“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” -Hippocrates
[Forewarning: I’m going to keep it real on this blog. You’re welcome.] If someone would’ve have quoted this to me 5 years ago, I probably would’ve scoffed at them. The idea that food could be used to drastically improve one’s health was foreign to me. My eating habits hadn’t changed much throughout my life; my parents cooked most meals at home, we rarely ate out at restaurants, but we still consumed our fair share of processed foods. It was the 80s and 90s–that was pretty much a given! Frozen burritos, SpaghettiOs, and Totino’s pizza were my jam at 10 years old! And college? Easy Mac, Pop Tarts, and Oscar Meyer cheesy hot dogs were staples in my kitchen or dorm room. Friends and I had many runs to Taco Bell (which later might’ve given you the runs), and of course we took advantage of the late-night paninis offered at the dorm across campus.
And yet, I was always skinny! Yes, friends “hated” me for that. I just shrugged my shoulders and credited what must be good metabolism. Then in 2006, I got a prescription for birth control pills from the university campus clinic. My menstrual cycles had been awful since they started at 12; severe pain was standard each month, and they weren’t even regular. However, like most females, I’d been repeatedly told that it’s all “perfectly normal” (spoiler alert: it’s not). I thought that the pill was a godsend just for the fact that I could count on which day to expect the torture! Then I started gaining weight. I don’t recall that it was all of a sudden, so I attributed it to “The Freshman 15” (a couple years late, but whatever).
I graduated college in August 2008, right before the recession reared its ugly head. Six months of unemployment was a complete buzzkill for a normally optimistic recent college grad. It didn’t help that I was experiencing extreme fatigue, joint/muscle pain, edema, brain fog, and more weight gain…and I didn’t know the cause. I’ve been familiar with anxiety my whole life, but depression was a new one. I finally got a job, but the symptoms persisted.
Fast-forward to my next job, where I had a longer commute, but making more money. I got married a year and a half before, so I promptly quit my birth control. My gut feeling told me fertility wouldn’t come easy for me, but I had no idea what a shitstorm I was in for! I didn’t have a period for 3 months. After some intense Googling (I’m an expert in that field), I learned that this is common for when your body adjusts after being on the pill for 6 years. OK, fine. I waited. Then I got fed up and went to my gynecologist. I was hoping I would’ve at least lost some freakin’ weight after quitting the pill…but noooo. So my doc suggested Paleo to help balance my hormones. One of my coworker friends was eating mostly Paleo, and I couldn’t imagine being that restrictive (ha!). I felt so overwhelmed at that point that I wouldn’t have even known how to start. A few months later, she decided to test my thyroid hormones. BEST DECISION EVER.
In January 2013, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. My TSH was off, and the following test showed TPO antibodies, which meant Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroidism). The only thing I knew about hypothyroidism was that you took a pill every morning to regulate your thyroid hormone (thanks, Home Improvement). So while my functional endocrinologist is very knowledgeable, I didn’t know which questions to ask on how my lifestyle could affect my illness. I was in shock, so I took the prescription for Armour and was hopeful that it would lead to weight loss and regular cycles. #NOPE
My TSH was reacting accordingly to the desiccated thyroid hormones, but that was about it. After discussing it with my endocrinologist, I visited my gyno again in July 2013. She tested additional hormones, and I got a call a week later to hear that I had PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). SERIOUSLY??
At that point, I felt like I had hit my personal rock-bottom. What to do? Take action, dammit. I completed my first AdvoCare 10-Day Challenge, and I got my cycle for the first time in a couple months! My mild psoriasis also mostly cleared up (lifelong issue). Post-challenge, I did make a few lifestyle changes. I didn’t give up candy or Cheetos, but I started buying more organic and “cleaner” products. Coconut sugar replaced refined white sugar in my baking, and coconut oil and butter replaced vegetable oil. I converted to paraben-free personal products. I lost a few pounds, but my cycles were still amok.
Throughout my continuous research, I had read about how a gluten-free lifestyle could improve both Hashimoto’s and PCOS, but it didn’t fully sink in until I read Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? by Dr. Datis Kharrazian. In March 2014, I registered for a 7-day PCOS Diva Jumpstart, and that was a game-changer. The program eliminates gluten, and before the week was over, I had no doubt that I was gluten-intolerant (in spite of a previous negative test for Celiac). I had already lost a couple pounds, but my pants had gotten really loose. A lot of my fatigue lifted. I used to resort to chugging Pixie Stix on my hour-and-a-half commute home because I’d otherwise doze off. Desperate times called for desperate measures!
Three months into my new lifestyle, my cycles finally regulated. While this was a serious victory, I also began to experience a different uterine horrorshow. A month’s worth of awful symptoms led me to my gyno’s office once again. I was terrified and had her order any tests she suggested. The findings? Uterine fibroids, MTHFR gene mutation, and multiple nutrient deficiencies. Sigh.
However, I was grateful for more answers. Cue more lifestyle changes! More supplements. Luckily, the weight continued to fall off, so motivation remained strong. Due to PCOS, I began eating lower-carb, and as a result, gradually more towards grain-free/Paleo. When I’d indulge in a gluten-free pizza, I’d experience a noticeable increase in my joint pain the next day; same with white potatoes. I think I stumbled upon AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) on Pinterest, and I was intrigued; it eliminated both grains and nightshades. Project AIP commenced in May 2015, and I only began braving reintroductions in Summer 2017. My horrendous cramps subsided within the first month, and the joint pain was mainly only appearing before my period (estrogen provokes inflammation). My skin issues (seborrheic dermatitis in addition to psoriasis) haven’t seen improvement with food, much to my frustration. Zinc picolinate, Vitamin E, and homeopathic lycopodium have been the heroes in this area, but they can only do so much.
If you’re a fellow spoonie (see spoon theory), I hope my journey can help make your own a little easier. For I firmly believe that chronic illness patients have a invaluable resource in other patients. Our journeys are all different, we do extensive research, and we learn to advocate for our own health, as well as others’. Protecting your health is one of the greatest forms of self-care. It should never be thought of as selfish; it simply means that you’re WORTH IT. If you’re still reading, kudos for hangin’ with me! The past 5 years have been a never-ending learning experience, and I’m late to the blogosphere! I plan to make up for it with recipes, healthy living tips, and plenty of resources.
***DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional. The information I’m sharing is based on my own experiences and research. This should not replace professional medical treatment (but please choose a practitioner wisely); everyone is individual.***