Health in Your Hands: How One Woman Handled Thyroid Dysfunction

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis about a year ago. I knew that I’d had hypothyroidism (I was told by my naturopath that since my mom, dad, and my two brothers had it, it made sense that I had it too) since I first got a full thyroid panel at the age of 20. Ever since, I’d inconsistently taken a natural thyroid medication called Naturethroid, never thinking to look up the instructions or really understand anything about it. I had transferred my doctor worship to my naturopath after she helped my cure my amenorrhea, and didn’t do my own research or ask important questions. Learning from experts in a collaborative setting can really help to lay the foundation to ask these kinds of questions; For me, it wasn’t until the Hashimoto’s diagnosis that I really dug into thyroid health.

I began to understand the root causes, the things that make the thyroid function better and worse, the different medications available and pros and cons of each, how reversible Hashimoto’s is, and how it connects to symptoms I had been feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally. I learned that Hashimoto’s is quite complicated and common (especially for women!). It’s difficult for most people to ever completely stop taking some kind of thyroid supplement, be it natural or pharmaceutical, but, having seen that it’s possible, I’ve made it my mission to reverse my Hashimoto’s and one day, ditch my Naturethroid.

Sitting with Experts to Learn the Basics

As it would happen, I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Aviva Romm, a wonderful functional medicine doctor and author of The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution. This past January, I followed her 3–4 week program and then retested my thyroid with a blood test. Despite everything I know about food, meditation, movement, supplements, and herbs, this program taught me so much, and opened my eyes to all of my false beliefs: the things I’d convinced myself, or never thought about, or didn’t fully understand, or blindly assumed. If you’re thinking of doing the Adrenal Thyroid Revolution program, or any kind of reset program or elimination diet, here are my seven takeaways that might help you understand what to expect and what to look for.

Food products are still processed—even if they’re healthy!

Many “health foods” (i.e. foods sold in health food stores or organic sections of mainstream grocery stores) have preservatives, vegetable or canola oil, or additives like stabilizers (things that make things creamier for example). Somehow, I had been conveniently letting these items fall into my grocery cart—or maybe my husband did and I didn’t fight it—despite my awareness that whole foods or one-ingredient foods are always preferable. This includes things like frozen organic or cauliflower-crust pizza, “healthy” chips or crackers, granola and other cereals, certain soups, marinara and other sauces, nut butters, gluten-free and organic frozen chicken nuggets, coconut ice cream bars, dark chocolate bars, kimchi, hummus, salad dressings, nut milks, packaged bars, yogurt (even plant-based), and many more. I had wrongly assumed that because a product had the USDA organic label, or because it used coconut over dairy or cauliflower over gluten, that it was good for me. But I soon learned that many of these “healthy” products contain tons of ingredients that I definitely did not want to be consuming. I had to come to terms with the fact that if a box of organic crackers is sitting on a shelf, then it is highly likely it has preservatives, and that gluten-free organic chicken nuggets are still a fried food.

Almost everything contains added sugar and inflammatory oils and butter.

I didn’t fully understand how common canola and vegetables oils are in food products, so I wasn’t catching them on labels. I also wildly underestimated how many healthy-seeming food products had added sugar! Kimchi was the most shocking. In my mind, because I wouldn’t add sugar to kimchi or a nut butter, I mistakenly assumed an organic brand I trusted wouldn’t either. Not true at all. Sugar is added to things you couldn’t possibly imagine needing sugar, like cauliflower pizza. Why on earth does that need to be sweetened?!

I also underestimated how many little bits of sugar I had been consuming throughout the day. From fruit in my breakfast smoothie to a coconut date roll in the afternoon to some dark chocolate or a coconut ice cream bar a few evenings a week, my sugar intake really added up. A coconut date roll isn’t bad for you, per-se, but in conjunction with sugar from those other sources, I was consuming way too much. I encourage you to really think about all the sugar you consume in a day (including hidden sugar in things like kimchi or peanut butter and natural sugars in fruit), and you might be surprised by your total intake.

Nightshade vegetables are everywhere.

For the three-week formal program, I eliminated nightshades (a family of plants that includes tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, potatoes), and couldn’t believe how many recipes or dishes at restaurants include at least one of these foods! Tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes are ubiquitous in the standard American diet, even in healthier recipes. Reading about how inflammatory these vegetables can be for some people, and how anyone following a Western diet eats nightshades at least once or twice a day, I realized that it might be an easy thing to eliminate for anyone trying to get to the root of a chronic health issue. Nightshades were one of the many things that made it difficult to eat out.

Eating out was nearly impossible.

In the nearly four weeks I was doing the program, I ate out maybe three or four meals. The first thing I realized was that, as a New Yorker, I eat out more than I thought I did. The second thing I realized was that it is incredibly hard to eat in a healing way at restaurants or when ordering takeout.

