Most of us know just how important eating the right diet is for our health. However, most of us decide to tune out the unfortunate truth about our sweet tooth and continue to plough through the naughty treats.
This was certainly the case with me especially when it came to anything sugary.
I ate healthily most of the time, so my thinking was a little sugar and a few treats surely couldn’t harm, right?
This is what I liked to tell myself… until my endometriosis diagnosis put me on a journey that forced me to learn more about sugar and its direct negative effects on the disease.
And it was only when the symptoms of my endometriosis became unbearable, resulting in the first of several operations, did I look to my diet in a desperate attempt to reduce my endometriosis pain, and which ended up being the single most important reason for me creating the Make Me Sugar Free blog and program.
Everything I researched and learned from the experts, made it very clear I had to give up sugar, and so, after several attempts, I did.
And without doubt, quitting sugar has helped me enormously, helping to reduce multiple painful symptoms caused by endometriosis.
If you’re reading this, you too most likely suffer from endometriosis or know someone who does. You may be at the stage I was a few years back desperate for a cure or just a momentary reprieve from the constant pain.
I really hope that by sharing this blog and telling my story about healing many of my endometriosis symptoms through my diet, that it helps you and sets you on the road to your healing and recovery.
Who gets endometriosis?
Endometriosis is the kind of disease that you only ever hear of if you have it or someone close to you has it. This is despite an estimated 1 in 10 women suffering with it.
Many women who have it may not even realise they do because it’s often misdiagnosed as IBS, gall-stones or just ‘heavy periods’. Women with endometriosis will no doubt suffer agonising pain that can flair up without any rhyme or reason - pain so intense that it can effect their lives dramatically.
Many women end up losing their jobs due to time taken off work and relationships end because sex becomes too painful.
Friendships can fall by the way side because it’s hard to socialise when you’re in agony and suffering from chronic fatigue, which is another unfortunate symptom of the disease.
It can be a desperately lonely condition because so few people really know about it and the there’s the common misconception its just period pain. When you’re in the grips of it’s worst symptoms with no pain relief, it can truly feel like your whole world is turned upside down.
In a strange way, there's a part of me that's grateful for having endometriosis, aside from being very humbling, it has literally changed the course of my life and has made me pay attention to health and nutrition on a whole new level.
Although I’ve always loved food and cooking, I often ate the for the sake of eating ‘filling the hole’, now I eat for optimum health to get more and more out of my body and truly nourish and fortify it.
Don’t get me wrong, would I take endo over not having it? Of course not. But like many women who have it, when you live with something as all-consuming as this condition, you learn a lot about yourself.
I have also learned to look after and care for myself self, and eating healthily is a big part of that. For instance, I always looked at sugary treats as a reward well deserved after a long week… but when you know the facts that excess sugar acts like a poison in our bodies, you realise that it's no reward at all. So instead of focusing on ‘giving’ up sugar, I chose to view it as liberating myself from it’s addiction and noxious side effects.
So, where do we begin with this endometriosis?
For starters girls and women are continuously fobbed off, and in some cases have been told their symptoms are just ‘period pain’. There is an assumption that the symptoms must be over exaggerated, in their heads even.
Owing to the lack of knowledge around this disease, it’s true that many women have presented with their symptoms only to be told they have to get on with it like every other woman of period age.
But the truth is that the agony that endometriosis can cause is not just a ‘heavy’ or ‘painful’ period. It can be a negatively life changing disease that leaves many of it’s sufferers living a very miserable and painful life.
It can take anywhere between 3-8 years to be properly diagnosed and even with the diagnosis, this is by no means the end of the road for endo. It really is a devastating disease with little in the way of cure being offered from the medical professions.
Many GP’s still don’t have the first clue about it and those that may have experience of it will more often than not suggest a hysterectomy. And you don't just get endo in and around our reproductive organs, it can spread throughout the body to places like the lungs and even the brain.
So many women suffer from endometriosis - yet so little is known
Just last week I was sat at a film premiere with seven women some I knew and three I had only just met. We all got talking and in our little group and before we knew it we discovered that four of us (more than half!) had all suffered varying degrees of endometriosis. Its worth pointing out that the seven of us weren’t there to talk about endo, it was a randomly discovered fact that we all had the disease as we sat talking.
We learned that each one of us had ended up in hospital multiple times because of the pain caused by endo. One of the girls in the group had such severe rectal-vaginal endometriosis she nearly died during surgery.
Another had suffered four miscarriages and ended up having a hysterectomy, which in no way solved the problem for her (if anything it caused her even more heart ache on top of the additional physical pain and symptoms early menopause caused).
Then there was the youngest girl who was regularly prescribed liquid morphine for her pain management and she had suffered ruptured endometrine cysts to the point she developed sepsis.
