The Single Biggest Mistake Women Make With Their Health


You feel like hell.

Your pelvis feels like one huge, palpable, purple bruise in the depth of your being.

You can barely drag yourself out of bed.

The thought of what your day will bring fills you with dread as you contemplate what will be expected of you.

You’d run away if you had the energy.

In the part of the blogosphere I inhabit, there has been a lot of talk recently about polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS,) a hormonal condition where women don’t ovulate regularly, if at all.

The talk has been about resolving it using diet and often diet alone.

Some of these diets are extreme by everyday measures.

But the proponents make compelling arguments for the return of their health and quality of life on the back of these food strategies.

And who can argue with that?

I have not had PCOS but endured its’ cousin, endometriosis, for years.

Too. Many. Years.

I’ve experienced the pain, the exhaustion, the short cycles.

Infertility, acne and depression.

The caffeine and sugar binges, grasping at some pseudo-energy to get me through the basics of my day.

There’s a huge, mostly hidden cost accompanying these conditions – the lost earnings, the broken relationships, the blighted years of life.

Young, female life.


My approach to all this was to a) put up with it, b) manage it, c) get around it and d) deal with it.

Now that I’m in the ‘deal with it’ phase, I’ve worked on solutions for the past six years and am nearly symptom-free.


I’ve crossed continents looking for solutions to my health problem. I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years. I’ve tried unconventional treatments. And sunk enough drugs to medicate whole armies.

I spent years and years in this mode.

And if I have learned anything from this saga over the past thirty years, if I have one regret in my life, one legacy besides my children I would like to leave with you, it is this:

If you have any kind of illness – mental or physical –

The first thing to do is change your diet.

No matter what other tricks and stunts you attempt, unless you change your diet your good health will only partially realized.

This has been a lesson bitterly won on my part.

I can’t tell you how I resisted the connection between food and the problems I was having.

Granted back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there wasn’t a lot of data connecting food and hormone imbalances, but what there was I read.

And just as easily as I read it, I dismissed it.

It didn’t fit my paradigm.

In my mind, restricting and eliminating certain food from your diet was what you did if you were overweight.

I was thin.

Or had allergies. I had none.

I grew up with what I thought was a healthy diet followed by the vast majority of my compatriots – meat, eggs, cheese, veg, fruits, bread and pastry.

With a light serving of cake.

Oh, and tea. Of course, the tea.

I carried this ‘healthy’ food mentality into adulthood and didn’t think anything of it.

But I wish I’d learned about food and how it can affect our hormones.

Even food we think of as healthy such as wholewheat bread, brown rice, milk.

I wish I’d taken steps to identify my personal perpetrators and eliminate them back in my twenties.

Heck, even doing so in my thirties would have saved me a lot of pain.

I wish it hadn’t taken several crises experienced by different members of my family for me to look at my genetic profile, review my medical history and finally reject the best medical advice I got at the time – ‘you’re just unlucky.’

No-one’s that unlucky.

I’ve written before about my battles with food.

My inability to throw it away. To resist sugar. To dampen my impulses.

I am still battling (although not so much – I will write an update) but today my diet and my food behavior is 90% ‘clean.’

Not all my symptoms have been eliminated – I still have brain fog for part of each day during half the month and some pain for three or four days – but compared to where I was with pain and fatigue six years ago when 75% of my time and health was impaired, I have come a long way.

Let me say now, I am not against medication.

I recently had a skirmish with a tick and when my lyme disease test came back indeterminate, I wolfed those doxy puppies down like sweeties.

Doctors have helped me enormously.

I’ve met men and women who genuinely wanted to reduce my pain, enable me to have children, make my life better.

Who used their expertise and the tools at their disposal to achieve that.

They couldn’t fix me, so they eliminated my symptoms by shutting down my fertility altogether.

I became a 25 year-old using powerful synthetic hormones to prevent a process as ancient and natural as life itself.

When that wasn’t enough, they cut me open with a knife to remove the offenders that were giving me such trouble.

Five. Times.

Cutting almost became a way of life.

And when surgery couldn’t unlock the secret to vibrant health, (sheesh, I would have settled for a life that was simply pain-free,) we went back to drugs again, working around the problem and all the while never getting to the bottom of it.

But because of these doctors, I was able to travel the world, have two wonderful children and a stimulating career.

And when my attention turned to resolving my health issues instead of merely managing or ignoring them because I didn’t know what else to do, I came upon courageous doctors who risked the censure, derision and downright nastiness of their fellow practitioners (doctors can be really mean to one another) by daring to challenge the norms and conventional wisdom.

