FEMpowerment Fridays episode 5 + interview with Jessica Murnane + Endometriosis Tips

This week, I was so incredibly fortunate to interview Jessica Murnane, from One Part Plant. She is a cookbook author, endometriosis warrior, podcast extraordinaire, and is certified in plant based nutrition. She not only manages, but thrives with endometriosis, and even offered advice to Lena Dunham, who was also diagnosed with endo. Needless to say, I am incredibly excited to be able to host her on my blog this week. Talk about one inspiring female. Read on for the interview! 

What was the most pivotal change that helped lessen the symptoms of your endometriosis?

I have Stage IV endo and when you look at a list of symptoms, I had them all! Maybe not something to brag about…but I experienced all the symptoms very intensely (and many of the symptoms not just during my period).

My symptoms included: very painful periods, pelvic and lower back pain, pain during or after sex, blood clotting, painful bowel movements or urination, excessive bleeding, fatigue and chronic pain, diarrhea and constipation, bloating, nausea and vomiting, and urinary frequency/urgency. 

The most pivotal change for me was changing to a whole foods, plant-based diet. I also decided to cut out soy and gluten too. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I cried for the first three months because I didn’t know what to eat and thought I’d be sentenced to brown rice and steamed broccoli for the rest of my life (I learned months later this wasn’t true).

Crying and the fear-of-never-having-cookies-again aside, the diet actually worked. Within months of changing my diet, my life dramatically changed. The food set off a chain reaction. The food allowed me to feel good enough to exercise again, the exercise made my brain feel better, and my brain feeling better opened my mind to other wellness practices that I would have turned my nose up at before. I was this new person that I never dreamed I could be.

Is there certain language or phrasing you used with your doctor that helped get answers you were asking, rather than jumping right to pharmaceuticals or the birth control pill?

It takes an average of 10 years of a woman to be diagnosed with endometriosis. 10 YEARS. It took me about twelve and when I was finally diagnosed, my symptoms didn’t magically become better. They progressively became worse and a severe depression followed. At that point, my doctors said I either needed to take a lot of drugs or get a hysterectomy.

It was an angel friend of mine (who my book is dedicated to) that forever changed my life. She did research on my behalf and found a plant-based diet could help women with the endometriosis. I had decided at that point that I was going to get a hysterectomy, but told her I would try the diet for three weeks (I’m a people pleaser). 7 years later, I never got the hysterectomy and now live an 80% symptom free life! I truly believe she saved my life.

How did you go about finding a doctor that listened and acknowledged your questions / desire not to go on birth control?

Through a lot of searching! For me, birth control is like the devil in my body. It made me crazy, mean, and really sad. I was emotionally out of control on it. I tried five different brands and it just didn’t work for me. 

After my big diet change and I was no longer in as much pain, I ditched the pill and finally felt myself again. My doctor pressured me so hard to go back on. She had her office call me every month to encourage me to go back on it. I ended up having to find a new doctor that understood my desire to not be on the pill. I was almost scared to bring it up to new doctors in fear of them telling me it was a stupid idea. I did finally find a doctor that was down with my natural plan.  

I recently moved and had to find a new doctor. I researched a lot and found an “endo specialist” in my area. I was so excited to see someone that got it. But then I told her about my history with my diet, she said she had never heard of diet helping endo. WHAT?! She asked me what she should Google to look into it more for other patients. I was in shock. 
We need to find doctors that are up to date on all the latest research – that means traditional medical AND holistic wellness practices. There is no cure for endo and similar reproductive disorders, but there needs to be more awareness with doctors of treatments to help manage symptoms outside of drugs.

Check out the film, Endo What? for a really well-rounded guide to endo.

When you say plant-based, do you mean entirely plants? Or do you eat animal sources of protein as well?

I am all parts plant! Animal sources never made me feel my best and now that I’ve cut them out, I’ve become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of our food choices (something I never thought I’d care about!). So I do eat an entirely plant-based diet (with the exception of honey).

I understand this is not for everyone, so my mission is to get people to start with one plant-based meal a day (One Part Plant). It’s such a great entry point. It gives you room to breathe and figure out what works for you.

