Thyroid Basics

10 Steps to ‘Better’ : How I Reclaimed My Health from Hashimoto’s Part 2

By: Ginny Mahar

Average Read Time: 5 minutes

In this two-part blog series, I share my personal story of healing: from sickness turning me into someone I didn’t recognize, to my reclaiming a vibrant, happy life. In Part 1, I shared the ups and downs of my thyroid journey, as well as the first five steps I took to reclaim my health from Hashimoto’s. Here, in Part 2, I’ll share the second five steps I took to get my life and energy back. Click here to read Part 1

STEP 6: I Changed My Diet

My ND emailed me right away when the first test results came in for food sensitivities. I had been gluten-free for a while, which is one of the most common across-the-board recommendations for Hashimoto’s patients. I knew I had issues with gluten, but I had no idea that I was highly sensitive to dairy. ALL dairy. Including goat’s milk, whey, and yogurt. I had grown accustomed to eating dairy with abandon. It was my favorite protein! 

And that’s not all. My test results showed that I was highly sensitive to eggs, both chicken and duck. There were some other milder sensitivities, but my dairy and egg sensitivities were of the highest severity.

I couldn’t believe it. How was I going to survive without cheese, as a former cheesemonger? How was I going to cook without gluten, dairy, or eggs? I am a chef and cooking instructor, for Pete’s sake! I felt like the painter who has been told she can only use half of the colors on her palette: stifled, heartbroken, and daunted.

I reached out to an autoimmune support community on social media, and asked, “Is it worth it? If you had food sensitivity testing, did you implement the changes and see improvement?” I got the same answer: YES. It made a big difference—if not THE difference—for all of them. 

It wasn’t easy to accept the results. I threw myself a pity party that lasted several weeks. I ate and mourned the loss of so many of my favorite foods. I wrapped my head around what it meant to be a person, a foodie, and a chef with dietary restrictions. When I was done grieving, I wiped my tears away and reminded myself that I was on a healing journey that completely depended on one thing: my willingness to change.

So I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and tried an elimination diet, not only to heal but to confirm (or disprove) the results of my food sensitivity testing. Which symptoms were correlated with which dietary culprits?

 Here’s what I found: 

This was amazing! An epiphany! A sweet taste of the power I had over how I felt. 

One night during those early days of dietary restrictions, my husband expressed sympathy as I ordered a salad (no croutons) at our favorite local pizza joint. I looked him in the eye and said, “Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m not sad. I feel healthy again. I’m getting my life back.”

The even better news is that a few years down the road, my diet has expanded rather than shrunk. As I’ve healed my gut and dealt with other underlying health issues, I’ve been able to re-incorporate most foods. My food sensitivities have changed and ultimately lessened. 

For me, the devil is usually in the dosage. I’ve learned that I can get away with the occasional egg, or even a piece of pizza, as long as I don’t make those things a dietary staple. I’ve learned that a little raw milk parmigiano cheese doesn’t make my joints ache, but a bowl of ice cream does. I’ve found substitutes I enjoy, and recipes that help me feel nourished and not deprived. Although I don’t live in a gluten- or dairy-free household, we’ve found a way to eat and enjoy meals together as a family with only slight adaptations that don’t require making two dinners. (Nobody, not even a chef wants to do that!)

It was a life-changing reminder that food is medicine. It can’t fix everything, but it sure can fix a lot of things.

Further Reading: Bio-individual Nutrition: The Key to Unlocking Your Unique Thyroid Diet

STEP 7: I Enhanced My Lifestyle

My lifestyle had to change. Time and energy needed to be set aside for the sole purpose of my well being. This meant integrating self-care, not just as another task on my daily chore list, but as a philosophy and lifestyle. 

Self-care is a buzzword, and for some, an eye-roller, but there’s a reason it’s such a big deal. The adoption of a self-care mindset is about personal transformation and thriving. It’s about worthiness and sustainability. Ultimately, it’s a mega-game-changer on a planetary scale. 

When you have no idea what you enjoy anymore, when all your energy goes towards serving others, when your choices are ruled by the drive to medicate or bury stress (rather than managing it)…that’s a problem. And it’s one too many of us, especially women, have. 

Stress has never agreed with me, and my body tells me about it. Sometimes it speaks quietly, like when it gently urges me to lay in the hammock and take a break from the yard work marathon my brain wants me to complete. Other times, my body is louder and more insistent in its response to stress. For example, illnesses that last not weeks but months, insomnia that begins to border on chronic, and injuries that bring a halt to normal activity. Can you relate?

Some glimpses from my self-care transformation:

In short, I listen to what my body wants and needs. And by doing so, I can continue to do the things I love, like skiing and snowboarding with my family, zooming through the forest on my mountain bike, hiking in the mountains, and other outdoor adventures that make me feel alive and whole. 

STEP 8: We Discovered the Primary Suspect

More test results rolled in, revealing more and more clues to my health mysteries. With the results of a GI panel (which is a classy way of saying “poo test”), my ND and I discovered a major underlying issue. 

You may have already heard about the link between Hashimoto’s and leaky gut (aka intestinal permeability). My labs did not show major signs of leaky gut, but they did show another condition linked to intestinal permeability called gut dysbiosis, or an imbalance in bacterial good guys vs. bad guys.

