An Anti-Inflammatory Christmas
We have written four different beginnings to articles this week – each one of them a variation on the theme of how to have an anti-inflammatory Christmas, reducing the load of stress in your life for this festive period etc. We’ve scrapped them all. Partly because the whole ‘de-stress at Christmas’ angle or ‘how to do Christmas Paleo’ have been done before – but also because writing articles about how to de-stress around Christmas presupposes and reinforces the notion that Christmas is stressful… which it really needn’t be.
Christmas is stressful to people because of three things:
- You’re doing different things – i.e. stuff that’s out of the ordinary – like being off work for extended periods, with the kids off school etc. You’re all together and you are all trying to make things special… which brings us onto:
- High expectations – i.e. wanting things to be special or magical or perfect
- But we also think a big problem is that we expect it to be stressful – and we are so worked up because we’re aware that Christmas is filled with expectations, different experience and ‘stress’ that we make it stressful
All of these reasons to stress about Christmas revolve squarely around the pressure we put on ourselves. This might be at its zenith at this time of year, but it’s there pretty much year-round, if we stop to think about it. This pressure is one of hoping that we can create great experiences, hoping that we can be good people, hoping that our lives are somehow a reflection of the effort that we put into them.
This hope for perfection and the pressure to be exceptional crosses over to the nutrition and lifestyle realms – particularly when it comes to goals of being healthy. We hope that the way we eat and exercise will stand us in good stead, aesthetically perhaps – but also in terms of health, wellbeing and longevity. We judge others and ourselves on how well we’re looking after ourselves… and we think the one thing missing, perhaps, from both the Christmas issue but also in nutrition and healthcare, is people just lightening up a bit. Not on calories, not on carbs or fats… just in attitude.
There is a lot of nutritional dogma out there – and we have been very jaded by this in the months since our launch. From posting on Instagram every day, suddenly we were thrust into the arena of the wars over ‘which diet is better’… and the slanging matches that go on about food. Battling science with science, anecdote with data, experience with evidence… it’s an exhausting arena to occupy. And adding a Paleo In The UK voice to that cacophony has, over the last few weeks, felt both futile and an unnecessary extra stress to the picture. So we pulled back.
We never wanted to convert anyone or market to anyone. This site does not make money – it is there for information only. It was borne out of a desire to have calm, rational, common sense information out there. Our intention with Paleo In The UK was – and remains – to present the use of the Paleo or AIP diet a therapeutic tool of dietary manipulation which can be eminently useful in health conditions. It was never to guilt anyone or accuse anyone of harming themselves if they eat ‘off-plan’. It was never about setting up a paragon of Paleo perfection to which everyone should aspire. It was about presenting the UK with a real alternative to lifetimes of drugs for conditions that might be alleviated if we nourished our bodies better.
Nutrition is powerful. Food is medicine. Food can also be poison. Once upon a time the medical community didn’t seem to recognise this fact. However, it seems to us that there is now far more acceptance that the food you eat affects your physiology. However, in the acceptance of this basic tenet there follows the inevitable arguments about which foods affect what parts of physiology – and how.
Expecting agreement seems natural – because nutrition should be based in science, surely? But the real truth about nutrition is that what suits each individual is just that… it’s individual. This means that whilst data and science can help, experience will always trump the data – because the nature of food and physiology is as a living science and it is dependent on so many personal factors, and factors that go far beyond the food.
So anyone claiming that their diet is best, or universally appropriate, or the ‘right way’ is, quite frankly, blind to the uniqueness of the human experience. And also, they’re making it damn hard for the rest of us to find our balance and our way of eating and living that feels right and good for us. They’re also just a little too hardline about things. Nutrition isn’t black and white – it’s shades of grey and very individual. It’s also not something that you can succeed and fail at – and we’d all do better to remember that whilst food is powerful, it’s also just food. Our worth is not being evaluated based on the way we eat or the size clothes we fit into.
The restrictions and eliminations of Paleo or AIP allow those whose bodies are struggling to better manage their health conditions. This does not mean that we believe that universally, everybody should be eating Paleo. We will always state that a Paleo regimen is a diet that removes most of the foods that we have evidence for contributing to the body’s inflammatory burden. We will always suggest that those with an up-regulated immune system or autoimmunity might want to try removing the foods that affect the immune system and go AIP. But we also state that all of these interventions may not be completely necessary for everyone – not everyone struggles with inflammatory conditions, not everyone is reactive to the same foods. Additionally, a diet is a moveable target – where you start is not where you end up, or where you stay forever. And, more importantly – we reiterate this isn’t a pass or fail and no-one is (or should be) standing in judgement.
Your worth and value is not dependent on the food you put on your plate or in your body.
The link maybe tenuous – but the stress and pressure that we put on ourselves at Christmas to create perfection is akin to the stress and pressure that we place on ourselves year round to be perfect nutritionally for our health. The concept that there is just one ‘right’ way to do ‘healthy’ is, for starters, a nonsense. But the judgement on the level of perfection that we are able to achieve is such a pressure that it almost negates the whole point of trying to be healthy in the first place.
If you are spending Christmas locked in the idea that you have to achieve a perfect day for everybody, stressing about the turkey and the timing on the potatoes, worried about the gravy or anxious about how the extended family are going to get on… please remember that the quickest route to a bad time and to bad health is stress and worry. Having an anti-inflammatory Christmas, or living a low inflammatory life, is a bit about what you eat and do with your body – but mostly it’s about how you feel about your life. If you are anxiously attempting to control all of the variables, all of the time, there are two certainties: 1) you will fail and 2) you will be miserable doing it.
Christmas – and life – is far better when you can surrender your expectations and judgements of yourself and instead appreciate the efforts you do make and the experience you do have. The same is true for nutrition – even if you do have health conditions which you are trying to resolve. There is no need for anyone to do everything perfectly all the time. And there is also no one, perfect diet.
On this theme – and taking the science and the explanations further than we ever could – our founder, Victoria, has been blogging this week about what happens beyond the food – and no, we don’t just mean lifestyle. She’s talking about stress responses and how dysregulation can arise because our bodies are breaking in response to some triggers that may or may not be food related… most often not.
She mentions us, but she goes onto state that the food – these Paleo and AIP diets that we all think we can achieve perfection in – is normally a solution to a problem created elsewhere. If you need our site here then you are likely to have a health issue – and we would recommend that you read her blog this week (and follow her blog so you can read the one she’s putting out next week). Because health isn’t about getting everything that we include on this site nailed, just as Christmas isn’t about the perfectly magical Christmas Day and Dinner (Paleo or not). Even though we run a Paleo and AIP website, we recognise that nutrition is a tool to help you tackle issues that probably arose for many reasons – and not all of them to do with diet. It’s a good tool, but it’s just a tool – and this Christmas we’d encourage you to give yourself a gift of looking at your own situation and see whether you are hoping that food perfection will ‘fix’ something that may have nothing to do with your diet.