#10 Hashi & Me: meet Andrea

Hashi & Me is a series of stories for people with Hashimoto’s told by people with Hashimoto’s and other thyroid problems. In each piece, one of us will share our experience with Hashimoto’s, our personal findings and tips. We believe one person’s experience can be useful for others, especially to newly diagnosed people.

This week meet Andrea Wool, a nutritional therapy practitioner, personal trainer and the founder and creator of Autoimmune Strong.

How and when did you discover you had Hashimoto’s?

After the birth of my second son, I had an extremely hard time recovering. I was exhausted, and no matter how much I napped, I still felt tired. And not just a tired like I stayed up all night tired- but a tired that went deep into my muscles and bones. Listless doesn’t describe it- every activity felt like I was carrying sandbags around as legs and arms. My hair was falling out, I had no energy, and my anxiety was high. I went to a number of doctors, and they all told me that this was just part of the postpartum experience. Finally, at my yearly check-up with my — two years after the birth of my son- he mentioned that my thyroid gland was swollen and wanted an ultrasound. Sure enough, the ultrasound showed that half my thyroid had been eaten away by destructive antibodies. I went to a specialist, and even then, he said my bloodwork looked fine. But I pressured him to run the TPO blood test (which most doctors skip) and he was surprised to find an extremely elevated number of antibodies, indicating that I had an autoimmune disease: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

What did you learn since? Do you have some tips or findings to share with other Hashimoto’s people?

I have since learned the importance of lifestyle on my health. I work very hard at managing my symptoms primarily through food, supplements, sleep, and exercise.

I have an extremely nutritious diet. I have eliminated all processed foods from my diet. I eat a 100% gluten free diet, as well as dairy free, peanut free and (mostly) sugar free. I stick to organic or locally grown vegetables and pasture raised meats. I feel my best when I eat a high protein, high fiber diet and I get my carbohydrates from vegetables rather than refined flours and sugars.

As for the supplements, I add in additional vitamins and minerals that my body has depleted, such as zinc, magnesium and a variety of B vitamins. (It’s important to note here that as a nutritional therapy practitioner, I am trained to know which supplements are needed. I recommend consulting a holistic practitioner before starting your own supplement protocol.)

Sleep is also essential for me. I need a regularly scheduled bedtime and 8 hours of sleep in order to feel my best. Your body recovers from the demands of the day during your sleep cycle, so it is critical that we give our bodies the time to recover and regenerate. This is not easy, as I am a working mom, and night time is my only time to finish the work from the day, clean the house, prepare for the next day, spend time with my husband, and maybe watch some tv or read a book. However, I am trying to put these demands aside and go to bed, as a good night sleep directly impacts the quality of my next day.

Finally, daily exercise is a must for me. My body needs to move, feel the blood flow, and gain muscular strength in order for me to tackle the demands on my day. My body aches and pain is decreased when I exercise, and I am generally much happier, with much more energy. Stretching is important too- the combination of exercise and mobility is part of my every day routine. I do find that there needs to be a balance between working out and working out too hard. Daily exercise is a must, but it can’t be too aggressive- otherwise I end the week in a symptom flare-up, which is awful. So I listen to my body and try to do what feels best. I developed Autoimmune Strong as a protocol for my own exercise. I found that with this program, I was able to see the benefits of exercise- better mood and a stronger, healthier body- without risking the side effects of too much exercise.

How does your day with Hashimoto’s look like?

My day starts when my children jump into my bed in the morning. We snuggle for a few minutes, I check my emails, and then we all sit together on the floor for 10 minutes of family meditation. Then, I go to exercise while my husband gets the kids ready for school. I either do Autoimmune Strong, or I go for a run, or I do some yoga, or I lift weights. What I do depends on how I feel. After a quick shower, I take the kids to school.

My workday begins after school drop off. I make myself a healthy breakfast (typically chicken and veggies that I prepped over the weekend) and I get to work. I work from my house, and I spend most of time sitting at my computer. So I have started what I call “work sprints” to help me remember to move during the day. I pick 1 project to work on, and I work on that for no more than 1 hour. When the project is done or the hour is up, I make sure to take 10 minutes to stretch, foam roll, or do a plank- something that gets my body out of my chair and moving around. I also make sure to schedule myself a lunch break, where I get a mental and physical break from my work. I do this until it’s time to pick my kids up from school. We play, do homework, or go to their after school activities. We always have family dinner together, and family bedtime. Then, I try to clean up a bit and relax a bit and go to bed.

What were the biggest struggle and the biggest victory your experienced?

My biggest struggle is finding time for it all. For family, for work, for exercise, for relaxation, for friends, for fun. I want it all, and I am a constant over-doer, and when I over-do it, my body falls apart. I struggle to balance all the things I want to accomplish in a day with the realities of my body’s physical limitations.

But this is also the biggest victory. I never used to prioritize myself. I used to prioritize everything and everybody else over my needs, and now, my body is forcing me to listen to what I need. It is teaching me to be my own advocate- to speak up and take care of what I need. It takes strength to say “No thanks” when someone offers me a piece of cake (I used to love cake!). It takes commitment for me to say “I can’t play with you right now, I need to exercise”. It is teaching me how to love my body, and to value and nurture myself above all else.

What advice would you give to someone newly diagnosed to ease their first steps with Hashimoto’s?

Be patient and loving to yourself. Understand that your life will change, but that if you do the right things and take care of yourself, you will be fine. Also, there are so many resources that exist now that didn’t exist when I was diagnosed- so take your time, learn about the disease and how to manage it with lifestyle changes. Find a practitioner who can help you. Reach out to a community like Autoimmune Strong for support. There are millions of us struggling with the same disease, so don’t struggle alone. We are all here to help each other.