As a result of our own experiences with food positively impacting our health, we’re quite accustomed to hearing other wonderful and transformatory stories where a shift towards more whole plant foods has been a factor, sometimes the key factor, in effecting a major change. For this shift to be implemented twice is something we hear much less frequently. This, however, was Jane’s experience as it was for me, her sister.
The Power of Healing Food
Food has played an integral role in my health over the last 20 years. I have used it to help support me in two specific areas of my life and am forever grateful that I have been able to make such positive changes that have had huge impacts. Anyone who helps on this venture is a lifeline and I love them for it.
When I was doing my degree in the late '80s I was also an Officer Cadet with King's Regiment in Liverpool. Early morning PT with a log across our shoulders running through fields, over assault courses was a great way to wake up. Except for me. One in 4 of these PT sessions would end up with me curled up in agony in a sleeping bag on the changing room floor for an hour or two. For a long time, I didn't know why I was experiencing this.
Roll on a decade and I was a PE teacher in a secondary school, still active, eating quite healthily. I thought that what I was feeling was normal! Every time I had a number 2, I had to grab onto the walls in pain, and when being driven in a car, if we went over potholes my abdomen would feel bounced around like the bladder in a casey football. The waves of incredible fatigue were also part of the monthly experience. I found out this was not normal for everyone.
Some mornings I would get into school and have to teach sitting on the gym floor as I was so totally wiped out, I could barely walk, then I'd be back up and raring to go again shortly after. Strange! Around this time, my older sister had an operation and found out she had endometriosis. The endometriosis returned a few months later, so she started researching. She found an excellent book Endometriosis, A key to healing through nutrition by Dian Shepperson Mills and Michael Vernon. I know that changed her and her diet and empowered her to be proactive about her own health and healing.
Initially, I was told that my pain was most likely early menopause in my early 30s! I was shocked to hear this but thought my GP must be right. So, I put up with the pain for a few years. Because Netty, my sister, realised she had endometriosis, I gently suggested to my GP that I might have it too. Fortunately he agreed with me and an appointment was made with a consultant who suggested a laparoscopy. I booked a few days off school. I had the laparoscopy as a day patient and was back in work a few days after. The response I got from the doctor took me by surprise: "Oh, by the way, that hasn't resolved it, we just had a look around and yes, you have endometriosis. Come in for a laparoscopy in July! You might need a couple of weeks off work." In July I went into hospital and I had various sites of endometrioma lasered, I didn't lose my ovary as they thought I might. As I was coming round from the general anaesthetic I uttered the words "Pain!..Ovary?.. Dave! (my then boyfriend)" All three were still there.
The follow up report was interesting: "Yes, just so that you know, the operation itself may have spread the endometrioma sites, it may come back again. You may need further surgery and we may have to look at a hysterectomy. We will put you on something that will put you in a temporary menopause for 6 months, oh and obviously you'll need therefore to go on HRT. You're not getting any younger, you're sub-fertile, if you're thinking of having a family it's now or never but it's quite unlikely." A shocked me asked timidly if there was anything I could do to help, along the lines of nutrition. Unfortunately, I may as well have said - but what if I bathe my womb in ant’s urine under a crescent moon? Apparently, that and nutrition wouldn't have any favourable results. Nutritional approaches were clearly not part of the medical response to this. But I knew I needed the 'key to healing', although at that point, I literally just wanted the key...not the 350-page read!
However, a couple of years after the op in early 2003 when I felt some odd twinges, I finally decided - right, I'm going to really get on with that book of Netty's. I read it cover to cover, and consequently, I added loads of berries, grains, sprouted legumes, alfalfa, mung beans to my diet, I stopped eating wheat and took out dairy; I was already off red meat so stopped eating poultry. Well, what a year that was! Dave proposed to me in May...maybe I was so full of energy and glowing because of the nutrition that he just couldn't resist me! We got married at the start of August. And all of a sudden after being on this altered nutrition without the need for further surgery....in September I discovered I was pregnant. This was a couple of years after being told it was very unlikely and about 7 months after changing my diet. We were shocked but delighted and George was born in 2004. And life got busy.
In 2016 I was struggling with teaching. I had become a secondary school PE teacher who couldn’t even put the trampoline out, never mind demonstrate moves. I was also teaching sports massage but I was hurting through my fingers, wrists, elbows. I was also part of the medical team at my local rugby club. Cold rugby pitches were awful places when everything was hurting and I couldn’t get myself warm. I found more and more that I wasn’t able to dress myself easily, I was collapsing in lessons, being driven home on multiple occasions. Reading and writing became challenging if I was overtired, I spent many a night on the futon in order that I could give my husband a better night’s sleep. I was in pain and discomfort most nights and struggled to feel refreshed enough to get up in the morning. A lot of this will I am sure resonate with a lot of people. I was determined that I would recover from this quickly and carry on with teaching, being a wife and mum, running marathons and being fit and active. My body had other plans and I realised a lot needed to change. And, with hindsight, mostly for the better. After being signed off work for a good long while, my GP suggested a local charity – Salus Fatigue Foundation. That one chance comment from her was, I believe, an integral part of me being the happier, healthier person I am today – on my road to recovery. The diagnosis of Fibromyalgia and Joint Hypermobility Syndrome meant I had something I could work towards recovering from. Initially, I signed up for a nutrition course with Salus - such sensible tips and suggestions. I made some great changes. And not just for me but for my husband and son as well as friends and family, what a great ripple effect! Myth busting about which fats are good for you, how much water you need to function at your optimum, ways to hydrate that will get you feeling alive, ideas for shopping, growing, cooking suggestions that are gentle on tired and achy bodies. My diet became far more plant based, organic and as such far more colourful and tasty. I bought a dehydrator, and a juicer and on low energy days I could have one of my batch cooked meals that I kept in the freezer for just such events. As soon as I heard of a new food or a great recipe, I couldn’t wait to get home and try it. It helped re-inspire me on what I had started doing back in the early 2000s.
And this has contributed to my sustained and continued health and recovery. I’m kinder to myself, I try and live more harmoniously, I love gentle movement and being in nature. I know when I have overdone things and then I maybe add a bit more ginger to my food to reduce inflammation or I hydrate a little more and rest. And I’m not perfect, I will have some chocolate or chips, or a glass of wine every now and again. And if I do, I don’t criticise myself. But these are not necessarily as supportive and beneficial to me so they are rare. And there’s nothing like going to a yoga session feeling so full of health and energy from the inside out. I love it.
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