nutrition, holistic medicine, and chronic illness
interview By: Fela M'tima
Fela: First off Allie, I LOVE your blog and it really inspires me. So, let’s start with what inspired you to start this blog?
Allie: Oh, thank you! I’ve always loved writing. When I was training to become a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, I started a blog as a project and it just took off from there. I’m inspired by other people like me, those with chronic illness that have no real clear cut path to health. I seek to empower others to think about managing and healing in different ways and modalities. I felt so hopeless for so long (I was diagnosed with my first chronic illness, Interstitial Cystitis, at 15). I feel compelled to share my stories, my thoughts, my discoveries, my love, all of it.
Fela: I’m so glad you did! I read “Why I’m No Longer Vegan: My Story Part 1”, (Fantastic, by the way) You talk a lot about how eating affects your Celiac disease but how important do you think a special diet is for Endometriosis? And what foods do you avoid because of Endometriosis or the “Endo Diet”?
Allie: Thank you! Eating in a way that nourishes my body is a critical component to pretty successfully managing my illnesses. I may not be able to control certain elements of my diseases, but using food to restore nutrients needed to assist my body is a beautiful gift.
There are foods I avoid (processed sugar, gluten, most dairy, most grains, soy, vegetable/manmade oils, and processed foods) but I try to focus on the foods I want to include! Fermented foods (like sauerkraut or kimchi), veggies of all kinds, (especially the leafy greens and sulfur-rich ones), starchy carbs (like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, plantains), and high quality meats (grass-fed beef, organic chicken, pastured bacon and eggs, wild caught fish, etc.) I try to stick to food in its whole-est form, because I know the nutrients are left in tact and easier for my body to breakdown. Food is a true gift, especially for people who deal with diseases like ours.
Fela: I feel the exact same way! Food is something we really need to have more knowledge about when you have a chronic illness. What are your favorite *Natural* remedies for Endometriosis? I noticed you use magnesium gel on your belly, tell me more about it!
Allie: Supplementation is another critical component to managing illness for me. Magnesium is a mineral that is important for about 300 chemical reactions in the body. Specifically though, magnesium helps control inflammation, has anti-depression properties, helps muscles relax, and increases glucose metabolism (helpful with blood sugar control). Most people do not get enough, which can be especially detrimental to us endosisters. I use a gel that I can rub right on my belly to relieve cramping. Sometimes I take Epsom salt baths or use magnesium oil. You can also take magnesium orally, but can cause laxative effects that could be painful (I know from experience, go slowly!). Personally, I prefer transdermal supplementation. I recommend thisor this kind.
I also recommend supplementing omega-3’s. Balancing omega-3’s/6’s/9’s are necessary to controlling inflammation in the body. As a population, we are inundated with vegetable and nuts oils (heated to high temperatures and not usually in balance which can cause excess inflammation. So we need to focus on increasing omega-3 consumption to give our body the tools necessary to properly anti-inflame. There have been several studies that have shown that women who take omega-3 supplements experience less menstrual pain than those who didn’t. Eating salmon, beef, sardines, etc. can help add more omega-3’s to your diet. I also recommend this or this supplement.
Most endosisters (myself included) also experience GI related issues. I recommend digestive bitters with meals to help our bodies properly stimulate stomach acid to assist in the breakdown of food to absorbable nutrients. Most people who experience these issues are usually low in stomach acid (yes, even if you experience acid reflux and indigestion). I won’t bore you with the details, but if this sounds like something you could be experiencing (or have taking antacids before), I encourage you to read this article! And I recommend this kind of digestive bitters.
Making sure you get enough vitamin D (from the sun, eggs, sardines, salmon) can help with chronic pain relief. Eating beets daily (or taking a beet supplement) helps nourish the liver and assists in detoxification. I could go on and on J.
F: How has Endometriosis changed your life personally and physically?
A: I have 2 other chronic illnesses (Interstitial Cystitis and Celiac Disease) but Endometriosis has been the toughest on me, emotionally and physically. Physically it’s changed my body in many ways. I have laparoscopic scars on my abdomen, my breasts have gone through many changes (swelling and de-swelling, lots of stretch marks), I have curvier hips and permanent dark circles under my eyes. The stress of this illness has impacted me in a really big way. It’s driven me to really dark places where I was abusive and unforgiving to myself. But it’s also moved me closer to forgiveness and acceptance over what I can’t control. I thought for along time that my body hated me (and I hated it) and we had this very continuous relationship together. But I’m learning that healing starts with forgiveness and it starts with self-love. I love my body for doing all the things it thought necessary to do to keep me alive during illness. It’s not an easy place to be in, and honestly I’m not in that place everyday. But I try. I’m my body’s biggest cheerleader and I no longer see myself as a failure. Releasing the anger and the hurt has made room for a kinder and gentler relationship with my body. I’m grateful, I really am.
F: I’m so glad you have that attitude towards your body and you write so much about nutrition! What started this passion? And did it spark before getting diagnosed with Chronic Illness?
