My periods have always been terrible-starting with my first one at age 12. Id experience overwhelming fatigue, bloating, and irritability.
And worst of all were the cramps. It felt like someone was dragging a hot knife into my abdomen.
I couldn't believe that what I was experiencing was a normal part of "becoming a woman."
From my pre-teen years until my late twenties, I tried to cope with the pain using over-the-counter painkillers. They helped sometimes, but other months, they didn’t make a difference, no matter the dosage. Birth control didn’t help either.
I was in and out of doctors’ offices all the time, trying to get answers. I felt defeated when even a transvaginal ultrasound didn’t find the cause of my pain.
At times, my mental health was worse than my physical health. I battled depression, which worsened during my period when I couldn’t get out of bed for days on end. In college, I was missing school, and later, missing work. I was forced to stay home from family gatherings and birthday parties with my friends because I was in too much pain to leave the house.
Simply put, my period symptoms were taking over my life.
'Then I saw a poster at my doctor's office about anti-inflammatory foods.'
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet is believed to help with health conditions like eczema and IBS. And there's some evidence that following an anti-inflammatory eating plan can help with chronic pain, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
So, after a lot of research, I decided to go vegan. Plants are anti-inflammatory, so I hoped that a vegan diet would be the solution I’d been waiting for.
When I decided to go vegan, I went all-in. I cut out all animal products cold turkey (so to speak) and packed my diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. I read up on veganism to make sure I was still getting enough protein and other nutrients (which can be tough on a plant-based diet). My husband, who was vegetarian, ended up joining me in solidarity.
'I noticed a difference after just a month of eating vegan.'
I still had some cramps and bloating, but it was nowhere near as bad as before. As the months passed on my new diet, my cramps became less and less painful until they were barely there anymore.
Before becoming a vegan, I barely had enough energy to go to work and class before and during my period, let alone exercise. Now, I run, lift weights, take yoga classes, and do dance workout videos all month long. I have so much more energy. I feel like a new person, all thanks to the changes I’ve made in my diet.
Here's a sample of what I eat in a given day:
- For breakfast, I usually make a fruit and vegetable smoothie. A few days before my period starts, I add anti-inflammatory ingredients like ginger, turmeric, hemp seeds, and chia seeds.
- For lunch and dinner, I usually try to experiment with cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and leafy greens in different main dishes. I also eat a lot of whole grains and beans, for protein.
I have Jamaican roots, and I’ve found ways to hold on to the flavors that I grew up loving. Rather than the curry chicken or goat I used to love, I make an amazing curry chickpea dish that’s packed with just as much flavor. I also found some great vegan substitutes (like vegan cheese) that keeps me from craving my old favorite foods.
'Some months are better than others.'
It’s been over a year and a half since I became a vegan. I do my best to eat mostly whole foods, but I definitely still enjoy French fries, vegan cheeseburgers, and other treats every so often.
But when I eat more processed foods than usual, I notice worse cramps and period symptoms-although still nothing as bad as what I lived with before I changed my diet.
During the almost 14 years that I struggled with menstrual cramps, I was convinced there was no escape. I never pictured myself flourishing the way I am now without being weighed down by a week of misery every single month.
My life truly has been transformed for the better.
Nivea Mullings is a 27-year-old freelance content writer living in the Bronx, New York, where she was born and raised. She writes about veganism and other life experiences on her website, Black Vegan Diaries.