'I've lived with chronic pain for years but one diet has changed everything'

Sophie with long blonde hair wearing a pink off the shoulder top
27-year-old Sophie says the diet has helped massively with her endometriosis symptoms -Credit:Sophie Richards

When people think of the word diet, they think it is done for weightloss. But diets can also be a form of treatment.

This is the approach that Sophie Richards has taken after trying out the auto-immune protocal (AIP) diet in order to address her endometriosis symptoms. 27-year-old Sophie has been living with endometriosis ever since she started her period 10 years ago at the age of 17.

For years doctors said the pain she was experiencing was normal, and she was told she "just wasn't used to it because she started her period so late." But it was so bad Sophie considered dropping out of university, as she could barely show up for lectures anyway.

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Then one day, she passed out. Sophie was taken to hospital and it was discovered she had a cyst on her ovary that had twisted. "It was really really big, it had twisted everything, so I had to have emergency surgery and after that surgery they said 'You do have organs stuck together, but don't worry about it'. This was the start of me finding out that just because they are a doctor doesn't actually mean they know what they're doing, any skilled gynecologist would have known straight away what that was." For the latest health and Covid news, sign up to our newsletter here

Sophie in hospital
Sophie has undergone four surgeries to remove endometriosis tissue -Credit:Sophie Richards

Within weeks Sophie's pain was back and so began the repeated trips to the doctors until she was eventually referred for an explorative laparoscopy where endometriosis was diagnosed and removed. However, Sophie explained as this wasn't done by a specialist in endometrisis, the endometriosis tissue was an "ablation, which is kind of like cutting a weed". She added: "It will get rid of it but it will grow back really quickly, whereas excision, you rip it out at the root."

Since then, Sophie, who lives in Cardiff, has had four more surgeries which have massively improved her symptoms. However, after still experiencing painful flareups as well as severe bloating, not just in her stomach but also in places like her face, she decided to try the AIP diet. After just seven days, Sophie said her flareups stopped and have not returned since.

Explaining how it works, she said: "I think one ingredient only, so an apple is one ingredient, a sweet potato is one ingredient. So nothing processed or anything like that. You can have any meat or fish, they always say do the best quality, fresh and organic, but I've always been honest on my page I've not done that because I cannot afford everything 100% organic.

"You can have vegetables as long as they're not nightshades, which are a family of vegetables that can cause inflammation in some people, so an example would be tomatoes, aubergines, chillies, white potatos. You can have fruit as well and they also say to prioritise low glycemic fuit, which is lower sugar fruit, such as berries. You can have bone broth if you make your own because store bought ones have pepper in them. You can have herbs but not spices other than cinnamon. You can't have nuts or seeds, which also means you can't have coffee, as coffee beans are technically a seed. So you cut out all of that.

"You do that for 30, 60 or 90 days, depending on your symptoms, and then you reintroduce one food at a time." Support award-winning journalism with WalesOnline’s Premium app on Apple or Android

Sophie with a bloated stomach
Sophie would experience extreme bloating with her flare ups -Credit:Sophie Richards

Sophie explained that from the first day, she noticed her endometriosis symptoms had "gone". Then after around 10 to 15 days, her face began to appear a lot less bloated and her acne also improved.

"My endo and inflammation is what I wanted to target, and that has worked. So I started reintroducing on day 31," she added. So far Sophie has reintroduced pepper and coffee and is yet to see any reaction to those ingredients. She plans on reintroducing chillies next.

Sophie has been sharing her journey on TikTok and Instagram as @theendospectrum where she has more than 180,000 followers combined. She also documents her journey with endometriosis on YouTube and does so in the hope of raising awareness of the condition and those that live with it.

What does a usual day of food look like on the AIP diet?

For breakfast Sophie said she aims for around 20 to 30 grams of protein, with some sort of carb, and mostly always spinach, but any kind of leafy green. She said: "First thing I do is go for a morning walk, it's good to switch off your sleepy hormones and gets your awake ones going but it also starts your metabolism and everything, so I go for a little walk first, and then breakfast."

Because a lot of typical breakfast foods aren't allowed on the AIP diet, Sophie explained her breakfasts look a lot like lunch. She said: "I will have some chicken, I precook a bit of chicken for a couple of days in garlic and olive oil. I'll have that with spinach, and I've always got pre-cooked sweet potatos and then half an avocado."

Sophie makes her own bone broth - which is part of the anti-inflammatory diet -Credit:Sophie Richards

Sophie said she has also had a breakfast smoothie, and uses a protein powder that is 100% collagen so suitable for the AIP diet to create it. For a snack she might have a handful of berries and a date, or even a mini meal of leftovers.

Lunch is something like carrots, butternut squash or sweet potato with protein like garlic prawns and spinach again. Dinner is once again very similar, and her boyfriend Dillon Lewis, makes them both a steak, but will use a different pan for Sophie's as she can't have butter. This will be served with some sort of carb again and a veg dish like a salad.

"I'm eating way more than 2,000 calories a day." Sophie explained. "The first week or so of the diet is tough, but after that, I used to be like 'I need to have something sweet right now', but now I can have berries and a date and I am sorted, that wouldn't have done anything."

Boyfriend Dillon has been on board helping to make AIP friendly meals -Credit:Sophie Richards
Boyfriend Dillon has been on board helping to make AIP friendly meals -Credit:Sophie Richards

One of the challenges Sophie has found was eating out at restaurants. She travelled to France to support Dillon who was playing rugby in Bordeaux and struggled to find anything she could eat in a sushi restaraunt, so much so all she could have was plain cooked fish. But as she reintroduces more foods, she hopes this will become a lot easier.

"My goal is to be able to go out to dinner and have a big bowl of pasta and some bread, and be like I am eating what I eat all the time, then I'm out for food, I'm not going to stress too much."

Overall, the diet has been a huge success for Sophie who said: "I just feel like for the first time, my body feels like a normal person." Sophie intends on sticking with the AIP diet and slowly introducing foods to understand what might trigger her symptoms. You can follow along her journey on TikTok and Instagram here.