In the post, I will be sharing how I discovered the key to managing my painful menstrual cramps. Parts of this post will be a very graphic . If you have a weak stomach, please stop reading here!
My Story of Painful Menstrual Cramps:
Excruciating Cramping and Vomiting:
My period symptoms were debilitating, and I pray that you can’t relate. As a matter of fact, if any of the things I share in this post hit close to home. Please contact me ASAP.
My menstrual cramps typically left me confined to a bed for several days, writhing in so much pain that I would keep my hands and feet clinched for hours and rock back and forth, constantly trying to find a position that felt better. The cramps were so deep that the pressure would make me throw up repeatedly. My mother would bring me new towels and bags to throw up inside of every few hours or so. The bleeding was so bad that I would soil through my pads within hours and have to change my sheets. I would have to run to the bathroom with diarrhea at least 2x each day to top it all off.
Out of all the symptoms I experienced, vomiting and retching episodes were the worst. They would leave me so weak that I could barely move. My parents were often so concerned that they would tell my older brother to stay home during the school week to help me, especially when the vomiting was terrible. And for some reason, near the very end of my period, when I finally thought I could participate in daily activities, I would get this unpredictable pain that would last an hour and render me utterly immobile, shrieking in pain.
Just writing this post gives me PTSD. I remember the pain being so bad that I would meditate on how evil God must be and how much he must dislike me as a person. None of my friends or family members close to my age had this problem. They would complain of moodiness on their period and maybe take a Midol for mild cramping, but they never had to miss school three days a month like I did.
I still recall how anxious I would become the week my period was due. I would pray it did not fall on an exam week or during a family function because I knew I would be helpless. I couldn’t keep down medication due to emesis, heating pads made my diarrhea worse, and I could barely sleep due to the intense uterine contractions. And imagine, all of this started when I was 14 years old and continued well into the beginning of my college career!
Trying to find the root cause of my menstrual cramps:
My mother, bless her heart, would take me to the doctor but to no avail. I simply told it was normal and then prescribed extra strength ibuprofen and nausea medication, both of which I could not even take due to vomiting. I remember my mother would plead to the doctor to look into my situation deeper. She pleaded from a place of empathy, as she and my grandmother both suffered the same pain and were never offered relief.
I began researching natural solutions to painful menstruation on my own. I tried everything I came across, herbs like don quia, chamomile, raspberry leaf extract, essential oils, you name it. I even tried taking pain medication before my period onset, hoping it would reduce the cramps during my cycle.
Trying birth control for menstrual pain:
Eventually, the doctor prescribed me birth control which seemed like a Godsend. After one month of birth control, my cramps were almost completely gone, and I thanked the Lord daily! But unfortunately, my critical thinking made it hard for me to ignore the daily symptoms that came along with birth control, like splotches on my skin, lethargy, weight gain, severe depression. I began to wonder just how safe it was long-term and if it should have been the primary line of treatment.
I also started thinking back on my medical care and remembering that not once did any of my providers try to figure out why I had painful menstrual cramps. They didn’t even do any lab work to look at my hormones. So why in the world were they giving me a hormone-based pill to take daily?
They didn’t even ask me common everyday questions such as: “What reproductive concerns does/did her mother have”?” “What are her diet and lifestyle like?” “ Does she have any structural issues?” Nope, instead, the doctor said, “Oh, she is in pain? "I have a pill for that.” “She is nauseated”? “I have a pill for that too.” “Oh, that did not work? “ "I know; I will just give her a pill to stop her menstrual cycle altogether.” That was their version of critical thinking.
Also, like many young women, I wasn’t even recommended to go to a gynecologist until I was over the age of 18. After which, my doctor ruled out her suspicion for endometriosis and fibroids with ultrasound and prescribed me a different brand of the same birth control (without ever sending me for blood work).
Finally Finding Answers:
It wasn’t until I happened to take an introductory college nutrition science course that I began to find what the primary issue was (I completely took this class by chance just to fulfill my credits for dual enrollment). This class blew my mind!! I began to see how every process in the human body, from nerve conduction to digestion, was entirely fueled by food. I was so amazed that I ended up majoring in nutrition science.
But what started allowing me to put together my health was learning about hormone creation and excretion in my advanced nutrition science class. I remember having this epiphany of how my cycle directly reflected the foods I ate.
All this newfound knowledge made me reminisce about what I used to eat during high school when my diet was the most imbalanced.
