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Are you tired of dealing with frustrating health issues that seem to have no explanation, even if you’re rather young? Trust me, I’ve been there too. Once I took charge and became my own health advocate, everything changed. It turns out, all those seemingly unrelated problems were actually connected. Let me share with you the steps I took to finally start feeling better.
The Search for Answers
When I was in my mid-twenties my health has declined in many aspects. I knew there was something wrong because I was taking better care of myself than I had in the past and yet felt worse than ever before. I kept going to doctors and they’d tell me I’m fine or that I just needed to have my medication for my thyroid adjusted.
After doing A LOT of reading one summer, I learned to ask my doctor for an antibodies test to see if in addition to hypothyroidism that I’ve had since 1998 if I also have the autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s. My doctor is very agreeable and open to my suggestions about my health so she ordered the test for me. The test revealed that I do indeed have Hashimoto’s which is an autoimmune disease in which my immune system attacks my thyroid.
Through further research, I found that over time, my body will continue to attack my thyroid until it is fully destroyed and then move to another part of my body and attack that as well. Basically, because I have one autoimmune disease, I’m more likely to get more of them if I do nothing besides take my daily thyroid pill. There are more than 100 confirmed autoimmune diseases. Just a few that stick out to me are Rheumatoid Arthritis, Type 1 Diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, and Lupus. I really don’t want to end up with any of those if I can help it!
Hashimoto’s is an Autoimmune Disease
It is estimated that over 90% of hypothyroid patients became hypothyroid due to Hashimoto’s which is often not diagnosed due to doctors feeling they’d treat the two diseases the same so they don’t test for it.
There are three factors that set the stage for it to occur: genetic susceptibility, infection/environmental triggers, and diet/lifestyle. Autoimmune disease often leads to intestinal permeability/leaky gut. Leaky gut is as bad as it sounds and it’s astounding how many people likely have it without knowing. It not only causes autoimmune diseases, which can be deadly, but also cancer and other diseases. Luckily, there is something that can be done…diet/lifestyle changes.
Conventional medicine just tells me to take my thyroid hormone replacement pills and that there is no cure or stopping the fact that my body will continue to destroy itself. I’m not ok with sitting by and letting that happen. At the time of writing this I’m only 29 and I want to be able to have a life in which I’m not so fatigued after work that I could actually consider raising a family or even just being a normal human being and not collapsing every day, I decided there had to be more I could do.
Finding the Autoimmune Protocol
I found a blog, ThePaleoMom.com by Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D., all about autoimmune disease and what to do to not only try and stop it in it’s tracks, but sometimes even put it into remission (and heal the leaky gut!). At first I was skeptical because I’ve learned to not trust everything on the internet BUT turns out she has earned her doctorate degree in medical biophysics and spent four years after earning her degree doing research on innate immunity, inflammation, critical care medicine, gene therapy and epithelial cell biology.
While I don’t know exactly what all those things are, it sounds to me like she’s pretty darn smart and knows what she’s talking about. She recommends “The Paleo Approach” a.k.a. “Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)” which I’ll describe further below to help heal from autoimmune disease.
This isn’t the only thing I’ve read about thyroid disorders including hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s over the past year, especially this summer, but it all seemed to come together after reading her blog and even more after reading her book. I had read in other books recently that cutting gluten out of my diet may help relieve at least some of my symptoms, if not help slow down the progression of the disease itself. I had hoped that I would just need to go gluten-free though I realized there is more to it than that.
I’ve read other websites and requested other books from the library regarding getting to the root cause of Hashimoto’s and figuring out what caused it and what to do about it. Basically, diet and lifestyle are huge factors.
After seeing how much great information was on The Paleo Mom’s website, I decided to purchase her 432-page book, The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body, in which she has extensive information regarding how the immune system works, the factors that cause autoimmune disease, and how to use lifestyle and diet to heal and possibly even reverse autoimmune disease, including what to and what not to eat.
The Autoimmune Protocol goes beyond Paleo
You may have heard of Paleo or the Paleo Diet before, a.k.a. “caveman diet” in which people eat mainly vegetables and fruits along with organ meat, fruit, muscle meat, and probiotic foods while eliminating grains, legumes/beans, dairy, gluten, refined sugars, modern vegetable oils, and processed food chemicals.
The Autoimmune Protocol goes a few steps further and eliminates not only grains, legumes/beans, dairy, gluten, refined sugars, modern vegetable oils, and processed food chemicals but ALSO eggs, nuts, seeds, nightshades (russet potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet and hot peppers, red peppers, paprika), non-nutritive sweeteners, emulsifiers, thickeners, and food additives.
This includes eliminating common gluten-free substitutes such as quinoa, rice, and corn. Like me, you may be thinking, what CAN you eat?! I CAN eat organ meat (especially liver), fish, vegetables, quality muscle meats (hormone-free, grass-fed), fruit, probiotic/fermented foods, and glycine-rich foods such as bone broth.
By the way, this includes absolutely NO coffee or chocolate! As someone who used to depend on coffee daily and the more than occasional chocolate treat, in addition to a large amount of bread and pasta, I completely realize and agree that this doesn’t sound all that great…But again, this might finally make me feel better and even prevent further destruction of my insides!
Starting the Autoimmune Protocol
I started the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) on Wednesday, Aug. 5th, 2015, just a few days after my diagnosis of Hashimoto’s. Day 1 was great. Day 2 was completely horrible, I felt like I was dying and wanted to give up. Day 3 and beyond have been good though I really miss sweets, nuts, bread, and quick food that I used to rely on.
This is an elimination diet in which I’m supposed to be on it for anywhere between three weeks to three months or more until my possible ‘leaky gut’ has been resolved/healed which I’ll know only by symptoms resolving. Once some healing has happened, I can start to slowly reintroduce some foods back into my body while carefully monitoring my reactions to determine whether I’m now sensitive to them or not. However, I’ll never be able to eat gluten again. I possibly may never be able to eat gluten cross-reactive foods such as dairy, rye, oats, quinoa, corn, rice, soy, potato, and eggs either, to name a few. I also likely will have adverse reactions to foods that I used to eat normally but that now I will have a sensitivity to and won’t be able to eat anymore without feeling miserable.
When I start reintroducing foods, I can only reintroduce one at a time and have to wait 72 hours to 7 days until introducing the next one. If I have a strong reaction to one, then I have to let my body heal again for another couple of weeks then try another food.
I also have to be careful about what things are cooked with or in. I can’t use any canola or vegetable oil, I can only use coconut oil or olive oil. I have to be careful of seasonings as well which are hidden in so much food that you wouldn’t think would be pre-seasoned!
This all sounds like a lot of work. I’d be lying if I said I’m 100% on board with this. Just thinking about all of the gatherings/events in my life, whether it be potlucks, holidays, family gatherings, dinner with friends, or going out to a restaurant; the thought that I won’t be able to eat what others are eating and will have to bring my own food or suffer the consequences makes me extremely wary of doing this. Also, the thought that I always will have to have foods that are freshly prepared and not quick, convenience foods, or even pasta and tomato sauce on a regular basis, is a big bummer…and again, a lot of work! In addition, the thought that even when I do start to reintroduce foods, I might have some violent reactions to them (maybe even while at work!) makes me want to call the whole thing off!
A Reason for Hope
However, if doing all of this means that I’ll finally feel better, no longer have acne worse than when I was a teen, dry skin that hurts yet can’t be helped by lotion and that I surely can’t be covered by makeup, that I’ll be able to sleep through the night instead of getting only a few hours during the school/work year, that I won’t be so fatigued at the end of the day, that anxiety that came about a year ago will subside, and that I could actually consider starting a family and having a life…then it might be worth it.
Another thing I didn’t mention is that diagnoses of Hashimoto’s and Hypothyroidism also come with many risks regarding pregnancy including infertility, miscarriage, and birth defects – just to name a few. Going on this ‘diet’ and continuing to monitor my thyroid hormone levels (TSH), might be the only good chance I have when we try to start a family. Not saying that we’re trying now, I need to get my health under control first but would be nice in the future…whenever that may be.
