My Recent Hashimoto's Diagnosis & What I've Learned Thus Far

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, and this post is not a substitute for professional care. This is meant for informational purposes only. Consult with a medical professional before making any changes.  

A291DB28-58EE-44CD-868C-870DEF158167.JPG

Over the last six months, my health silently deteriorated to a point that prompted me to get a few blood tests done, and I was told shortly thereafter that I have Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid gland. While this diagnosis is very recent, I am sharing my experience in an effort to make others feel less “crazy” (as I did with all of my symptoms) and to seek medical care if any of these symptoms sounds familiar. You’ll see why as you read further.

The Beginning

Beginning in November 2017, my sleep really started to suffer, and I would wake up exhausted even after a full night’s rest. As a morning person, this was unusual for me. I was training for a Crossfit competition with some friends at the time, so I chalked it up to pushing too hard and perhaps being overly stressed. This may have been the cause, but this is the beginning of my downhill spiral.

My digestion has always been inconsistent, but it was kicked into high gear towards the end of December and has continued since then. My period disappeared shortly thereafter, and when I returned from a trip to El Salvador in February, my stomach was in a sufficient amount of pain. Again, I’m no stranger to digestive issues, but extreme bloating and pain in my upper stomach was foreign to me.

I called my GP back home, and he said I had likely contracted a parasite while traveling and prescribed me an antibiotic. Within a few days, the pain subsided.

I was hopeful after experiencing some relief from my stomach pain—I needed a health win at that point—but things continued to go downhill after that trip.

My Symptoms

  • Sleep – I was unable to fall asleep, and when I did, I would be wide awake at 2-3 in the morning with a racing heart, only to fall asleep an hour or two later and wake up completely exhausted.
  • Night Sweats – I experienced night sweats frequently despite sleeping in a 65-degree apartment, and I was soaked through my clothes and onto my sheets. This has since subsided in the last two weeks (win!).
  • Extreme fatigue – As I noted above, I have been an energetic morning person my entire life, so wanting to crawl under my desk at 2pm was not only odd, but really uncomfortable. I had to pinch myself to stay awake during meetings and while driving, and it felt as though my eyelids were attached to weights. Not the best look at work.
  • Inability to complete workouts – I’ve been doing Crossfit for almost four years; attending classes at least three times per week. While I can certainly see a connection with my performance and stressful periods in my life, I struggled to make it through one or two workouts per week. It felt as though I had 10% of the fuel in the tank that I normally did. I was eating enough and taking plenty of rest days, but my body just couldn’t do it.
  • Vertigo – this was really concerning to me, and I first experienced it while driving about six weeks ago after never experiencing it previously. This continued for a few weeks and has since subsided in frequency.
  • Brain Fog – This is one of the most frustrating symptoms, and I’m currently experiencing this full force. Hence the reason it’s taking me far, far too long to write this postJ I have been under-slept many times (as most people are) and have experienced slower brain-processing speed as a result, but this is different. I lose my words frequently and feel as though my brain and life are moving through mud.
  • Mood changes – there is entirely too much stigma around anxiety and depression, but both of these are common with Hashimoto’s.  I have been a fairly even-keeled and calm person for most of my life, save for my low-carb dieting days (I was SO moody), but I began experiencing anxiety with my heart beating out of my chest at the most random times, and I would then feel down for hours afterwards. I also found myself to be more short-tempered, and things that typically wouldn’t bother me in the slightest were causing me to snap. These swings have lessened since I’ve made a concerted effort to stop intense exercise and meditate more, but they’re still showing up on a weekly basis.
  • Inflammation – I have gained around ten pounds since February, and while I’m sure some of that is water weight due to the inflammation, the sudden changes were another sign that something wasn’t right. This was especially true after Crossfit workouts—I was unable to put pants on the next day and my joints were throbbing for days after.

I want to emphasize that these symptoms can certainly be attributable to a multitude of underlying issues, and based on what I have read thus far, everyone’s triggers for autoimmune diseases are different and multi-factorial. I would caution anyone against assuming Hashimoto’s if any of the symptoms above resonate. This was simply my experience, and the combination of them prompted concerns over the state of my health.

Essentially, I felt and continue to feel like I have a gnarly combination of a hangover and PMS all the time.

