Diet & Lifestyle Management with Hashimoto’s
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. None of the content on my blog is not to be substituted for medical advice, or treatment. These are my personal experiences.
At 17 years old, I suddenly became very sick. I had an irregular heartbeat, was incredibly fatigued, I was having panic attacks, and I had even suffered several fainting spells. Doctors had no good answers and I joined a very large population of people who were sick and didn’t have answers. As my condition worsened, and I saw specialist after specialist, I finally got my answer with a Hashimoto’s disease diagnosis. Though I was given the same prescription of “pills and suck it up” with a lifelong outlook, I eventually learned the power of diet and lifestyle changes.
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune thyroid disease where you immune system essentially gets confused and begins attacking your thyroid as if it were a foreign invader. Your thyroid hormones control your metabolism and contribute to the delicate balance of all of your hormones, so when your body begins attacking your thyroid, things go south. The side effects vary from weight issues, to fatigue, to brain fog… the lists goes on and on.
There’s a lot of buzz about Hashimoto’s and gluten, healing your gut, and AIP diets. But, how? Is it really as simple as just cutting out gluten? Or is there more to it?
1. First, I recognize that there is more than just diet and address lifestyle factors. (refer to this post)
First, I have to be honest with you and tell you that even though diet is a huge driver of reversing my Hashimoto’s, it’s not all of there is to it. I could have very easily told you that you need to cut out gluten first and leave this question for last to put a nice little PC bow on this blog post. However, that’s simply not the case.
I went years just focusing on diet while keeping stressors in my life such as stressful people, stressful jobs, overly intense exercise, and so forth. I was cleaning up diet, but I was still having flares, anxiety and experiencing unnecessary stress. Diet wasn’t enough to cut out my stressful side job or draining relationships, nor will it ever be.
Though diet is incredibly healing, and necessary for addressing Hashimoto’s disease, it doesn’t stop there. I wrote all about this in my previous blog post, but in summary here are some of the lifestyle factors outside of diet that I addressed beyond diet and why…
- Stress produces a lovely hormone called “cortisol”. Cortisol is an emergency hormone that our body takes very, very seriously. The precursor hormone for cortisol is called “pregnenolone”. This is also the precursor hormone for estrogen, testosterone, and others that also play into the delicate balance of thyroid hormone. If your system is overloaded with cortisol, pregnenolone essentially gets diverted away from other hormones and only produces cortisol seeing as its an emergency hormone. This is called the “pregnenolone steal”, and it severely throws off the balance of our hormones which only hurts thyroid function and quality of life further. I know what you’re thinking… “But I can’t quit the super stressful job that has me working 80 hour weeks!”. If it’s affecting your quality of life that much that you’re constantly stressed, it’s time to think deeper into that one.
- Relationships and support system.
- Not having adequate support, or worse, having people who outright disapprove of what you’re doing is draining and stressful. Coming to a resolution of compromise with those around you and finding the right support is so important.
- Diet and exercise can often go hand in hand conventionally, but overly intense exercise is stressful and anything but healing. I quit CrossFit, and adopted a routine of yoga, light weight lifting, and walking.
- One of the most under-appreciated healing tools is sleep. You can be doing everything else right but if you’re sleeping 4 hours a night, your healing will be slowed, no question.
- Attitude and outlook.
- Having a positive outlook on life, your diet, and your Hashimoto’s disease is life-changing. Having a bad attitude and doing
2. I addressed my adrenal fatigue.
Also playing intro stress, adrenal fatigue is caused by chronic output of cortisol. Before you go into trying to heal your body with diet, you have to address healing your adrenals as well.
Our adrenals are two glands that are about too inches above your belly button that respond to stress. These glands are only meant to be used in emergency situations, but unfortunately, we zap our adrenals with everything from disregulated blood sugar, to stress from driving. Wearing out our adrenals that results in adrenal fatigue not only kills our energy, but it throws off the delicate balance of our hormones.
I’ll be writing another blog post specifically about healing adrenal fatigue, but I’ll tell your right now that number one is stress reduction! When I had a flare back this fall, I focused 90% of my energy of taking care of my adrenals by cutting back on my commitments, breaking up with intense exercise, and embracing stress reduction techniques. The result? Total control of the flare and a reversal in my antibody levels.
3. I eat a quality, nutrient dense diet rather than just “gluten-free”.
This literally took years and years to perfect. I went entirely too long believing that as long as I was avoiding gluten, my diet was fine. My diet consisted of rice chex with low-fat milk, oatmeal, egg white omelets made with pam spray, the occasional vegetable in the form of carrot sticks, and gluten free pizza. I wasn’t eating gluten, but I also wasn’t nourishing my body and allowing it to heal with the right foods.