Even if you don’t want to be all in on the plants, I encourage women with painful periods to do the plant-based thing the few days leading up to their period and no matter what the first few days on their period. Your body is already incredibly inflamed. Eating inflammatory foods only adds fuel to the fire. Give it a shot and see how your body responds. 

I changed my diet 6 months ago to try and help my very painful and very heavy periods. I went gluten and dairy free. While this has helped my PMS and cramps immensely (I have preety much rid myself of those) I still have very heavy (clotty) periods. Is there anything else in diet I would need to change? 

First off, that’s awesome!  I’m so happy you are feeling less pain.

I’m not a doctor and don’t know your entire medical history, so could never give you advice on this. I can only say what has worked for me. Personally, it took time to get rid of the clots and heavy periods. I also cut out dairy and gluten, but also cut out processed foods, eggs, meat, and sugar. I’ve found that I have to be pretty hardcore about taking out all of my inflammation triggers. 

If the clotting persists for you, I would definitely see a doctor about this. It could be an indication of another issue. Every woman’s body is so different and you want to make sure that you’re doing what is best for you! 

And that’s it!! Thank you so much Jessica for answering these questions. And now a few words from what has worked for other readers!!

  • I’ve had excruciating cramps for as long as I can remember, so I’ve always figured this is just my lot in life as a menstruating woman, that it’s just how normal periods work. My mom and sisters don’t have painful periods though, so that was my first clue that perhaps something was off. The cramps always peaked throughout the first day of my cycle, then faded by the second day. But they were so bad that, as a high schooler, I remember curling up underneath a table in the library and just crying hopelessly. I was taking 8 ibuprofen per day every time.
    That’s when my dad finally insisted I go see a gynecologist. I was 15. After describing my symptoms, the doctor said it sounded like endometriosis. It was the first time I’d ever heard the word, and it sounded scary. He briefly explained what it is and that it can cause serious problems, including infertility, and that was all I needed to hear. Granted, I wasn’t looking to spawn children just yet – but I definitely wanted to keep my options open for the future. The doctor put me on the birth control pill and sent me on my way. I didn’t know what was in it or how it worked, but I was promised that it would stop the pain, so I didn’t care. 
    Fast forward ten years. I’d been on the pill for a decade straight, and it really did lessen the severity of my cramps significantly, not to mention made them much lighter and shorter. So much time had gone by, I’d almost forgotten how painful my periods used to be, or maybe I just figured I was cured. Regardless, I’d just gotten married, and we wanted to start thinking about kids in a year or two, so I went off the pill to start optimizing my body for baby-making. I’d heard it could take a while. It didn’t. I was pregnant immediately. Over the next four years, I gave birth to three children, so I was either pregnant, breastfeeding and/or on the mini-pill that entire time, which of course means I had very few periods during that time. Life was good. Endometriosis was not a part of my life. I was practically period-less – and therefore had minimal cramping – and clearrrrrrrly, my fertility was golden. Endometriosis, my ass.
    Famous last words. Once I became a mother, I was much more aware of what I was putting into my body, as well as theirs. I really disliked the idea of being on synthetic hormones, and since I had all the children I could handle (three boys, 4 and under), we made the decision that my husband would undergo a vasectomy, and I would then go off the pill. That was December 2013. My first few periods off the pill were ok – definitely crampier and a bit longer and heavier, but nothing like they’d once been pre-pill. Then they started getting progressively worse each month, and by November 2014, the sharp pains began. I awoke that morning to the telltale cramping twinges, then by lunchtime, not only were the cramps in full force, I was doubled over with stabbing pains in my right ovary. I started downing ibuprofen (and I’m that person who typically avoids taking medications unless 110% necessary, and only after I’ve exhausted all other natural options), which abated the cramps, but did absolutely nothing to dull those stabs. Still, I figured I must be healthy in that area since fertility had never been a problem, and you could literally set a clock by my periods, they were so regular – every 29 days, to the day. 
