A few years back, Tracy and I were living in El Salvador, working on a research project to measure the impact of the TOMS shoe donations. An amazing opportunity on all fronts: we were working with poor communities, helping the mission of a good company, managing a large-scale cross-country research project, and still had time for surfing three days a week!
Surfing became my religion. I nearly died several times at El Tunco, only to be reborn with a greater appreciation for life, and a passion to go bigger every time. Half way through the year my core strength was unreal. I felt like I was 16 again and my body was strong, balanced, and light. Then it happened.
Tracy and I were on a long distance trip from El Salvador, to Guatemala, to Belize, then back to Guatemala and El Salvador. We called them forced vacations because we were living in El Salvador on 90-day tourist visas, and had to leave the country to renew our visas every 90 days. After 4 days of busses and taxis, we were riding through the Guatemala country-side in a “chicken van” crammed with people. My knees were up near my chest as we bumped along, cramming more people into the van.
Then out of nowhere, someone slid a knife into my lower back. Wait, sorry, stereotypical fears of traveling abroad. It felt like someone stabbed me in the lower back. I couldn’t breath. Every time I tried to take a breath, a sharp pain crept from my lower back, up my spine, and resonated around my lungs. I’d never felt a pain like that before.
Fast forward a week, I’m in the doctor’s office – one of the top back specialists in El Salvador for what it was worth. The pain had eventually reduced to a dullness, the Dr. specialist tells me he can ‘cure’ with a shot of cortisone. I politely refuse, knowing that was not a cure but just a temporary band-aid – at best.
Fast forward a year, we’re back in California and my back pain has turned into chronic inflammation. MRI results showed a slight herniation in the disc of my spine. I was shocked. How could I have been surfing at my peak one day, to feeling paralyzed and helpless the next. Well there turned out to be some structural alignment issues that I later learned how to correct (perhaps a topic for another blog post). The inflammation in my back was enemy number one. I couldn’t sit, bend over, exercise, or even sleep for long periods of time. That’s when we started to research foods that help reduce inflammation. And there’s no better way than Omega-3 fatty acids.
All fats contain omega-3, 6, and 9 in different ratios. As it turns out, omega-6’s contribute to inflammation in the body and can lead to many different diseases, and to no surprise, the standard American diet is extremely high in omega-6’s.
Omega-3 Foods: Wild salmon, sardines, flax seeds, walnuts, grass-fed beef
Omega-6 Foods: All vegetable oils (and foods cooked in them)
There’s a great article written by Chris Kresser, that dives into the importance of a healthy balanced omega-3:6 diet. Another good read by Robb Wolf explores supplementing with fish oil. Diving deeper and deeper into the world of food health I realized I had the power to cure myself almost entirely with the food
I was eating.
I immediately started eating wild salmon several times a week, cans of sardines with my lunch, and cooking my meals with coconut oil and grass-fed butter. Within a month of changing my diet, my inflammation was gone and I was back. For the first time in my life, I witnessed the power of food. Without taking a pill or following any conventional medical wisdom, I had healed my body on my own with food.