These were doctors who taught me mental illness can have a physical basis.

Doctors who taught me about bacteria and viruses that secretly harbor in the cells of our bodies without making their presence known on the surface for years.

I learned about epigenetics and genetic polymorphisms (mutations) that can prevent our bodies from working optimally.

I learned that our bodies in these circumstances, like fragile machines, can break if overloaded with more work than they can bear.

Finally succumbing to illness and disease.

During this phase, I took more drugs. I took supplements. I took saunas.

I treated my body like a test tube into which I dropped all manner of chemicals.

And subjected it to various experiments.

And like a scientist, I noted the reaction.

But I still ignored the strongest, most fundamental chemicals of all.

These science experiments halved my symptoms.

But I was still trying to live a life in spite of significant pain and fatigue.

By now I knew I had a bad case of the Epstein Barr virus, the cause of mono (glandular fever,) that I just wasn’t licking, plus the endometriosis, as well as a host of other afflictions.

I also had a genetic makeup that wasn’t well suited to disposing of these buggers swiftly and cleanly in a ninja-like fashion.

I was sinking as my body struggled to do a job it simply wasn’t designed for.

I needed a Hummer and I had…a Toyota.

As so often happens with innovation and change, I chanced on the solution for this problem as I was trying to solve another.

While working on an elimination diet to improve my son’s extreme behavior, it struck me just how powerful food is.

Mentally, physically, socially.

Frankly, I became obsessed.

I wince when I think of that phase now.

People must have seen me coming and ducked behind lampposts.

I couldn’t talk about anything else.

Over the years I’ve experimented some more.

I’ve refined, tweaked, restricted my diet.

I’ve cut out foods, I’ve added foods.

I’ve fallen off the wagon. I’ve got back on.

I’ve given into impulse, I’ve reined myself in.

It’s been a process.

I’m not quite where I want to be yet.

But I’m 80% there, only losing one day to fatigue, the odd day to depression, I have very mild pain two or three days a month.

My body certainly doesn’t feel it’s buzzing like a toxic, radioactive waste dump any longer.

Changing my diet has brought me a long way.

I eat meat, eggs, veggies, occasional fruit and nuts, yogurt and milk with my tea.

I don’t take any medication, supplements or powders.

I’ve relieved my body of a major burden, leaving it free to heal itself back into balance, better able to vanquish those enemies lurking within.

I’ve aligned my diet with my body design.

So if you are a woman, or mother of a daughter, or a son for that matter – boys are not immune to diet-related hormonal imbalance – look out for the signs – weight changes, cycle irregularities, skin problems, overwhelming fatigue, digestion issues, infertility, pain.

These symptoms are not normal. They are not natural.

For inspiration, read Peggy’s story , or Alison’s success.

Or download Dr. Loren Cordain’s paper in which he reports how he found acne completely absent in non-westernized populations that have no access to western foods such as refined sugars, dairy products, cereal grains, vegetable oils or processed foods while in the US, between 79 % to 95% of all teenagers between 16 and 18 years of age have acne.

Read up about the role of diet in this kind of picture.

Accept for yourself only a thriving, vibrant, healthy life, full of energy, joy and pain-free.

I know it’s hard to imagine from under the blankets, swathed in the fuzz of ibruprofen or maybe Vicodin.

Or maybe you get tantalizing glimpses of great health on your good days as you hope, yet again, that maybe this month it will be different.

And then it’s not.

But instead of crying with pain, ingesting drugs or avoiding situations due to embarrassment.

Cut out the processed crap.

Cut the sugar.

Experiment with cutting the grains, the dairy, the snacks.

Keep cutting until balance is restored.

And, remember this.

Don’t be like me.

I was like Santiago in ‘The Alchemist’ searching in the desert for treasure.

Only, ultimately, to find it right on my doorstep.

Accept only an optimal life for yourself. It’s the only one you have.

Your life does not deserve to be experienced through the dark shroud of pain or a fog of despair.

You do not have to live with pain, depression, weight gain and related heath issues.

Not when the answer may be at your fingertips.


{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Peggy The Primal Parent August 9, 2011 at 5:55 am


This is an uplifting post about your experience with hormonal disease. This line really hit me, “There’s a huge, mostly hidden cost accompanying these conditions – the lost earnings, the broken relationships, the blighted years of life.”

