From Meat to Millet: How an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Changed My Life

By Guest Blogger   |  26Comments|

When you’re diagnosed with a disease like cancer, you quickly become an expert on things you never thought you’d want or need to know, like how many doctor appointments you could cram into one day. You’ll experience a new form of tired you’ve never thought possible; you’ll understand defeat and isolation; and you’ll also develop possibly the strongest connection between you and your body that you will ever have. It’s a connection I never truly made until I was faced with the horrific changes that were unwillingly made to my body while going through chemotherapy in the winter of 2010, at the age of 32, while battling breast cancer.

It was cancer that caused me to change my food lifestyle, but it was how I felt as a result that will keep me on this path for the rest of my (hopefully) long life. I never wanted to be conscious of the foods I put into my body; I wanted to live vicariously through pork. But someone had other plans for my digestive system.

Cancer, chemotherapy and everything after can be construed as a death sentence for your mouth to someone who loves and appreciates food. For many, after the first round of chemotherapy, food just doesn’t taste the same. For some, this is temporary; for others, permanent. Bland takes a new form and spice levels will undergo a drastic recalculation. In addition, there are foods that some simply are told to stay away from during and after treatment.

For me, food and cancer theories and studies are like ears – everyone’s got one, so what’s right? I have no idea, but somewhere along the way, I’ve learned what my body can digest and what it can’t, and now, about a year after my initial diagnosis, my refrigerator’s contents have never looked more inviting.

As I learned on my cancer journey, this disease is all-consuming, a battle that’s fought on all fronts, including the food that you put in your mouth. This is something my traditional doctors never told me, not because they were trying to keep me from being healthy, or keep me dependent on synthetic medicine, but because they just don’t know. Most doctors don’t have any training in nutrition, and I was kind of baffled by this notion. Why wouldn’t doctors want to understand the intricacies of food and its effect on the body?

From the date of my diagnosis until I began chemotherapy, my diet hadn’t really changed that much. It wasn’t until I met my oncology nurse and learned that there was nothing to prevent the side effects of chemo other than more medication that I began to dig around for more information. One of the benefits of being sick in a city like Washington, DC, is that there are a number of alternative facilities BEGGING you to go against the grain. As a result, I found myself at the Center for Integrated Medicine at George Washington University meeting with my new naturopathic physician (ND). My parents, many of my friends and, of course, my oncologist thought I was insane.

I like to compare my first appointment with my ND to going to a new country: You don’t speak the language and you aren’t sure what you’re eating. As I walked into the office, I was intimidated immediately by the floor-to-ceiling pills, herbs and eye droppers of remedies I couldn’t pronounce. You would think, after the barrage of doctors I had already been subjected to, this appointment would be a walk in the park, but it wasn’t. For the first time, I was asked to describe in detail how I was feeling, things I ate, every squeak my body was making, forcing me for the first time to really take a minute to listen to what my body was telling me. Only through that could I help myself heal.

I’ve spent two hours waiting for a doctor before, but had never spent two hours talking to one, and that’s exactly what happened. The ND asked me to start from the beginning, from my diagnosis to the present, and I walked out of my new naturopath’s office with a bag of goodies and a brand-new set of dietary guidelines that she guaranteed would alleviate some of the side effects of the chemotherapy, which included digestive issues. Mushrooms to keep my white blood cell count up, probiotics for digestion and an anti-inflammatory diet that changed almost every aspect of how I eat.

The basis of an anti-inflammatory diet is pretty simple. No gluten, very little meat (and if you’re going to eat meat, it has to be grass-fed, antibiotic-free) and no dairy or refined sugar. Gone were the whole grains I thought were helping, as well as nightshade fruits and vegetables. I had already made the switch to all organics, which meant a lot more trips to Whole Foods and farmers markets around the city and, sadly, more money flying out of my wallet.

In addition to the guidelines from the anti-inflammatory diet, it was suggested that during chemotherapy I remove from my everyday consumption shellfish, corn, caffeine, soy, peanuts, alcohol and almost all liquids other than water and green tea. If you’re keeping tabs, while most things on the shelves contain gluten, even more things contain corn, so there I was standing in Whole Foods, exhausted from chemo and exasperated as I read label after label searching for something to eat. This was bleak and I was sad. Not even sad – devastated. What did this mean for all the yummy dinners I wanted to try? What did this mean for my half-price bottle wine nights at my favorite local wine bar with locally-cured meats and cheeses?

The good and bad news was, I was so tired, even if I wanted to go out for a plate of meat and cheese, I wouldn’t have stayed awake long enough to enjoy it. So I took joy in smaller victories, like successfully cooking my first cup of millet, a gluten-free grain that can accompany any vegetable. Armed with my list of foods and my tote bag, I scoured the famers markets in DC to find veggies and fruits that would keep my mouth happy even when everything tasted bland and metallic, rather than sucking down Jell-O like the instructions I had gotten from my oncologist. I learned to eat with the DC seasons (apples, pears and squashes in the fall and winter; asparagus in the spring; berries and zucchini all summer) and incorporating different types of beans into meals for added protein, resulting in an ongoing love affair with the chickpea.

I kept this regimen consistent through my chemotherapy and then continued with it through six weeks of radiation. After almost eight months of dramatically feeling (and looking) better, I decided, why stop now?

Which brings us to today. I don’t even remember what I used to keep in my refrigerator before making the move to an anti-inflammatory diet. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never say no to a dozen oysters or a night out with a few dirty martinis, but when it comes to feeling better, I’ve now learned to listen to what my body is telling me, whether it’s saying that it’s had too much or not enough of something. As a result, we’ve never been closer.

Meredith Goldberg is based in Washington, DC where she works as a public relations and marketing manager in the hospitality industry.  When she isn’t working, she spends her time working on her first book about navigating and surviving breast cancer in her early 30’s, and finding the balance between a cancer fighting diet and loving all things pork. 

Photo credit: Prasan

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26 responses to From Meat to Millet: How an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Changed My Life
  1. Wonderful post Caroline! Isn’t it amazing how much better you feel?? Wishing you a life full of blissful health!

  2. Thanks Jennifer! I feel 100% times better than i did before I was diagnosed!

  3. I’m k’velling (?)…..You are bright, beautiful, brave and bold.
    I love you muchly!!!!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing and I know it’s been forever but I am so glad to hear how well you are doing now. I am going to share this with my mom who has 2 more chemos left before she starts radiation. It’s scary how Facebook makes this world even smaller:). Congrats!

  5. Hear hear for the farmers’ markets in the district! Gorgeous & surprising every time! Keep up the splendid work!

  6. Very motivational! Thank you. Just a quick question, what are nightshade veggies and fruits?


    Here’s a great list of nighshades and you’re welcome- happy I could share my experience with everyone!

  8. In listening to a recent podcast with Chris Kresser & Chris Masterjohn, millet was discussed – “the most goitrogenic food in the world is millet, and this could be a problem if people are getting rid of gluten and they start eating a lot of gluten-free bread that’s made from millet, for example. And millet basically inhibits every step of thyroid metabolism, and high iodine intakes cannot overcome the effect of millet.”

    Is it really that good to be eating millet when trying to overcome cancer?

  9. The Center for Integrative Medicine (CIM) also changed my life for the better. I am a recovering (never cured) junk-food junkie, but I now eat well because I like it and really appreciate the investment in my health, not because I must eat well. I wish you the best.

  10. Tina said on June 5, 2012

    Thank you for sharing your “journey with cancer”…. I also did the same as you and have been for 3 years… keep up the good work and keep writing…it also heals… Peace to you.

  11. Thank you for sharing your story! As a fellow foodie who avoids foods that cause inflammation, your outlook on nutrition is witty and refreshing!

  12. Ani said on June 6, 2012

    Meredith, thank you so much for this post. As a registered nutritionist here in the UK I am an advocate of diet/lifestyle changes. I am also an advocate of eating delicious food – health and taste go hand in hand! I’m just in the process of setting up my business and website where I aim to help women diagnosed with auto-immune diseases through diet/lifestyle change. I have a diagnosis of lupus and whilst I have been told there is no cure I know personally that healing is possible. Eating the good stuff really helps me with my condition in every way! Thanks again for sharing your story, with loving regards, Ani xx

  13. Mich said on June 6, 2012

    What a fantastic blog. Thank you for sharing this with everyone…so proud of everything you have accomplished. You will forever be “capped” in my book :)

  14. Erna said on June 7, 2012

    Informative and encouraging. Thank you!

  15. Kris said on June 8, 2012

    Thank you so much for writing this article, it is very encouraging. I’m in the process of changing our family’s diet to an anti-inflammatory diet. I suffer from insulin resistance and hormone issues, my husband is a cancer survivor and my children have several allergies. My 8 yr old was having stomach pains for a year and no doctor could help. I’ve changed her eating habits and she was able to lose weight, which she needed, and the pains have ceased. I realize every time she eats gluten or diary the pains begin. Now I just want to take us all the next level of living healthy. Thank you!!

  16. I would like to know more about the anti-inflammatory diet that you described. Is there a particular book or website that you would recommend? Thank you!!

  17. I loved this post, Meredith, thank you!
    Your insights, experience, and wisdom go beyond cancer to touch everyone. Thank you for sharing your journey. I have long suspected I am intolerant to just about all of the foods/items you listed in your anti-inflammatory list and have been reviewing anti-inflammatory diets for a long time. Just don’t have the motivation to start eating that way, although you would think that being bloated all the time and feeling tired and sluggish would be enough. It’s not.

    That said, having followed Kris for a while, I know I don’t want/wish for a cancer diagnosis in order to kick my butt into gear, but I do hope for continued insights from people like you and this community to help us all strive toward leading healthier, more positive lives.

    Best to you on your path, and here’s to more millet!

  18. Meredith, Do you have a blog? I would love to read more about the changes you made to improve your health and prevent recurrence. Thanks!

  19. pam said on June 8, 2012

    Meridith, would you reccomend the Gerson Therapy diet. It seems very similar to an anti inflammatory diet?

  20. Adrienne, the book that was recommended to me by my ND can be purchased on amazon:

    Teresa, I don’t have a blog, but working on my first book now about my experiences with navigating breast cancer and all that comes with the diagnosis….stay tuned!!!

  21. Wow, what an excellent article, beautifully written, v. informative, and so good to hear you’re feeling better. I’ll Tweet about it as this is going to be very useful for others in a similar situation. I’ve been meaning to try and anti-inflammatory diet but have never got round to it so, Amazon, here I come.

    Hummus (those chickpeas!) is very good with gluten-free pitta, brushed with a marinade of lemon juice, a little lemon rind, salt, olive oil and thyme, then grilled until the pittas become crispy and golden…very “Greek al fresco lunch”.

    Glad we found your feature on Crazy Sexy Life (thanks to Kris Carr on Twitter!)

  22. My husband and I both are dealing with autoimmune conditions. While looking around trying to see what meat doesn’t cause inflammation we saw your article. We found it very I encouraging

  23. You could certainly see your enthusiasm within the article you write.
    The world hopes for even more passionate writers like you
    who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. At
    all times follow your heart.

  24. Hi! I have been on an anti-inflammatory diet for almost one year now. When arthritis pain (spine) was severely changing my life at age 60, I knew I had do something. I tried chiropractic alternatives to no avail. I went to my doctor who suggested I would get relief by injections and a lifetime of prescription Aleve. I knew there had to be another way. I started to investigate ‘anti-inflammatory diet’ ….it made sense to me as arthritis is a inflammatory disease. My doctor laughed at me. To the chagrin of my husband (he cooks my meals) I started this radical diet. (only radical from what I used to eat) Since I have been on this diet I have reduced pain (from debilitating to tolerable), I have not been sick, lost 25 lbs and feel so much better. I know very few people who actually either know what it is or why you would pursue this lifestyle (IT IS NOT A DIET BUT A LIFESTYLE). I just wanted to say that I am glad to meet someone else who actually knows what this is ….and understands the benefits of it. Since my arthritis diagnosis (2 years ago) I too have been diagnosed with cancer. Although I was fortunate enough to avoid the chemo treatments…I feel that the anti inflammatory diet was part of the reason. Bonnie Montgomery

  25. I am having some health problems and thought an anti-inflammatory diet might help. The restrictions in this article are very different from the Dr. Wiehl diet which is supposed to be anti inflammatory. Do you eat GF steel cut oats and brown rice? Also, when is your book coming out?

  26. Great post. However, it doesn’t matter whether animals are organic grass-fed or factory farmed, animal meat is still inflammatory regardless.

    It is the bacterial endotoxins in animal products which cause metabolic inflammation, and the presence of saturated animal fat exacerbates the endotoxemic surge of inflammation.