You aren't stuck with thyroid symptoms.
I wish someone would have told me this when I first experienced Hashimoto's Autoimmune Thyroid over 20 years ago. I wouldn't have wasted so many years feeling ill and would have made changes a lot sooner in my life. So I'm dedicating this blog to all the women who need to hear this right now. Your diet and lifestyle choices play a huge part in the overall health of your thyroid, hormones and general health.
Read on to see some of the most common questions regarding thyroid health and lifestyle changes and my recommendations for how to implement these in your life.
What Nutrition Plan Should I Follow?
This is the big question. Everyone wants to know what to eat to lose weight and feel better. However, each body is unique and while there are some general recommendations I have, you'll need to experiment with what you can tolerate, what types of foods you enjoy and the impact of cooking to your life.
When I started doing personalized coaching, each client had very specific foods they could eat or tolerate, different food preferences and cooking/prepping concerns. So while the recommendations were generally the same (reduce sugar, caffeine, alcohol, gluten, dairy), we structured the food within these guidelines to fit each person.
You will reduce your toxin load and improve nutrient deficiencies with a diet that is based on organic, non-gmo fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, quality protein and healthy fats. The majority of your meals should be prepared fresh at home and not from a package. Strive to eat fiber, healthy fat and protein at each meal to maintain proper blood sugar balance and limit refined sugar. I do advise to eliminate gluten and possibly dairy depending on your symptoms, as these are highly inflammatory.
Some people may need to try an elimination diet to heal their gut or reduce bacteria overgrowth. There are pros/cons to each that I describe in my Hashimoto's Nutrition Guide and depending on your specific health concerns one may be better for you than another. Healing diets that I recommend are:
- Gluten & Dairy Free
- Low FODMAP (short term)
These diets should be seen as tools to help you achieve a goal of creating better gut health. As you begin to feel better the goal is always to get as much variety of healthy food back in your diet as possible. Hashimoto’s patients should also be cautious of high iodine containing foods like spirulina, chlorella, kelp and seafood as it can increase the autoimmune attack on the thyroid. Experiment with what you can tolerate, some people are more sensitive to high iodine foods than others.
To learn more about gut healing diets, how to be successful on an elimination diet and how to go gluten free the right way, check out my comprehensive e-book, Hashimoto's Thyroid Nutrition Guide.
Gut Health Is Related To Thyroid Health
Autoimmunity begins with a leaky gut where food particles, bacteria, viruses and toxins cross through breaks in the tight junctions of the mucosal layer of your intestines and into the bloodstream. The immune system then mounts an attack against these invaders and may end up attacking your own tissues that have similar protein makeup. Gluten and casein (dairy) proteins are very similar to thyroid hormone proteins and can increase the autoimmune attack on the thyroid. Having an imbalance of gut bacteria, whether SIBO, Candida overgrowth or just not enough healthy bacteria also impacts the immune system and your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, leading to symptoms.
Hashimoto’s that’s not well managed with medication and/or lifestyle slows digestion leading to low stomach acid levels, bacteria overgrowth, constipation, poor nutrient absorption and a cascade of other health issues that begin in the gut. By improving your nutrition, bowel movements and overall bacteria imbalances, you will resolve many Hashimoto’s symptoms and begin to restore balance to the body.
The best ways to improve gut health include:
- Anti-inflammatory and gut healing diet (remove sugar, caffeine, alcohol, gluten, dairy, soy and other known food sensitivities)
- Lemon water or apple cider vinegar mixed in water in the morning to help stimulate stomach acid to digest food better
- Green juices and green smoothies
- Prebiotic foods - artichoke, asparagus, onion, garlic, leeks, sweet potato (cooked and cooled to create resistant starch)
- Probiotic foods or supplements - kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, kombucha tea, or high quality supplement
- Bone broth and collagen powder - sip bone broth or create soups weekly with stock (not broth), add collagen powder to smoothies, soups or tea to help repair the gut lining
- Add more fiber - include cruciferous and other vegetables to each meal as fiber helps to feed the good gut bacteria and balance blood sugar levels
How Can I Lose Weight?