From someone who had PCOS for 14 years before I got it under control I can painfully sympathize that this is the worst part of diseases like ours. Our self esteem is low, our brains foggy, our ambition always lagging right behind our daily pain and suffering. Our choices in friends are limited by our bad looks and feelings. Our relationships suffer from our paranoia, low self-worth, and inability to cope.

But I can attest to the fact, that all of this is caused by diet. And that all women have the power to move past the symptoms and their deep rippling effects by committing to change.
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Alison Golden August 9, 2011 at 9:14 am

Hey Peggy! You made an excellent point:

“…our ambition always lagging right behind our daily pain and suffering…”

I think this, more than the pain, was what caused me the most frustration. I had so many ideas and dreams I wanted to pursue and it was the desire to fulfill them that kept me focused on finding a solution. Who knew it would be so close to home?


August 10, 2011 at 7:07 am

Seems like the # of women who have PCOD is actually quite higher than I ever figured. I guess I’ve been living under a rock. 🙂
Susan recently posted..25 Shocking Benefits of a Primal/Paleo LifestyleMy Profile


Alison Golden August 10, 2011 at 12:38 pm

I think I am your alter ego because learning of the number of women who haven’t heard of PCOS is astonishing to me and has made me realize how my whole adult life I’ve lived in this world. I have it, I talk about it, I attract people who have it, we talk about it, etc. It surrounds me.


August 9, 2011 at 9:33 am

Wow, Alison–I never heard of PCOS before reading this. And believe you me, I consider myself mighty fortunate. I’m thinking of the dozens of women I’ve counseled over the years who have trouble conceiving–never thought to ask if PCOS was a culprit. How tragic that there is so much relief that can come with attention to diet. Though I imagine the psychological toll from having difficulty with conception packs quite a wallop.

I agree with Peggy–it’s as much about commitment to change. Not that changing our food preferences and habits is ever easy. Gawd–as I was reading about the processed foods, I was shoveling rice crisp cereal, mixed with granola and almonds–maybe I should have stuck with the fruit for breakfast…?

Thanks for bringing such an important physical and mental health culprit to light. No matter the malady, diet changes and improvements are a must.
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Alison Golden August 9, 2011 at 10:33 am

Hi Linda: Gosh, my first comment was to wonder that you hadn’t heard of PCOS – that’s a reflection on me not you 🙂 – hormonal challenges have been such a huge part of my life, I’m familiar with the problems left, right and upside down. PCOS, endometriosis, hormones are part of my daily vocabulary and experience.

Changing our diet and food habits is particularly difficult for women because of the neurotransmitter changes the chemicals in the food can impart. We experience emotion so intensely and can be so comforted by the food as it medicates us, we can be both blind to the danger and hooked at the same time.


Caren with a "C" August 9, 2011 at 9:35 pm

I think food really does have a lot to do with hormonal balances. Good post!
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Alison Golden August 10, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Thanks, Caren. If one person makes a change for the better, it will have been worth it. Cliched but true!


The Damsel in Dis Dress
August 9, 2011 at 10:06 pm

I hadn’t heard of PCOS either. What a great post. So well written, so informative.
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Alison Golden August 10, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Thanks, DID. I’m glad you’ve heard of it now so that if anyone you know complains of the symptoms you can direct them well. 🙂


Heather August 10, 2011 at 6:58 am

What an honest and eye opening post. I’m sorry about everything you’ve had to go through to get to this point, but I’m glad to hear that you’re almost symptom free. And if by telling your story, you can help just one person going through the same thing, that’s amazing.
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Alison Golden August 10, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Thank you, Heather. And congratulations again! Hormones here they come, for you! 🙂


August 10, 2011 at 7:04 am

Hey Alison, I didn’t know a possible connection to diet and PCOD, I’m no expert but always assumed that was something a woman was indeed unlucky enough to just get.

On another note, I have read Cordain’s acne paper and can tell you from experience that it’s so right on. When I cut out grains and dairy my skin took on a new look. I even use a little coconut oil on it every few days. That’s one of my fav perks about being primal.

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Alison Golden August 10, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Hi Susan: I think very few things in life are simply random. It’s true, some people are more predisposed (they have Toyota constitutions while others have Hummers) but it doesn’t have to mean that it’s inevitable to develop hormonal imbalance. There are things we can do, hence this post.

That’s so interesting in the effects of your skin. I still have dairy and my skin is OK but I wonder if I will need to take it out to improve my other symptoms. I wish I’d had this knowledge when I was a teenager would have saved a lot of grief. But I’m thankful I have it time for my kids. Hopefully they can benefit.


