Dr. Laura Ricci is one of the country's foremost experts in nutrition for pelvic health. She also has an incredibly inspiring personal story, and understands better than anyone the importance that nutrition can play in dealing with serious health issues. She is based in Amarillo, Texas, but advises patients around the country and across the globe. We often talk about the importance of a holistic approach to healing - Laura has personified that in her own healing journey, and now helps patients add the nutritional component to their own journey. We're excited to have her for this three-part interview; for more information, you can visit Laura's website at lauraricci.vpweb.com.
If you missed Laura's inspiring personal story in Part 1 or the 'big guns' that contribute to inflammation and pain in Part 2, take a moment and check them out!
Nicole: At PelvicSanity, it seems we're always having to bust myths and misconceptions that aren't based on research. What are some of the common misconceptions that you run into when talking with patients about nutrition? Is there any ‘conventional wisdom’ that patients should be questioning?
Dr. Laura: One common misconception that I run into when talking to my private clients is that only people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten. There is such a thing as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and even though you might not have celiac disease, you could still have a sensitivity to gluten, which is causing inflammation, and it may not be a great food for you to be eating, as it could be contributing to your pelvic pain or other symptoms.
Another common misconception that I hear often is something along the lines of, “I know I don’t have a sensitivity to dairy because I only eat yogurt once a week and don’t notice any change in my symptoms when eating it.” Again, going back to what we discussed earlier about how the inflammatory response from foods can last up to 3 weeks, you cannot say that a food is not causing issues unless you completely remove it for 30 days and reintroduce it back into your diet to be sure. Remember, just because you don’t eat a specific food very often does not mean that it is not causing inflammation in your body or that you must not have a sensitivity to it. Be your own detective and test it out to know for sure.
The third common misconception I hear is the 80-20 rule. That as long as I am eating well 80% of the time, I should be able to eat whatever I would like for the remaining 20% of the time. If you are healthy, having regular bowel movements, have no symptoms or pain, have great energy throughout the day, sleep well, and are not trying to lose weight, this principle may work for you. However, if you are struggling with health issues, it is my belief that you have to address inflammation, possible insulin resistance, and any underlying infections that may be present, and I do not feel that you can do this while still eating foods that are causing inflammation and are not serving your body. In fact, my mentor, Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo, will actually not take on a client who is not 100% gluten, dairy, and sugar-free. Why? She says she cannot help get clients better who continue to eat these foods.
Now, I’m not saying you have to take all of these things out all at once, cold turkey, and have to white knuckle your way through this without any support or guidance. This process is something that I help guide and ease my private clients into, while holding space and accountability for them. This is your healing journey and you can take your time with it. I actually recommend you do this in small steps rather than trying to jump in all at once. I do not want this process to completely stress you out either, as the stress alone will be counterproductive to your healing.
Take a deep breath and remember: you got this. One day at a time, one hour at a time, even one minute at a time. Change is challenging, but you can do this, and you are worth it. Remember your big “why” for healing. What lights you up? What do you love doing that you are unable to do now? This is going to be your anchor, your guiding light for when things get tough. Hold onto that. You are stronger than you think.
Nicole: I love the way you put that - the big "why" for your healing. So what are the best resources out there for patients with regards to nutrition?
Dr. Laura: This is a great question as there can be conflicting information out there, which can be frustrating for patients who are seeking answers regarding nutrition and pelvic pain. I have a website, Facebook page, and Instagram page that provide free recipes, videos, and resources for people looking to empower themselves through diet and lifestyle. I would also recommend following my mentors, Jessica Drummond with the Integrative Women’s Health Institute (IWHI) and Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo with the Institute of Nutritional Endocrinology. I have learned so much from these amazing women and they provide great evidence-based content to help educate others on the importance of diet and lifestyle.
Nicole: Wow! Sounds like some great resources for patients out there. You have a free patient guide called Solving the Root Cause of Your Pain: A PT’s Guide to Healing from Surgery. Can you tell us a little bit about that – what inspired you to write it, who would benefit from reading it, what does it include, and where can patients find out more about it?
Dr. Laura: I was a guest faculty member with the IWHI, and since I had so much personal experience with pelvic and abdominal surgery, Jessica asked me to write and teach the Nutrition Pre- and Post- Abdominal and Pelvic Surgery course for the institute. I did a lot of research on natural ways to help optimize surgical outcomes for the course and since then, nutrition pre and post surgery has become a niche for me and an area that I love coaching my private clients on; in addition to working with clients with adult hip dysplasia, pelvic pain, and Lyme disease. I was honored to be a speaker on the Healing Pain Summit in 2015 and created this guide to help support anyone preparing for an upcoming surgery or anyone who is in the recovery process of surgery.
I should add that the information and tips in this guide can also help support overall health and healing, even if you are not a surgical patient. While we often think that it’s the surgeon who does all the work and “fixes” the problem during surgery, there are so many things both nutrition and lifestyle-wise that the patient can do to help optimize surgical outcomes and speed their recovery time.
This guide includes a recipe for a healing bone broth, which is simple to make and packed with nutrients and amino acids. I call bone broth my “secret sauce” to my quick surgical recoveries. It also includes my favorite mind/body techniques to use before and after surgery, supplements to help reduce swelling and support your body emotionally during an accident or injury, my favorite ergonomic crutches that I personally used for 12 weeks total while recovering from two periacetabular osteotomies (PAOs), healthy snacks that you can bring with you while traveling, and my favorite essential oils to help support your body, both emotionally and physically, before and after surgery. Patients can download their free copy here.
Nicole: Thank you so much to Dr. Laura for sharing her expertise with all of us. Nutrition is such an important part of healing, and we're all lucky to have nutritionists like Dr. Laura providing advice (and delicious, healthy recipes).
Dr. Nicole Cozean is the founder of PelvicSanity physical therapy, Orange County's premier pelvic floor physical therapy clinic. One of only 270 PTs to be board-certified in the pelvic floor, and the first PT to serve on the ICA Board of Directors, Nicole is the author of the acclaimed and best-selling book The Interstitial Cystitis Solution (2016). She is an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Chapman University. The PelvicSanity blog focuses on presenting practical, positive information to help patients beyond the walls of Nicole's clinic.