The Hashimoto enigma… when one-size does not, in fact, fit all.
And how diet and lifestyle changes can help you tame, learn to manage it and go on to live a thriving life.
I get asked a lot about my work and what I do exactly… but I also get asked a lot about Hashimoto’s itself… what the big deal is… and why all the fuss about ensuring I don’t let my diet and lifestyle get too out of control.
In one particularly recent conversation, one funny fellow thought Hashimoto’s was some kind of Japanese Philosophy course!! LOL
Well, he got the Japanese part right… ‘cos Hashimoto’s was discovered by a Japanese scientist, called Hakaru Hashimoto all the way back in 1912!
It’s officially called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis… and if you didn’t know, its an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid gland creating all sorts of havoc in body.
It’s an immune disease not a thyroid disease… and therein lies the distinction.
Because with autoimmunity, the body is attacking itself (which it’s not supposed to do) and in the case of Hashimoto’s it’s attacking the thyroid, causing hypothyroidism or an ‘under-active’ thyroid…
So hypothyroidism is how the body is not working and Hashimoto’s is why.
And understanding why the body isn’t working properly is a pretty big deal… because the thyroid pretty much runs the body.
It’s the command centre for all sorts of things like heat production (think one leg in and one leg out of the doona), metabolism (starving yourself yet getting fatter by the minute) and repair and regeneration (cuts that won’t heal and a brain that won’t work).
So, when the thyroid isn’t working properly (because your body has attacked and destroyed it)… well, neither do you.
It can’t be cured…
The biggest part of adjusting to the newfound knowledge that you have Hashimoto’s is that it can’t be cured.
Once you have it, it’s in your body for life.
The upside is that you can turn it around… learn to live with it… and keep a lid on the weird and wonderful symptoms that it delivers.
Some people out there use the term ‘remission’, but I’m not a big fan of that word particularly as it’s often used in connection with diseases like cancer.
In my humble opinion, Hashimoto’s doesn’t work like that.
I believe that with relevant, personalised diet and lifestyle changes plus/minus the right medical intervention you can put it to sleep, learn to manage it and go on to live a normal, balanced and fulfilled life.
But there are diets…
But it takes time and dedication to trying diet and lifestyle changes.
When I talk broadly about diet and lifestyle changes, I’m mainly talking about finding that sweet spot, that is just right for you.
The best nourishing foods that will suit your taste buds, budget, cooking abilities and your body… with consideration to big stuff like gluten, dairy, soy, FODMAP’s and/or individual food or chemical sensitivities, combined with a moderately active, low stress lifestyle and great sleeping habits.
Over time, you may even find an improved quality of health and wellness and can return to an engaged way of living without the ongoing need for thyroid medication, supplements or other medications.
But the trick is again, to find that sweet spot of not only the right type of medication (T4 only, T4/T3, Natural Desiccated Thyroid, Low Dose Naltrexone) but delivered at the right dose for you and your body’s needs… this may ebb and flow through different life stages and it will also take time, patience and a very understanding medical practitioner — but it can be done!
And it’s a hell of a lot of variables, right?
The things is… there is no one-size-fits all manifestation of Hashimoto’s and therefore no one-size-fits-all fix.
While many wonderful programs out there such as AIP, Paleo, SCD, GAPS etc can be a wonderful and easily maintained solution for many… it can be the curse of many more, who either don’t respond well and/or can’t maintain the strictness of the diet requirements in the longer term.
These diets are strict because there is a growing body of research to suggest that many food groups such as gluten, dairy, soy and nightshades can have an inflammatory effect on an autoimmune body which can be exacerbated by food or chemical sensitivities that interfere with the digestive process such as preservatives and/or FODMAPs… so the idea behind a strict approach is to eliminate these triggers.
Elimination, as in total elimination (not even a mouthful or sneaky bite) is hard work and not easily maintained.
The other thing is that the immune system lives in the gut… so in theory, heal the gut, support the immune system.
So, for most people, the diet part makes sense… but few realise how much lifestyle factors can play a part.
If I could sum it up in a single word… stress.
And lifestyle interventions…
Stress is the single biggest trigger and can have the largest impact and inflammatory effect on the immune system.
So, the idea of lifestyle intervention is to create and maintain a healthy immune system by reducing (or eliminating) stress, particularly chronic stress.
Chronic stress not only largely contributes to inflammation, but also puts the adrenals under pressure which over time, can lead to adrenal insufficiency (some very similar symptoms to hypothyroidism and therefore often overlooked), lowered immunity (chronic infections) and can interfere with the sex hormone pathways (crazy periods!!).
The other big thing is the gut-mind connection… just as much as the gut plays a vital role in the immune system, it is linked directly to brain function too.
And there’s lots more research being done to investigate the connection between gut and mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and brain fog… al classic hypothyroid symptoms!
The thing is… you kinda need to keep it up… for the rest of your life.
Otherwise you’ll just keep hitting repeat on the cycle of stress, poor diet and illness that goes along with Hashimoto’s.
But forever’s a bloody long time I hear you crying… don’t I know it! LOL
And it’s often the sticking point in why so many people fail to continue on strict diets (too hard to sustain) or others simply fail to start (too hard to think about)… and it’s why I believe you need a slow and steady approach, that you can sustain, forever.
That can help recalibrate your body…
Consistency is key in creating diet and lifestyle changes… keeping at it, regardless of setbacks and showing up each day, doing your best and being all in.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t have bad days, but if your heart and mind are aligned, eventually your body will follow…
Many programs, even 90 day ones often don’t address underlying personal habits, behaviours and/or cognitive factors that can hinder or harm long term sustainability.
In the short term, for many people, myself included, these diets can be high or heavily reliant on food products that are harmful to certain individuals (those with other complex diseases like Coeliacs, Crohn’s or Diabetes) and these short term attempts can create more symptoms (bloating, gas or diarrhoea) or make them gravely ill… which perpetuates the cycle of illness and disease, often times leading to malnourishment.
And in case you’re wondering, yes, it is possible to be overweight and malnourished at the same time!
And it’s so overwhelming that it’s difficult to know what’s right for you… or where to start.
Try everything and anything and see what feels right for you… but this process takes time and by time, I’m talking in months and years, not days and weeks.
I’ve been making dietary changes for over 15 years (before I knew had Hashimoto’s)… and taking firmer action to reduce my stress and slow down my lifestyle for nearly four years (since my diagnosis)… all with the firm intention to recover from the years of damage and find a balanced way of living.
Many of the strict diets or regimes out there will give a false sense of feeling better initially because the body has experienced a change… which seems great, but is often short lived, like anything that seems too good to be true.
The other aspect to consider is that when too much change is undertaken all at once: first you don’t really know what worked; second you don’t know what, if anything has created or flared an alternative condition; and third, the quick, sharp and often severe changes that brought relief and immediate improvement are often highly regimented, difficult to implement or more commonly difficult to maintain for the longer term.
So it’s all a bit hard… overwhelming… and anything but easy.
And that’s true… it’s not easy… but it is possible.
There are many people who prefer to take the traditional, seemingly infallible GP recommended route… you know, take the pills for the thyroid, take the pills for the depression, take the pills for the headaches, takes the pills for the stomach ache, take the pills for the constipation, repeat GP visits for tests for new symptoms, more tests and more prescriptions or referrals to specialists… well, I’m sure you get the idea.
And that’s cool… we are all on our own paths.
Others just don’t know where to start… or are jaded after multiple failed attempts or sinking $$$ into the false hope and false promises of often well meaning, but misdirected alternative practitioners who don’t really get or understand the intricacies associated with Hashimoto’s.
But it’s not for everyone…
And the burning question on everyones lips… including yours perhaps… is what should you do?
Well, that’s up to you…
I’m just here to tell you that there is a different way.
The process of walking your own path, searching for your sweet spot and embarking on your own healing journey may appear more difficult than the GP route and there are no promises or guarantees of the outcome.
Because it’s all up to you… your journey will be created by you so while it’s not the most travelled path, it’s a journey filled with infinite possibilities and it is, in my experience where the magic happens!
And who doesn’t want to believe in the possibility of a better tomorrow?
I believe in a better tomorrow… I revel in adventure… and I’m an independent thinker so have to make up my own mind for things to click and feel right.
I’m guessing if you’ve read this til the end, then maybe you do too?
For me, the benefits of maintaining a firm daily grasp on a whole food, immune friendly diet… an even firmer stance on my sleeping habits… removing or moderating the stress in my life… and taking things really slowly in my daily activities and social engagements… is worth it.
For I am in the best health of my adult life these days… I think clearly and smile often… I’ve given up fighting Hashimoto’s, instead I welcome the lessons it has taught me.
Primarily… that I am enough.
And you are enough too… but it’s hard to see sometimes when you’re buried under fatigue, excess weight or crazy mood swings.
So, I invite you to consider embarking on a journey…
Think of it like a wonderful opportunity for exploration, curiosity and empowerment… you can shake everything up, see what falls out and make up your own mind.
You don’t have to buy into the official story, you can make up your own!
And who knows, maybe along the way you’ll connect with a series of soul sisters who understand your journey and provide you a safe place for you to explore your own
I’m pretty sure that you, like me, will lovingly welcome the long awaited best friend you thought you may never find… yourself.
“To find yourself… think for yourself” Socrates
Originally published at kisshashimotosgoodbye.com.au on May 7, 2017.