The food that we eat is fuel for our very cells and vital for healing our cells. Fats are necessary for our cell membranes, proteins for our hormones, and carbohydrates for our energy. Can you imagine the kind of cell membranes we’re building with pam spray and egg whites? Poor quality nutrition does not enable healing and managing a disease like Hashimoto’s.
Even when it comes to real foods like eggs (which may or may not work for many with Hashimoto’s) factories farmed eggs can have a ratio of omega 3, an anti-inflammatory fat, to omega 6, a pro-inflammatory fat, as unbalanced as 1:16 according to Nourishing Traditions! Whereas, pastured eggs are a perfect 1:1 ratio and promote normal inflammation healing process within the body. The same goes for conventional beef, conventionally packaged bacon, and even seemingly safe products like “organic” chicken. Animals are much like people in the sense that they need real food to be healthy. When we still feed “organic” chicken, “organic” soy and corn, it’s still not part of their natural diet. Animals need to eat a natural diet in order to be a healthy food source.
So, what do you need to look for as far as food quality goes?
- Pastured rather than free-range, or cage-free eggs or chicken
- Grass-fed beef, bison, and wild game
- Wild-caught fish
- Organic and non-GMO vegetables and fruits (see this list for exceptions)
- Sustainable coconut oil and palm oil
- Local when possible
Avoid buzzwords like “natural”, and “gluten-free” as it bears little meaning in the long run.
I know what you’re thinking… cost. Though it may sound expensive, you can easily cut food costs on real food by joining a local co-op, participating in meat shares, and finding local providers through your local Weston A Price chapter.
4. I worked on my gut health.
“Disease begins in the gut”, and that’s especially true for autoimmune disease. It’s said that increased intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, it part of the root cause of all autoimmunity. Our guts become damaged from a myriad of things such as…
- Poor digestion
- Imbalance of gut bacteria
- Overuse of prescription drugs or NSAIDS
- Poor diet
I was first diagnosed with leaky gut when I was 20 after having severe distress and fatigue after eating literally everything. It took years and disciple for me to start healing my gut, and my two biggest healers are the following too points…
5. I added in fermented foods, bone broth, and other healing foods to heal and rebalance my gut.
Avoiding things like gluten and processed foods is certainly part of a healing diet. However, we so often make the misconception that these healing, elimination diets like AIP and Paleo are all about removing, when in reality, they’re just as much about adding.
Adding in fermented foods will help to rebalance your gut bacteria which is crucial for the continued health of your gut. It’s said that one jar of sauerkraut is equal to 8 bottles of probiotics! Enjoy foods like sauerkraut, beet kvass, and other fermented veggies.
Bone broth is another great, healing food for a damaged gut. When made properly and from grass-fed/pastured ingredients, bone broth is rich in collagen which is healing to the stomach lining, and full of broken down amino acids that are easy to digest. Proteins are the building blocks of hormones which all comes back to thyroid function, so getting good quality proteins and really assimilating them is huge for a Hashimoto’s diet.
6. I healed my digestion process, and fat absorption.
Even when I started working on healing my gut, and adding more fat into my diet I was still suffering stomach pains and painful gallbladder attacks. What gives? I thought I was gut healing. Let me be clear… gut healing is not always healing your digestion.
An ever-missing link to gut healing, healing your digestion is crucial. In my studies to become a nutritional therapy practitioner, I’ve come to understand that “You are what you digest”. Cutting out and adding in foods is important, but if we’re not digesting them properly, we’re still harming our guts.
So how does proper digestion actually work? Digestion is a north to south process, which can mean that if you’re having a problem further south, like increased intestinal permeability in your small intestines, or “leaky gut” it may very well be caused by dysfunction further north. Digestion is a long process that works sequentially so when one piece is missing, it disrupts the whole process.
If food is not properly digested and absorbed, we will never heal our the damage done to our gut, nor will we actually heal our body after the damage done to it by our immune system. We need food as fuel and nutrition to support our health at a cellular level… especially fats which are very commonly malabsorbed. If we’re not digesting our food, we’re not healing.
How do you start to improve digestion?
- Slow down when you eat.
- Chew, chew, chew your food.
- Supplement with stomach acid supplements like HCL and bitters. This was a huge game changer for me. Work with a practitioner to get to your own sweet spot here.
