How I Reclaimed My Health from Hashimoto’s - Part 2
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In this two-part blog series, I share my personal story of healing: from sickness turning me into someone I didn’t recognize, to my reclaiming a vibrant, happy life. In Part 1, I shared the ups and downs of my thyroid journey, as well as the first five steps I took to reclaim my health from Hashimoto’s. Here, in Part 2, I’ll share the second five steps I took to get my life and energy back. Click HERE to read Part 1.
STEP 6: I Changed My Diet
My ND emailed me right away when the first test results came in for food sensitivities. I had been gluten-free for a while, which is one of the most common dietary recommendations for Hashimoto’s patients.
I knew I had issues with gluten, but I had no idea that I was highly sensitive to dairy. ALL dairy. Including goat’s milk, whey, and yogurt. I had grown accustomed to eating dairy with abandon. It was my favorite protein!
And that’s not all. My test results showed that I was highly sensitive to eggs, both chicken and duck. There were some other milder sensitivities, but my dairy and egg sensitivities were of the highest severity.
I couldn’t believe it. As a former cheesemonger, how was I going to survive without cheese?! As a chef and cooking instructor, how was I going to cook without gluten, dairy, or eggs?!
I felt like a painter who has been told she can only use half of the colors on her palette: stifled, heartbroken, and daunted.
I reached out to an autoimmune support community on social media, and asked, “Is it worth it? If you had food sensitivity testing, did you implement the changes and see improvement?” Most of them did.
It wasn’t easy to accept the results of my food sensitivity test. I threw myself a pity party that lasted several weeks. I ate and mourned the loss of so many of my favorite foods. I wrapped my head around what it meant to be a person, a foodie, and a chef with dietary restrictions. Eventually, I wiped my tears away and reminded myself that I was on a healing journey that completely depended on one thing: my willingness to change.
I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and tried an elimination diet called the Autoimmune Protocol, not only to heal but to confirm (or disprove) the results of my food sensitivity testing. Which symptoms were correlated with which dietary culprits?
Here’s what I found:
- With the elimination of grains, I noticed an improvement in what had become debilitating brain fog.
- With the elimination of gluten, I noticed some redness and flakiness on my face cleared up, and way less bloating and constipation.
- With the elimination of dairy, my achy, swollen fingers, knees, hips, wrists, feet, and ankles stopped bothering me so much. Also, way less bloating and constipation.
- With the elimination of eggs, I was able to end years of severe ongoing stomach pain.
This was amazing! An epiphany! A sweet taste of the power I had over how I felt.
One night during those early days of dietary restrictions, my husband expressed pity for me as I ordered a salad (no croutons) at our favorite local pizza joint. I looked him in the eye and said, “Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m getting my life back.”
The even better news is that a few years down the road, my diet has expanded rather than shrunk. As I’ve healed my gut and dealt with other underlying health issues, I’ve been able to re-incorporate several foods. My food sensitivities have changed and ultimately lessened.
For me, there have been some foods I’ve needed to say goodbye to, and some other foods where the devil is in the dosage, and I’ve only had to reduce my consumption, not eliminate.
I’ve learned that I can get away with the occasional egg, or piece of aged, raw milk cheese, as long as I don’t make those things a dietary staple. I’ve learned that a little bit of parmesan reggiano doesn’t make my joints ache, but a bowl of ice cream does. I’ve found gluten and dairy-free substitutes for things like pizza, pasta, and ice cream that I enjoy, and recipes that help me feel nourished and not deprived.
Although I don’t live in a gluten- or dairy-free household, we’ve found a way to eat and enjoy meals together as a family with only slight adaptations that don’t require making two dinners. (Nobody– not even a chef– wants to do that!)
It was a life-changing reminder that food is medicine. It can’t fix everything, but it sure can fix a lot of things.
STEP 7: I Enhanced My Lifestyle
My lifestyle had to change. Time and energy needed to be set aside for the sole purpose of my well-being. This meant integrating self-care, not just as another task on my daily chore list, but as a philosophy and lifestyle.
Self-care is a buzzword, and for some, an eye-rolling one, but there’s a reason it’s such a big deal. The adoption of a self-care mindset is about personal transformation and thriving. It’s about worthiness and sustainability. Big picture, it’s a game-changer on a planetary scale.