Weight loss has many factors and isn’t only about exercising more or eating less calories. With Hashimoto’s you’ll also need to bring your hormones back into balance. You can do that with eating a nutrient dense, whole foods diet with plenty of healthy fats and minimal sugar to balance hormones and blood sugar levels.
You may also need to avoid caffeine to bring cortisol and adrenal function back into balance. Proper nutrition is the cornerstone of losing weight, but getting enough sleep, exercising and managing stress levels are just as important.
All of that can seem overwhelming if you’re hypothyroid so make sure you are getting the right medication if you’re just not able to function well. As you begin to incorporate lifestyle and diet changes you may be able to reduce the need for medication over time. Consistent action towards eating fresh, unprocessed food and finding exercise that you enjoy will help you achieve your weight loss goals.
One of my favorite tips for clients that are too tired to exercise is to implement a 5 minute rule. Even if you're really fatigued, you can do something for 5 minutes, whether jumping on a rebounder/trampoline, walking, squats/pushups or even stretching. This sets you up for success by just doing 5 minutes, rather than doing nothing and feeling awful about it the rest of the day. Most of the time I find that clients can do more once they've gotten started and even if they don't, they were still successful for that day.
What Vitamins Should I Take?
I always like to emphasize getting nutrients from food as the primary source. However, there are some supplements that are helpful and can be used to replenish or bring up nutrient levels quicker. Hashimoto’s patients commonly have nutrient deficiencies due to several factors:
- Poor diet or not eating nutrient rich food
- Inability to absorb nutrients (lack of enzymes), low stomach acid
- Bacteria imbalances
The most common deficiencies or sub-optimal levels are Vitamin D, Zinc, Iron (and Ferritin), Magnesium, Omega 3, and B Vitamins. Vitamin D is important for immune function, while Zinc and B vitamins (and Selenium) are necessary for converting thyroid T4 hormone to T3 and converting your food into energy. Magnesium and Omega 3 are vital for reducing overall inflammation. You can get a micro-nutrient blood test done to see if you have these or other deficiencies to be sure you’re supplementing properly.
To ensure you're getting the most nutrients from your food, I recommend buying organic and non-gmo produce, pasture-raised eggs and grass-fed meats to get higher quality nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Include plenty of vegetables and leafy greens which contain magnesium, folate, B vitamins, potassium and calcium. You can additionally add a multi-vitamin, vitamin D3, magnesium supplement, omega 3 fish oil and B vitamins, if desired.
What Type Of Exercise Should I Do?
For those that are actively hypothyroid you’ll benefit from exercise that will give you a boost of energy. Try jumping on a trampoline or doing a short high intensity workout session around 15-30 minutes. If that feels like too much then walking and some light resistance training are also beneficial.
If you’re experiencing hyperthyroid symptoms it’s important to focus on stress reducing activities like yoga, stretching and walking. It may be difficult to do any other exercise that increases heart rate as palpitations and increased heart rate are symptoms you're likely already experiencing.
If your Hashimoto’s is managed and thyroid levels are good, then do the exercise that you enjoy! I recommend a combination of strength training to build muscle, some form of cardio you enjoy that gets you to sweat and yoga, pilates or stretching for stress reduction and lower intensity activity.
Set a goal and aim to workout at least 30 minutes (you may need to work up to that or do less at times) about 4-5 days per week. You can be really structured and do a workout program or go with the flow and try something new each day. For me, exercise is a way to express emotion and relieve stress. So if I'm feeling angry or irritated, I like kickboxing that day. When I'm feeling tired I'll do some weights and when I need to clear my busy mind I like to jog on the treadmill.
How have your thyroid symptoms improved with lifestyle and diet changes? Share in the comments.
Kristina Cegla, INHC
Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach