She's been dubbed the cool girl of the plant-based world. But five years ago she was a cheese monster in crippling pain from endometriosis. Her anti-inflammatory eating philosophy is for anyone who just wants to feel a little better
I hadn’t actually wanted to change my diet, I’d fought against it pretty hard at first. But five years ago, I was headed for a hysterectomy at the age of 33, because of my Stage 4 endometriosis. I couldn’t get out of bed most mornings because my pain had become so severe. I underwent multiple surgeries; I tried conventional painkillers, fancy yoga and even therapy to help with the depression that comes with chronic pain. Nothing worked.
When my doctors said they were out of solutions to and advised me to undergo a hysterectomy, I agreed because I thought it would end my pain. But an email from a friend changed my life. She sent me a link to a website that explained how eating a plant-based diet could help alleviate some of the pain and symptoms of endometriosis. I was pretty sceptical. I mean, if the right nutrition could help me, why hadn’t my doctors told me this? And then I read what I had to eat. No sweets? No cheese? No fun? I had zero faith that the diet would work, and whatever-is-less-than-zero faith that I could actually stick to whatever this plant-based thing was.
But I’m also a people pleaser and I didn’t really actually want to have the surgery. So I told my friend I would give it a try.
And it worked. I couldn’t believe it. It actually worked. Within weeks, my pain began to fade. After a month, my eyes seemed to open a little wider, and I had more energy. Within three months, I was a completely different person. After six months, my husband said I had “my sparkle back.” I conquered
But I’m also a people pleaser and I didn’t really actually want to have the surgery. So I told my friend I would give it a try. And it worked. I couldn’t believe it. It actually worked. Within weeks, my pain began to fade. After a month, my eyes seemed to open a little wider, and I had more energy. Within three months, I was a completely different person. After six months, my husband said I had “my sparkle back”. I conquered the insomnia that had plagued me for a dozen years. I finally got a handle on my depression. I felt the best I’d ever felt - and I told my doctors I didn’t need that hysterectomy after all.
Changing my diet truly changed my life and I want everyone - sick, healthy and in between- to have the opportunity to benefit from real food in the same way that I did. One Part Plant (OPP) is my eating philosophy; it means at least one meal a day is made up of real, whole, plant-based foods. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you pick. Once a day you’ll create, pick up, or order in (no shame in that) a plant-based meal.
Doctors, nutritionists and dieticians have debated for years what the best diet is for overall health. One idea remains pretty consistent: inflammatory foods are not our friends
I’m not here to tell you what you can and can’t eat, that said, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense if I didn’t explain why certain foods - for example, ones that start with ch and end with eese - are not considered to be part of a plant-based diet.
That reason is inflammation.
Doctors, nutritionists and dieticians have been debating for years what the best diet is for overall health. One idea remains pretty consistent in every camp: inflammatory foods are not our friends. Chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression and Alzheimer’s. We also know that women with endometriosis can experience more severe symptoms when they consume inflammatory foods. And even if you are fortunate enough to never experience one of these major illnesses, there’s still a pretty good chance that inflammation will get in the way of you feeling your absolute best in some other way, such as persistent skin problems or digestive issues.
The main culprits include processed and packaged foods, dairy products, red meat, sugar, fried foods, soda, refined carbohydrates (pastries, white bread) and alcohol. By becoming more aware of these foods, you can pay attention to how they’re making you feel when you eat them. Some people experience inflammation after eating grains, corn, soy, and nightshade vegetables (aubergine, peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes). Each of us has a unique body, and we all react uniquely to different foods, even those that are widely considered to be “healthy.” The important thing is not to swear off these foods completely, but to gain an awareness of how your body reacts when you eat them.
"Wait a second," you may be thinking. "You forgot about gluten. Isn’t that THE biggest cause of inflammation?!"
I know, I know. I was just getting to that. When it comes to gluten, everyone has an opinion. Some experts say it’s the worst thing you could possibly put in your body, and others that say it’s perfectly safe. Personally, I don’t include much gluten in my diet. For my body, it can cause pretty serious inflammation, which isn’t great for endometriosis. I eat it on occasion, maybe once a month. I usually stick to gluten-free grains, gluten-free flours and sprouted breads.
If you do decide to go 100 percent gluten-free, a word of warning: a lot of brands remove the gluten from a food but then replace it with a whole slew of ingredients that might make you feel even worse (examples of these are processed starches, soy, and various sugars). I recommend eating foods that are naturally gluten-free instead of foods that are chemically altered to be that way.
I don’t want all this talk about gluten and inflammatory foods to scare you away. Remember, we’re starting with just one plant-based meal a day - it doesn’t have to be every meal. After changing my own diet, I know that subscribing to an all-or-nothing approach is a recipe for failure. Labelling the way we eat doesn’t help much either - and there’s a lot of labelling these days: paleo, raw, fruitarian, ketogenic, and lots more. When we label, it can slowly become not just a diet but our personal identity too. If we go off course and eat some grains or a piece of cheese, we feel that we’ve failed.
I know I’m making this all sound so easy and breezy, the reality is, changing your eating habits can be a challenge. For me. It was emotional. I questioned whether it was worth it. I wondered if just getting the surgery would be easier than changing the food on my plate. So what kept me going? I was feeling the results of my efforts every day. The damn plant-based thing was working. Real food works.
One Part Plant by Jessica Murnane with an introduction by Lena Dunham is published by Bluebird £16.99. Fancy winning a copy? We have 25 copies to give away. Click here to enter before 10am on Monday 24th April 2017.