'I'm a Rheumatologist, and This Is the #1 Habit to Break ASAP if You Have Inflammation'

Inflammation, particularly gut inflammation, has been a hot topic recently. While inflammation is not always a bad thing—it’s what you can count on to heal injuries by removing damaged tissues, for example—it’s not always a great thing, either. After all, it's also the body’s defense mechanism that, at more serious levels, can contribute to the development of arthritis, asthma, diabetes and several other conditions.

Symptoms such as pain, swelling, fatigue, gastrointestinal distress, mouth sores and mood disorders are all signs of inflammation (as well as other conditions). If you notice these, and they're causing you distress, you may want to try inflammatory-reducing practices. Below, a rheumatologist shares her biggest tip, plus others to have in mind.

Related: This Is the #1 Sneaky Sign of Chronic Inflammation Most People Miss

The Main Habit That Contributes to Inflammation

The secret is out: According to one rheumatologist, a major contributor to the development of inflammation is poor nutrition.

“Nutrition is very much tied to inflammation—it’s all about the gut,” says Dr. Elizabeth Ortiz, MD, a rheumatologist and clinical advisor at WellTheory. “I typically advise patients to start by looking at their food intake. From there, we can come up with a plan of attack to make sure food is working for them, not against them.”

More specifically, she asks if patients eat inflammatory, highly processed foods and if they eat enough fruits and vegetables. Let’s talk about what that looks like.

A few examples of inflammatory foods include red meat, baked goods and deep-fried items. They can alter gut bacteria, she says, which “can then interact with our immune system and eventually lead to inflammation.” Alternatively, anti-inflammatory foods include (but aren’t limited to) salmon, citrus fruit and bell peppers.

When it comes to fruits and veggies, what is “enough”? Generally speaking, the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture of the United Nations recommend adults consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

These nutrition steps may be harder for people who have experienced disordered eating or cycles of dieting and are trying to unlearn a restrictive mindset, adopting an “all foods fit” lifestyle instead.

If that’s the case—or you just want to play it safe and smart—consider working with an anti-diet dietitian. They can help you navigate the intersection of opting for non-inflammatory foods and intuitive eating. That might end up looking like the tenth principle of intuitive eating—gentle nutrition, or adding some foods with higher nutritional content, in addition to what you crave—if you’re ready for that step. For example, rather than cutting your Friday night burger, you might add bell pepper strips to it, or swap it out for a salmon burger every once in a while.

Related: Disordered Eating Comes In Many Forms—Here Are the Different Types, and the Signs to Look Out For

How Quickly You May See Results After Adopting a Healthier Diet

Are you feeling in pain and/or impatient, ready to wave goodbye to inflammation for good? Totally understandable.

For better or worse, how quickly that inflammation will evaporate varies from person to person, but a general estimate for relief is after a couple of weeks, according to Dr. Ortiz.

Other Habits to Break to Prevent Inflammation

Food is far from the only thing to consider when it comes to reducing inflammation. If you don’t want to mess with your relationship with food or would appreciate extra pointers, Dr. Ortiz has you covered.

One major example she mentions is getting enough quality sleep. “Going to bed at the same time each night, waking up at the same time and getting six to eight hours a night helps the immune system stay balanced and can decrease inflammation,” she explains.

Related: Mama Kelce’s New Gig Will Help You Sleep Better at Night

Another she includes is addressing smoking habits, as smoking induces an abundance of pro-inflammatory bacteria. If you’d like to quit smoking, nicotine replacement therapy and continuing to delay that cigarette are only a couple of helpful options.

Last but not least, stress can contribute to inflammation, as studies show. Some anxiety-relieving tips include taking medication and engaging in a type of exercise you enjoy.

Making major changes like these—and maintaining them—may sound daunting, though. Doing your best (which will look different each day!) and being patient with yourself are key here. You don’t have to make all the changes at once or be perfect at them.

“Making long-lasting habit changes takes time, and the most important tip is to give yourself time and grace,” Dr. Ortiz affirms. “There is no need to change everything at once; small changes can make a big impact.”

Next up: Registered Dietitians Agree This Is the Best Food You Can Eat if You’re Trying To Reduce Inflammation in Your Body