Is Eating Stressful Because of Your Endometriosis?
by Dr. Jessica Drummond, DCN, CNS, PT, NBC-HWC
Editor’s Note: The Endometriosis Foundation of Houston has invited guest bloggers to share their work, expert opinions and thoughts with our endo community as a part of our Coffee Talk Series. These "coffee talks" cover a wide range of health topics meant to educate and inform our community. For more information, visit https://www.efhou.org/events.
I have had the pleasure of working with people with endometriosis for over two decades, both as a physical therapist and as a clinical nutritionist. I enjoy the immense pleasure of cooking and food, and I want that experience of pleasure for every one of my clients with endometriosis as well. Ultimately, my goal is to help you have the most varied food plan possible, to eat with ease and enjoyment, and have less fear around food.
Having endometriosis often makes it difficult to eat, because one of the most challenging
things that endometriosis lesions can do is implant on or around the digestive tract, including the colon and the small intestine. Plus, not only can there be endometriosis lesions specifically on and around the digestive organs, but the adhesions that are related to the endometriosis disease can also slow down the motility of the digestive tract. So, in my practice, I often see women with endometriosis struggle with digestive challenges. Over time, many of them become understandably fearful of what to eat.
This makes perfect sense, because if every time you eat something you feel bloated or your
stomach hurts, or you're never sure if you're going to be constipated or have diarrhea, of course you’ll have fear around food. What you eat can directly increase your digestive symptoms, and indirectly impact your pelvic pain due to nervous system cross talk between
the digestive and reproductive organs.
Thus, the way we approach this in my practice is very different from putting you on an “endo
diet.” We focus first on increasing healing foods, having you ADD foods high in antioxidants,
essential fatty acids, and amino acids. Keeping the focus on adding nourishment feels less
restrictive and scary than trying to live with a very limited diet. In fact, there is not one “endo
diet.” The best food plan is different for different people with endometriosis. Your best plan
will vary depending on your genetics, inflammatory and immune factors, and your digestive
function, and other factors such as histamine or oxalate sensitivities. Your best food plan could change over time, before or after surgery, with pregnancy, or if you’re preparing for a
stressful time or athletic event.
Thus, instead of focusing on an elusive ideal diet, we focus on optimizing your digestive
function. The better that your digestion works, the easier it will be for you to tolerate and
enjoy the widest variety of foods possible. Optimizing digestive function also helps to heal
the other systems that can be irritated by endometriosis. With endometriosis, there are
inflammatory and autoimmune issues that are related to the gut, such as irritation to the lining of the small intestine, which is the barrier between the digestive tract and the immune
system, and where the vast majority of our nutrients are absorbed. Eighty percent of our
immune system resides in and around our digestive system, therefore immune health,
inflammation, and autoimmune factors are all influenced by digestive system health and the
ability of the body to absorb nutrients via the small intestine.
In addition to optimizing digestive and immune health, we also have to consider the
functioning of the nervous system. You can’t eat well under stress. “Rest and digest” is
literally the opposite of “fight or flight.” Calming the nervous system is very important to
digestive motility, and reducing inflammation. Using strategies such as slow flow yoga,
paced breathing, heart rate variability tracking, and vagus nerve toning supports digestive
health, hormone health, and immune health. All of these physiologic systems are impacted
and need to be addressed for true root cause healing of endometriosis symptoms. ~~
Dr. Jessica Drummond, DCN, CNS, PT, NBC-HWC is the founder and CEO of the Integrative Women's Health Institute. She is passionate about caring for and empowering women who struggle with women’s and pelvic health conditions. She is equally passionate about educating and supporting clinicians in confidently and safely using integrative tools to transform women's and pelvic healthcare. Read full bio here.
Dr. Drummond will lead our Coffee Talk on Aug. 16 at 2 p.m. CST. Register here.