I've never been one for dieting. Every time in my life that I've wanted to lose weight, I've either doubled down on working out or just complained but did nothing and continued to self-loathe.
I've always loved food too much to restrict myself, and since I know myself well enough to know I am a bit on the obsessive side, I know counting calories and reading nutritional labels constantly could lead me down a potentially unhealthy spiral.
The one time I tried a diet honestly doesn't even count as trying. One year in college when the Atkins diet was blowing up, my roommate bought the South Beach diet book, and I read a bit of it. I decided to try it with her in solidarity and lasted approximately one hour before I decided I wanted a chocolate chip cookie and simply could not go without one.
Willpower has never been my strong suit.
I ate pure garbage throughout college and never gave much thought to it. After school, when I was cooking for myself for the first time in my life, I started to pay more attention to what worked for my body and what didn't.
Like many women, my focus in my 20s was more on how I looked than how I felt. I never went low-carb again, but I did discover that eating a lot of protein made my workouts stronger and made me leaner. Because I hated grocery shopping and meal planning, I started getting meal kit deliveries. I'd focus on eating relatively healthily during the week and then eating (and drinking) whatever I wanted on the weekends. I'd say this worked relatively well for my physique, but over the past two years especially, how I look has taken a FAR backseat to how I feel.
It seems stupid looking back on it now, but until I really began to learn about my endometriosis and its pathology, I really never made any connections between it and the food I put on my body. When I thought about how food made me feel, I thought about it more in terms of "When I drink I feel like shit for two days," or "When I eat a full meal of fried food, I get heartburn and want to die." It never occurred to me that what I was eating could be exacerbating my endo symptoms.
But I've since learned there are two main tenets of how to eat while keeping my endo in mind. The first is to avoid soy, since it contains phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) that alter your body's natural estrogen balance. Since estrogen is directly tied to endo symptoms, this is obviously something I'd want to keep in a healthy, natural balance. The second is to avoid foods that cause inflammation -- sugar, dairy, processed foods, alcohol, etc. -- since endometriosis is an inflammatory disease and inflammation = pain.
So I'd say I started down this antiinflammatory path on a soft rollout. As it is, I am already not a big drinker; I probably only have two to three drinks per month, if that. I started making lunches more often than relying on Lean Cuisines which are easy and low-calorie, but processed. Rather than buying canned soup, I started making my own (partly because I got an Instant Pot for Hannukkah, and it is AMAZING and I want to use it all the time). I looked for some of the "cleaner" recipes available through Blue Apron.
But then this month some flip switched in me. After experiencing a particularly painful March cycle, I decided to just go full out and try some new things with the start of my next cycle. A wonderful friend of mine bought me an antiinflammatory cookbook for my birthday, and as I read through it, I learned more and more about not just what to restrict to avoid inflammation, but what to ADD into my diet to to reduce it. Some things might seem obvious, but here is what I've discovered over the last week and a half.
First of all, this book is awesome.
It is not specific to endometriosis, and I have more research to do on that, but I've learned a lot from this book, and the recipes are legitimately good.
I've had some hits and misses (the misses are more likely due to user error, not the recipes themselves), but it is true, these recipes are actually doable inside of 30 minutes and are really good.
What I like about these recipes is I don't feel like I'm missing out on foods I like because there are substitutes that actually taste great. For instance, I cannot taste the difference between the processed butter I grew up on and ghee, which is clarified butter.
Coconut is quite the renaissance man (nut?).
So you know how I said soy is an absolute no-no with endometriosis? This was a real mindfuck for me for a while. Like during a particularly sensitive moment before my last endo surgery, I actually broke down into tears to my boyfriend at Bonchon over Korean fried chicken because of soy. It's not that I love soy milk or tofu or any soy products like that, but I do really, REALLY love all manners of Asian cuisine, and I really didn't want to give it up knowing soy is used in preparing quite a lot of it.
My boyfriend found liquid aminos for me as a substitute for soy sauce (he even bought me a bottle of a sriracha-flavored one to go with my birthday gift...awww). And Given's cookbook calls for coconut aminos in multiple Asian-style recipes. So I bought a bottle of it, and I think I actually like it more than regular soy sauce! I personally think it has more of an umami flavor rather than straight salt. It is delicious, but comes from coconuts rather than soybeans. I am probably now going to be one of those people who carries a bottle of sauce in my purse, especially when going out for sushi.