My quality of life seemed to be deteriorating by the day, and I was starting to feel like a stranger in my own body and mind. I told myself that these issues would resolve themselves and that I was likely being overly dramatic. After all, we live in an under-slept society, so everyone is tired. Who am I to think I’m special and complain?

I was discussing my concerns with my hair stylist (the keepers of all secrets), and she suggested I see a Nurse Practitioner who had recently joined the salon. She specializes in women’s hormones, was able to draw blood on the spot, and she’s relatively inexpensive. I firmly believe that knowledge is power, so I made an appointment to get a status update.

Results

As I understand it, most traditional doctors will only check TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and perhaps T3 and T4, and after mulling over all of my labs from the last five years, I can confirm this to be true in my experience. None of them included thyroid antibodies. For some reason, this nurse checked my TSH, Free T3, Free T4, and my TPO antibodies (one of two thyroid antibodies), and my antibodies were well above the reference ranges (many consider under 35 IU/ml to be normal; mine were 485 IU/ml).

Upon hearing I had Hashimoto’s, I was simultaneously relieved (I’m not crazy!) and scared, as I didn’t know anything about it. I scheduled an appointment with a new-to-me doctor that night (I rarely go to the doctor, so I don’t have a local GP), and I began obsessively reading about Hashimoto’s in hopes of reading stories of remission.

I don’t like to be in a position where I feel helpless—in fact, I despise it. My doctor doesn’t want to put blinders on and assume the root cause of anything I’m experiencing, which I greatly appreciate, but left to my own devices, I will take action into my own hands.

This means I’ve been listening to an endless number of podcasts and reading books and blogs about others’ experiences in an effort to arm myself with information and questions for my doctor. However, this has also been a source of additional stress for me—something my body doesn’t need at the moment—so I’m making a concerted effort to take a breather right now and wait for more information.

What I’ve Learned Thus Far

  • Autoimmune diseases are confusing AF, and there doesn’t appear to be a lot of conclusive evidence on how to put them into remission. What works for one person doesn’t work for another, so a sufficient amount of trial and error seems inevitable.
  • I haven’t done a Crossfit workout in about three weeks, and a few of the symptoms like joint pain, waking in the middle of the night, and night sweats have greatly dissipated since then. Based on this, I’m guessing Hashimoto’s isn’t the only issue here, or perhaps the intense workouts were exacerbating the issue.
  • Hashimoto’s primarily affects women, as do most autoimmune diseases.
  • Most traditional doctors won’t test for thyroid antibodies unless your thyroid hormones are out of range. However, increased antibodies may eventually lead to damage of the thyroid and subsequent hypothyroidism. As such, if you don’t feel well despite normal hormone ranges, it may not be a bad idea to request the antibodies. Based on my most recent set of labs, I may have caught the progression early enough before damage has been done to my thyroid.
  • The vast majority of remission stories I’ve read involved partnership with a functional/alternative medicine doctor as opposed to an endocrinologist or GP. I believe this is primarily due to the lack of evidence around appropriate treatment, so traditional doctors are less inclined to go through a process of trial and error to reduce antibodies (**note that I’m completely speculating here). I’m hoping I can leverage my traditional doctor and alternative approaches as needed, but only time will tell.
  • Dietary interventions may help. Some sources say everyone with Hashimoto’s should be strictly gluten free, while others claim there is only a small percentage of people who benefit from such a change. As I noted above, everyone’s triggers and experiences with autoimmune diseases are different, so there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. I intend to make as few lifestyle changes as possible to experience progress, but I am gluten-free for now under the direction of my doctor. I don’t want to be a hero or dogmatic unnecessarily.
  • I need to be more forthcoming when it comes to advocating for my health. It’s common for healthy people to become obsessive about their health and blow things out of proportion, and oftentimes the fundamental bases like sleep, nutrition, social connection, stress, and movement still need to be addressed. I always turn to these first, but my symptoms were beginning to seem insurmountable alone, despite making changes to my lifestyle.

I feared being labeled as dramatic or a hypochondriac, so I began to doubt my experiences and plowed through as best I could. I have read many stories of women with Hashimoto’s doing the same thing, only to have seriously deteriorated health (and thyroid glands) years later. We don’t need to have it all together, all the time.

