Health and wellness is extremely important in my life. For me it includes a mix of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well being. I don’t believe in the balance system, because it’s not realistic for all aspects to be equal at all times. Instead, it should be a give and take; having all components contributing as a team, with some picking up the slack when needed.
Growing up I was never the “sick kid”. I did though struggle more frequently than others with common ailments like the a cold, bronchitis, and fatigue. Being super skinny I could eat anything I wanted without gaining any noticeable weight. It wasn’t until I was in college and started having health issues that I began to truly understand the importance of nutrition. At the same time, I was struggling with a severely painful menstrual cycle that caused hot flashes, night sweats, unrelenting carb and sugar cravings, and pain so severe that I would miss up to 2-3 days of school each month. These were my “normal” symptoms since I started my cycle when I was 12. Trying birth control at 16 only provided limited relief. I didn’t realize this wasn’t “normal” until my pain landed me in the ER several times. My gynecologist then diagnosed me with suspected endometriosis.
Endometriosis “Endo” is a condition where the endometrium (the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus) grows outside of the uterus. This tissue often stays within the pelvic region, attaching to the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the tissue lining of the pelvis; however it can travel outside the pelvic organs to other parts of the body including the bowel, bladder, abdomen, lungs, and brain. The endometrium naturally sheds with each menstrual cycle. The displaced endometrium bleeds as well, however the body is unable to shed it, causing pain and inflammation in that trapped location. Severity of the condition and the amount of pain are not synonymous. Multiple adhesions can develop throughout the body with little to no pain, and vice versa.
A common myth is that this condition only affects women in their 30’s and 40’s. It can actually affect any woman in her reproductive years, and often takes several years to get diagnosed. The only way to accurately diagnose the condition is through laparoscopic surgery. The cause of endometriosis is unknown; however, there are a few competing theories including a genetic component, the condition being present at fetal development and activated at puberty by increasing estrogen levels, and retrograde menstruation.
My gynecologist advised against the surgery to verify and specifically diagnose the endo if I wasn’t having symptoms that were completely limiting my life. Surgery could cause more scar tissue, potentially worsening the endo. Although there is no cure, I was presented with a couple options. I could go on Depo-Provera, a birth control injection, with the synthetic hormone progestin to be re-administered every 3 months, I could induce menopause to help relieve the symptoms, or get pregnant, which increases the hormone progesterone and dramatically decreases the symptoms of endometriosis. Since I was 19 at the time and in college, getting pregnant and going through menopause were a big and definite N-O, so I decided to do the Depo-Provera shot. After a week of the shot I started having symptoms of depression: feeling hopeless, lack of appetite, sleeping more, lack of enthusiasm in everything, including socializing with friends. Experiencing these symptoms in my lift was new and scary. I desperately wanted to extract the progestin from my body, reversing everything from the injection. In addition to these new feelings, my previous symptoms from my menstrual cycle continued. I couldn’t wait for the shot to wear off and after 3 long unbearable months, I refused to do it again.
Now, I was back at square one and decided to look into alternative treatments. This is where my love for nutrition began. The detriment sugar, dairy, and gluten had on my body was undeniable. Without these ingredients that we deem essential in our daily diet, I began having less pain and having more energy. It allowed me to clear my head and not have my cycle rule my life. Now I’m not going to say it was an immediate effect and with the snap of my fingers I was healed from all my problems. The fact that I need to limit certain foods in order to have energy and less pain has been a daily struggle for over 10 years. There were periods where I was strict with limiting these ingredients and then times when I wasn’t. The benefits are undeniable, but to be honest it’s still a struggle. I don’t dwell on it nearly as often as I did before, but I will occasionally (once every month or two) have cake at a party, cheese and bread in Europe, or boardwalk pizza in the summer. The symptoms will creep back the next day or two, with more pain and having less energy, but F it - I was having fun in a social situation and I sure as hell enjoyed eating it! I know many people will tell you this isn’t good to do, but I also learned over the last 10+ years that beating myself up for it was almost more detrimental than the act of occasionally eating a “bad” food.
Learning to not beat myself up and enjoying life spiraled into a new understanding and appreciation for mindset. This includes being positive, negative, hopeful, content, and realistic. People can eat the healthiest, most organic, non-toxic, natural, nutritious food possible, but if their mindset is not positive then they don’t reap the same benefits. Everyone does not agree on this, but it is something I have experienced myself and seen with others close to me. Negativity is not a state one should live in constantly. It is important to feel and understand sadness, anger, and guilt in order to work through and move past these emotions. Movement activities including exercising, running, yoga, pilates, walking, etc. help reset your brain and change your mindset. I’m a true believer in doing whatever works for you and knowing that it can change year to year, month to month, week to week, or even day to day. Running used to clear my head like nothing else, but now low intensity activities like walking, yoga, and meditation do.
All these things are important in a healthy lifestyle, yet I still have endometriosis and experience the symptoms of it. The mere fear of endo causing infertility can paralyze you and quadruple your symptoms. One stressful month at work or two weeks of getting out of my routine can cause severe endo symptoms for the next 3 months. I’ve had many setbacks over the years. My endo flared up so bad during graduate school that I felt my only option was to go on birth control continuously for over 4 years without a period. Everyone had their own opinions about that including my doctors, my family, my friends, and health and medical sites. Like when I was confronted with my options a few years prior at 19, I felt this was the lesser of two evils - not have a period, or allow my symptoms to interfere with my school work and risk not graduating. Afterwards I was able to get off the pill completely without problems for almost 7 years, but had to go back on it for a year after multiple blows in my personal life causing severe symptoms and several ER visits.
The point is, that endometriosis is a chronic condition with no cure, and it comes with good and bad days. Hopefully you can get it to the point where it does not rule your life. Nutrition, mindset, and movement are important factors that you should check-in on daily; however, it may not be possible for them to be balanced evenly every day. Nutrition may be more important during the week, while movement and mindset may take precedence when on vacation. As a former perfectionist, not feeling like life has to be perfectly balanced every day has helped me find solace in the craziness. I hope that with sharing my story, thoughts, and practices, it can help others through their own health and wellness journey.