When you have no idea what you enjoy anymore, when all your energy goes towards serving others, when your choices are ruled by the drive to medicate or bury stress (rather than managing it)…that’s a problem. And it’s one too many of us, especially women, have.
My body speaks to me when I push too hard. Sometimes it speaks quietly, like when it gently urges me to lay in the hammock and take a break from the 8-hour yard work marathon my brain wants me to complete. Other times, my body is louder and more insistent in its response to stress.
Throughout my healing journey I've faced bouts of illnesses that lasted not weeks but months, insomnia that began to border on chronic, new symptoms that began popping up regularly, and a stream of body strains and injuries that brought a halt to normal activity.
It took me a while to realize these issues were messengers. The message: I needed to adapt to my life with a chronic thyroid illness. I needed to take better care of myself, so that I could continue to live and enjoy a semi-normal life. It was time to not only stop denying but fighting with this reality, and my body told me so.
Eventually, I listened.
Some glimpses from my self-care transformation:
- I started meditating regularly, and soon began to notice my self-awareness skyrocketing, my stress decreasing, and my relationships improving across the board. Also, I started shedding less hair.
- I started taking more baths, especially with Epsom salt, which is relaxing and helps reduce pain.
- I shifted my mindset about rejuvenating activities like time in nature, time spent journaling, moments of quiet with a cup of herbal tea. Instead of lazy or unproductive time, I started seeing these as essential to my wellbeing.
- My physical activity started to change. Soul-crushing boot camp sessions at the gym that left me exhausted and in an autoimmune flare gradually got replaced with dance sessions to my favorite music, forest walks with the dog or shorter thyroid-friendly workouts that filled my bucket rather than emptying it.
In short, my new normal is to listen to what my body wants and needs. And by doing so, I can continue to do the things I love, like skiing and snowboarding with my family, zooming through the forest on my mountain bike, hiking in the mountains. I use these examples because these outdoor adventures make me feel alive and whole. It’s also enabled me to do things like creating this thyroid platform, and pursuing my dreams. When I was in denial and not adapting to my illness, life was WAY more difficult.
STEP 8: We Discovered the Primary Suspect
More test results rolled in, revealing more and more clues to my health mysteries. With the results of a GI panel, my ND and I discovered a major underlying issue.
You may have already heard about the link between Hashimoto’s and leaky gut (aka intestinal permeability). My labs did not show major signs of leaky gut, but they did show another condition linked to intestinal permeability called gut dysbiosis, or an imbalance in bacterial good guys vs. bad guys.
My ND and I reviewed my options, made a plan, and began treatment.
Within 48 hours of treating my gut dysbiosis, it was like someone flicked a light switch in my body. I got out of bed one morning and went for a run. A run! I have never felt inspired to go for a run in my life, I mean, I’m pretty active, but running is NOT my jam. My husband was like, “In the twenty years I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you willingly go for a run.”
But yep, I went for a run. And you know what else? I didn’t feel tired upon waking up. I felt rested, awake, and alive. Along with that, my thinking was clearer and I felt happier. Later that week, when we went mountain biking, I wasn’t tired and dragging for days afterward.
Within a week, I was able to cut back on my caffeine by about 50%. I was back. I was ME again. I had forgotten what that felt like. I had lost faith that it was possible.
I glimpsed the bright side of health once again—a tremendous affirmation that I was on the right path. That victory was huge. It was an awakening. And it cemented a personal paradigm shift in the way I approached my health.
STEP 9: Strategic Supplementation
I won’t say I was anti-supplement before, but I was definitely what you might call a reluctant supplementer. I had read too many stories of misguided supplementing doing more harm than good, and of supplement companies putting a bunch of junk into caplets with low biologic value. I, therefore, opted towards what I felt comfortable with: the most highly nourishing food I could give myself and my thyroid.
But then I got proper testing, which revealed some nutrient deficiencies. I had my ND’s professional guidance on how to optimize my health, as well as access to her professional-grade supplements of the highest quality and purity. So yeah, I started taking supplements.
There were some I chose to eliminate, reduce, or find alternatives to. But by working through and finding the right products to address my specific needs and nutrient deficiencies, my healing, my energy, and my immunity were boosted.
When we reviewed those initial test results, my ND said that there was a good chance my deficiencies were related to my gut dysbiosis. Once I rebalanced and healed my gut, the need to supplement (as well as my food sensitivities) shifted, too. My supplement routine changes regularly based on continued testing and the shifting needs of my body.