  • Health issues likes this can be isolating, as they’re not readily apparent to others. I can put on a happy face, pretend like I feel like myself, and act like all is well, and I was doing this for a few months. This diagnosis has liberated me in a sense, as I can put a name to my experience, but I should have been more forthcoming about my struggles sooner. I’m fortunate to have tremendous support in family and friends, and one of my girlfriends is going through a very similar experience (we were both diagnosed within the same week), so we’re supporting eachother through the challenges.

After telling a wise friend about my disappointment with the diagnosis, she responded by telling me to feel the negativity, frustration, anger, and sadness, but that I’m not allowed to stay there. That place can’t become my new normal. Ever since that conversation, my emotions have subtly shifted towards acceptance and hope, and I intend to continue expanding upon this growth mindset.

I currently oscillate between feeling hopeless, disappointed, and overwhelmed—wondering if I’m ever going to feel like my old self physically, emotionally, and mentally again or if it’s going to get worse—and then being grateful for this experience.  I’ve known deep-down for some time that I need to slow down and stop pushing myself, and this is forcing me to do so.

I still have every intention of focusing on my health and getting back to baseline as quickly as possible, but I also know there are great lessons to be learned during these experiences.

Given the high number of women who suffer from Hashimoto’s, I’ll share my experiences here in the hopes of helping and connecting with others. I’d love to hear about your experiences too!

Meal Prep - Why I do it & How to Overcome Common Roadblocks

 Get your FREE guide to seasonal meal prep when you sign up for my newsletter  here !

Get your FREE guide to seasonal meal prep when you sign up for my newsletter here!

Meal prep. These words evoke various responses from people, ranging from dedication to disgust. And I get it, as my own responses and opinions have run the gamut too.  Preparing my food ahead of time for the week used to be an integral part of my food and body obsession; it was a sure way to exercise control externally during a time when my internal world was in disarray. Now, however, I use meal prep as part of my self-care regimen, and my motivation comes from a place of love and respect for myself. Additionally, I simply think the food I make tastes better than most takeout options, it’s more budget friendly, and it’s a huge time saver throughout the rest of my week. What’s not to love? 

Well, there are a few things people don’t love about it, at least at first glance:

·      The time and effort it takes to actually cook the food:  If you’re not familiar with cooking and haven’t spent much time in the kitchen, then I understand how the thought of cooking a few days’ worth of food can seem daunting. Using complicated, messy, and time-consuming methods will not only seem daunting, they will be.  That’s why I’m such a big believer in using short cuts whenever and wherever we can.  Some short-cut food items may cost a bit more, but to me, time is more valuable than a slight differential in cost.  What does this look like in action?  Purchase pre-cut vegetables and those you can steam in the bag, roast as many things as possible in the oven to reduce cleanup and save time, and use an Instant Pot or Crockpot. When roasting several items in the oven, I don’t get too caught up in temperature variances for vegetables, potatoes, squash, etc., as they’re more forgiving than meats. For example, it may be more ideal to roast potatoes at a lower temperature than brussel sprouts, but the difference is fairly insignificant. Especially if we can kill two birds with one stone.  It can take time to feel comfortable with this, but with some experience, you’ll get there!

·      Boredom with meals: This is a big one for most people, as it is for me.  I overcome this by prepping individual meal components 90% of the time, and I may throw an actual “meal” into the rotation if I’m craving something in particular (chili, frittata, casserole, etc.).  Individual meal components include proteins, vegetables, and carbohydrates.  They are prepared separately and then mixed and matched throughout the week.

·      Little room for spontaneity: This is true if we’re using meal prep as a method of control. Ideally, we want to use it to facilitate the ease of eating healthy and delicious food throughout the week while also leaving room for spontaneity and meals out if desired. My weeks tend to be rather busy, so I usually make plans ahead of time on weeknights. Therefore, I’ll make less food for the week if I’ll be eating out a few nights.  Conversely, if something pops up last minute, I roll with it and go! Simple as that. Sure, a meal’s worth of food might go bad, but it’s really not a big deal in the long run. I completely understand the willingness to eliminate food waste, as I do myself, but it’s a sunk cost at that point. And we’re doing the best we can with the information we have at the time. This brings me to my next point.

