all of the inflammatory foods out. So maybe you substitute one of your daily coffees with a green tea and go meatless at Fresh Kitchen by subbing tofu or even poke for your typical order of steak. The options are truly endless- it's just about finding ways to sneak health into your lifestyle without driving yourself crazy.
Danielle also recommends changing up your lifestyle, because inflammation is a result of much more than just our food choices. Stress is a major cause of chronic inflammation, so getting your butt to Yoga could be a game-changer, especially if you work a stressful job. Also, make sure you're getting enough sleep, even if that means hitting snooze and skipping an early workout. Sleep is your body's chance to recover, so make sure you're always getting enough, especially with how hard you're pushing yourself here at CAMP. Danielle also recommends cleaning up your personal care products and treating them like food- "your skin is your biggest organ and it absorbs skincare products into your bloodstream, so you should understand what the ingredients in your products are!"
We found it pretty interesting that Brittany, coming from an Ayurvedic perspective, had very similar things to say regarding inflammation and how to heal it. This shows that the issue is of equal importance, no matter which school of thought you agree with, and that it can be effectively fixed, if you implement the agreed-upon suggestions. Brittany states:
"Ayurveda considers most, if not all cases of inflammation are usually due to excess pitta in the body. Our digestion and our mind are usually the two places we notice our first signs of Pitta in excess. If you notice you've become agitated more easily or even noticed changes in your stool, it's quite possible your Pitta is in excess. To help pacify pitta and reduce inflammation, try eating a good balance of lightly cooked and raw fresh vegetables. Try implementing cooling spices like coriander, fennel and cardamom. Avoid highly processed foods, anything fried, red meat, stimulants, salty, pungent and sour tastes. Sweet and calming music and smells don't hurt either."
So instead of loading your plate up with spicy, salty foods, try focusing more on cooling foods and herbs. And it might be time to finally invest in some essential oils! Taking a whiff of a calming blend can be incredibly helpful when you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and according to Ayurveda, it can reduce pitta in the body, which contributes to chronic inflammation.
Long story short: take care of yourself. You're working your butt off at CAMP, and you deserve to feel your absolute best. But never (NEVER) allow yourself to feel guilty for eating what you love. CAMP is a part of CRG, and we love food more than y'all could ever imagine. So run on over to Green Lemon, get yourself some chips and guacamole, and then come home and sip on some green tea. Because #Balance.