This post first appeared on my other blog Giving Up Sugar.
I haven’t posted in ages on Giving Up Sugar. Mostly this is because once you’ve given up the white stuff there’s little left to say, and I am not one to hang out in my kitchen creating mouth-watering sugar-free treats. (Which is a shame, because I suspect I could make a killing.)
However, some of you on your own sugar-free journey may be interested in my next foray into wellness.
I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease at the ripe old age of 27. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease and is the most common cause of hypothyroidism (which I have too).
I was not at all surprised when I received my diagnosis. Most of the women in my family have hypothyroidism, so I knew what was up when I put on a huge amount of weight in 6 months, felt like a slug all the time, had a puffy face, thinning hair and had freezing cold hands. The hands thing was the final piece in the puzzle for me, as I had previously been one of those ridiculously hardy folks who swan around in summer clothing in the middle of winter. But now people would shake my hand and cry out ‘Flipping heck, have you been dipping your hands in ice water?’ Something was definitely wrong.
I had to beg my doctor to run the tests as she didn’t expect someone to have hypothyroidism at 27. But to her credit, she was swayed by my family history and ran the tests (I now realise how fortunate I was that my doctor listened to me. Many people with Hashimoto’s are misdiagnosed as having a mental illness). I’m not kidding when I say it took me 6 more years to fully understand the implications of my condition and to accept the limitations of it. I spent those years ignoring my body, being lackadaisical about taking my medication, pushing myself through the tiredness and brain fog, and generally trying to live as I had before until I gave myself a bad case of burnout.
It was the burnout that forced me to pay more attention to my body and my lifestyle. My body was screaming at me to slow down because it could not take it any more.
So I slowed down and began to recover. Giving up sugar helped my energy levels to increase, and I was able to reduce my thyroid medication a bit, plus I lost weight. Then eating the Trim Healthy Mama way (which is refined sugar-free) helped me shed two more dress sizes and feel more energetic. But it hasn’t quite been enough.
I have always had a tricky case of hypothyroidism. My thyroid levels almost always require tweaking of my medication and I am closely monitored for this. Sometimes I need more thyroxine, sometimes less. Even when my thyroid levels are ‘normal’, I keep having bouts of unexplained tiredness, poor memory, brain fog, irritability and feeling so, so cold. Some of these ‘thyroidy bouts’ as I call them, can last a few weeks or a few months. At the moment I am a bout which has been going on for a couple of months now. Fun times.
Trips to doctors have them treating me like I am a mental health patient, despite the fact that I am a patient with hypothyroidism, complaining of hypothyroidism symptoms. But as my thyroid levels are ‘fine’, doctors don’t seem to know what else to do other than screen me for depression and look confused. I have learned to take my husband with me to all such appointments for back up as I am never taken seriously without having him there to say ‘Yep, what she is saying is absolutely true.’
My thyroidy bouts are not fun, and are very hard on my husband as he has to pick up my slack. I’m a stay-at-home parent to two toddlers, so that’s a lot of crazy slack to be picked up! I’m sick of these bouts affecting me – and my family – despite the fact that my test results are ‘normal’. There has to be more that can be done.
Our genes play a part in the development of autoimmune disease, but diet and lifestyle can reduce the effects once that switch is flicked on. I’m pretty active in the Hashimoto’s online community and have seen many reports from fellow sufferers saying they’d seen a huge reduction in their symptoms by following the Autoimmune Protocol. It’s like the Paleo diet, but harsher. The first phase is an elimination diet where you cut out the usual suspects like grains, eggs, soy, dairy and sugar. But the Autoimmune Protocol goes further. Developed by Dr Sarah Ballentyne – an expert on immunity and inflammation – the protocol also cuts out nuts, seeds, alternative sweeteners, nightshades and NSAIDS (ibuprofen etc). The main focus of the protocol is to eliminate foods that contribute to leaky gut and bad gut flora from the diet. You can read more about the science behind the protocol here.
People with autoimmune diseases can expect to see significant improvement within a few weeks or months, although some may take longer. I feel confident about doing the first phase because it’s not forever. Once a measurable improvement happens, then a slow reintroduction to other foods can begin. Many people discover they react badly to nightshades (tomatoes/potatoes/eggplant/peppers) and have to avoid them for life, and I suspect this might be the case for me. My father is deathly allergic to raw tomato, and my skin often reacts to nightshades when I prepare them for cooking. Other people can successfully reintroduce eggs, nuts and dairy, so I hope I’m one of those!
Food elimination diets are daunting. But if you’ve eaten something all your life, you may be unaware of its impact on your health and well-being. I never truly knew how addicted to sugar I was until I eliminated it and saw improvements in my energy and saiety levels. People who’ve gone AIP report significantly negative reactions to many of the reintroduced foods (like two weeks of feeling yuck), and those reactions are enough to help them avoid that food for life. I’m hopeful that getting to the bottom of any food intolerances will help me kick my thyroidy bouts for good.
I wondered what on earth there would be left for me to eat if I attempted AIP. No eggs. My staple breakfast. No dairy. But, but what’s life without cheese? No curries? I think I might cry.
Help was at hand thanks to my local library and The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook, by Mickey Trescott. D and I were so impressed by this book, we immediately bought our own copy. Besides being a beautifully designed and photographed cookbook, what had me going ‘okay, this lady is my new BFF’ was that Mickey acknowledges that sticking to AIP during the elimination phase is HARDER THAN HARD. She acknowledges that having to make every single dish, sauce or dressing from scratch feels like a Herculean task if you work full time, have kids, or are sick. You know, from an autoimmune disease. If that’s you, Mickey’s your gal. She has meal plans and shopping lists to ease into the AIP way. There are also many other great AIP books out there if you look online.
I haven’t started AIP yet, but I do have a starting date (28 July). I’m approaching this like I did when I gave up sugar. I’m not quitting until my social calendar is empty. My birthday and a trip away are coming up soon, so I will go AIP after then. I will be turning down dinner invitations and dining out while I’m on the elimination phase because I can’t be bothered with the hassle it would entail. I have a wedding to go to in September and I think I will just tell the beautiful couple not to worry about a meal for me, and take my own food. I want to cause zero hassle on their big day. It will definitely be weird, but when you are on the elimination phase you absolutely cannot cheat. If you have a reaction to something, you probably won’t be able to work out what caused it (Was it the dressing? Were the veges sauted in butter? etc.).
So wish me luck. I’ll keep you posted.
Have you ever gone AIP? Did it work for you?