There’s no cure for endometriosis, a painful uterine disease that goes undiagnosed in women for years. It is a chronic disease, whose symptoms are masked or excused as being caused by “painful periods.” Padma Lakshmi, an endometriosis sufferer said, “I and millions of other women are conditioned to think that it’s just a part of being a woman, and it’s really not.” The disease disrupts the lives of millions of women, and here is how one woman has coped for years with excruciating pain and discovered diet and nutrition could help.
I never had an easy period. From day one, in sixth grade, it was heavy bleeding, unbearable cramps, back pain, and leg pain. There was no doubt that on the first day of my period, I’d have to go home from school. It was embarrassing. You see all your friends getting their period and managing it okay and there you are, in the nurse’s office, lying on the ground, having bled through your clothes. Wrapping jackets around my waist was a big thing back then.
I went to the gyno for the first time at 16 years old. No one blinked when I said I had awful cramps. In college, when I became sexually active, I told my doctor how painful sex was (another symptom of endometriosis). The doctor said that maybe I had to “relax more” in bed. He made me feel like a prude, like I was too high-strung, like something was wrong with me. That still angers me today!
I used to plan my entire life around the first day of my period. I would never make plans or go on vacation around then. In fact, the way I knew my husband would be my husband was because I got my period on the day we were supposed to have our first date. I was 21. I explained why I had to cancel. He showed up at my apartment that night with every single takeout menu from the college town we lived in. Finally, someone understood my pain.
But there was always some sort of symptom hanging around. I could never hold my urine. It would just come on so fast. I peed my pants so many times. I often had to run to alleys to pee. Another doctor suggested I drink more water and go to the bathroom more often. On top of that, I had bad fatigue and the most painful diarrhea around my period. Plus, I was always so inflamed and bloated, every day someone would ask me if I was pregnant. All these years, I thought this was my normal.
The main problem for women with endometriosis is it takes us an average of eight doctors and over ten years to get diagnosed. When you say you’re suffering from bad periods, people just dismiss it.
One night I had the most excruciating pain; I was lying on the ground telling my husband what to do, “when I die.” They thought it was my appendix. The next day, a doctor said, “Do you have endometriosis?” I had no idea what that was. Turns out, one of the cysts I had from endo had ruptured.
In order to actually be diagnosed, you need to have a laparoscopic surgery — which I had shortly after. It ended up that I had stage-4 endometriosis and it had spread to my liver. She was surprised that I was able to get through the day. They did an emergency surgery, like a C-section.
All I kept thinking was, Great, I’m not crazy! As for the fertility threat of it all, ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to adopt. So I didn’t really care about having kids — I still don’t know if I can or can’t. For me that part wasn’t an issue; I was just happy to put a name on something and to find out I wasn’t alone.
After my diagnosis and surgery, the pain didn’t get any better. It got worse and worse. I became severely depressed. Living with chronic pain changes your personality. I was just so sad. My in-laws thought I was a cold person, but they didn’t realize that I could barely stand up. I had so much to be happy about, but this disease was getting in the way of everything.
When I was 33, my doctor suggested getting a hysterectomy. Around the same time, a friend, who saw what I was going through, did a bunch of research. She read about a plant-based diet, how it could help with the pain. At that point, my diet was Sour Patch Kids and pizza. I never ate vegetables. I never cooked. I drank soda every day. The idea of doing this plant-based stuff sounded like living hell to me.
But she was nice enough to do all the research, so I figured I’d give it a shot. And it worked. Which was, believe it or not, bittersweet. I was really mad about changing my diet. I had to break up with all my food traditions like pizza with friends, tubs of ice cream. I didn’t want to be the vegan at the table.
After about four months, I accepted that this is what I needed to do to feel good. I surrendered to the new diet. First I took out gluten, dairy, and soy. Sugar was the hardest thing to take out. I would go to 7-Eleven just to visit the candy aisle and say hello.
This diet is not a cure; there is no cure for endometriosis. But my periods are a lot lighter. I used to have huge blood clots the size of quarters — I don’t have those anymore. No more urination issues, no diarrhea. I’m not floating on air when I have my period, but I probably have more of a “normal” period situation now. I can actually leave the house.
Changing my diet opened my eyes to even more wellness practices that I wouldn’t have ever imagined. I mean, I would have completely turned my nose up at things I do now. I practice Kundalini (a lot of meditation and chanting are involved), started to incorporate more positive books and spirituality into my life (Wayne Dyer), I take vitamins and herbs (Vitamin D is crucial for my mood), and started a more consistent exercise routine. My friends sometimes still can’t believe the person I’ve become — but in a weird way, the new me feels like the me I always was meant to be. I think I was just too judgmental, naïve, or didn’t feel worthy enough to be her.
I see food so differently now. I taught myself to cook. I’m actually writing a cookbook about the whole process and how real food changed my life (One Part Plant, coming out in spring 2017 with HarperWave).
I remember a few months into the plant-based eating, my husband said, “You have your sparkle back.” I cried. I can’t imagine my old life. I never want to go back to that place.
Two years ago, we adopted a baby. He’s going to be 2 in October. He’s the coolest guy ever. Like I said, adoption was always my first choice — that had nothing to do with my health issues. I’m not in pain anymore, although I still experience some bloat no matter what I eat. Sometimes I let that get to me, but most days, I know that I’ve done all I can do — and I’ve done a pretty good job.