- Add foods like beet kvass for better fat digestion.
7. There is no one perfect diet, but AIP is the general template that I followed.
There is no one, perfect, miracle diet for Hashimoto’s disease. We’re all individuals and our bodies and disease are all different. Having Hashimoto’s disease does not magically unite hundreds of thousands of people by designating this perfect diet that magically works for everyone. We have individual needs, sensitivities, allergies, and intolerances.
However, AIP is the general template I followed. You can find a full list of foods here.
8. I cook at home as much as possible.
I get it, processed gluten-free convenience foods are just that… convenient. A gluten free convenience food and gluten-free menu items at a restaurant are fast and easy, and just what we need that sometimes. However, when these convenience foods and “safe” restaurant options become staples, it’s time to take a step back. Though these may be acceptable treats for some, they’re neither healing nor nourishing to the body.
Cooking at home is not only the more traditional way to eat, but it ensures better control over your food quality and ingredients. Even seemingly safe convenience foods carry risk of poor quality oils, cross-contamination, and less than ideal macronutrient ratios. Having more control and ownership over your food will set you up for success.
It’s not to say that I don’t enjoy sashimi and an epic bar at the park every now and then, but I’ve learned to love cooking at home and have lots of recipes here of what I eat weekly as well as meal prep tips.
9 . I worked to control my blood sugar.
I never wanted to admit that I had a blood sugar problem. I though that blood sugar was only a concern for those with diabetes and had nothing to do with my thyroid or hormones. Quite incorrect… we need to know and facts and recognize that controlling our blood sugar is crucial for diet with Hashimoto’s.
Remember all of that talk about cortisol and how it throws off our hormones? Well, stress isn’t the only factor for chronic cortisol output. Sugar is another factor. In normal blood sugar regulation, we wouldn’t have to rely on cortisol. There really isn’t pure, processed sugar in nature that we’d fine in sodas, cakes, and breads, so our bodies didn’t evolve with the need to lower blood sugar. However, when we’re drinking coffee with sugar, and eating sugary cereal or sweetened oatmeal, and having soda and having sugary food after sugary food, we’re spiking our blood sugar beyond what our body can handle. We’re over loading our liver and pancreas who are responsible for processing all of this glucose and we’re putting ourselves on a blood sugar roller coaster that’s stressing out our bodies and forcing cortisol production to deal with the stress.
Every get hangry? How about that 3PM feeling? You’re looking at blood sugar swings, subsequent cortisol output, and an eventual imbalance in hormones that only worsens Hashimoto’s symptoms and management.
So, how can you lower, and control blood sugar?
- I started out by ditching the coffee… its a huge contributor to spiking blood sugar as well blood sugar as well.
- Cut out the artificial sweeteners (I’m looking at you, stevia and diet soda). They still spike your blood sugar.
- Eat natural sugars in moderation.
- Pair carbohydrates that may spike your blood sugar with fat to slow absorption.
- Eat fat! Go to an avocado when you’re hungry rather than a smoothie. Which leads me to my next point…
- Enjoy treats within moderation.
Don’t worry, I still live a little. However, rather than diving headfirst into a candy jar at work, I opt for fruit, or a low sugar AIP treat.
10. I tried to break my obsession and not stress around food.
It’s easy to get sucked into the details and become obsessed when it comes to as restricted diet. It’s stressful to be constantly meal planning, shopping, sourcing good quality food, and cooking. In the beginning, the stress really bogged me down. Head my warning, that this stress can be just as bad as eating a poor quality diet. Stress is harmful to our bodies and throws off our hormones as well.
At the beginning, it is inherently stressful, but it only lasts until it becomes a habit. I powered through the stressful point and tried to quiet that voice in my head as much as possible until it became routine. I wrote another post about How to Deal With Stress on a Healing Diet that has action steps on how to combat this.
11. I changed my diet for the right reasons.
We can so easily identify anything diet related to things like weight loss, that we lose sight of why we started. I’ve written about weight gain before, and it’s tempting to just want to restrict calories and change your diet to lose weight. I’ve been there… and it never lasted. I hated that way I ate because the reason behind it was out of hating my body.
With Hashimoto’s, and with an autoimmune disease, and really anyone, we should be eating a good diet because we care about our bodies not because we want to be thin, not because we want to look a certain way, and not because everyone else is doing it… Do it because you love yourself.
So, long story short… Hashimoto’s is manageable and a healthy lifestyle is achievable! I’m not going to say it’s easy, and it definitely doesn’t happen overnight, but it is so, so worth it.