What I Ate During Higschool When My Cramps Were the Absolute Worst:
Foods I Frequently Consumed for Breakfast:
Bacon or sausage with buttered grits
Eggs with buttered Grits
Biscuits and gravy (served by my school)
Toaster Strudel with glaze
Pepperoni Hot Pockets
Drinks: Capri sun or water
Foods I Frequently Consumed for Lunch (Mostly Cafeteria Food):
Pizza and fries
Fried chicken sandwich or nuggets with French fries
Salad with ham, cheese, ranch, Apples, and a granola bar
Pulled pork sandwiches
Drinks: Welches grape juice, Arizona sweet tea, water, or Gatorade
Foods I Frequently Consumed Dinner:
Rice, a hefty portion of baked chicken with gravy or sauce, a buttered starchy vegetable, and a buttered and boiled veggie like cabbage
(We ate ALOT of chicken just to note!!!)
Fast/Restaurant food like McDonalds, Chickfila, KFC, Popeyes, or Cracker-barrel
Homemade bubba burgers
Drinks: Soda, sweet tea, or my grandmother's homemade Kool-Aid
This Dietary Pattern Was a Cocktail For Heavy Menstruation!
Like WHAAATTTTT!!? Just looking back over this list makes me shudder. With all the research I did in my youth about menstrual cramps, how did I never come across the importance of a complete dietary change? How did neither I, my parents, nor my doctor, think about food?
I know my playing sports played a role in my ignorance. I was a healthy weight, always active, and had no issues besides my cycle, so food never really mattered to me.
Looking back I wish so badly that someone could have explained to me how this high fat, high sodium, low fiber, low mineral diet, rich in processed and inflammatory compounds, was resulting in the perfect hormonal and biochemical response to cause intense uterine contractions, diarrhea and persistent nausea each cycle.
As I progressed in my degree of nutrition and dietetics, it became even more clear how exactly my diet was worsening my reproductive health and how it was one of the common denominators that I, myself, my mother, and my grandmother shared. In fact, my grandmother fed me for dinner most days of the week and as I mentioned earlier she too had the same menstrual symptoms back in the day, and my mother and I both ate similarly growing up since we both ate her homemade southern meals.
Just as an honorable mention, my mother and grandmother are both very caring. My mother helped me every single way she could and even cried that I had to go through what she did. But the problem is, we were never taught how important our food was when it came to our bodies. We were thankful to be eating and it ended there. We did not know how the unseen composition of each food was wreaking havoc on our body and especially our menstrual cycle.
Throughout college, thanks to my degree, I began making changes to transition to a balanced plant-dominant lifestyle, but I will be honest, I struggled until I finished my degree in nutrition and could have full autonomy over what I ate.
What I eat today:
My diet today is unrecognizable from what it once was. I now eat plenty of nuts, beans, seeds, vegetables, fruits, whole ancient grains, anti-inflammatory herbs and spices, and occasionally some organic dairy, grass-fed and lean meats or fish.
Overall, I try to eat as close as I can to the way God commanded Adam and Eve to eat in Genesis 1:29 and it has made such a transformational difference in my life (If I had consulted God’s word from the beginning I would have found the best dietary pattern for me even before I began exploring nutrition science).
I have also used my expertise in nutrition and biochemistry to discover genetic/ metabolic predispositions that make my hormones more “sensitive” to what I do and do not eat. I now ensure that I eat a proper amount of macronutrients to support my metabolism and I use specific herbs and supplements to support me in areas where my body needs more assistance metabolically. (just so you know, supplements will rarely be an end all be all if your diet is not balanced!)
I now use this personalized approach to nutrition to help other women make changes that best support their genes, and hormonal picture.
What my period is like after making dietary changes:
I am blessed to say that I can walk around during my cycle, I do not have diarrhea and my flow is wayyy lighter. I do still get nauseous at times but not nearly to the same extent as I use to. All in all, I am soooo much better praise God!
This journey is why I focus on reproductive nutrition as a clinical dietitian today. I have unique expertise and perspective when it comes to reproductive health thanks to my personal experience and my clinical training. I guess God had me go through all of that suffering for a reason!
Just to end this long read, I will say that my journey is not over. I am beginning to learn how other concerns such as posture have been playing a major role in my menstrual health as well . That is a journey that I cannot wait to share with you in the future, but for now, if you are suffering from painful menstrual cramps or missing and absent periods or infertility and so on, ladies get back to the basics and make sure you look at your diet first and foremost before anything else!
If you need professional guidance when trying to manage your period naturally, please don’t hesitate to book a consultation, I would love to help!