In this article, chef and holistic nutrition coach Bailey Ruskus discusses the need for tackling women’s health issues and shares her top tips to heal your body with food.
How to Tackle Women’s Health Issues and Heal Your Body With Food
My Story: Learning to Live With Endometriosis
I am a professional plant-based chef, author, nutrition consultant. I am also a woman who manages to live a (mostly) pain free life with endometriosis. It hasn’t always been this way though. I grew up in Colorado working in kitchens since I was 11 years old. My grandfather was a chef and I wasn’t sure about a lot of things as a kid, but I was sure that I wanted to be a chef.
After high school I immediately enrolled in culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco. I moved to the big city with even bigger dreams. At 19, I started my own private chef business while working in restaurants and hustled my way through school. Eventually, I was living out my dream in SF. The underlying shadow through this whole experience is that I was a young woman living with endometriosis. Living with endo means that you are in a constant state of chronic pain. You rely on prescriptions, surgeries and relationships with doctors who barely understand how to help you.
Eventually, my condition got so out of control that I could no longer manage alone. That’s how I ended up moving back in with my parents at 23. After seeing specialist after specialist, I realized that no one had any answers for me, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went back to school for nutrition and started to become obsessed with learning about the food industry.
How Food Changed Everything For Me
It blew my mind that I had paid a fortune for a degree to teach me about food, without ever actually learning about food and the complexities of where it came from. I had no idea about the toxicity of pesticides, the dangers of dairy, the horrors of animal agriculture. Nor did I know about the harm that processed food and refined sugar can cause. Granted, I had somewhat of an idea, but I always just knew that “this is the way things were”. I didn’t realize how bad it was and that there was another way. I guess it also didn’t help that I grew up with doctors telling me that no matter what I did, my endo would only get worse as I aged.
So eventually, I changed everything. I cut out refined sugar, ditched dairy, stopped eating croissants and lattes for breakfast. I bought only organic foods, avoided charcuterie boards and duck confit, started incorporating green smoothies. Whatever it took to not fall into the narrative that I would “only get worse”, I vowed to do it. Every penny I had (which was not a lot for a broke young woman living in pain) went to this mission. Eventually, it all started to work. I moved out of my parents’ house and was able to get off all my meds and live a life I never really thought was possible.
How the System Fails Us (and What We Can Do About It)
Here’s the thing, because I have always been so obsessed with food, it was relatively easy for me to connect the dots. Food has always been the one thing that I just get. And I know that it’s not the same for everyone. I get thousands of comments and direct messages every week from women and people with periods with horror stories about how the food and medical system has failed them. How they are so close to giving up and they’re not sure where to turn next. Not to mention that women of color and the LGBTQ+ community are much more likely to be denied treatment or fall through the cracks of the broken system.
“Of course, there is no one size fits all solution, but there is a huge missing piece that can help us all heal as a collective.”
Women’s health is severely underfunded, under researched. Because of this and the toxicity of our food and modern world, there is an epidemic of women and people with periods who are living with period pain, infertility and chronic health ailments.
The silver lining of it all is that we can use the thing that’s making us all sick – to help us all heal. And that my friend, is food. Of course, there is no one size fits all solution, but there is a huge missing piece that can help us all heal as a collective. Sharing what we learn, empowering each other to eat differently and helping those in need are great places to start!
My Top 5 Hacks to Heal Your Body With Food:
I have highlighted below my top 5 hacks to start to heal your body with food. They’re meant to help you start the journey for yourself or for you to send to a loved one who is going through something similar. It takes courage to change, to try something new. It takes courage to show up and do the work for yourself even if you can’t predict the outcome. I also want to add that it’s incredibly important to work with your doctor and find a medical team that has the same goals that you do. For something like endometriosis, it’s important that we work with western medicine and holistic remedies to find the missing pieces for our individual cycles.
If you enjoy the hacks below – I am teaching a *free* on demand training on cycle syncing for cycle healing available on my website starting 7.25.22! Go to www.chefbai.kitchen or my IG (@chef_bai) for more info!
“I also want to add that it’s incredibly important to work with your doctor and find a medical team that has the same goals that you do.”
Break up with dairy.
Dairy is the single largest source of saturated fat in the Standard American diet and that alone is a reason to stay away from it. When we are talking about our cycles, what we eat directly affects our period. Because dairy has high levels of saturated fats, raises cholesterol and is packed with hormones and casein, it negatively affects our gut, our skin, our body odor, our heart health, and our hormones. If you had to choose one thing to do for your period pain health right now, one of the best things you can do is to cut down on your dairy consumption. Start with simple swaps like your coffee creamer and plant based milks and work your way up from there!
Sync your cycle with food!
What we put into our bodies is what we get out of it and what we eat throughout the month has a huge impact on our periods, our hormones and our symptoms. It’s important to lean into food that is as close to nature as possible. A whole food plant-based or plant focused diet will be the most supportive for your body.
This way of eating will help with so many common cycle pains. These can include acne, anxiety, bloating, constipation, cramps, inflammation and mood swings. Cycle syncing is essentially shifting what you’re eating based on what your hormones and body is doing throughout the month. For example, estrogen is high during ovulation.
So focusing on raw fruits and veggies helps eliminate a surplus of estrogen which can commonly cause symptoms during ovulation. [If you’re interested in learning more – take my free training to learn about all phases of your cycle and what to eat!]
Avoid Pesticides & Processed Foods
About 50% of the American diet contains processed foods. These are packed full of chemicals, preservatives, and are sprayed heavily with pesticides and herbicides. The adverse health effects of pesticides/herbicides can be difficulty in breathing, headaches, neurological or psychological effects, irritation of skin or skin disorders, effects on the immune system, and reproductive effects.
Eating these processed foods often and consistently exposing yourself to all the toxins, fillers and preservatives can negatively affect your hormones, the reproductive system and its ability to function properly. Your best bet is to avoid processed foods, eat organic when possible and stick to a whole food plant-based diet!
Ditch Refined Sugar
Refined sugar comes mostly from cane sugar, sugar beets, and corn (high fructose corn syrup). These are heavily processed to isolate the sugar. This sugar is added to food for a sweeter taste, and is often disguised under multiple names on nutrition labels. It’s important to note that this does not include all sugars!
The sugars found in fruit are packed with phytonutrients and antioxidants, whereas refined sugars are mostly found in junk food like candy, donuts, sweet baked goods, soda, anything with high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar. These cause your blood sugar to rise very quickly and then to drop rapidly later afterwards while causing inflammation in the body.
A diet high in refined sugar can cause mood swings, gut imbalances, changes in your hormones. It can also cause accelerated growth/mutations in your cells. Not to mention these crops are heavily sprayed with pesticides! When choosing a sweetner, choose coconut sugar, date nectar or maple syrup.
Have Daily Non-Negotiables
The daily non-negotiables are going to be your superpower. They are the things in your daily routine that never get put onto the back burner, no matter what. This is important because consistency creates results. Whether we’re getting in shape, healing our periods, or managing our symptoms.
Some of my favorites are:
- drinking at least ½ gallon of high quality water every day
- eating plant-based
- getting a good sweat in
- having 30 minutes in the morning and night with no screens, news or work
- meal prepping for myself on the weekends
- having a green smoothie every single day!
As we know, women’s health is severely under researched and underfunded. However, becoming your own advocate can help all of us demand better, because we understand more. If you liked this article and want to learn more about Chef Bai, head to her website www.chefbai.kitchen or her IG/ Tiktok @chef_bai.
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