A: Nope. It started when I was diagnosed with Interstitial Cystitis when I was 15. I had spent 3 years in enormous amounts of pain, was on every drug under the sun, and was no better for it. I had seen specialists in Chapel Hill, NC and still I had very little to show for it. I started the low-acid diet that is recommended for people with IC and was truly shocked by the difference I felt.
My relationship with food is complicated though, and spent many years using food as a way to control my life and body which was incredibly harmful to my mind, body and spirit. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder and had to seek treatment to get better. I found my way to the paleo community with introduced me to a whole food style of eating that still utilize today (mostly). I no longer feel bound to food in the way I use to. I allow myself to eat whatever I want, but usually choose to eat foods I know my body needs because I just want them. Sometime I eat gluten-free cupcakes and pizza and chocolate and I’m totally okay with that too. Restrictive dieting, even for health reasons, can be just as emotionally negative as other forms of restriction. It’s all a game of balance.
F: What is the goal of your blog? (For yourself and for readers)
A: I want to be vulnerable, honest, loving, and real. I think it can be easy to cultivate ourselves and this or that on the internet sometimes. Maybe highlighting the best parts or only focusing on our struggles… but I just want to express who I am: a complex and beautiful person. I’m still developing my voice and what I want to say, but I want to move my body to focus to menstrual and reproductive related issues exclusively. I’m also currently in grad school and so it’s all a balancing act right now!
F: You have definitely achieved your goal, girl! I know you’re really into fitness but we both know it can be rough for women with Endometriosis. What do you recommend?
A: You know, it depends. There have been some interesting articles about working out differently depending on where you’re at in your cycle and I naturally tend to do that. Of course for us with Endometriosis, it can be way more complicated than that. I truly believe you have to do what’s best for you and what you can physically do.
For me, I have more energy around the first part of my cycle so I tend to lift heavier during that time. Right before my cycle I focus on more yoga, walking, and gentler forms of exercise (if any at all). I don’t do any form of exclusive cardio because I have adrenal issues (HPA Axis Dysregulation/low cortisol) and I don’t want to exasperate that further. I workout mainly for my mental health, I’m able to handle the psychological aspects of PMS much better when I do this.
I choose to lift because it doesn’t beat my body up the same way that high-energy, cardio-centric workouts did. I lift heavy in reps of only 3 or 5, and only 6 times and take breaks between sets. I’ll do assistance work (pull-ups, leg presses, tricep kickbacks, etc. with a heavy weight only 6-8 times, for 3 sets). I walk more than anything though; it’s cathartic for me. You just have to find what’s feels right for you and your body. There’s certainly a balance between pushing yourself and giving yourself time to rest. I tend to trend towards rest, especially if I’m in pain or didn’t sleep well the night before. Listening to what my body needs always comes first (or I will crash, guaranteed!).
F: How has holistic ways changed your life?
A: It has completely shaped my life. It’s given me a purpose. It keeps me going. Every time a doctor or practitioner said, “you can’t,” I always thought to myself, “yes, I can.” I’ve always been tenacious about finding other options, seeking out wisdom in older places than modern medicine and there’s a lot there. I’ve become a more resilient person because of it. Holistic medicine has saved my life many times over. I truly believe that.
F: I feel the same way and couldn’t have said that better myself. You wrote an incredible article about how you manage your Chronic Stress, could you share a few of your favorite coping techniques?
A: Not going to lie, I still struggle with coping. But I’ve found that when things get tough, modifying your environment can be a relatively easy way to manage stress, even when you can’t change your circumstances. One of the best things I did was getting rid of a lot of stuff I didn’t need. I really only have the things I use everyday and that has relieved so much clutter from my life and mind. That takes a huge weight off of me (and has tremendously cut down cleaning time). Getting rid of toxic hair and beauty products was another helpful way to get rid of excess stress on my body. Eating well and giving myself needed down days does more than a lot of things. Releasing feelings of guilt around missing out or disappointing others (I find I stress about that a lot). Getting out of my comfort zone and doing things I’m scared of has taught me that I CAN still do things. Nexflix binges and cuddles with cats and dogs and humans. Opening up to people who love and care about me. Finding solace in online friends. There are so many things.
F: To wrap up Allie, I think you’re just so insanely rad and your blog is incredible (I need to try some of your recipes, asap). You seem to have a lot figured out about how you manage with chronic illness’. How do you keep yourself pushing when you have moments where you feel like the chronic illnesses are winning?
A: Oh my gosh thanks! It use to be really easy for me to say things like “I hate my body” “My body hates me” “I’m broken” “I can’t be fixed” or “I need to fight this” but none of this was all that useful. On the days where I’m in a lot of pain or feeling defeated or down and upset I just remind myself that it’s just a day. It’s not a week or a month or a lifetime. It’s just a day and tomorrow will be different. I allow myself to cry and punch things or just be upset. I’ve found that you never “get over” having a long-term illness, you know? You can only do what you can do with what you have. And it’s ok to completely fall apart, it’s ok to grieve. I try not to feel guilt about those days. We’re all so brave, even in the darkest moments. Take care of yourself, you’re all you have.
Vitamin D: http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/features/vitamin-d-deficiency-and-chronic-pain-link
You can check out Allie’s website & Blog here.