Caitlin Weeks, Guest
My parents divorced when I was 3 years old and my coping mechanism was turning to food. By 6 years old I was pretty chunky and was going to Weight Watchers with my stepmom. I was a yo-yo dieter in high school living on diet cokes and lean cuisines. In college I let it all hang out with late night pizza and beer, reaching my highest weight of 240. After college I went on a low fat, calorie-counting diet and lost 90 pounds. I moved to San Francisco and decided to become a personal trainer so I could help other people lose weight. Everything went well for a while and I was looking good, which was all that mattered to me at the time. I became more interested in nutrition and adopted a vegetarian diet so I could be “environmentally responsible”. While I was at it I thought why not up the ante and start running marathons. After adopting more running and a plant based diet the wheels started to fall off and I was not feeling at all like myself. I needed a pot of coffee just to get out of bed in the morning, I became obsessed with sleeping constantly and my digestion was way off track.
At my yearly physical, I asked about my symptoms and the doctor ordered several thyroid tests at my request.
Instead of relying on that physician to interpret the findings I had the good sense to take it to a friend who is a naturopathic doctor. My naturopath saw all the lab numbers and decided to prescribe desiccated thyroid medication. She told me that because I had high antibodies, it was a thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s. In a few weeks I felt a huge difference in my energy and then I was able to focus on diet (I follow this one) and lifestyle changes to continue the healing process. You can read more about my health journey. In the past 5 years, I have learned so much about taking care of myself and my thyroid issues. I want to help anyone reading this, to not make the same mistakes I did.
7 Things I Learned in My Thyroid Disease Journey
1). Your Doctor is Not the Boss
You are the boss of your own health, not the doctor, even though I know it can be intimidating in the office setting. My first doctor was inclined to tell me I was fine so I decided to move on to finding more supportive and holistic care. I didn’t listen to the first doctor telling me that I was just getting older and it was normal to feel tired and to be gaining weight (I was 32 and very active). You are a client of your doctor and just like any other service, you can move to a different provider if your needs are not met. If you really want to figure out what is wrong you may have to think outside the box by searching for holistic care. That may also mean forking out money from your own pocket and not relying on insurance. But if you are truly committed to feeling well it is so worth it. If you are on a tight budget there are many affordable changes you can make at home to feel better including rest and eating real food like your great grandparents ate.
2). Don’t Trust Your TSH
The first doctor only wanted to go by TSH which was showing up in normal range at the time but my symptoms of complete lethargy and slow digestion were telling another story. I had to drink energy drinks all day and then all I could do was think about when I could nap. All of a sudden my normal digestion had gone wonky and I was taking tons of Natural Calm just to go to the bathroom. While I love magnesium supplementation I knew it was not normal to need it every day for elimination. TSH is an important test but it in no way tells the whole story of what is happening with the intricate and delicate thyroid gland. It is important to find a doctor who cares about symptoms and who will support a full panel of testing. Read here for all the tests to ask your doctor to run.
3). Test Your Antibodies
Many times primary care doctors and even endocrinologists will not look at antibodies that the body creates to its own thyroid hormone. It is not normal for your body to be fighting off something so critical for cell function, energy, and metabolism. TBG and TPO are the man ones to ask for and if your doctor refuses then go to a place like Directlabs.com where you don’t need a requisition form from a doctor.
4). Forget About Losing Weight
The main thing to focus on is healing your body from the inside out for a while. Stop the crazy body behavior that often contributes to hypothyroidism. Take a few months to love your body with food instead of calorie counting or crash dieting. Your jeans may not fit right now but in the long run your body will thank you in spades. There is always time later where to lose weight when you get your gut heals up and your thyroid mellows out. You have to stop weighing for a few months and focus on calming down your immune system. It can be hard to let go of weighing and stay away but you have to do it. A more meaningful measurement is body fat, using a tape measure, or before photos so try those instead, if you must. Stop dieting and counting calories just focus on real nourishment from nutritionally dense foods. Two plans that have helped me heal are detailed here and here.
5). Your Thyroid is Not the Real Problem
In our culture of the quick fix, the conventional idea is just to eliminate the problem but that is not going to make it go away. If a doctor tells you to remove your thyroid please get a second opinion. Hashimoto’s or graves disease which make up a majority of all thyroid problems are whole-body issues where the immune system is attacking itself. Removing the thyroid will just make the issue crop up some other place. When your body is under an autoimmune attack the issue can travel to a new place such as joints, skin or gut, for example, and you will still have to look for the root cause. Get to the deeper issue now and nip it in the bud. A good place to start is in with a stool test from a reputable lab such as Biohealth or Genova diagnostics because there are often gut infections dragging down the immune system which can exacerbate thyroid symptoms.