August 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I can’t prove this for sure, but I actually think that the dairy was quite inflammatory for me and the big culprit behind my acne. I would never call myself a carb lover – I am more of a dairy girl. I crave creamy things like ice cream, shakes, etc. I would always cough and choke when I was done eating it because I would get so phlegmy. So I cut it out and I don’t eat anything that gives me that reaction anymore. BUT, since it’s summer and soft ice cream is my thing, we recently stopped to get some. I got a kiddie size, no biggie as a treat, and the next morning I woke up with a nice surprise on my chin. Makes me not love ice cream so much.
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Alison Golden August 10, 2011 at 1:42 pm

I’ve heard dairy indicated with acne a lot over the years. I used to think that if I had vanilla flavored soy milk on raisin bran I was being healthy but now I think I got that wrong. Just a little 😉


August 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm

You are certainly not alone in that!
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August 10, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I’ve heard about PCOS – and know people who have it – but I had no idea about all of those symptoms!
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Alison Golden August 10, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I actually forgot a few, Charise, like anxiety, night waking. Each symptom ‘recipe’ will be different for everyone but they are the major signs to look for. Actually you don’t need to look really, they make themselves very apparent. 😉


DrJulieAnn aka The Modern Retro Woman
August 10, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Thank you for sharing this! I, too, am surprised by the number of people who have not heard of PCOS.

I do not have PCOS nor endometriosis (although all three of my sisters have had endometriosis and fibroids). I do, however, have a hormonal disorder related to the long-term use of Ortho-Novum 777 (originally given to me so that I’d have a “normal” cycle instead of a 60 day cycle…now we know that women don’t have to bleed every 28 days like “they” thought 30 years ago).

I feel the HUGE impact of my diet. If I have popcorn (one of my favorites) or too many other grains or refined foods, I am in a brain fog edging on stupor. Ironically, it is those very foods that are so bad for me that call out the most.

Lately, I’ve been really thinking about research I’ve read that said Americans and the British were the healthiest during WWII because of rationing. As a result of this reflection, my personal dietary goal is to eat as if most of my food was coming from a Victory Garden.
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Alison Golden August 10, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Grains are very tough on me, too. Wheat could, and still can, send me into a stupor. Last night I went out with a friend and was so involved in our conversation, I didn’t realize I’d eaten the croutons in my salad until I’d nearly finished! Today I feel very, very tired. 🙁 There’s a lesson there about unconscious eating.

I think the wartime diet was better than today’s but as I mentioned in a comment on your blog, I also think the fact they simply didn’t have as much to eat as we have was beneficial too. I only eat for a few hours and fast for around 18-20 hours a day. I find that very helpful.


Mary E. Ulrich
August 10, 2011 at 10:26 pm

love the line: “You’d run away if you had the energy.”

I’ve never heard of PCOS either. Sounds awful and makes me wonder about diet. I’ve decided I know nothing healthy. And, it seems impossible to learn because everything is a contadiction.

So, Alison, where do you start? Eliminate sugars, okay. Then what?
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Alison Golden August 11, 2011 at 7:41 am

Hi Mary:

I think a lot of the advice out there isn’t *that* contradictory, it just appears so at times because everyone has their spin that they put on it to make a buck. I’ve got to the point where I reject a lot of conventional wisdom out there. I’m the expert on me. We all have to get educated and then take the necessary steps to implement, test, tweak, until we get to the point we are happy with.

I’m going to write a post on the best way I found to go about this but yes processed foods, sugars, and all other carbs – bread, pasta, rice, potatoes etc. were the first things I eliminated.

I don’t want to make it sound like I am 100% perfect at this either. I struggle at times keeping on the dietary straight and narrow – I’m better at keeping away from some food items more than others – but I have got better and better at this over time and when I do fall off the wagon, I know I have to deal with the consequences. Sort of like having too much to drink and dealing with the hangover – it’s not a surprise. 😉


Kristl Story August 11, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Sadly we live in a quick fix society, and most people think pills are the quick fix! My sister-in-law has many health issues, and I asked her if her doctor knew that she never drinks water…only coke! She’s afraid to tell him, and I told her that simply drinking water instead of coke could be the quick fix she needs!
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Alison Golden August 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm

She drinks only Coke? Man, I love Coke but that’s insane. I wish we would see this kind of behavior for what it is – socially sanctioned addiction. It has all the hallmarks. 🙁


Glynis Jolly
August 11, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Hi Alison

I have found that for me, even though I have no symptoms, the Diabetic diet works for me.
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Alison Golden August 11, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Hi Glynis:

I suspect that is similar to what I do, Glynis. Is it no carbs? Limited fruit? No sugar or processed food? Let me know, Glynis. I’d be interested to know.