I used to be a person who rarely got sick, but I spent those first four crummy years with hypothyroidism in poor health and near-constant illness. I was tired all day, every day, and unable to bounce back from things like the common cold. I had chronic laryngitis that would last for up to 3 weeks at a time. I had double ear infections, tonsilitis, strep, all happening one on top of the other. I would literally feel like I had recovered for ONE DAY, and be sick again the next day, for weeks.
These were issues I had rarely if ever struggled with before. The brain fog was so bad, at times I wasn’t sure I could operate a vehicle. At rock bottom, I had been on 3 rounds of antibiotics over a few months, and drove myself to the ER with a strange days-long headache that I feared was meningitis. I was scared for my life, and emotionally beaten down.
The doctors assured me these ongoing issues had nothing to do with my thyroid, but how could that be true when the thyroid impacts every system of the body? How could I fight an infection when I had barely enough energy to get through the day?
I don't have all the answers, but here’s what I know for sure: I haven’t been on one single round of antibiotics since making these changes in 2015. It’s been SIX YEARS since I’ve been laid out like that, wondering what was wrong with me, wondering if I was going to die young, or if it was all in my head. But because of this healing journey, and everything it’s taught me about taking care of my health, I can once again say with honesty, “I’m a person who rarely gets sick.”
What a relief!
I know all the pieces of the healing puzzle have helped me–diet, lifestyle, self-care, etc., but when it comes to staying healthy and supporting a healthy immune system, I think of my supplements as little superheroes inside my body, helping me fight the good fight and defeat the forces of evil.
STEP 10: Staying the Course
I was diagnosed in 2011, but my recovery story began in 2015, with hitting rock bottom, and then taking the reins of my health and finding the right doctor. Today, I have so many tools in my toolbox that when setbacks occur, or new issues arise, I feel confident that it’s just a matter of time before I’m back on track.
After my first month of treatment, I walked into my ND’s office for my follow-up appointment and she immediately said, “You look different. You look better, or more alive, or something.”
“I feel better!” I told her. “I feel like me again.” As we sat in her office and reviewed the progress we had made, she told me that in considering my overall health picture, and the interventions we were successfully implementing, she felt highly optimistic about my continued health and vitality. So far, she’s been right!
Since this journey began in 2015, I have stayed committed to a thyroid-healthy diet and lifestyle. I’ve also had periods where I’ve fallen off the wagon and had to hit the refresh button. But I know now that it’s just a matter of time (and mindset) before I get back on track.
The healing journey is multifaceted. It’s not one thing…it’s all the things. There’s no magic bullet, no singular pill, and no quick fix. Optimal health is a lifestyle choice, but the good news is it’s a choice you have the power to make every single day.
All things considered, I feel more strongly than ever that changing the way I eat, and shifting my mindset from food as pleasure only, to food as pleasure and medicine, is the bedrock for my continued good health.
Some other issues I’ve tackled since 2015:
- Addressing chronic candida
- The Autoimmune Protocol – I’ve done several healing resets using this.
- Optimizing my medication and addressing an issue with converting T4 to T3.
- Addressing a sulfur-processing issue with dietary adjustments and supplements.
- A second wave of gut dysbiosis caused by a different strain of bacteria
- Shifting my treatment, diet, and lifestyle as my hormones shift coming into my mid-forties.
I know that there will be more challenges, but I also know how to face them. In between new challenges are lengthy and joyful periods of truly optimal health. I am pursuing my dreams, being the mom I always wanted to be, and once again living my life on my terms, not Hashimoto's.
- I stopped pretending I was fine.
- I began educating myself.
- I created a health timeline.
- I hired a detective (i.e. a doc willing to help me figure this out).
- I took the tests.
- I changed my diet.
- I changed my lifestyle.
- We discovered the primary suspect.
- I began taking the right supplements.
- I keep going, and never give up, even when I run into setbacks.
And now, the journey continues. I hope this has been helpful and informative to you. My journey has been supported by so many other thyroid patients in this vast community of Thyroid Thrivers, and to them/you, I will always be grateful and strive to pay it forward. I hope at Hypothyroid Chef you have found the gift of support, and I hope my story of recovery can in some way, light the path for yours.
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