I’ve had Hashimoto’s for nearly 30 years. So what has helped me the most? What interventions have improved my quality of life and helped me go from merely surviving to THRIVING?
It’s taken a lot of experimentation, digging into the science, and being open-minded – DECADES of that – but I’ve finally learned that what I eat is probably the most important component, followed by sleep, supplements, and stress relief. That may seem like a lot but I just started one at a time, adding on to build a program that worked for my body. I KNOW you can to.
I turned 50 last June, and it recently occurred to me that I have been dealing with Hashimoto’s for ALL of my adult life. Thanks to Isabella’s Wentz’s work and books, I realize now that it probably came out of a bout of mono freshmen year, followed by major family trauma and grief a few years later. Around 23 years old, I suddenly lost a lot of weight – so much so that my blood pressure was dangerously low – then returned to normal weight a year or so later. That was probably the result of a massive attack on my thyroid that dumped a whole lot of hormone into my bloodstream and made me hyperthyroid for a brief time.
I was oblivious to all of this at the time and probably had lots of other symptoms that I pushed aside, muscled through, and learned to ignore. I think a lot of Hashimoto’s sufferers have that tendency, to ignore our symptoms. Heck a lot of chronic disease sufferers do, especially if we’re women. I’m not trying to blame the victim here, and I have no idea of whether this is nature or nurture; whether women are naturally this way or we are socialized to ignore our needs. Maybe an interesting topic for another time but the fact is that most autoimmune sufferers are female and most are terrible about taking care of themselves.
But can’t ignore your body’s needs forever. Eventually the bill comes due. Eventually you run out of fuel, run out of fumes, just run out and run down and then you either collapse on the couch and can’t get up or you figure out what happened and what you’re going to do about it. (Actually let’s be honest, you do #1 first then hopefully get to #2).
My path to healing wasn’t entirely straight forward. I had a few false starts and some detours. And even some setbacks. But overall I think it moved forward, even if it was more spiral than straight line. And I was doing this at a time when there were far fewer resources and I was figuring it out on my own. You don’t have to do that. You can jump straight to the punchline to the finish line. Or at least see it more or less in front of you. It may take a little while to reach it but you can. I PROMISE.
Important note: when I was 14 I decided to become a vegetarian. I ate fish occasionally but was mostly lacto-ovo, which means that I ate dairy and eggs, plus lots of beans, grains, etc. If you want the punchline of this story it is this: vegetarian = BAD IDEA for Hashimoto’s, both because of what is in it as well as what isn’t. My current diet excludes gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, and grains and legumes (with a rare exceptions of white rice or a bit of a bean pancake). Guess what the staples of my vegetarian diet were? All of the above, all of which I either have a direct allergy or intolerance to, or I have trouble digesting (leading to bloating, water mention, gas, etc.). Grains have lectins, the chemicals these seeds use to fend off herbivores. One of the most obnoxious lectins is the familiar villain gluten, but there are many many others. Some creatures can handle those just fine and maybe folks with healthy guts can too but us autoimmune sufferers? No thanks. And frankly, so many of my clients WITHOUT autoimmunity feel a hundred times better when they go grain-free, so I question whether they’re actually good for any humans.
As for what’s NOT in a vegetarian diet: for people with sensitive/leaky guts, which nearly all autoimmune sufferers have, nutrient absorption is hard enough without having to extract less biological-available nutrients from plants. Animal protein is much more easily digested. Don’t get me wrong – plants are really important, but it’s hard if not impossible to get all of your nutrients from them if you’re struggling with Hashimoto’s.
This was a message I really really didn’t want to hear. I had become a vegetarian to save the animals, then continued because I thought it was “healthy” – and frankly I felt more than a bit self-righteous, following what I thought was a morally-superior diet as well. I have since become a bit more nuanced in my view of morality when ti comes to food. (Another interesting conversation for another time).
I finally gave up being vegetarian after a particularly horrible crash In my mid-thirties. A helpful Dr. tested my thyroid when I had trouble getting pregnant, discovered I was hypothyroid, and gave me T4 and T3 meds. I didn’t know why I was hypo and it didn’t occur to me to ask. OK, more honesty: I probably didn’t want to know. My mother had had Graves disease, my cousin thyroid surgery. With cancer deaths and more lurking on that side of the family tree, I was comfortably in denial and not asking for more info.
I finally got pregnant and had an uncomfortable but not unhealthy pregnancy. But afterwards I had a lot of trouble getting back on my feet. I was exhausted all the time. And then the week after my son turned one, my mother died unexpectedly. Remember how my Hashi’s was initially triggered by grief? This was 1000x worse. I could barely scrape myself off the floor much less the couch.
Interestingly, it was a vegetarian friend who convinced me to try meat for the first time in over 20 years. She was an acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, who said that I needed more energy and suggested that I think go meat as “medicine,” just for now. It took em at least a week to wrap my head around this but I finally went to the store and bought some turkey and frozen ground beef. (I decided to start with turkey because it reminded me of Thanksgiving and my mother – I have since leaned that I have a mild sensitivity to turkey so I mostly eat fish and beef).
Well, that first bite of animal protein was like getting recharged with a defibrillator! Suddenly I could think! I could move! I didn’t feel 100% better overnight but I immediately had more energy. I hadn’t realized just how drained I’d been until that first meal. And afterwards? No gas, bloating, digestive pain. Just easily digested, easily assimilated energy. It was glorious.
It took me another four years – and a diagnosis of celiac plus multiple food sensitivities – to finally accept that I could no longer be a vegetarian. Meat was back on the menu.