Here’s me. The summer in between my sophomore and junior years of college. I was working in New York City and had no plans of slowing down. Here, I look happy. In reality, I was tired and fading faster by the minute.
Six months later, in December of 2017, I was diagnosed with thyroid autoimmunity, or more specifically, Hashimoto’s. The fairly common condition leaves individuals with low energy levels, trouble tolerating cold, muscle aches, brittle hair, and memory problems.
After a year and a half of working and living in NYC, all of these symptoms and more hit me like a ton of bricks. I was tired, anxious, forgetful, and always cold. For someone who had always been active, it was miserable.
After a lot of research and in the process of seeing multiple doctors, I decided that, while there is no cure, I could naturally restore my energy levels and put my symptoms back into remission. Locally sourced food has become one of my main focuses in this journey to restore my health.
Around 80% of our immune system lives in our digestive system. Therefore, taking care our digestive systems is essential to healing autoimmunity. With everything you eat, it’s about lowering inflammation and increasing real, nutrient-dense foods. The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) is a standard elimination diet that helps individuals suffering from autoimmunity to find the foods that work best for their individual bodies.
I am at the beginning of this process and yet, I feel it’s important to share what I’ve learned along the way.
Farm Fresh Produce
When dealing with autoimmunity, it is particularly important to understand how your body reacts to foods. Fruits and vegetables contain vital nutrients that help our bodies function well. And yet, for those with autoimmunity, not all veggies are created equal.
There are two kinds of vegetables that those of us with Hashimoto’s must be aware of. Certain vegetables, called nightshades, contain a chemical that is triggering to the immune systems. These are foods should be eliminated almost exclusively, depending on your individual needs. Then, there are goitrogenic vegetables. Research suggests that these kinds of vegetables, when consumed raw, slow down the thyroid. I still eat goitrogenic veggies but eat them cooked whenever possible. For example, I will steam cauliflower and put it in my smoothies. I get the nutrients without the negative reaction. Don’t knock it till you try it!
- Bell Peppers
- Hot Peppers
- Goji Berries
- White Potatoes
Goitrogenic Vegetables Include:
- Brussel Sprouts
For a more complete description, see The Paleo Mom.
Because significant research shows that healing begins in the digestive system, foods that are rich in probiotics and provide our stomachs with good bacteria are crucial. Some of these foods include:
- Bone Broth
While many people buy these at the grocery store, I often find these goods at my farmers market. Particularly when it comes to bone broth and kombucha, there is a smaller selection but the flavor is usually better.
If you would have asked me five years ago what my favorite food was, I would have told you bread. A year ago? Bread? Four months ago? Bread. However, as I have come to understand my diagnosis and how my body functions, I am realizing that my favorite food is no longer worth it…at least most of the time.
On a daily basis, I try to consume nutrient-dense carbs like sweet potatoes, squash, and plantains. However, there are times when I still want bread and I am not ready to deprive myself just yet.
Particularly in New York City, I’ve found that local bakeries often have the best gluten-free breads and pastries. While I do my best to limit my grain intake altogether, these bakeries tend to have fewer, cleaner ingredients and take better than the store-bought stuff!
Helpful Tip: In my experience, the best day of the week to get gluten-free goods is Saturday. While this may not be true of every market, I’ve found that many bakeries expect larger crowds on the weekends and are more likely to bring an abundance of the bread. Because it perishes rather quickly compared to “normal” breads, gluten-free bakeries tend to base their offerings off a market’s expected traffic.
The goal of the Autoimmune Protocol is to eliminate processed foods from a person’s diet. The same mentality should be applied to meat. My research suggests that meat is a beneficial part of any person’s diet, especially those with autoimmunity. However, it must be the correct kind of protein. Choose lean, organic and grass-fed when possible.
I’ll be the first to admit that meat, fish, and eggs from the farmers’ market make me nervous. Therefore, have never purchased my meats from a farmers’ market. Furthermore, I eat far less protein that other foods and I am on a college-student budget. I do my due diligence and am always careful about cooking my meats with clean, non-inflammatory ingredients. However, protein is the place where I have room to grow. Any helpful tips? Comment below.
An Average Meal
As a college student cooking for one, I try to keep my meals simple. For example, my breakfast is typically two eggs and some berries. An average lunch might be a bowl of arugula, shredded chicken, sweet potatoes roasted in Himalayan sea salt, and sliced avocado with a side of blueberries. I also like to incorporate fruits, veggies, and healthy fats into smoothies on a weekly basis.
My Two Cents
Are there challenges that come with this way of life? Absolutely! If I’m being honest, autoimmunity is kind of the worst. I’ve also really struggled to keep up such a strict eating habits. Most days, I want pizza or ice cream or even just a slice of bread, so it’s a work in progress. However, I learned from Paleo Mom early on that this process is all about mindset.
This is not necessarily a low-budget way to live and it’s not always convenient. If I’m honest, I often feel self-conscious about my “high-maintenance” eating habits. But they are making such a difference. From my personal experience, I believe that it is more cost effective and healing than medication. It is worth the intentionality and planning ahead. It is also, in most cases, worth the extra cost. It takes extreme effort and intense self-control. And yet, by reframing my mindset, I’m now seeing it as an opportunity to dig deeper into what it means to eat local, take care of myself, and try new things.
Do you have Hashimoto’s or another autoimmune disease? How have you worked to find relief from your symptoms and treat your triggers? Have you used food as medicine? Comment below! I would love to learn from your experiences.