    For the next several months, the first two days of my period were hell. First came the cramps, I’d pop some ibuprofen to keep them under control, then near the end of the first day, the stabbing pains would set in – always on the right side. It felt like my insides were throbbing, like it was just one big open wound in there. I couldn’t roll over in bed without excruciating pain. Anytime I peed, even just the urine draining from my body was painful – not bladder infection painful, but almost like the act of my bladder contracting as it drained was disturbing the inflammation around it. Suspecting that maybe I had a cyst, I scheduled an ultrasound with a new gynecologist (we had just moved to a new town). The ultrasound revealed a tiny fibroid on my uterus, but nothing on my ovaries. The doctor told me it sounded like endometriosis – there was that word again – and gave me two options: surgery or hormonal birth control. Both of which sounded equally sucky to me, especially as a first resort. I asked her if things like dietary changes or acupuncture would help at all. Her answer: a flat, unhesitating no. I left thinking “Yeah, screw that. I’m gonna find a cure for this myself.” And I started reading/trying anything and everything I could get my hands on.
    I was already a really healthy eater, lots of fruits and veggies, all organic, minimal alcohol or caffeine, if any, so I wasn’t sure how my diet could be doing any damage, but I dove in headfirst anyway. First, I cut out gluten. Miraculously, the first period I had after I made that one change: practically pain-free. I pretty much felt like the smartest woman alive. Then the symptoms were back with a vengeance the following period. Then, I cut way back on dairy – no more daily yogurt, perhaps just a little grass-fed butter or cheese here and there. Then, I got tested for food intolerances and cut out all those foods. I’d have one good period, then a couple horrible periods. It was the most frustrating, hopeless feeling. But really, what choice did I have but to keep trying?
    My latest breakthrough came when I visited a naturopath a few months ago, who suspected I have a problem metabolizing sugar (a real freaking bummer for a lifelong sugar fiend), along with some inflammation, and put me on some liver-detoxing and adrenal-health supplements. I learned about my genetic predispositions through DNA testing, including that both of my parents have thyroid issue markers. I learned that I have adrenal fatigue. I started eating more healthy fats, cut out sugar and grains, and now take maca, a turmeric supplement and a good probiotic (I use Silver Fern brand) daily, in addition to my adrenal supplement. I also eat two Brazil nuts per day for the thyroid-boosting selenium, and use a wild yam progesterone cream twice daily on days 14 – 27 of my cycle. Through cutting down on the inflammation in my body, I’ve really noticed a big difference in how I feel overall. My last period was great – barely even a cramp, so we’ll see if that continues. 
    I’ve tried so hard these past couple of years to find a rhyme or reason to my period symptoms, to recognize a pattern, and here are my biggest observations: 1) If I’m eating more sugar than I normally do, like during the holidays, for instance, when I do a lot of baking, I notice my next period is always more painful., and 2) I’ve noticed that when I’m being more consistent with my workouts, my periods are less painful. 
    The one thing I’d encourage anyone dealing with endometriosis to do is to be your own biggest advocate, because no one else will do it for you. Learn as much as you can about your body, and both natural and conventional remedies, as well as the disease itself, and decide what the right course of action is for you. Sadly, many conventional doctors will recommend jumping straight to surgery, but I’d spoken with so many women who went that route, who told me their symptoms returned six months post-op, so it seemed clear to me that surgery doesn’t actually address the root cause. My mission is to find the root and rip the little bitch right out. I feel like I’m on my way. 🙂   – Katy Allan aka Savoring the Flavoring aka one of my favorite humans on this entire planet / galaxy        
  • “I have endometriosis – I’ve had two surgeries and have done a year of Lupron Depot (people say horrible things about it, but I’ve never felt better). I now take the pill and only get 1-2 periods a year. The lack of estrogen, reduction in weight, and constant exercise helps. Even when I feel slightly bad, I get myself to barre and the minute class starts, I forget.”
  • “going gluten free, doing daily castor oil packs, doing acupuncture, cupping on my end areas, Chinese herbs, and going off birth control gave me my life back.
  • “my biggest tip is simple but can be challenging…self love. It’s really important for us as women to feel safe in our own bodies. I do a lot of mindfulness techniques, breathing and yoga”
  • “recently my doctor found a study on dosing with maca and suggested I try it. After the rist four weeks it as worse, but my last period was what I think would be normal. I’m waiting to see if it works out this month, but how cool would that be?! My Dr. did stress that it only works for certain hormonal imbalances and shouldn’t be done with certain other medications. The dosing was 3.5 g per day”