Another issue is the adrenal glands which work in combination with your thyroid to help you feel energetic and vital. Most people have a problem with their cortisol rhythm that makes them feel out of balance. The rhythm is out of whack due to years of stress and not taking care of ourselves with sleep, nutrition, and environmental factors, among others. It is very important to work on healing adrenals with nourishing food, rest and even emotional work such as forgiveness or getting out of a negative relationship. A great book that helped me along the way is Adrenal Fatigue by Dr. James Wilson which has some home tests and DIY solutions to restoring adrenal function to optimal levels.
6). Learn to Say No
Saying no is a lifelong challenge and I work it every day so I can learn how to set limits and take care of myself first. I really had to overhaul my whole lifestyle which was uber scheduled and low in critical sleep when I first became ill. Part of the answer for me was pursuing a new career that was very in line with my passion for nutrition. I needed something where I could work from home while most importantly sleeping until I naturally woke up. It is okay to say no to a job you hate while making a plan for the future to do something more in line with your values. Most women have a habit of putting themselves last and trying to be superwoman who never needs a personal day but eventually that behavior shows up in our health.
7). Try to Chill
A whole change in lifestyle may be in order because insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Sometimes you have to take a reading a break from reading scary articles on Web MD and googling your symptoms non-stop or you will never be able to relax. I also had to learn how to meditate to be in the moment and slow down; EFT was something I studied to lower my stress and increase gratitude (learn more here and here). Essential oils also help me to zen out while supporting my immune system and reducing stress.
Exercising more effectively to heal my adrenal glands that were way overtaxed was also an important step. I had to stop running half marathons and start listening to my body. I had to change my attitude about exercises being so tied in with guilt and self-loathing. This took a lot of time to turn around because I used exercise as a form of punishment for eating and I thought when I was tired I was just lazy. I waited too long to listen to the signals that my muscles and joints were sending. Now I use exercise as a form of stress relief and fun. I often do short weight training sessions, cardio intervals or dance classes such as Zumba. I don’t stress if I miss a day of exercise and often just focus on getting my 10,000 steps on my step counter while enjoying the sunshine. If the exercise is not enjoyable to you ditch it and try something new.
Bonus: Don’t Believe Everything You Think
It is easy to take on a victim mentality and let Hashimoto’s or hypo/hyperthyroid become an identity. This hurts your self-esteem and can be very limiting. Often when we focus on the problem we inadvertently create more of the same type of problems. We truly do create our reality with every thought so be careful what you think about and wish for. Picture yourself being healthy and try to listen uplifting audiobooks or podcasts such as Thyroid Nation Radio on iTunes. Read some self-help books to drown out the negativity that can be unconsciously flowing from our mind.
Our ego wants to keep us safe so the tape in your head will tell you to stay the same or things could get worse but the truth is if you don’t grow and change you won’t get better. Please know that you are so much more than this condition and it is just one small part of your life that will improve with self-love. If you invest in caring for yourself with nutrient-dense food, supplements, relaxation, and positive self-talk, slowly things will turn around for you.
Today I live in Nashville with my husband in our new house near my beloved family. I am still in the process of healing and I have been able to bring my antibodies way down. I take a compounded T-3/ T-4 medication and have very few symptoms. Climbing out of stage 3 adrenal fatigue was a long process but now my energy is much better. I have to remember every day not to push myself too hard and to do my self-care routine. I have been able to find a healthy weight without much stress and have a job I love, working from home at GrassfedGirl.com. Please come over there and hang out with me. Thanks so much for reading and I hope these tips help you on your journey to optimal thyroid health.
About the Author
Caitlin Weeks is a certified nutrition consultant, holistic lifestyle coach and author of 4 amazing books including, Mediterranean Paleo Cooking.grew up eating southern comfort food in Nashville while battling the bulge. She also has 7 years experience working as a personal trainer. Caitlin believes in the mind-body connection, using EFT and essential oils in her healing journey. After college she lost weight on a conventional low fat diet with extreme cardio exercise. In 2010 she was diagnosed with Hashimotos thyroiditis, which led her re-think her diet. In an effort to heal she started to follow an ancestral Paleo diet, which is higher in healthy fats, pastured meats and lower in refined carbs. Caitlin wants to help her readers find natural solutions to support their healthy lifestyles. Don’t forget to check out her newsletter here so you never miss a recipe, article or podcast. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, too.