This is Part 4 of my Healing Hashimoto’s series which outlines my personal experience with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Disease. The other posts in this series include:
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. The information in this post cannot be used to treat or diagnose any disease.
Back in 2011, about a year after I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, I lost hope for feeling better.
My medication, Synthroid, wasn’t working and I started to accept that my quality of life at that point was likely going to follow me for the rest of my life.
I said goodbye to my future dreams of a satisfying career and children, and instead, started to worry about how I was going to find the energy to graduate from school and pay off my student loan debt.
Until, a Google search changed it all (you can read more about that in Part 2).
I went from lifeless to hopeful in a matter of minutes and the journey that followed has been incredibly empowering. But you know what else it has been?
FULL of tears, disappointment, and heartbreak.
I wish I could just go back and reclaim all those years I spent in poor health, chasing after answers, arguing with doctors, and spending thousands of dollars on treatments.
I obviously can’t go back. But what I CAN do is pass on my advice to others who are in the same shoes I was in just 10 years ago – newly diagnosed and feeling as terrible as ever.
So, knowing what I know now, if you showed up on my doorstep today and asked “What do I do?” Here’s what I’d tell you…
Step 1: Have hope for healing.
I don’t blame myself for feeling hopeless at the beginning. I believed everything I was told:
- TSH is the only reliable test for thyroid function.
- My thyroid will eventually become so damaged that it will lose all function.
- Levothyroxine (Synthroid) is the ONLY effective medication.
- I am going to be on medication for the rest of my life and the dosage will only increase through the years.
- There is no way to heal my thyroid.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, just know that I and countless others have proved differently.
It is no wonder that I know so many people today with Hashimoto’s Disease who are literally dragging themselves through their daily lives because they have surrendered and accepted their poor quality of health. They’ve been told that their disease is unstoppable.
I don’t blame them for feeling hopeless. And if you are feeling that way, then I am here to tell you that it’s time to change that mindset. It’s time to HAVE HOPE.
And always remember, you are NOT alone in this battle. There are many of us, right here with you.
Step 2: Educate yourself.
If you were given those same amazing words of encouragement – the ones about waiting for your thyroid to die while you deteriorate and sleep all day, then your doctor probably isn’t the best person to educate you on how to heal.
The best person to educate yourself is actually… well, yourself. And not just about Hashimoto’s, but also the root causes behind autoimmune disease, which doctors to work with, and learning about YOUR body’s signs and symptoms. If you want to heal, you need to have the right information.
The entire process of gathering information feels daunting due to the crazy amount of information out there on the internet, especially when you’re trying to find what works for YOU, as an individual. To help get you started, I’ve put together a Hashimoto’s Quick Start Guide and you can gain access to it by subscribing below.
Step 3: Speak up!
Here’s where things get messy, depending on your doctor.
As you are learning more about Hashimoto’s Disease and how to manage/treat it, you need to determine right away if your current doctor is going to be supportive or an obstacle in the way of your healing. Speak up and start the conversations early:
Is your doctor okay with you researching on your own?
Is he/she supportive of using medications other than Synthroid?
Is he/she supportive of dietary and lifestyle changes to manage your disease?
If your doctor isn’t familiar with alternative ways to treating Hashimoto’s Disease, is he/she open to learning WITH you?
If the answers to these questions do not satisfy you, then it might be time to move on and find a new doctor (more details about this in our Hashimoto’s Quick Start Guide), because the next two steps are a ton easier with a cooperative healthcare team.
Step 4: If you are suffering from symptoms, thyroid hormone medication can be really helpful.
Your body may need extra help while healing.
Some of us run at the thought of taking any sort of pharmaceutical drugs. I am one of those people. I need a really (and I mean REALLY) good reason to agree to any sort of prescription drug.
Well, it just so happens that a Hashimoto’s Diagnosis is a great reason to consider thyroid hormone medication, at least for the short-term. The damage to your thyroid gland as a result of autoimmune antibodies can hinder the production of hormones your body needs.
Thyroid medication is a bit different than many pharmaceutical drugs on the market. Instead of suppressing symptoms, it actually replaces the hormones that your body cannot produce, allowing your body to function normally without the burden of thyroid hormone deficiency.