I told them that I had fifteen years of agony, every single month, for at least two weeks of the month. At it’s worst, the pain was on a par with labour and at its best a constant raw, knawing sensation that felt like your insides where being scraped out.
My personal journey
When I was finally diagnosed with endometriosis (after three and a half years of going back and forth to a very condescending doctor) they discovered I had it in both fallopian tubes, I also had cysts on my ovaries so big the tubes had flipped backwards, I had endometriosis in my womb, rectum, bowel and bladder.
Everything was glued together and every bowel or bladder movement would cause it to rip open and scar. Every period the cells would bleed wherever they were outside the womb/uterus.
I’ve had four operations during this time and spent tens of thousands of pounds on those operations. I’ve popped so many pain pills over the last decade that there are chunks of my life I just don’t remember, and then to top it all I have been given the grim news that the condition has left me irreparably infertile.
A few years ago the pain became so bad I seriously thought about taking my own life because nothing I could do or take seemed to ease it.
After months of searching, I eventually found a new consultant and booked in for the diagnositic keyhole surgery with him. After the op, he said things were so bad I had to have a hysterectomy - that I was covered in endo and fibroids plus had cysts on both ovaries.
Again it was all over the womb, rectum, bladder, bowel and this time it was working its way up to the gall bladder and liver. Which at least explained the untold levels of pain I had been in.
I found that validation became a huge part of my diagnosis. When you spend so much of your life trying to justify the invisible pain to people that you’re enduring on a near constant basis validation counts - when you need to explain the symptoms of not being able to go to the toilet without it causing pain so bad that you could pass out.
Pain so bad you think about taking your own life.
During the rare reprieve when you’re not suffering from pain, you’re so tired you can not move a muscle. Then there’s the added indignity that people just don’t get when you tell them you cant go anywhere because you will ’leak’. By leak, I mean the tsunami of a period that physically wipes you out and has you replacing the most heavy-duty sanitary products on the market every hour!
But this is far from a ‘woe is me’ tale - the whole purpose of this blog is to say that there is ‘life after endo’, there are natural defences against it and diet can help enormously.
The reason I am going in to so much detail (and btw I am sparing you most of the gore!) is because I know the severity and intensity of pain endo sufferers go through.
I also know the hours spent searching for a cure.
Fortunately, after years of suffering, my pain is now limited to 1 or 2 days during my period. I no longer suffer two weeks of every four in agony.
I was booked in for a hysterectomy two years ago following the diagnositic surgery. I don't know why, but the night before the operation I literally heard a voice in my head that saying ‘don’t have the hysterectomy’ so I called and told my consultant. We decided I should have an oopherectomy instead (to remove the most badly effected ovary, leaving me with the other one).
The next day, I was sat in hospital with my gown on and ready to go down to theatre, when I had the same gut feeling/voice and I told the consultant I didn’t want the ovary removed, instead I wanted to have the cyst and fibroids removed as best he could. To this day I deeply grateful to my gut instinct that I didn’t have the hysterectomy.
Some women have found great relief having a hysterectomy but I also know enough who have suffered after having one. For something so big it should be a personal decision and something that feels right for the individual.
The operation I had was carried out by Mr Chris Mann. He’s one of very few consultants who removes the membrane that covers the organs affected by endometriosis. Effectively cutting out the endo at source. I opted for this after having past procedures that lasered off the endo tissue which can cause more scarring.
I was warned by my consultant that I should have a hysterectomy because of the mess my insides were in and that it was likely it wouldn’t stop the pain. He was right, the pain did return, and in a bid to find a cure, my sugar free journey began.
Why is sugar so bad for Endometriosis?
Simply put, when we eat sugar it causes an insulin response, which essentially means insulin carries glucose to every cell in the body, which we need in small amounts. However, when we eat too much sugar it disrupts the insulin response sending it in to overdrive and your body receives excess glucose and insulin which then gets converted in to glycogen and stored as fat and can impact on liver function.
Insulin is closely connected to other hormones in the body, in particular oestrogen and testosterone. Eating too much sugar causes insulin to spike, which causes your adrenals to release the stress hormone cortisol causing all sorts of disruption to the hormones.
Studies have shown that too much sugar affects the release of testosterone and oestrogen, and it can also increase oestrogen.
Prolonged stress on the body caused by elevated cortisol weakens the immune system and burns through much needed supplies of magnesium. Magnesium is one of the most important minerals someone with endo shoud take.
It supports the endochrine system, which controls our hormones. It’s also a muscle relaxant, which helps with cramps and it combats fatigue and weakness which is another common endometriosis symptom.
In an ironic twist, depleted magnesium levels can also make you crave sugar!
I have written a blog here about the best vitamins and minerals to help: Quit Sugar With These 7 Super Supplements
A sugar spike also leads to a drop in the sex hormone SHBG, which can result in hormonal imbalances especially excess oestrogen which exacerbates symptoms of endometriosis. Too much oestrogen can cause a drop in progesterone which leads to PMS symptoms including low moods, anxiety, and mood swings.