Another coconut substitute I found? Coconut sugar. It is still sugar, yes, but from what I understand, it has a lower glycemic index than the regular white sugar we're all used to. Also! Coconut oil. Because coconut oil is high in saturated fats, it's a good fat for your heart (it lowers cholesterol). Hot tip though -- if you buy it unrefined, it tastes and smells like coconut. That might be a plus for you, but as much as I love coconut, I actually prefer the triple-filtered coconut oil from Trader Joe's which is virtually flavorless.
Buying organic requires a new way of food shopping (at least for me).
In the quest for antiinflammatory foods, organic is king. So as you might imagine, you want to get as many fruits and vegetables into your diet as possible. I have found that Given's recipes make that surprisingly easy.
What isn't easy for me are grocery stores.
Holy shit, I do not like grocery shopping. With the exception of going to Trader Joe's, which is a true wonderland, grocery stores, especially massive ones like Wegmans and Whole Foods, give me anxiety. Of course, places like Wegmans and Whole Foods are where you'll find the best selection of organic products, and organic products = antiinflammatory.
So what to do?
Since I was in the neighborhood of a Wegmans a couple weeks ago, I decided to give it a shot. Granted, I went on a Sunday, which was of course a poor choice, but I thought I'd only need a few things.
I was so overwhelmed, and everything was SO expensive.
I did get some great organic produce and proteins, but honestly, I don't want to ever go back. So when I can't make it to Trader Joe's (which is far from where I live), I'll be aiming to get my produce from the Baltimore farmer's market (now open, yay!), proteins from Target (which shockingly has a good selection of quality organic meats and poultry), and everything else from Thrive.
Both Given's book and another antiinflammatory cookbook I paged through recommend Thrive. For an annual fee, you can get organic items at steeply discounted prices (cheaper than Target, even with a Red Card).
I did the first month free trial and found it so much easier than trolling the aisles of Wegmans since obviously you can just type and search for what you're looking for, then compare prices side by side. I've done two orders so far and everything came very quickly, so I think when my free month is up, I'll be paying the subscription fee.
Finding balance is going to be a work in progress.
During the week I was so pleased with how well things were going. I was genuinely enjoying cooking and eating, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the heaviest day of my period not only didn't require a prescription painkiller, but I didn't even need Advil! This could have been a coincidence...but maybe not! Who knows? We'll see, and I'll keep you posted.
But by the end of the week with weekend plans looming ahead, I started to stress about how to tackle eating over the weekend, particularly when eating out. I have no intention of giving up going out to restaurants and trying new foods. It's too great a joy in my life.
So I did what any good millennial would do, and I took to Instagram to find out what everyone else does. I got a lot of great tips about balance -- cheat meals, 80/20, be good during the week and do whatever you want on the weekend, etc.
When I went out for Mexican, I thoroughly enjoyed my tacos. Were the flour tortillas antiinflammatory? Doubtful. Was there soy in my Korean shortrib taco? Probably. But I had an awesome meal and a great night out.
I felt like crap for a few hours afterward, but if I'm being honest, that was probably a result of the amount I ate rather than the particular foods I ate. It is impossible for me to stop eating tortilla chips when they are right in front of me...even if I'm already full.
Now I'm in Florida visiting my boyfriend. He's been supportive, looking for ingredients he can substitute for some of the more harmful ones, but since I'm only here for a few days, it's not like I'd want him to overhaul his pantry with coconut products.
This weekend will probably be a bit of a challenge since we do love the occasional all-pastry breakfast from the local bakery, and we're also planning a theme park day. And who doesn't want a drink on the beach? What I keep trying to remind myself though is that this lifestyle change isn't just about what I'm cutting out, but what I'm adding in, and that makes it much more manageable in terms of balance.
So come find me on Instagram and tell me about your own food journey. This is new for me, and I want to know what other people have discovered. How do you stay balanced? Are you on the endo diet or an antiinflammatory diet? FODMAP? Gluten-free? What makes you feel good?