Jessica Murnane‘s story isn’t a new one: For nearly 10 years, complaints to her doctors of long-standing pain, digestive issues and fatigue resulted is misdiagnoses, frustration and a bit of hopelessness. But a trip to the ER and a doctor who finally listened gave her the info she needed—she was suffering from endometriosis, a disorder where the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows on the outside.
With a hysterectomy on the horizon as her last-ditch prescription for relief, she began experimenting with dietary changes to curb her pain and reduce inflammation in her body. The result? She kept her uterus and became a women’s health advocate, cookbook author (Lena Dunham wrote the forward, people) and successful podcast host, speaking and writing about her One Part Plant (OPP) philosophy of eating, and how it can help women live healthier, happier lives.
How’d she do it? We chatted with her about endometriosis, the one sweet treat she hasn’t been able to recreate and what first step you can take towards an OPP lifestyle.
Tell us the story of how you ended up in a doctor’s office, with a recommended hysterectomy as your next step for endometriosis treatment.
I had complained to doctors about my stomach pain, digestive issues, painful sex, urinary issues and fatigue for nearly a decade. I was diagnosed with everything from IBS to depression to “just needing to relax more in bed.” When I was in my late 20s, I had to go to the emergency room because I was in so much pain I couldn’t walk. They did a bunch of tests on me and couldn’t figure out what it is was and suggested I get a follow up with a new doctor. And that was the doctor that finally listened to me.
Through surgery, she was able to diagnose that I had Stage IV Endometriosis. She said it was the worst case she had ever seen and I had cysts the size of oranges growing inside me. One of them had twisted and that’s what sent me to the ER.
This is common for endo sisters. It takes an average of 10 years for a woman to be diagnosed and 1 in 10 women suffer from endometriosis. (Check out the symptoms on my website to potentially help yourself or a woman you know. Education is key.)
But even after my the diagnosis, things didn’t get better. My symptoms did not improve. I went on the pill, pain meds, smoked a ton of weed… but nothing helped. I was severely depressed and in pain. My doctor advised me to get a hysterectomy. And then I got a second opinion and that doctor said the same thing. But before I got the surgery, a friend swooped in and gave me information on how a plant-based diet could help endo pain. I was skeptical/had zero faith it would work. But three weeks later, my pain and symptoms had significantly faded and I never got the surgery. I live a 80% symptom-free life now—which feels like a 100% win to me!
You’ve said you were not naturally the type of person who loved green smoothies. What made you decide to try changing your diet instead of having the surgery?
There were definitely times that I thought getting a hysterectomy would have been easier than changing my diet. Changing my diet was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and wanted to give up all the time. But when you’re able to see and feel the results and not live in pain anymore, it’s time to suck it up and make it work. So I got in the kitchen and started to create recipes and dishes that I was excited about and actually wanted to eat… green smoothies and all. It took a lot of practice and commitment, but I was cooking for a bigger reason now, which made it easier.
What was the first step you took towards plant-based eating?
I started by taking the foods I loved to eat and making plant-based versions of them—lasagna, curries, sweet treats. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my favorite foods, so gave them a facelift. Although, I’ve yet to figure out how to make Sour Patch Kids in a healthy-ish way!
I also gave myself room to breathe. That one was a big one for me. I eased into it. It’s my whole mission with One Part Plant (eating one plant-based meal a day) and my cookbook. A lot of us aren’t designed to be “all or nothing” people and need permission to not be so damn perfect all the time. I now eat plant-based meals for every meal, but it wasn’t that way in the beginning.
You speak (and write) a lot about inflammatory foods and their connection to endo’s symptoms. Can you give us a rundown of how you notice their correlation?
Def. A lot of chronic illnesses cause inflammation in our bodies. So what happens when you eat inflammatory foods? You’re only adding more fuel to the fire. With my endo, I was in a constant state of inflammation and noticed such a difference when I eliminated and ate inflammatory foods in moderation.
Even if you don’t want to eat 100% inflammatory-free diet, I suggest staying away from the big inflammatory guys (dairy, sugar, gluten, alcohol) a few days before your period and while on our period. It’s hard not eating that chocolate bar when your period is screaming “EAAAAT ITTTTT”… but not being in pain is worth so much more.
Of course, everyone’s body is different and what worked for you might not work for everyone. BUT. What advice would you have for someone starting to experiment with diet changes for help with endo (and possibly other chronic disorders)?
Figure out what works for you, not what you see on social media and what you “should” do. If you want to change your diet, but hate to cook, find easy recipes. Ones that require few ingredients and little time in the kitchen. If you’re super duper busy with your job and don’t have time to find recipes, find plant-based restaurant or delivery options. There’s no shame in that.
There is going to be a learning curve, just like anything we do in life. But you have to really get serious and decide to choose YOU and your health over food. For a lot of us that’s hard to do. It was for me. Just keep practicing choosing you every single day. Even if it’s just one meal to start. It will get easier.
Oh, such good advice. Thank you, Jess! And now, an incredible recipe for you to get started on an OPP lifestyle.
Pistachio Oat Bars
- 1 cup raw shelled pistachios
- 1 cup rolled oats
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ cup maple syrup, more for drizzling on top
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ⅓ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- handful of chopped pistachios for the topping (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper. In a food processor with the S blade attached, process the pistachios, oats, and salt for about 30 seconds, until a meal starts to form. Drizzle in the maple syrup and olive oil while the motor is still running and the meal begins to come together into a crumbly, almost-wet dough.
Press the dough evenly into the pan and cover it with coconut flakes and remaining pistachios. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the coconut is nice and golden brown and the dough is cooked through. You want the squares to still be a little soft – don’t overbake these.
Carefully lift the cooled dough out of the pan by holding two sides of the parchment paper. Cut it into squares. Drizzle a little maple syrup or honey over the top for extra sweetness, if you like. Store the squares in a sealed container for up to a week.