Glynis Jolly
August 12, 2011 at 3:48 am

The Diabetic diet consists of protein, ‘good carbs, and dairy. I drink 1% fat milk and eat 2% fat cheese and lowfat yohgart. Vegetables and fruits are carbs but ‘good carbs’. Limit corn though because the carb count is too high. Same with white potatoes. Sweets are okay IF with Splenda and very small helpings. It also has to do with quantity. A helping is what can be put in a large serving spoon. No more that 4 different foods on a plate. No more than 3 meals per day with a piece of fruit in between (100 cal.). No processed food of course.
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Alison Golden August 14, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Thanks, Glynis. What about bread, rice, pasta, pastry? Do you eat those? Even the brown versions?


Glynis Jolly
August 15, 2011 at 4:37 am

I am only eating whole grain items – – whole grain or whole wheat bread, brown rice, a little whole grain pasta. I haven’t tried pastry yet. I have the whole grain Bisquique though and as soon as the weather gets cooler, I’ll be making cobbler with it and Spenda instead of sugar.
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Lauren February 9, 2012 at 12:15 pm

If you’re at all concerned about your hormones, you might want to review your stance on fat-reduced dairy. They’re a processed product (which you’ve indicated you’re restricting) and hormones are produced from fat. There’s a study (famous around the WAP sites) that shows women who consume full-fat dairy to have significantly better fertility markers than those who consume fat-reduced dairy. Just so you’re aware, in case it something you wanted to look into!


Alison Golden February 9, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Hi Lauren, thanks for the information. I think reducing fat-reduced dairy is a great way to go when looking to balance hormones especially when combined with other restrictions. My hormone balance is super-sensitive to diet and I find I have to stay 98% paleo to keep my hormones on track. Others may have more leeway. It’s all about research and tweaking for our own bodies.

Nicole Rivera
August 11, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Preach Sister, PREACH!!

Oh my GOODNESS! The timing of this post is absolutely ridiculous. I am sitting here on the night following my second colonoscopy after hearing the word “Remission” from my doctor and it is ONLY BECAUSE OF FOOD.

Three years ago the same doctor diagnosed me with Crohn’s disease, a disease I watched my mother suffer with my entire life until she died. When he told me I had the disease I knew all too well what kind of hell that could become. I started the drugs. Eight months later I was diagnosed with another chronic illness (this time a rare disease, Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension) in my brain. More drugs, more doctors, a surgery, and, ultimately medical leave with an application for Disability.

Last year I visited a nutritionist who said I had gluten and dairy intolerances. I thought it was nuts, but I cut them both out. Due to that, I also starting eating healthier in general. Now, today, I am off my meds for Crohn’s and tapering off the drugs for my IIH. Soon, I will be able to have REAL conversations about having a child SAFELY off of these catgory C drugs!

Hippocrates said it, “Let FOOD be thy medicine,” and I believe it!

Would I have gotten this far with food, alone? Probably not. I was pretty messed up, BUT I can almost GUARANTEE that if I did not change my diet I would not be so close to my happy ending!
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Alison Golden August 14, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Wow, Nicole. I had tears in my eyes as I read this. I knew you were dealing with something but I wasn’t sure what. How fantastic that you’ve turned the vicious cycle into a virtuous one. If we change our diet, all sorts of things start happening that we never imagined. And it just gets better and better and bigger and bigger. I’m looking forward to hearing all about your future adventures. Great job! 🙂 🙂


Lisa August 15, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Wow—I love this post. It is so inspiring. I’m in my 30’s and have been convinced and searching for the nutritional path that would help me address my own (hormonal related, but somewhat different than your) problems. I’ve recently made progress, and it makes all that experimenting worthwhile!!!
I’m glad I found your blog and look forward to reading more 🙂


Alison Golden August 29, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Hi Lisa! I’m so glad you found this path. There are a lot of resources around and I agree experimenting is the only way to see what works for you. Good luck. I hope you find all the answers you are looking for. 🙂


Pauline January 29, 2012 at 3:41 am

“Your life does not deserve to be experienced through the dark shroud of pain or a fog of despair”. Alison says.
I’m glad that you find the right path with the right choice to attained that road in life. May this experienced serve as tool to loss weight correctly.
Pauline recently posted..caffeine and acneMy Profile


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