·      Wasting food: I know many people who have a meal plan in hand, purchase a ton of food, and then never get around to actually cooking it. Thus, all of the food spoils.  There are likely several factors at play that are contributing to the resistance to actually cooking the food, including buying and purchasing food you’re not excited about (i.e. someone else is dictating your food choices), feeling as though you need to weigh, measure, and pre-portion everything (you shouldn’t), not carving out the time to cook, or not making the cooking process enjoyable.  First, you should only eat things you enjoy, period. Secondly, if you’re attempting to jump head first in a macro counting plan that requires you to weigh, measure, and pre-portion your food when you don’t have experience cooking, then of course you’re going to feel overwhelmed! You should also ask yourself if you need to be weighing and measuring your food to begin with (let’s talk). Thirdly, you’ll have to move things around in your schedule to carve out 1-2 hours. It may seem like a hassle at first, but it will become part of your routine like everything else after some consistency. Lastly, we need to find a way to make the process of cooking enjoyable for YOU, and that will look different for everyone.

·      I hate cooking: This is an easy out. Many people resort to this response, and I later discover it’s due to their complete lack of experience with cooking. Most things are difficult when we start without experience, and similarly to those challenges, it becomes easier with time and practice. And with ease comes greater enjoyment.  I too experienced the frustration and clumsiness that comes with not knowing one’s way around a kitchen, but it’s now a source of relaxation and a way to clear my head. I throw on some tunes or a podcast, and I’m good to go! Stick with it, and I promise it will become easier.

While I love meal prep during this time in my life, I can’t sit here and claim that it will always be a staple in my life. And I don’t believe it’s for everyone. I’m a huge believer in making your healthy habits suit you and your individual lifestyle, and there are certainly workarounds for those who either have conflicting priorities (I.e. demanding family and/or work obligations) or detest cooking even after giving it a fair shot. However, for those of us who want to save some money, learn how to cook, and want healthy and delicious food available throughout the week, then this might be the golden ticket!  My hope is that everyone discovers their own personalized ways of making this process fit into their lifestyles in an enjoyable and feasible way. You can get started with my seasonal meal prep guide you get for FREE when you sign up for my newsletter here!

I Get Meditation is Useful, but How Do I Do It?

I was speaking to a close friend last week about her anxiety and feeling out of control with her thoughts, and when I asked if she had tried meditation, she simply replied, “I just don’t get it. How do you observe your thoughts?”

Mala Beads.jpg

This is such a fair question, and it’s one I had myself for a LONG time.  The concept didn’t make any sense to me until I started reading Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now.”  His story is pretty remarkable, as he was suicidal until it dawned on him that he is not his thoughts. And they’re actually the source of all of his pain.  Once he was able to detach from them and observe them for what they are, simply thoughts, then he was back in control.  The real him was in control (the observer) rather than the mind chatter, or the monkey brain.  Reading his story finally made the concept of being able to observe our own thoughts click for me, because it demonstrated its plausibility.

Being open to the idea of not being our thoughts is the first step.  If we’re resistant to this idea, then meditating, journaling, or practicing self-awareness throughout our days is going to prove fruitless.  Once we’re open to the concept, we can then begin the practice of meditation and do some experimentation to find what works best for each of us.

Currently, I really enjoy purely silent meditation, where I begin by focusing on my breath, and as I notice my thoughts, I bring my awareness back to my breath. Note that my mind can wander for quite some time before I catch this, but that’s not the important part. The important part is that I observe this and then bring awareness back to what I (the observer) want to focus on, not the monkey brain.        

Below is a simple practice you can do anywhere, and I often come back to this breathing pattern throughout my day when I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed.

  • Set a timer for 5-20 minutes, depending on how much time you have.
  • Start by sitting in a comfortable seat, either in a chair or on the ground. Sitting on a pillow can help maintain upright posture. Place the palms of your hands on your knees, facing up or down. Your back should be straight but not too tight, and be mindful of releasing tension in your jaw and neck.
  • Through your nose, inhale for three seconds, hold for two seconds, exhale for three seconds, hold the exhale for one second. Continue this pattern for the remainder of the time while bringing your awareness back to your breath whenever you notice your mind has wandered.
  • It’s normal and expected to be uncomfortable while sitting in stillness without any distractions, and this discomfort isn’t just physical. We’re conditioned to be constantly stimulated, so it can be helpful to expect mental discomfort to arise. Show yourself some grace and really commit to sitting in this practice for the entire duration. It will become easier with consistency.