For anyone suffering with endometriosis, its essential we create balance in our bodies. Endometriosis is an inflammatory disease caused by rogue endometrium tissue growing outside the womb.
The cause of inflammation is the immune system reacting to the rogue endometrium growing in parts of the body it shouldn’t be. Eating sugar causes additional inflammation further exacerbating the symptoms of endometriosis.
It's a vicious cycle if you suffer from oestrogen dominance and the body reacts to this bizarrely by producing more oestrogen, and so the cylce continues.
I have written another blog here outlining all of the other benefits of quitting sugar: 17 Amazing Things That Happen When You Stop Eating Sugar
Another symptom of endometriosis is a weakened immune system as the disease leaches minerals from our body.
To counteract this, we need a vitamin, mineral and fibre rich diet to ensure we absorb as many nutrients as possible and keep our gut healthy. When we eat sugar it reduces our immunity by up to 50% within 30 minutes of consumption as well as inhibiting the absorption of vitamins and minerals.
There is no doubt that sugar has a profound negative impact on the symptoms of endometriosis. It is hard to ignore that the ‘sweet’ stuff is a lethal substance for anyone with endo.
The good news is, we can take far greater control of our symptoms and overall health by cutting it sugar of our diet. If within just 72 hours of eating no sugar there is a noticeable, visible difference in skin appearance, then change on the inside must also be immense. The healing begins almost immediately - gut health improves, digestion eases, energy levels increase and sleep improves.
How quitting sugar helped me
My first step on the diet quest was to cut sugar out altogether. In doing so, I cut out refined carbs and processed foods too. As it’s a hormone related disease that causes inflammation throughout the body, my diet consisted of mostly anti inflammatory foods that also balance the hormones.
It’s important to eat foods that support the function of the liver. An overloaded liver massively contributes to endometriosis symptoms. These foods include onions, garlic, beetroot, leafy greens and roots such as dandelion and turmeric.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to say this, but the other most important change to my diet was cutting out wine and sweet alcoholic drinks such as cocktails. They’re full of sugar and immediately congest the liver. Alcohol also burns through magnesium stores and Vitamin B and both are vital for reducing endo symptoms. I still do like a drink but instead of the sugary drinks, I now have gin or vodka with soda water and freshly squeezed lime. I'm not advocating this, but i regard it as the best tipple of choice when trying to dodge sugar.
One of my favourite ways to start the day is with a warm lemon drink, followed by a smoothie bowl made up of an avocado, cashew nuts, blueberries, splash of coconut water, kale, hemp, chia and flaxseeds whizzed together with a spoon of of cacao and matcha powder. This is a power-house staple of mine.
This one meal provides practically every single vitamin as well as potassium, folate, magnesium, omega 3, fibre, calcium and it is bursting with anti oxidants.
It's all about getting as many nutrients , minerals and vitamins in to your body as possible. This breakfast meal does that while aiding the digestion tract, supporting hormonal balance and most importantly reducing inflammation. It is low in sugar, high in fibre and protein.
I particularly love this because the cacao powder contains the mood boosters tryptophan and serotonin. Starting your day with this really is nourishing the body and genuinely makes you feel amazing in the process!
Other diet changes to help with your endo
In an attempt to reduce my endometriosis symptoms another big change in my diet was cutting my meat intake down (some people with endo cut it out completely). The meat I do eat I make sure is grass fed, organic or free range.
The food industry use a lot of hormones during the rearing of animals for slaughter. This environmental exposure to additional oestrogen causes more hormonal imbalances. That’s why I opt for organic cuts and eliminate harmful exogenous sources of oestrogen which contribute to an ‘oestrogen dominant’ state. Remember it’s about balance.
I have also limited my dairy intake, and when I do have dairy I have it in its most natural organic form and never the skimmed/low fat versions. I have read so many times that dairy can contribute to inflammation. The best way to know what works for you is to eliminate it. Do you feel better for it? If you do, there’s the answer.
I used to have full milk in my coffee and tea, but I have cut right back on the caffeine as this is also thought to aggravate endo symptoms. I still eat eggs and LOVE organic Greek yogurt… cheese is something else that I eat a lot of and since giving up sugar, the cheese board became my best friend and replacement for dessert!
Most of the recipes on this site are geared towards healthy eating and I cook with lots of anti inflammatory ingredients. Changing your diet can feel so daunting, especially when you’re faced with cutting out foods, but it really doesn't need to be.
I love making meals that are big on flavours, that satiate cravings and most importantly have health benefits too.
