#4 Hashi & Me: meet Ginny
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 Ginny, the recipe blogger behind Hypothyroid Chef from Western Montana.
How and when did you discover you had thyroid issues? Tell us your story.
I’ll never forget the sense of betrayal and anger I felt, the day I learned I had Hashimoto’s. Four years prior, in 2011 I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism following the birth of my son. As part of some routine postpartum bloodwork, my doctor tested my TSH, informed me I had an underactive thyroid, and put me on Levothyroxine.
I’ll never forget the sense of betrayal and anger I felt, the day I learned I had Hashimoto’s.
Trouble was, the synthetic thyroid hormone was not the panacea my doctor insisted it was. At multiple check-ups I complained that I didn’t feel like myself. I wondered, and asked, how things I might be doing or eating could be affecting me. Because my labs were normal, she assured me I was fine, and that my symptoms were a normal part of the aging process. She told me to exercise, cut calories, consider anti-depressants, and other typical things that Hashi’s patients hear.
I followed her advice, but as the months and years ticked by my health steadily declined, until in 2015, I was so chronically tired, sick, inflamed, brain-fogged, and unhappy, I decided I must take charge of, and somehow restore my health. It had become impossible to be the mother, wife, and person I wanted to be, and I wasn’t going to accept that fate without a fight.
I was also at odds with my food career. My previous recipe blog was gathering cobwebs as I struggled to connect the dots between my diet and my heath. I’m a cooking instructor and out of desperation, chose to turn down cooking classes that weren’t health-oriented. I was teaching a class on holistic vegan nutrition when I mentioned to the students that I was in the process of changing my diet due to hypothyroidism. After class, two separate women approached me and said that they had both relieved their hypothyroid symptoms through diet. One reported that she and her sister reversed their diagnosis by eliminating wheat and only wheat.
This was the aha moment I had been waiting for, when thanks to their sharing, I learned that food indeed DOES affect our thyroid health. . . contrary to my doctor’s advice.
I came home that night and immediately began researching the thyroid — diet connection. It was the beginning a life-changing journey.
Within two months I had started a new blog, Hypothyroid Chef, to share my recipes and research. It marked the official beginning of my quest for better thyroid health through food.
After reading an article on Hypothyroid Mom about comprehensive thyroid testing, I asked my doctor to run a full panel of tests, including the test for thyroid antibodies. I’ll never forget when the nurse called to give me the results.
“You tested positive for thyroid antibodies,” she informed me.
“So I have Hashimoto’s?” I asked.
“Yes. It’s what the doctor expected,” she said.
What the doctor expected? Those words still haunt me. If the doctor suspected I had Hashimoto’s, why didn’t she test me for it?
Here in the U.S., not testing hypothyroid patients for Hashimoto’s antibodies is standard protocol. The reason why is because it doesn’t change the doctors’ treatment plan: Levothyroxine, probably in increasing dosages, indefinitely.
How much of my thyroid was destroyed over those four years? How much easier and better could my son’s first four years of life have been if I wasn’t in such a compromised state of health? Things could have been so different, if only I had been tested immediately, and given the chance to learn about what I was dealing with. If only I had implemented diet and lifestyle changes sooner.
Modern medicine once saved my life (after an ectopic pregnancy rupture in 2007), but on the day I received my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, I lost my faith in its ability to keep me healthy. On the bright side, that fateful day also ignited a passion in me to educate, advocate, learn from, and collaborate with other people on this path, in hopes that our individual journey’s might inform one another’s.
What did you learn since? Do you have some tips or findings to share with other Hashimoto’s people?
Today, I feel so much better. I feel like myself again. My whole life — family, work, play, self — have all come into clearer focus. The path from there to here has hinged on a few factors:
Finding a doctor who was willing to do the detective work of uncovering my unique triggers.
Systematically addressing those triggers.
Changing my diet.
It’s different for everyone, but eating a diet that consists primarily of organic produce, high-quality proteins, and healthy fats (in that order) has had miraculous results for many autoimmune patients, myself included.
4. Changing my lifestyle.
Prioritizing sleep, eliminating toxins (like fluoride), practicing yoga and meditation, limiting my alcohol consumption, and being gentler with myself in general are all new habits that have helped me get and stay healthy. Lifestyle factors are the easiest to overlook, but they matter.
