I started the ketogenic (keto) diet grudgingly at first. I have a deep personal hatred of fad diets and all the false promises they usually carry with them. As someone with an eating disorder past, I’ve spent countless hours with nutritionists and therapists learning what a healthy relationship with food should look like — and I know it’s not cutting out entire food groups in the name of weight loss.
But, I have stage 4 endometriosis. That basically means I’m completely infertile, and my periods can be excruciating. I had three major surgeries eight years ago that seemed to make a difference, but lately, the pain has been returning. And a hysterectomy has been on the table as my next step.
I’m 35 years old. If I’m being honest, I don’t want to go through surgically induced menopause just yet. But I also don’t want to be in chronic pain all the time either.
So, when I came home from a cruise at the beginning of this year feeling like absolute crap — because eating and drinking like there’s no tomorrow can do that to a girl with an inflammatory condition — I decided to give keto a try. Not for weight loss, but for the purported anti-inflammatory benefits.
Like I already mentioned, I did this grudgingly. Over the last 10 years, I have tried countless anti-inflammatory diets. The only one that has come even close to helping was low-FODMAP, which I started after being diagnosed with SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (an unfortunate consequence of all my abdominal surgeries).
Some of those diets actually made me feel worse — which I later found out may have been because I was adding more of the foods I’m personally sensitive to, like garlic, to the anti-dairy, anti-gluten, anti-caffeine, anti-alcohol, anti-fun diets I was taking on.
Either way, I’m not going to lie: I started keto mostly so that I could prove all the proponents of its magical healing properties wrong.
I dipped my toes into the keto diet slowly at first, starting mid-cycle with pretty easy and basic meal plans. Cheesy scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast, goat cheese and bacon salads for lunch, Costco rotisserie chicken with cream cheese and asparagus on the side for dinner, plus as many spoonfuls of peanut butter as I wanted. (It should probably be noted that I eat a lot of peanut butter.)
The first week was awful. That keto flu people talk about? It’s no joke. I had a hard time walking to the car to drive my kid to school most mornings. I felt absolutely horrendous. But, I pushed through — because I was going to do this for 30 days purely so that I could then write about what a load of nonsense the entire diet was. And I couldn’t do that unless I gave it a fair shot.
Then something weird happened. I started feeling better. More energetic throughout the day, even on days where I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before.
I stopped craving sweets and breads, and was feeling mostly satisfied with my fatty meals that still allowed me to enjoy some of my favorites, like cheese, peanut butter, and kalamata olives.
Then, something even weirder happened. About two weeks after beginning the keto diet, I went to the bathroom and realized I’d started my period.
Now, to many women that might sound totally normal. But I know women with severe endometriosis will understand what a crazy thing it is to imagine starting your period without even knowing. For me, the cramping and the pain usually starts hours — and sometimes days — before my period begins. I always know it’s coming.
But on that day, as I sat in the bathroom staring at the blood on the toilet paper — I felt nothing.
That miraculous absence of pain continued over the next few days. While my period usually requires a careful calibration of pain management tools — I typically opt for microdosing marijuana rather than taking the pain meds I’m prescribed, mostly because I’m a single mom who needs to take the edge off the pain but also still needs to be functional — I took a total of three Tylenols this period, and spent no more than 15 minutes on a heating pad — something I pulled out mostly out of habit rather than actual need.
It was the easiest period I think I’ve ever had in my entire life.
And now, I hate myself for saying this, but… I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to go back. If keto did this, if keto gave me a pain-free period... count me in. I never have to have another piece of bread again.
I still worry about how people start on the keto diet for weight loss, without necessarily doing the research or taking the steps to ensure they’re still getting a full spectrum of necessary nutrition. But for therapeutic purposes, I’ve got to say I’m blown away by the results I’ve experienced. And I may have just become one of those people who enthusiastically touts the medical benefits of a fad diet.
I’d hate myself for that, if I weren’t so incredibly excited about the promise of future pain-free periods.
Leah Campbell is a writer and editor living in Anchorage, Alaska. She’s a single mother by choice after a serendipitous series of events led to the adoption of her daughter. Leah is also the author of the book “Single Infertile Female” and has written extensively on the topics of infertility, adoption, and parenting. You can connect with Leah via Facebook, her website, and Twitter.