Instead of filling your plate with mountains of carbs, swap for veggies and get all that roughage and vitamin C. You can dress up veggies and salads so easily with home made sauces, dips and marinades – made right you can sneak in even more vitamins and nutrients depending on the ingredient. Watch out for shop bought sauces and dressings, they can be loaded with hidden added sugars. Always read the labels!
Another really important part of diet in the defence against endometriosis is gut health. A lot of endo sufferers have leaky gut syndrome and they also struggle to absorb nutrients. Some experts believe that one of the causes of endometrisois could be Candida. If this is true then cutting out sugar and getting your gut healthy is paramount!
Fermented foods are a great way to support your gut and digestion. I love spicy kimchi, it is so full of flavour and works great as a side, a cracker topper, in salads or in stir fries. Sauer Kraut is another good go to.
Kefir has also gained lots of recognition for being a bit of a saviour for digestion and guts. You can buy amazing starter kits which consist of keffir grains that you feed everyday with full fat, organic (unpasturised milk if you can get it) milk. But make sure you keep an eye on it, I did try this onCe and came back from my holiday and the entire cupboard looked like something alien had taken up residence!
As well as fermented foods, flaxseeds, chia and hemp seeds are amazing for the digestive tract and for the removal of waste and toxins. They’re also so easy to incorporate in to your diet – top a salad, add to a smoothie, mix with yogurt or you can make crackers. I have a recipe below for ‘no flour seed crackers’ topped with goat cheese and kimchi. All big digestion aids, sugar free and super tasty.
Watch out for the caffeine!
I mentioned coffee earlier. It‘s funny when you embark on something as big as giving up sugar, it will be the smallest thing that challenges your will power. For me it was the morning coffee. I could drink tea without sugar but not coffee, and I just couldn't face a day without a coffee in the morning. This was one of the toughest things to give up and nearly had me reaching for the sugar pot on many occasions.
Then I read there’s something about caffeine that triggers the addiction part of your brain. So if you’re trying to quit something whether that be smoking or sugar, avoid caffeine as it heightens cravings!
That was it for me, I didn't want to be held hostage to another addictive substance. So I quit coffee completely until I was well and truly over my sugar addiction. Now I do indulge in the odd cappucino, but the thing to remember with caffeine is too much of it messes up your endocrine system and releases cortisol which in turn wreaks havoc with hormonal balance.
Luckily, I discovered Turmeric lattes - I make them with coconut cream and hot water and they are heavenly! They are also anti inflammatory and immune boosting too. The blend I use also contains cayenne and ginger – another two powerful ingredients for reducing inflammation and are natural pain relievers. These lattes became my morning saviour.
Ditch the simple carbs
Bread and wheat became another part of my diet that I had to drop because I noticed it would immediately cause a reaction and my tummy would bloat for hours after eating it. I knew this wasn’t right and I couldn’t ignore it. I was also told by an incredible homeopath that bread (wheat) interfered with hormones and mess with with the thyroid and she advised I steer clear and avoid wheat as best I could.
Remember that white refined or processed flour can be as bad for you as sugar. Because it converts to glucose so quickly it spikes your blood sugar levels just the same way sugar does, creating the same insulin surge.
Avoid white bread and pastries and always try to eat wholegrain wheat products if you are going to eat them at all, as they release glucose slowly and evenly.
I have a blog here all about blood sugar levels: Sugar Crash! How Low Blood Sugar Can Ruin Your Day
I remember I had quit all wheat for a month or two and one night at a meal the bread basket was dropped on the table n front of us. I was too hungry to wait for the starter and proceeded to inhale the bread. What I noticed was within 10/15 minutes after eating it, I was ready to fall asleep and the trousers that had fitted perfectly earlier had to be unzipped because of the bloat.
If there is one golden piece of advice I could give regarding making any change to your diet, especially quitting sugar, and that's NEVER ALLOW YOURSELF TO GET HUNGRY! Hunger can make us do irrational things, and very easily make us eat whatever it is we are trying to avoid!
Living a life with endo
There are a lot of different areas covered here and it might be a bit overwhelming and look like too many big changes. That’s ok – the reality is, if you even make the smallest healthy changes, your body will reap the benefits.
If you are eating a lot of sweet foods and drinking sodas then with absolute certainty, the single most significant change you can make to your diet is freeing yourself from sugar - it is the one step within your control to help reduce symptoms of endometriosis.
Since removing sugar from my diet my endometriosis pain has reduced dramatically. I am certainly not cured, simply because there is no known medical cure. But being able to live my life back on my terms, with very few days of pain have been an absolute revelation to me.
If you are suffering from endometriosis, try cutting sugar out of your diet and see how it benefits you. There are lots of blogs on this website to help you cut down on your sugar intake along with lots of healthy recipes with no added sugar.
And if you are struggling to cut sugar out of your diet, you can quit sugar for good with my 21 Day Sugar Detox Program which will help you break the cycle of addiction enabling you to regain control of your diet and make healthy food choices.