5. Striking a balance.
For about a year, I had to make my health a top priority, which required some discipline. Today, because of my healing efforts, I can socialize and indulge normally, as long as I am careful about my diet and lifestyle the other 90% of the time. I feel lucky for that, but I also work at it continually.
How does your day with Hashimoto’s look like?
It varies, but my ideal day begins with meditation (after I take my Levothyroxine). Sometimes I focus my intention on sending healing energy to my thyroid gland and throat chakra — a practice I recently learned from Thyroid Healing Yoga.
I pack lunch and make breakfast for James, and get him ready for school. Then I throw together one of my quick, autoimmune-friendly breakfasts. This might include some homemade sausage that I’ve frozen and re-heated, a scoop of probiotic sauerkraut, a few slices of avocado, and a handful of fresh berries. I drink one cup of tea in the morning, which is about a third of where I was at a few years ago.
Once James is at school I get to work. My work day entails various writing jobs, developing recipes, managing social media, and writing posts for my blog, which brings the challenge of sitting in front of the computer. I take lots of breaks to move around and restore circulation. My workday has proved to be a great time for me to sip on a fresh vegetable juice or smoothie, as it boosts my energy without the negatives of caffeine.
For lunch, I love salads or hearty soups made with gut-healing bone broth and lots of veggies. I also take my main round of supplements with the midday meal: vitamin D, a B-Complex, zinc, and an adaptogenic herb blend. [Warning: Supplementing without proper testing and medical advice is risky with Hashimoto’s and not recommended.]
When my son gets home from preschool we play together. Getting outside and away from screens for a while really helps me unwind. I try to exercise every day, so we might go on a bike ride or a walk. I try to listen to what my body needs, and recharge a bit before making dinner.
Letting go of dietary staples like gluten and dairy means more vegetable chopping. So I’ve learned to start dinner prep earlier. If I give myself a little extra time, I enjoy it more and feel less stressed by the task. Last night we had wilted chard, grass-finished skirt steak with a dairy-free parsley pesto, and roasted potatoes.
I take any remaining supplements with dinner. After that, it’s time for James’s bath and bedtime stories, followed by time for my husband and I to relax and play cards, read, or watch a movie. I drink a cup of turmeric tea, or a magnesium drink to help me sleep, and try to turn the lights out by 10:30 for a solid eight and a half hours. It doesn’t always happen that way : )
What advice would you give to someone newly diagnosed to ease their first steps with Hashimoto’s?
I recommend the book “Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause,” by Dr. Izabella Wentz as an excellent starting point for those with Hashimoto’s. That book gave me a road map for what can be a daunting process, and ultimately led me down the path to healing.
Know that diet and lifestyle interventions can and do work, but everyone has unique triggers. There is no way around the hard work of uncovering what those triggers and sensitivities are for you, but having that information is life-altering and empowering. Stay with it, listen carefully to the feedback of your body, and take baby steps toward change. Before you know it, these changes become your new habits.
Fear and resistance to change are normal, but taking the leap towards better health comes with priceless rewards. When you’ve lost your health, and then regained it by doing something as simple as eliminating gluten and dairy (for example), it makes those things less appealing. The enjoyment of each bite comes at too great a cost. But as someone who not only loves to cook and eat, but needs to feed a family, I know how hard it can be to adapt.
Living well with Hashimoto’s is a journey, not a destination. You will falter and there will be setbacks. Just stay with it, and don’t give up. It took me a full year to shift to my new Hashimoto’s lifestyle, and I continue to adapt, experiment, and stumble. It’s okay. We’re all human. Take baby steps, and when you falter, don’t beat up on yourself, just get up and start again.
I think the silver lining to Hashimoto’s is that it can motivate us to take charge of our health. It can demand that we re-evaluate aspects of our lifestyle that aren’t serving us anymore. Ultimately, it can inspire us to become the recipients of the tender loving care we so generously give to others, but too often, deny ourselves. Our loved ones benefit from our health immensely. If you’re willing to make your health a priority, and do the work, healing is possible. I’m living proof.