Lumbago Book and Cookbook Reviews

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Being transparent here, when I received a triple-diagnosis on a random, summer day, I stuck my head in the sand for a few days. It seemed like a lot. I’ve had back problems my entire adult life, but when the doc said he didn’t expect to see much on the x-ray, I was blind-sided by a file that night with some pretty disturbing x-rays and the words “degenerative disc disease,” “arthritis,” and “scoliosis.” I was concerned that if I googled it, I was going to end up crying on the floor, convinced my life as I know it is over. (I’m a pretty active and very adventurous person.) I’d been in constant and worsening pain for more than six months, however, so eventually I put my head up and looked around me. (What actually happened is a couple concerned friends convinced me I needed to calm down and look at all the bright sides.) What do I do when I need to move forward? Always, get a book.

This time I ordered two books, lickety-split, on the internet, and they arrived not long before my first physical therapy session (of my forties, anyhow). I read through the thin, informational book before squeezing the other book into my crowded calendar (and the meal plan calendar). And I also admit that by the time the book got here, I had done some internet research, carefully and composedly. It was not nearly as alarming as I feared. The whole thing is not nearly as alarming as I feared.

Which you will know if you read Degenerative Disc Disease Explained by Frederick Earlstein. I honestly don’t know what sort of authority Earlstein really has for having published this book (and by the look of it, it’s self-published). I can tell you that what he says seems consistent with whatever else I have found or been told (by the internet, by docs and a chiropractor, etc.). The formatting, layout, and grainy photos suck (as well as some grammatical and spelling errors). However, I would still recommend this book for patients with a new triple-d diagnosis. (Let’s keep in mind that I am also no authority on d-d-d, except that I have it.) It is a very slim read written in plain English, and most people leaving the doctor’s office would find it comforting and empowering. There’s lots of basic information and there are many care options laid out. It also breaks things down by the section of the spine affected, so the reader can skip sections that don’t apply to them. (I noticed that it doesn’t address traction or supports, both of which I use on a regular basis.)

This book made me feel better (mentally) about my diagnosis and gave me plenty of things to do from here. I have now started PT and have also gone on an anti-inflammatory diet, which we’ll chat about momentarily. I also consulted with my long-time chiropractor and we decided to add heat and massage. I may do some more things as time goes on and I see what seems to work and what doesn’t. For now, I don’t feel like my life is in pieces, so that’s good.

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One of the recommendations out there for triple-d is an anti-inflammatory diet. There are several anti-inflammatory diet cookbooks available at this point in time. I went where the ratings were and got lucky. The Complete Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Beginners by Dorothy Calameris has things going for it that I can really appreciate. Now, I love making graphs and lists and charts and whatnot, but there are two weeks of meal plans built into this book including grocery lists, and with all the busyness around here, I totally needed them. Here are some other real big plusses: the meals are easy and often quick. Simple. It uses leftovers. (Never seen this, actually.) Gives you a flexible prep plan. Doesn’t demand too much of breakfasts. Common pitfalls it falls into: demands too much of lunch prep and does not include (many or accessible) snacks. (I made a small list of anti-inflammatory snack ideas, added the items to the grocery list, and posted the list in the kitchen.) More neutral: there are perhaps a few more weeks’ worth of recipes listed in a more conventional style. With a little work, then, you would have at least a month of anti-inflammatory recipes, or just your favorites to work into your usual schedule. So it has a lot going for it, though it could be bigger.

I found all the copy at the beginning to be basic enough that I really didn’t need to read it. I understand nutritional health already. If you don’t, maybe it would be useful. I did love the lists of anti-inflammatory foods and inflammatory foods as well as the chart for the meal plan. (If I am, say, out of town and miss a couple of the meals, I just snag the next thing I haven’t made for that mealtime (though you can totally stick to the days of the week if that works out for you.)) The book looks nice. It’s easy to use. The recipes are well-written, clear, accessible. As for the food, I have been happy with at least half of the recipes. Now, I am a total food snob, but I find that I need to adjust about half the recipes to make them flavorful. (Why on earth do all health cookbooks lack flavor? There’s no reason they can’t find ways to get around the lack of fat, salt, and chemicals.) I would say that the average adult would be fine with these recipes, though to accommodate kids, it needs adjusting. Or just a separate meal option. Wouldn’t it be cool if diet books included an addendum for each recipe that made half of it kid- (or ornery spouse-) friendly? For many of these recipes, the addition of a grain—even a healthy grain—would make dinner a lot more satiating (which the anti-inflammatory eater will also need). So with a little modification, I’ll continue to use this cookbook when my back (or some other thing) is acting up. I might buy Calaermis’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Action Plans, or Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep by Ginger Hultin so that I have a few more options. I don’t know how much I’ll use the diet—that will depend on how much it helps and if I can keep myself pain-free for months without it—but I imagine I will be coming back to it occasionally, like how I come back to the Ultra-Mind diet for “detox” after trips and holidays or the Alton Brown diet for weight loss.

My favorite recipes so far: Roast Chicken with Lemon and White Beans, and Basic Baked Salmon. Looking forward to Vibrant Salmon Salad, Lulu’s Iced Coffee, Zucchini and Red Onion Salad with Olives, Turkey Taco Soup, Chicken and Broccoli Stir-Fry, Green Smoothie Bowl, Miso Baked Salmon, Grilled Shrimp with Mango-Cucumber Salsa, Sesame Miso Chicken, Mushroom Turkey Thighs, Chocolate Chili, and Mango Coconut Lassi. (I would be looking forward to all the avocado recipes, but I can’t really eat it because it’s a migraine trigger.)

So, in conclusion, these two books might not be the absolute best ones, but they came to me with more than four stars from other people and they are serving me well.

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