Another great option is guided meditation, and there are several apps on the market now with different tones and styles.  I prefer the more simplistic ones with minimal talking, so “1 Giant Mind” is my current favorite, but other popular options are “Headspace” and “Calm.”  Try a few of them and find what works best for you. Many of these apps have challenges to encourage consistency, especially when just starting, which brings me to my final thoughts.

Consistency and showing ourselves grace via limited expectations throughout this process is extremely important. I recommend committing to consistent practice every day for at least one month before deciding meditation is not for you.  In addition to an open mind, a lack of expectations is also important. You can’t expect to reach Nirvana and be like Buddha within a lifetime, let alone one month, without being sorely disappointed and frustrated.  Similar to any other healthy habit, it takes time to see notice the changes and requires some stick-to-it-iveness to really reap the benefits.

Be sure to let me know what comes up for you as you commit to this practice!

What Is Your Why? And Why It's Important to Know

IMG_3330.JPG

I was introduced to Simon Senek and his book, “Start with Why,” by my dad a few years ago, and after completing a 1:1 evaluation, mine was pretty clear: “Trust – to create relationships based on trust.”  Most of us can go through the motions in life without understanding the “why” behind our actions for a short period of time, but confusion and a lack of motivation usually set in.  This is especially true when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle.

Understanding our “why” on a deep level allows us to sustain our healthy habits in the long run, and it makes the process WAY more enjoyable.  A shallow why, such as wanting to gain approval from others or become seemingly more attractive, is not only negative motivation, but it won’t last long either.  We need to go deeper to develop and sustain our habits for the long haul.  Why do I lead a healthy and balanced lifestyle?  It allows me to show up more fully in every part of my life. I.e. I can enjoy difficult mountain adventures, I’m able to lift and move things on my own, I can spend time with family and friends doing challenging activities, my mood is better so my relationships are stronger, my brain fires quickly so I perform better at work, and I have the energy to live life to the fullest.

Other examples might include having the ability to be active with your children, having the energy to work long hours and then spend time with family, being emotionally balanced and keeping anxiety at bay, and being able to show up more fully in every aspect of life with friends and family.  Become clear on why you want to make better choices for yourself, and you’ll quickly find that acting in the best interest of your own well-being becomes easier, and it will eventually become second nature if you’re continuously focusing on it. 

So, how does one discover their Why? Journaling. And time. Ask yourself why you want to make healthy changes a part of your lifestyle and not just a 30-day challenge. Let the ideas and words flow onto the paper (or computer screen) without judgment.  When I initially did this exercise, most of my reasons were shallow (i.e. mostly focused on my appearance), and I immediately felt a wave of discouragement and judgment towards myself.  Don’t do this! And if you do, please realize it’s a very normal response and doesn’t warrant further negativity.  **This is excellent practice in observing your thoughts without judgment and letting them go.  Keep writing until you start to dive deeper, and ask yourself “why?” 4-5 times for each item listed to get more granular. 

For example, “I want to feel better in the gym.” Why? “So I’m able to push myself harder.” Why? “So I can improve my endurance and strength.”  Why? “So I’m able to complete strenuous activities with family and friends.” Why? “So I can continue to make amazing memories on adventures with my loved ones.”

Motivation driven by the ability to make amazing memories on adventures with loved ones is a much more stable and sustainable reason to make healthy choices than simply wanting to do feel better in the gym.  There is nothing wrong with the latter, but it likely won’t enable you to make this a lifestyle as opposed to a transient goal.  The transient goals are fine to have once you’re already clearly rooted in your deeper Why.

I often receive comments about being disciplined or “too responsible” when it comes to living a balanced lifestyle with my food, alcohol, exercise, and lifestyle choices, but it truly doesn’t require any white-knuckling or discipline.  I am so strongly anchored by why I live a healthy and balanced lifestyle that I don’t feel like my life is lacking in any way because of it.  In fact, I know I’m actively moving towards the life I want for myself as a result. If I hadn’t spent the time and energy to reflect on this, then I truly don’t believe I would be able to make the choices I do consistently from a stress-free foundation.

Give this exercise a whirl and feel free to share what comes up for you!