Endometriosis. We’ve all heard of it but what exactly is going on here?
The scary/sad/wild thing is there is a lot of people that have never heard of it! You have no idea how many messages I’ve received from people that first learned the word “endometriosis” via my cookbook (One Part Plant). It was the first time they had ever seen the word and all of their symptoms in one place. We’re talking women in their 30s and 40s that were made to believe all of their pain was in their heads (for decades). It shouldn’t have taken a cookbook with gluten-free cookies for them to get answers or feel heard!
1 in 10 women suffer from endometriosis and it takes an average of 10 years and 8 doctors to be diagnosed. That’s way too long. Understanding and knowing the symptoms is really the key to earlier detection and feeling confident in pursuing a diagnosis.
So what is it?
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?
Painful periods (cramping, pelvic and leg pain, lower-back and abdominal pain)
Painful bowel movements or urination
Fatigue and chronic pain
Diarrhea and constipation
Nausea and vomiting
Urinary frequency, retention, or urgency
Pain during or after sex
Infertility (though many women can still have children)
Allergies and other immune-related issues are also commonly reported
*Someone with endo might experience one or all of the symptoms. It doesn’t matter the number. One symptom might be all it takes to disrupt their everyday life and activities.
Can you tell us about your journey towards a pain-free period?
I’m not sure a pain-free period has ever been my goal. Back in the day, before I learned how to manage my endo, my goal was to get out of bed, go to work, have stable relationships and have at least one pair of sheets in my house that weren’t stained by my heavy flow. My endometriosis controlled my entire life. And not just during my period, it was all month long.
I’m eight years into managing my endo and my life is radically different. I actually want to (and can) jump out of bed in the morning, my work doesn’t feel limited (even on the first day of my period) and I can be fully present with my family and friends. I still have some crummy endo days here and there, but now I have way more good days than bad. Even after eight years, I’m still surprised at how much better I feel! It feels like some sort of Hallmark-movie miracle every single month.
How do you manage the pain?
I have a whole toolkit I use to manage the pain and symptoms. It’s taken a lot of work to find what works best for me and wasn’t always easy in the beginning (I wanted to give up a lot). But now that I’ve found my groove and the tools that work, these tools are the foundation of my life.
An anti-inflammatory diet. For me, that means plant-based, almost gluten-free and watching the nightshades.
Gentle movement. Rebounding, foam rolling, walking and some Tracy Anderson arm exercises thrown in.
Stress management. Not hanging out with energy vampires, digital minimalism, getting outside and weird little art projects.
These tools will look different for each person. But I think the key is to be aware of the foods that trigger your inflammation, moving your body in whatever way you can (even if that means stretching in bed), finding activities to calm your mind (stress can really exacerbate symptoms) and really looking hard at the ingredients in your personal products.
Do you have any preventative tips?
Sadly, no amount of green juice and high vibe skin care is going to stop your endo from growing. There is no cure for endo and no definitive preventive tips or techniques. It’s all about management and getting proper treatment through excision surgery, if needed. In addition to the tools I use above, pelvic floor therapy, Chinese Medicine practices and medical cannabis can be helpful for some people too.
What does the “ideal/healthy period” look and feel like?
That’s a tough one, because it looks and feels so different for everyone. My ideal period with endo might be someone else’s worst nightmare or a dream for someone that has more pain than I do.
I think an ideal period is one that feels like you’re in control of and one that it’s not in control of you.
Can you please suggest resources for endo/period health information?
Know Your Endo. Great starting point for understanding endo. I love our elaborate Ask A Dr. section.
Endo What? True bad ass activists making change in policies and education around periods and endo.
What motivates you to share your story?
Getting the 10 year diagnosis average down to a single digit. Empowering the next generation of women to feel more confident in speaking up about their pain. Making sure every single woman has heard the word “endometriosis” and understands the symptoms. Creating a community to make sure no one ever feels alone in this disease. How’s that for some goals?
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek advice from your health provider before altering your routine.