  • “what helps me is eating tons of produce, sleeping a ton before and during my period, plus I take supplements studied to help endometriosis – NAC, resveratrol, and evening primrose oil, for starters. Plus if you have end you probably have trouble detoxing estrogen, so support your liver. Reduce caffeine and alcohol, use non toxic personal products, and aid detox pathways by sweating, sleeping and walking, that way your liver has the resources to detox excess hormones! Also eat organic wherever possible, particularly animal products because hormones and antibiotics that are endocrine disruptors. I did an elimination diet and realized I don’t tolerate cow’s dairy, which is great to know!”
  • “clean clean plant based diet – no sugars, soy, corn, gluten, dairy or red meat. Switch to the cup and stop using tampons. Up your selenium, essential fatty acids, collagen, a whole food multi vitamin, plant minerals, magnesium probiotics, black cohosh. Stay away form estrogen dominant food. Gp to the chiropractor and get adjusted. Acupuncture helped me too! I no long have it. I just had a baby and finally had a regular period and no pain. And din’t have to get surgery. Our bodies are amazing if we just listen to them and feed them real nutrients. Endo sucks!!!!!!”
  • “Mercier therapy and it’s pelvic massage is done all over the country!” – to read about pelvic health physical therapists, click here.
  • “zero gluten. ever. ever.”
  • “since I’ve had the laparoscopic surgery in 2015, I’ve followed an anti-inflammatory diet, and also a low FODMAP diet (bakes ain’t no one wanna have gas and end telly at the same time). Even though the surgery removed, thee’s still the chance of it coming back so I’m on progesterone days 15-28 to help regulate my periods and make them less hellish and I’m trying to get my hormones back to normal. I don’t really think I have end anymore but a lot of this is preventative stuff. I also because I have end because I developed CIRS (chronic inflammatory response syndrome) when I lived in mold. So my body was in constant inflammation and boom, endo.” 
  • “I’m in the middle of a pretty intense false up right now (every once a while the parts they couldn’t remove surgically due to the fact that it as too close to my kidney causes me pretty intense pain) and the only thing that helps is a CBD salve that my sister got for me at a dispensary (she lives in CO). Even though I know that’s not an option for most people.”
  • “My pain with end was so bad I couldn’t wear tampons when I had my period. After surgery it’s so much better. The surgery also helped me get pregnant! I had two kids and had a miscarriage and after the surgery was able to have two more kids. End is now listed as an autoimmune disorder so diet can play into it so much wit how it becomes inflamed. I never thought dairy bothered me until I cut it out and now I feel so much better!”
  • “I was formally diagnosed with Endo in June 2012. After surgery that didn’t relief my pain my gyn recommended a drug that would put me into menopause at 27. Lupron I think it was called. I did my own research instead and found that a vegan diet can help symptoms so I went fully vegan (with the exception vegetarian fed organic eggs) and have barely any pain since.”
  • “I have endometriosis. I ended up having laparoscopic surgery to get the tissue burned / excised. Before the procedure I was prescribed Celebrex (a cox-2-inhibitor) that worked better for pain than any over the counter medicaments like aleve/midol etc without the risk for ulcers / stomach bleeds. The pill never regulated my cycle or helped with symptoms bu the miners IUD helped most because it stopped my cycle. For supplements I took magnesium and maca powder, essential oils, and warm baths. A lot of people don’t know that Celebrex is an option because tit’s typically used for arthritis pain, and it was a game changer for me. I went from taking mega doses of Aleve and NSAID’s to taking the Celebrex as prescribed and although it didn’t take the pain away completely, it helped me function at work and school.”
  • “As you know diet is crucial for those with endo, I started healing my gut and ridding my body of Candida overgrowth, magnesium + vitamin C to for toxicity and a blend for healthy glucose levels which resulted in hormone balance.”


Other resources:

  • This Endo Life podcast

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2 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for adding Katy Allan’s tips and stories. I look forward to seeing things I can relate to, though I’d never wish it on anyone. Even more, I appreciate seeing someone with such a unique plan tailored to their own body, symptoms & needs. I feel like a lot of the things that work are the same, but it’s also important to realize that what works for you might not work for everyone and vice versa. Such a good thing to see.

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