My parents got divorced when I was 3 years old and I turned to food for comfort. By the time I was 6 years old I was in Weight Watchers. I was still chubby in middle school. By the time I graduated from college I was up to 240 pounds. After getting my cap and gown I decided that I was ready to start taking care of myself. I lost over 90 pounds in a few years with high amounts of exercise, low-calories and low-fat.
I started feeling more confident and wanted adventure, so I packed my bags and moved to California and became a successful personal trainer. I was active and fit and into saving the world by eating plants, mainly tofu at every meal. I was 150 pounds at 5'8 with very low body fat. I ran two half marathons that year. I was proud of myself for working so hard. I was convinced that beating myself to a pulp with workouts and calorie counting was the only way I could stay in thin and in shape.
All of a sudden I started to experience extreme fatigue for the first time in my life. All I could think about was sleeping. I needed a pot of coffee to get going in the morning. I would manage to make it through my morning personal training sessions but then I would fall into the bed in the afternoons. I needed caffeine later in the day to rally enough stamina to make it through my evening clients. I was having constipation and severe bloating for the first time in my life. And a dramatic weight gain. This change was unusual because I had maintained my weight loss after college for nearly 10 years.
I went to my doctor to ask about my low energy, weight gain and slow bowels. I specifically asked for a thyroid anti-body test because my mom got a check list from her holistic chiropractor of which tests to request. The doctor was hesitant to do the tests but when the tests came back, my TSH was normal but there was a very high level of thyroid antibodies. My TPO was over 600 and the normal range was under 30. I didn't know what to make of it at first, but my doctor suggested I see someone more specialized. It was then I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis a form of hypothyroidism.
I have spent the last few years healing after Hashimoto's and my TPO antibodies have gone down from over 600 to 100. My energy is back and I don't even think about napping. I am able to exercise appropriately without feeling run down. I am not quite as thin as I was when I was doing a low-fat low-calorie diet and running non-stop, but my weight has stabilized in a healthy place. My digestion is much stronger and I can tolerate a wider variety of foods.
How To Regain Your Health After Hashimoto's And Hypothyroidism
1. Eat Nutrient Dense Foods
When I was on a low-fat low-calorie diet all I cared about was how many calories were in each bite but a lot of good that did me. I had no concept of nutrient density. I was always hungry during those years because I was starving for vitamins and minerals. Many of the foods dieters tend to eat, block nutrients from being absorbed such as whole grain bread, beans and tofu/soy products. These foods also create inflammation in the digestive tract. Traditionally grains were prepared by soaking, sprouting and fermenting but that has fallen out of favor in our fast-paced culture. When there is inflammation in the digestive system undigested proteins leak into the blood stream creating a heightened immune reaction that often exacerbates thyroid issues. It is important to focus on eating the most nutrient dense foods possible for deep down satisfaction.
A partial list of would include:
- homemade bone broth
- grass fed meats
- pastured meats
- wild game
- pastured organ meats
- natural fats such as coconut oil
- grass fed butter/ghee
- full fat grass fed dairy
- mineral rich sea salt
- wild fish
More about these super foods here.
2. Balance Blood Sugar
Many women are taught to eat a whole grain bagel or cereal for breakfast with skim milk along with some fruit or juice in order to be thin. It might make you thin but it also makes you starving by 10 am and searching for a snack. The same thing happens in the afternoon when that healthy whole grain turkey sandwich and diet yogurt leaves you in a lurch. Does a 3 pm run for Frappaccinos or fro-yo sound familiar? This chronic roller coaster of blood sugar highs and lows can activates stress hormones that are actually catabolic to our tissues including the gut lining, lungs and brain. When these protective barriers become worn down it over activates the immune system creating chaos where the body gets confused and attacks itself as is the the case with Hashimoto's or basically any autoimmune condition. The easiest way to balance blood sugar is to eliminate processed carbohydrates and sugar, plan meals around protein and healthy fats then load up your plate with vegetables.
3. Eat Like Your Ancestors
The foods that have become the cornerstone of the Western diet such as wheat (especially gluten), corn and soy (even beans/legumes) are pretty new on the scene. Many experts believe that we have not yet adapted to these foods, especially in the quantities they are being consumed. Dr. Datis Kharrazian recommends a Paleo-type diet in his epic thyroid bible: “Why do I still have thyroid symptoms when my lab tests are normal?” The rates of chronic disease just keep going up the more big agriculture tells us to eat these common crops. When choosing your diet think about getting the least processed foods available similar to the foods your great grandparents would have eaten. I highly recommend creating your own best plan by incorporating principles from a lower carbohydrate Paleo diet and with many of the nourishing Weston A. Price traditions.