Does that mean you’ll need it for the rest of your life? Definitely not… but while you are healing, you’ll be thankful to have that provided support for your body.
It is not the solution, but it is a crutch… a very helpful crutch for your metabolism, heart rate, breathing, nervous system, and everything else the thyroid influences.
Step 5: Research all medication options.
You are NOT just limited to Synthroid®.
Synthroid (levothyroxine) works for some people and you could be one of them. But, it also fails miserably for many others and you need to know that you have options, even if your doctor claims you don’t (you can read more about my experience in Part 2).
If I was talking to my younger self, I’d say to skip the Synthroid altogether and go for a natural desiccated thyroid hormone medication, such as Armour®, Naturethroid®, or Westhroid Pure® (which is what I take now).
When I switched to Armour from Synthroid, I was given my life back. This is not an exaggeration. Armour literally changed my life.
If you have a doctor that is telling you that medications like Armour are dangerous and ineffective, I encourage you to question where he or she is getting that information from, and try to work with him/her for at least a trial run (or find a new doctor). Believe me, the right medication can make a world of difference!
Step 6: Address your diet.
I can say that a strict healing diet (like the Autoimmune Protocol) is the NUMBER ONE reason why I have been able to significantly lower my antibodies to almost normal range, lower my dose of medication, and eliminate my most annoying symptoms (like seasonal allergies).
It wasn’t until I changed my diet that I started to see and feel real results of healing. In my opinion, diet is a non-negotiable change that needs to be made. It’s the workhorse behind healing leaky gut, balancing blood sugar, eliminating food sensitivities that cause inflammation and more – all of which contribute to the development and severity of Hashimoto’s Disease.
Without a doubt, this would have been one of the first things I ever did had I known just how much of a difference it can make. It is something that can be done right away, before seeing a doctor, and even before going on medication. BUT (and this is a big BUT)…
Diet is not everything.
I only say that because so many people expect it to be the answer, and when it’s not, there is usually a lot of frustration and loss of hope. This is likely because diet change carries a lot of extra baggage.
It’s more than just avoiding/adding foods. Diet changes require meal planning, budgeting, learning how to cook with new foods, and learning how deal with the social pressures of no longer indulging in the same foods as your friends and coworkers.
It’s a recipe for burnout if it doesn’t give results.
For some, diet could be the answer, but many of us will require more than just a diet change to achieve full resolution of symptoms. So, as long as you don’t put all of your stock into diet, then it should be incredibly helpful for you. Just don’t stop there.
If you are looking for more information on autoimmune/Hashimoto’s healing diets, this article is a fantastic summary of multiple diets that work for many people. You can also check out Dr. Brooke Goldner who has impressive results using a high-raw vegan diet to treat a bunch of autoimmune issues.
Step 7: Address your stress.
Especially chronic stress.
A little bit of stress here and there is not only good for us, but also completely unavoidable. But chronic stress can really make us sick.
I ignored this for years. Many people do. And I believe it’s one of the reasons our nation is plagued with chronic disease.
Chronic stress unravels all of the basic building blocks that our bodies need to be healthy. It leads to poor sleep, poor diet, strained relationships, lack of exercise, and actual breakdowns of certain internal processes. If you don’t believe me, then you can read this very detailed article about how stress undermines health and can literally undo every other positive change you make.
The point is to not overlook stress. Take a long hard look at your current life, and the past. Did something change that caused your stress to increase? Did your symptoms come on because of that, or get worse during that time?
Once you understand your stress points, take measures to reduce or control these triggers so you can take one more burden off your body’s overfilled plate.
I know, easier said than done. This is an ongoing process, but the more you tune in and listen to your body, the better off you’ll be.
Step 8: Rest (Like for real.)
I’m not sure how we slipped into this fast-paced, overworked society, but somewhere along the line, we lost all emphasis of slowing down and taking a breather. Maybe that’s why so many of us are sick…
I also notice that there is an intense FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) going on, probably due to social media and everyone posting pictures of their highlight reels every day. Just that alone is mentally exhausting.
So, I’m here, giving you permission to trim all the extra baggage out of your life – toxic relationships, late night social outings that only leave you feeling exhausted, extra commitments that you really don’t have the energy for, etc.