My ND and I reviewed my options, made a plan, and began treatment. 

Within 48 hours of treating my gut dysbiosis, it was like someone flicked a light switch in my body. I got out of bed one morning and went for a run. A run! I have never felt inspired to go for a run in my life, I mean, I’m pretty active, but running is NOT my jam. My husband was like, “In the twenty years I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you willingly go for a run.”

But yep, I went for a run. And you know what else? I didn’t feel tired upon waking up. I felt rested, awake, and alive. Along with that, my thinking was clearer and I felt happier. Later that week, when we went mountain biking, I wasn’t tired and dragging for days afterward.

Within a week, I was able to cut back on my caffeine by about 50%. I was back. I was ME again. I had forgotten what that felt like. I had lost faith that it was possible. 

I glimpsed the bright side of health once again—a tremendous affirmation that I was on the right path. That victory was huge. It was an awakening. And it cemented a personal paradigm shift in the way I approached my health. 

Further Reading: The Essential Thyroid-Gut Connection

STEP 9: Strategic Supplementation

I won’t say I was anti-supplement before, but I was definitely what you might call a reluctant supplementer. I had read too many stories of misguided supplementing doing more harm than good, and of supplement companies putting a bunch of junk into caplets with low biologic value. I therefore opted towards what I felt comfortable with, which was the most highly nourishing food I could give myself and my thyroid.

But then I got proper testing, which revealed some nutrient deficiencies. I had my ND’s professional guidance on how to optimize my health, as well as access to professional-grade supplements of the highest quality and purity. So yeah, I started taking supplements. There were some I chose to eliminate, reduce, or find alternatives to. But by working through and finding the right products to address my specific needs and nutrient deficiencies, my healing, my energy, and my immunity were boosted. 

When we reviewed those initial test results, my ND said that there was a good chance my deficiencies were related to my gut dysbiosis. Once I rebalanced and healed my gut, the need to supplement (as well as my food sensitivities) shifted, too. My supplement routine changes regularly based on continued testing, and the shifting needs of my body.

I spent those first four years of hypothyroidism in poor health and near-constant illness. Since making these changes, I haven’t been on one single round of antibiotics. What a relief! I think of my supplements as little superheroes inside my body, helping me fight the good fight and defeat the forces of evil.

Further Reading: Medicating Mindfully: How Not to Swallow Your Pill

STEP 10: Staying the Course

I was diagnosed in 2011, but my recovery story began in 2015, with taking the reins of my health and finding the right doctor. Today, I have so many tools in my toolbox that when setbacks occur, or new issues arise, I feel confident that it’s just a matter of time before I’m back on track.

After my first month of treatment, I walked into my ND’s office for my follow-up appointment and she immediately said, “You look different. You look better, or more alive, or something.”

“I feel better!” I told her. “I feel like me again.” As we sat in her office and reviewed the progress we had made, she told me that in considering my overall health picture, and the interventions we were successfully implementing, she felt highly optimistic about my continued health and vitality. So far, she’s been right!

Since this journey began in 2015, I have stayed committed to a thyroid-healthy diet and lifestyle. I’ve also had periods where I’ve fallen off the wagon and had to hit the refresh button. But I know now that it’s just a matter of time (and mindset) before I get back on track. THYROID30 has become a regular part of my wellness journey, both for getting me back on track, and helping me make new strides. 

My healing journey was and is multifaceted. It’s not one thing…it’s all the things. There’s no magic bullet, no singular pill, and no quick fix. Optimal health is a lifestyle choice, but the good news is it’s one you have the freedom to make at any time.  But I do feel that changing the way I eat, and shifting my mindset from food as pleasure to food as medicine, is the bedrock for my continued good health.

Some of the other issues we’ve tackled since 2015:

I know that there will be more challenges, but I also know how to face them. In between new challenges are lengthy and joyful periods of truly optimal health. I am pursuing my dreams, being the mom I always wanted to be, and once again living my best life. 

Let’s Review

  1. I stopped pretending I was fine.
  2. I began educating myself.
  3. I created a health timeline.
  4. I hired a detective (i.e. a doc willing to help me figure this out).
  5. I took the tests.
  6. I changed my diet.
  7. I changed my lifestyle.
  8. We discovered the primary suspect.
  9. I began taking the right supplements.
  10. I keep going, and never give up, even when I run into setbacks.

And now, the journey continues. I hope this has been helpful and informative to you. My journey has been supported by so many other thyroid patients in this vast community of thyroid warriors. I hope at Thyroid Refresh you have found the gift of support, and I hope my story of recovery can in some light the path for yours.

About the Author

Thyroid Refresh Co-founder Ginny Mahar is the mom and recipe blogger formerly known as Hypothyroid Chef. After struggling with the residual symptoms of Hashimoto’s for over four years, she embarked on her own process of adopting a thyroid-specific diet and lifestyle. Within one year, she restored her vitality and lowered her thyroid antibodies by half. Ginny is a passionate advocate of supporting others on their journeys toward better health. She is a Cordon Bleu trained chef, cooking instructor, writer, and entrepreneur.