In addition to this new way of eating, I also am supposed to ensure I sleep 8-10 hours a night (which will be difficult as I average 6-7 hours due to waking at 6 for work), regular low-intensity exercise (which I’ve never liked), and not have a lot of stress (like that’ll happen during the school year…). However, I have to do my best at all of these, even if it means going to bed at 8 or 9 at night like a child, exercising on the elliptical I made us buy on a regular basis and figuring out how to not let work get me so stressed out like it did last year! Because without all of that, this ‘diet’ or ‘protocol’ won’t make a difference and I won’t be able to heal.
So there it is. While this was difficult and scary to share with you all, I hope it will lead to fewer awkward moments or odd looks when I don’t eat what everyone else is eating. I’m not saying this is for everyone and I’m not doing it as a ‘fad diet’ I’m trying to heal my body.
Thanks for reading and for your support!
I also purchased The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook by Mickey Trescott, NTP. I’m excited to try out the meal plans and recipes! There are a lot of pictures of nummy-looking food!!
Books I own, used, and highly suggest:
If You Want to Hear Me Talk About my AIP Journey:
In July of 2022 I was lucky enough to be asked to be a guest on the Plan to Eat Podcast! It was the first podcast I’ve been on and it was so much fun! I talked about meal planning, the Autoimmune Protocol, and Hashimoto’s. Click the image below to listen to the podcast.
Update on Day 20, 8/25/2015: I wrote this original post on Day 3 of eating this way. Now on day 20 I’m finally ready to release it to the public. I had thought about posting it on Facebook as well but decided at this point it’s not necessary. Not everyone I know needs to know about this I suppose. Things are going better than I had expected, it’s not so hard now that Brian and I have been meal planning a week in advance to always have fresh, wonderful ingredients on hand and a plan for what to cook. I haven’t had reduced symptoms yet but I’m hoping that’ll happen soon though it could take anywhere from 30-90 days or more to feel a significant improvement. Until then, I’ll keep strictly on AIP and only slowly reintroduce foods when I feel my body is ready. It is more than likely that I won’t be able to enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving meal I look forward to every year but I might ask Brian make me a plain turkey and we can make mashed sweet potatoes with coconut oil instead of the traditional turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes.
Update on Day 81, 10/25/2015: Things should be getting easier now that we have been doing this for almost three months but recent events have made it even harder than normal. Brian and I had our favorite recipes and had gotten better at weekly meal planning and grocery shopping but things have changed recently…I might go into this more in another post at some point but I’m still 100% AIP though I am reintroducing organic egg yolks today which is my first reintroduction after being strict AIP for the past 81 days. We’ll see how it goes.
Update on Day 100, 11/13/2015: Holy cow not only did I make it 3 months but I made it 100 days! Sadly though I can’t stop here. Though my symptoms have improved somewhat, I’m still healing. I am fortunate to have become pregnant soon after going AIP. However, this has muddied the waters a bit to know whether I’m feeling better or not…and with so much stress at work currently I know that I need to take care of myself and that includes continuing with eating this way to reduce inflammation in my body and promote healing. I have successfully added back vegetarian-fed whole eggs and Jasmine white rice! I’m very excited to have these two things back in my diet. This weekend I hope to successfully reintroduce white Russet potatoes so that I can have my own version of mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving but we’ll see how my body reacts to them.
Further Updates are in subsequent blog posts
An interesting description of Hashimoto’s Disease which could help friends and family understand, click here.
Hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s & Autoimmunity
Hashimotos No-No’s (things not to do when you have Hashimotos
Beginner’s guide to the AIP
Efficacy of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet as Part of a Multi-disciplinary, Supported Lifestyle Intervention for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – A journal article from 2019
Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Inspiration
Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Cookbooks
Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Recipe Sources
Next AIP Blog Post
As a mom of identical twins and a son two years older, I have gained invaluable experience in the realm, and chaos, of parenting. With a Master's Degree and Education Specialist Degree in School Psychology, I spent years as a school psychologist, helping children navigate through their educational and emotional challenges. Now as a stay at home mom and professional blogger, I combine my areas of expertise to help you in your parenting journey.