They aren’t worth it. You don’t need them.
What you need instead is a schedule that allows you to rest without feeling guilty about it. A schedule that allows you 8-10 hours of sleep at night (and maybe even more), especially while you’re in your healing phase.
Sleep is especially important as it is the body’s time to detox and repair. It is literally THE time for healing… so give yourself that gift.
If sleep doesn’t come all that easy to you due to issues with falling and staying asleep, you can read this post on ways to optimize it. But I have a feeling that if you follow the steps in this blog post, and really tune into managing your stress, changing your diet, finding the right medication, etc. – then your sleep troubles will fade away.
Step 9: Move. (But not too much…)
Naturally, many of us turn to exercise to relieve chronic stress. This is a great idea! But it doesn’t mean you should jump right into training for a half marathon. I learned this the hard way (see this post).
Exercise and movement is beneficial but remember that it is also a stress on the body. So, while you may be relieving emotional stress, the body is still experiencing, and trying to manage, the physical stress and recovery.
The right amount, frequency, and type of exercise for Hashimoto’s Disease is truly individualized. It takes trial and error to figure it out.
I point this out because most of us have learned the “No Pain, No Gain” mindset: the harder you push your body, the better you become, the more weight you lose, etc. But for those of us with an autoimmune disease, this isn’t necessarily true. So just be careful and like I mentioned above… stop and REST if you find that you are pushing yourself too hard.
If you’re looking for an exercise program specifically for autoimmune disease, consider this one.
Step 10: Make a true effort to use safer, less toxic products.
Fun fact – I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry.
Another fun fact – the more I learned about the power of chemistry, the less I wanted to be in the lab working with chemicals.
And another not so fun fact – I really think that the stress of my sophomore year, paired with hours upon hours working with very strong chemicals was a major trigger for my Hashimoto’s Disease.
I was breathing in a lot of things that don’t exist in the natural world and definitely do not belong in my body.
So, when I take a look at the ingredients of so many personal care products – hair care, body wash, cleaners, etc., I cringe. Not only do I recognize some of the ingredients, but I remember working with them in the lab and I can tell you that they weren’t so safe.
Yes, I’m sure the concentration in some of the products is much lower than what I was working with… but, that’s not necessarily my concern.
My concern comes from:
- The lack of short-term and long-term safety testing regarding all of the products’ ingredients (especially when combined) AND then mixing that concoction with all of the other chemicals in our bodies.
- The build-up over time of using multiple personal care products, cleaning solutions, and food additives within our bodies, especially if our detox systems are compromised.
Our bodies see many (but not all) of these synthetic chemicals as toxins and they can cause chronic inflammation, especially when our liver and detox pathways cannot keep up.
On top of it – the liver is especially important for thyroid function and the conversion of the T4 hormone (the key ingredient of Synthroid) into T3, the active form of the hormone used by the body. If the liver is backlogged and unable to convert T4 to T3 as efficiently, then you may experience hypothyroid symptoms.
Personally, this step was one of the most effective things I did to eliminate my seemingly random symptoms – headaches, sore throats, mucus build-up, etc. It makes a difference and your body will thank you.
But would I tell you to stop there?
NO! Of course not!
Learning about your health is a lifelong process, and the 10 steps above are just the beginning.
When I tell you that I want you to have hope, it means more than just believing that you’ll feel better. It means actually being EXCITED about everything you will learn about yourself, your body, your disease, and using all of that to live a healthier, happier, and longer life.
And possibly even more important than just you getting better, are the other countless individuals that haven’t found the answer yet. Once you start to see the improvement in your quality of life after making these changes, share them with friends, loved-ones and random strangers.
Everyone deserves to live a life of vitality. Unfortunately, without this information getting out, the deck is stacked against us. So become your own advocate, then help others to do the same!
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Hi! I’m Anna, co-founder of Healthy Habits Reset. After managing my own autoimmune diseases using lifestyle, habit, and mindset changes, I now work to teach others how to navigate the treacherous and confusing journey of chronic illness living. I firmly believe YOU hold the power to question, think critically, and become your own rock-solid advocate in a world full of unhealthy habits. Consider me, and my husband, Frank, your autoimmune disease health coaches. Are you ready?!