4. Supplement Right
A nutrient dense lower carb, Paleo diet can goes a long way in restoring health in improving thyroid function but when digestion is impaired it may not be enough. Some key supplements to think about with Hashimoto's are zinc and selenium, nutrients that help produce thyroid hormone. Magnesium is extremely important for proper thyroid function. Iodine is very controversial but it is good to choose food sources higher in iodine such as wild salmon, seaweed and dulse. Most people with thyroid problems are very low in vitamin D. Get your level checked and supplement if low. Often people with Hashimoto's have a very poor balance of beneficial strains of bacteria in their colon. This dysbiosis in the gut, caused by too much sugar, antibiotics and stress, can exacerbate autoimmunity. Taking a good quality probiotic is beneficial. Omega-3s are also very important. Try a few teaspoons of cod liver oil or other low temperature processed fish oil.
5. Spring Clean With Greens
The mineral sulfur is needed to stimulate detoxification pathways in the liver and to bind toxic metals. The best way to get more sulphur is to eat lots of greens and other colorful vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower are also high in vitamin C which is very thyroid supportive. It is best too cook them to reduce goitrogens that can deplete iodine. Autoimmune expert Dr. Terry Wahls recommends eating a mixture of 9 cups of raw and cooked vegetables daily, including greens, sulfur containing, and colorful. She credits eating vegetables as a main part of overcoming being in a wheelchair from autoimmune condition.
6. Nourish Your Adrenals
Most of the time when someone has Hashimoto's there has been a long standing drain on the adrenals glands. We all have a feedback loop called an HPA axis which is a communication pathway between the brain's hypothalamus, pituitary gland and the adrenals. This information highway is a major part of the endocrine system that controls the reaction to stress and regulates many body processes, including digestion, immune function, mood and emotions, sexuality and energy usage. The best thing you can do for you adrenals is rest more, eat a traditional diet and slowly eliminate the biggest stressors in your life. For more help listen to this awesome podcast with Vanessa.
7. Say Yes To Less
When I was working with many female clients there was a common thread of putting themselves last. How can you take care of anyone else when you don't have anything left to give? It is imperative to healing that you start taking breaks and even pampering yourself. When someone asks you to do something, take moment to consider if it is the best idea. It is okay to say no and stand up for your own boundaries. It is okay to not be so busy. It is okay to just rest on the weekends and not be a social butterfly. It is important to take time for self care such as detox baths, mediation, walking, or restorative yoga. In extreme cases some people may need to switch careers or get out of a stressful work environment. You can hear my story about my career changer here.
8. Live In The Moment
The only thing we have is this very moment but usually we are too worried about the next one to enjoy this one. Well the next one in not guaranteed so find some ways live in the now. Worrying and obsessing about the future is a major stressor on all of us and one that takes practice to change. Some ways that have helped me include making a gratitude lists, meditating and doing EFT. Here is a good article I wrote called 10 ways to be in the moment.
9. Exercise Smart
Sometimes the best exercise for someone with Hashimoto's may be none at all, especially when first diagnosed. When I first got sick I spent a lot of time doing easy slow walks because I needed to rejuvenate myself. Many times people with Hashimoto's gain weight and there is a tendency to want to exercise the flab away. I urge you to be patient with yourself . When your body is healed the excess weight will come off in due course. Once you feel strong enough, focus on appropriate weight training and HITT training in favor of chronic cardio. If you have low energy or need a day to recover just do some walking or stretching.
10. Work With An Integrative Practitioner
Since being diagnosed in 2010 I have worked with countless practitioners such as naturopaths, functional medicine doctors, chiropractors, acupuncturist and conventional doctors. It is important to keep searching for help and answers. If one doctor won't do what you want then find another one. You are not at their mercy and you can fire them. It is important ask for the right tests and be your own informed advocate. Don't give away your power or just take their word for it. Find a practitioner in your area here or here.
- Hashimoto's Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause
- Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? when My Lab Tests Are Normal