After being diagnosed with stage 3 Endometriosis I had a surgical procedure to remove the disease. This was performed via keyhole surgery, known as Laparoscopy and was a success. However, despite being expected to make a full recovery and become pain free, the symptoms continued.
My consultant told me to be patient and allow time to heal, but months later I was still in excruciating pain. Like many, my options were limited, the conventional route was to consider strong hormonal treatment or further surgery, each with its own side effects and debatable success rates. In desperation I turned to the internet and discovered endo specialist Dr Andrew Cook. His book The Endometriosis Health and Diet Program: Get Your Life Back became my bible and introduced me to a very strict anti-inflammatory diet.
I was sceptical to start, especially as I’ve never been a dieter (although a chocolate based meal plan used to suit me quite nicely!). I really had nothing to lose, I’d been signed off work, was in excruciating pain and suffering from depression. Impulsively and somewhat desperately I committed to the diet. I purchased just about every ingredient suggested in my new bible and batch cooked a variety of different drinks, snacks and meals that I’d never tried before.
I’d always been an avid cook, but this was a departure from my normal way of cooking. I began swapping out dairy milk for home made coconut and almond milk, butter with home made Ghee and coconut oil. I was still in pain and extremely hungry but determined.
The following two months were extreme. I had to eliminate all sugar, carbohydrates, caffeine, alcohol, gluten, soy, dairy and the deadly nightshade fruit and veg family. This seemed impossible but I stuck to Dr Cook’s meal plans and never gave in to temptation. I lived on cooked vegetables, salads, home made broths, fish and chicken which were mostly covered with turmeric, ginger and cooked in home made anti-inflammatory ghee. I discovered foods I didn’t know existed and learnt which foods are anti-inflammatory such as cucumber, fennel and radishes. Food preparation was a full time job as everything had to be cooked from scratch. As a journalist always looking for facts, I took comfort that everything in the book was backed up with evidence. This included fish oil tablets, which I started taking daily. My food bill sky rocketed and I had never eaten so healthily in my life, but I soon found it was worth every penny as the pain and spasms reduced significantly.
I’m lucky to have such a supportive family. At the start of the diet I cooked turmeric prawns and vegetables for myself and pizza for everyone else. My husband said if you’re doing this we’re doing it together. He promptly gave up alcohol and followed much of the same diet, although keeping carbs in his portion! What I hadn’t realised is your body turns carbohydrates into sugar, especially if you’re “sugar dependent”, which I was and according to Dr Cook is a trait of many endo sufferers! To me, chocolate was a comforter for pain, but little did I know that it was actually contributing to the problem by causing inflammation. Giving up sugar was the hardest part for me and was like an addict coming off drugs!
As I became more nutritionally aware, I started to use food to heal the pain instead of taking copious pain killers. I couldn’t quite believe that making golden turmeric tea out of nut milk and spices had a similar anti-inflammatory effect as Nurofen, but miraculously it worked.
After the first two months I cautiously began re-introducing certain foods following the advice of the diet plan, whilst carefully monitoring any side effects. Having cut out sugar, my taste buds had awoken and I enjoyed reintroducing some of the “normal” foods that I love. These included rice, nuts and eggs. I started to gain more energy and put back on some of the weight I’d lost, which was a relief.
A year on, I remain gluten, caffeine, soy, refined sugar and alcohol free. I no longer eat tomatoes, aubergine, peppers and potatoes as they’re part of the deadly nightshade family or strawberries as they cause inflammation. Although refined sugars are off the menu, I can now eat natural sugars such as honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar (and more) which has opened up many options for gluten free cakes and deserts! Luckily a glut of healthy cook books have come on the market that have opened up my recipe choices.
None of this would have worked though if I’d given up just one food group such as gluten or sugar. By removing all these foods at the same time I fully detoxed my body and reduced the inflammation in my pelvis. Alongside my new diet and yoga, I also remained on one drug that my consultant prescribed as a last resort, Mebeverine 200mg. This is often used to treat IBS and stops my pelvis going into painful spasm. It’s the combination of all these factors that work together and have radically improved my condition.
Sometimes it takes an overwhelming breakdown to have an undeniable breakthrough. Anonymous
I still have days when the pain returns which is a harsh reminder that I’m not cured. Unlike other diets this is not one I can stop when I feel better. As Dr Cook explains this isn’t just a diet, it’s a lifestyle change and it’s something I’ll have to follow to keep the pain at bay for as long as possible until I reach the menopause.
The diet can be difficult especially when you go out for a meal or have dinner with friends. That said, I’ve found a surprising number of restaurants (even the well known chains) can accommodate me. I just have to be prepared that my meal may be a touch bland, perhaps chicken or fish without any sauces or maybe a salad without dressing. It’s a compromise but at least I can be out socialising with family and friends. When you’ve suffered chronic debilitating pain that has led to depression and anxiety for so long, it’s surprising what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to get your life back!
We are all different and what worked for me may not be as effective for others. However, I would recommend any endo sufferer to at least give these relatively simple lifestyle changes a try, there’s not much to loose and a whole lot to gain!