I’ve had a long and complicated battle with endometriosis over the years. Although there’s no cure, a whole-food, plant-based diet and lifestyle have helped me manage and eliminate many of my symptoms. I am not a doctor, and this information is not intended to diagnose illness or be used as a treatment plan. I am simply sharing my experience with the hope that it might be able to give you a better understanding of this condition and/or help you or someone else in your life.
It’s my mission to help women not let their disease define them. I’m excited to announce that I’ll be launching a new website Know Your Endo this winter to provide practical diet and lifestyle tools for girls and women to feel their best. You can sign up here to make sure you’re notified about the launch.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a disorder where the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows on the outside. It usually involves the ovaries, bowel, or the tissue lining your pelvis, though sometimes it can spread beyond the pelvic region. During your menstrual cycle, this displaced tissue thickens, breaks down, and bleeds. Because this tissue has no way to exit the body, it becomes trapped. This can lead to cyst formation, adhesions, and pain.
What are the symptoms?
Very painful periods (pelvic pain, cramping, lower back and abdominal pain)
Pain during or after sex
Painful bowel movements or urination
Infertility (though many women can still have children)
Fatigue and chronic pain
Diarrhea and constipation
Nausea and vomiting
Urinary frequency, retention, or urgency
Allergies and other immune-related issues are also commonly reported
How is it diagnosed?
Diagnosing endometriosis requires a surgical biopsy, typically involving an outpatient procedure called laparoscopy. Without a laparoscopy, endometriosis can be (and has been) misdiagnosed as appendicitis, ovarian cysts, bowel obstruction, colon and ovarian cancer, fibroids, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or sexually transmitted disease.
I wasn’t diagnosed until my late 20s, which is pretty common for endo sufferers. After years of being told that I was being “too sensitive” or had super-bad IBS, I finally found a doctor that connected all the dots. She suggested a laparoscopy, was able to diagnose me, and eventually performed a laparotomy to remove some cysts. This helped with my symptoms for a short period of time, but they quickly returned.
So what are the treatment options?
Diet & nutrition (though rarely discussed)
Alternative therapy (acupuncture, biofeedback therapy, massage, exercise)
My treatments & surgeries
I had multiple surgeries, tried conventional painkillers (and the less conventional ones, like a month-long weed binge), went to fancy and not-so-fancy yoga classes, and even tried therapy to help with the depression caused by the pain. Nothing worked for me. So I made the decision to get a hysterectomy.
BUT THEN as a last-ditch effort, I decided to try a diet change. I switched to a whole-food, plant-based diet with a focus on reducing inflammatory foods. My chronic pain, fatigue, urinary problems, nausea, and painful bowel issues went away, and I became a much happier (and nicer) person. And I was able to skip the hysterectomy.
While diet change worked for me, I can’t guarantee that it’ll work for everyone. My hope is that by sharing my story (and an alternative that none of my doctors ever told me about), that I can help people out there who feel like they’ve run out of options. And whether you have endometriosis or not, simply reducing inflammatory foods and adding more plants to your diet can help your overall health and wellness.
What are inflammatory foods?*
Processed and packaged foods
Gluten, white bread, and wheat
Meat (especially red and processed meats)
*I’m not suggesting that you never eat any of these things again, I’m just letting you know the biggest culprits.
Can a plant-based diet cure endometriosis?
No. Right now, there is no cure for endometriosis. But it can help some people manage their symptoms.
My diet and recovery
A whole-food, plant-based diet has helped me manage my pain and symptoms. But it wasn’t just about the food. Chronic pain and illness can take a toll on your happiness, relationships, and mental health. So in addition to switching up my diet, I also started to change the kinds of things I was feeding my brain. Negative self-talk, not-so-positive relationships, and work stress – fixing these were also part of my recovery process. And I didn’t tackle them all at once. I took it one part at time, with new books, people, and places that inspired me and changed the way I saw myself in the world.
This all seems pretty heavy. Where do I even start?
If you think you might have endometriosis, find a doctor that specializes in endo or one that you feel will take the time to listen to your symptoms and needs. If you know you have endo, have tried all of the conventional options, and aren’t getting any better, then find a doctor who is open to talking about alternative therapies like diet, nutrition, and holistic wellness practices. Again, this is not a cure or guarantee, but it might be worth a shot.
If overhauling your diet and mindset seems a little overwhelming, just remember that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Baby steps can lead to giant changes in the way you feel. And remember, pobody’s nerfect. Do your best and be proud of every step you take. My book, One Part Plant, dives deep into this and provides easy recipes to get you started too.
A Life Change That Save My Uterus via Lenny
A Roadmap To Bettering Your Relationship With Endometriosis via Feed Me Phoebe
Balancing Hormones + Managing Endometriosis via Mind Body Green
Woman Says Healthy Diet Alleviated Her Endometriosis Symptoms via People Magazine
Endometriosis, Friendship, and Creativity via Katie Dalebout
Interview With EndoTwins
Podcast Interview with The Actor’s Diet
Sign up for the new Know Your Endo website launching winter 2018.
Sources: Endometriosis Foundation of America, Mayo Clinic, Endometriosis Resolved