Simple dishes I assumed wouldn’t have butter or sugar in them often did, and could not be replaced with something healthier. Many restaurants only had canola oil, even those I specifically chose because I thought they would use cleaner oils like almond, avocado, or olive. Also, many restaurants couldn’t tell me much about the quality of their meat or whether certain vegetables were organic—and nightshades were pretty much everywhere, even when they weren’t listed on the menu (potatoes or tomatoes on the side, peppers in the sauce, or chili flakes sprinkled on top). Finding gluten-free grains like quinoa, brown rice, or oats was also very difficult, and often the serving of vegetables provided isn’t enough to fill you up without some other side of grains. Many sauces included dairy and often things were pre-marinated, which made it difficult to make them without dairy. Butter, I found, was used more often than canola oil for cooking, though I couldn’t eat either!

The most difficult part by far was that eating out for me is a shared, fun experience with people I love, whether it’s my husband or friends or family. While getting dressed to go out to dinner with my husband one night during the program, I realized that I was dreading how annoying I would sound asking a dozen questions about each part of my meal, and feeling like I didn’t have anything to look forward to because I couldn’t have a glass of wine or any sort of “treat” or “reward” food. Which leads me to my next point…

Alcohol plays way too big a part in my culture, society, and habits.

I gave up alcohol for 25 days during the program and realized how much of my social life, as well as habits to cope with long or stressful days, revolved around alcohol. It was incredibly eye-opening to realize that I equated fun and making something special with alcohol. I realized how routine ordering a cocktail was when I sat down at a table, or how many sunsets created a longing for a glass of wine. I also felt bad for people socializing with me when I wasn’t drinking, as I know that the shared vulnerability and “letting loose” of drinking alcohol creates a bond, and not engaging in drinking felt like I was putting a wall up. Our culture celebrates drinking to the point where I believed fun and special occasions required it.

After a few days without it, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt when waking up in the morning. Even one drink impacts your sleep (or two if you’re a man or a larger person) and waking up feeling rested and without any cobwebs (even little ones) was amazing. I forced myself to use other things to unwind, like playing music, stretching, or reading a novel. I also lost three pounds over the three weeks without doing much else besides changing my diet and not drinking. That was a bonus!

Giving up the taste and ritual of coffee—not caffeine—left a void.

I had already given up caffeine in the fall of 2018, but when I was also forced to give up decaf coffee during the program, it made me sad! I realized that the ritual of walking to get my one cup of rich, warm, creamy, flavorful decaf coffee with cashew or oat milk each morning was what I loved, not the caffeine fix. I began drinking much more herbal team on the program and still did my morning walks with tea, but it just wasn’t quite the same.

I loved that the program helped me I incorporate many more wonderful organic herbs in the form of teas into my day, but once the program was over, I couldn’t have been more excited to re-introduce decaf organic coffee into my life. Yes, decaf still has a small amount of caffeine, but the amount in one cup is less than two squares of dark chocolate, and most importantly, I don’t feel that hyper, jittery, anxious feeling that comes after drinking caffeine when I drink it.

It’s hard to truly give yourself permission to pause.

One of Aviva Romm’s signature phrases in this program is “permission to pause.” She emphasizes this because a lot of Hashimoto’s patients like me have fatigued their adrenals through too much stress and constantly being “on,” which impacts your thyroid health. Besides diet, supplements, and herbs, giving yourself permission to pause and do some self-care and things that bring you joy is an important part of the program.

One thing I incorporated that I really enjoyed was turning on music when the work day was done and it was time to cook and eat dinner with my husband. It lifted my mood instantly, got me singing along and away from thoughts about my to-do list. It felt like a weekend even when it wasn’t, and that’s what bringing joy back into your life is all about.

Unfortunately, besides my nightly dance party while cooking, and a few minutes of breathing exercises in the morning, I didn’t do as much self-care as the program stipulated. It turns out, giving yourself permission to pause when you’re an entrepreneur and in today’s 24/7 world is more difficult than anything else, and arguably the most important thing we can do.

My Results from the Adrenal Thyroid Revolution Program

After the program, my thyroid panel blood test showed my TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) had come down from 14 to 7.5 (though I still want to get it below 2) and my thyroid antibodies (the sign of Hashimoto’s) from 48 to 38 (though I’d like to get them to zero!). Despite seeing these results, I found the strictness of program made me revert back to a few of my old eating and lifestyle habits for the past few months (certainly being less strict when eating out!), though many of the dietary changes have stuck at home. I feel hopeful that one day I’ll be able to kick my Hashimoto’s to the curb for good, and this program was a great way to see fast results in that endeavor!

Adrienne Nolan-Smith is a board certified patient advocate, speaker and the founder of WellBe, a media company and lifestyle brand focused on bridging the large gap between the healthcare system and the wellness movement to help people prevent and reverse chronic health issues naturally. She received her BA from Johns Hopkins University and her MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. She lives with her husband in New York City. You can follow her for daily inspiration and information @getwellbe

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