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A real life Nutritional Journey with ION graduate Molly Roberson – Molly shares her own journey with endometriosis, and how her nutritional therapy studies helped her to get her life back and start a flexible career at the same time.
Tell us about your health condition
I always suffered with really severe period pain as soon as my periods started aged 11, but I didn’t know any different and thought it was normal. I missed school and social events, and would spend my days in bed with a hot water bottle held to my stomach. I finally went to my GP aged 14, but there was no conversation about my symptoms, except to say that period pain was common, so I was put on the pill.
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Fast forward a few years, I had to come off the pill to undergo spinal surgery for scoliosis, and after a really stressful few years my symptoms were getting progressively worse. I was experiencing excruciating period pain, severe nausea, cold sweats and erratic cycles, but also month-long symptoms like pelvic pain. I couldn’t make plans too far in advance because I didn’t want to risk them falling on my period, I couldn’t walk for more than 20 minutes, and I felt like a burden on my family.
I went back to the GP and after months of tests for things like UTIs and cervical cancer, she finally referred me to a gynaecologist for suspected endometriosis.
For those who don’t already know, what is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a painful condition where cells like those that line the uterus grow outside of the uterus. It is most commonly found in the reproductive system and on the bladder or bowel.
The cells respond to the changes in our monthly hormones (like the lining of the uterus does): thickening in preparation for potential pregnancy, and then shedding if we don’t become pregnant. The problem is, unlike our uterine lining, the blood from the endometrial lesions has no way out of the body. This causes inflammation and scar tissue as the body attempts to heal itself. As this process happens month after month, adhesions begin to form which can result in organs sticking together like a cobweb.
It can cause symptoms of moderate to severe period pain (pain may begin a few days before the period), nausea, pelvic pain or lower back pain, fatigue, IBS-type symptoms (particularly around the period), bloating, heavy bleeding, pain going to the toilet, anxiety, depression, and pain with sex.
What steps did you take and how did that lead you to nutrition?
The options I was given were to have laparoscopic surgery, to go back on the pill, or to get pregnant. At that time, none of those options felt right.
After my spinal surgery, instead of going off to Birmingham University to study Philosophy, I took a leap of faith and enrolled on ION’s Nutritional Therapy Science Access Course. It was the best decision I ever made. If I hadn’t learnt about how nutrition and lifestyle impacts our health, I wouldn’t have been able to take control of my endometriosis in the way I did when I got the diagnosis three years into my Nutritional Therapy Diploma. I have no doubt that the knowledge I gained on the course changed the direction of my life.
After about a year of trial and error, I finally found the right combination of diet and lifestyle practices, and my pelvic pain cleared up completely. Gradually my period symptoms reduced to the point that I literally got my life back; no more sweats or nausea, and only a one or two on the endometriosis pain scale – without painkillers!
Tell us a little bit about the science behind how food has helped you
We know that endometriosis is an inflammatory, immune and hormone related condition and so it responds very well to nutrition and lifestyle medicine. When I understood that food is more than just energy, it was a huge revelation. My nutritional therapy management for endometriosis centres on foods that help lower inflammation, support immune function and support healthy blood sugar balance.
With a condition as debilitating as endometriosis, I think people have a hard time believing that food can make much of an impact, but without the changes I made to my diet and lifestyle, I don’t doubt that my endometriosis would have progressively worsened.
What are the next steps for you to grow your nutrition business?
Now I run my nutritional therapy business, I’m studying for a Master’s degree, I’m able to socialise and exercise – I can do whatever I want without having to think about whether I’m going to be on my period.
I plan to grow my online practice to reach more endometriosis sufferers in need of nutrition and lifestyle guidance, work with GP surgeries to support patients going through treatment, and run menstrual education talks at schools throughout the UK to raise awareness of endometriosis and spread the word that period pain might be common, but it’s not normal!
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In partnership with Institute for Optimum Nutrition – find out more about studying nutrition at www.ion.ac.uk