The day I stumbled upon New York Times bestselling author Mary Shomon’s book Living Well with Hypothyroidism: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Tell You…That You Need to Know changed my life.
Written by Mary Shomon, About.com’s Thyroid Disease Guide
When it comes to having a thyroid condition, it’s easy to focus on the obvious details like blood tests, lab results and medications. But after two decades as a thyroid patient advocate — and as a thyroid patient myself all these years — I have realized that finding the right medication for you at the right dose is just one part of the complete picture of health and wellness. In the past twenty years as a thyroid patient and advocate, I got pregnant and had a daughter (who is now 18…let’s talk about time flying!) (I know many of you can relate!) At one point, I lost so much hair I had a ponytail the thickness of a pencil. (How many ways can you wear your hair in a scrunchie?) I suffered a miscarriage, but went on to adopt my son, who is now a thriving 11 year old. I rode the roller coaster of perimenopause, and went through menopause — and found it surprisingly easy with the help of some surprising things I learned along the way.
In the end, I have learned a great deal, through trial and error, and by trusting some truly inspiring wellness experts, a group of people I now consider my personal guiding stars of wellness. Thanks to their wisdom and support, I have discovered seven keys to successfully restoring and revitalizing my health. Each of these keys is absolutely crucial to not only my thyroid health and management of symptoms, but to the bigger picture: my overall energy, attitude, peace of mind, and happiness! I didn’t learn about them all at once when I was first diagnosed — it’s been a long and winding road at times. But hopefully, wherever you are on your thyroid journey — whether you are newly diagnosed, or a veteran patient — you may find that many of the things that have worked for me can help you fast-forward on your own road to optimal health!
1. Partnering With a Great Doctor
I mentioned the issue of blood tests and medications. For most of us with thyroid problems, they are an important part of our personal thyroid solution. But which tests? How are they interpreted? Why do we have to beg for antibodies, or Reverse T3 tests? And then there’s the constant battle with HMOs, or close-minded doctors, to get the natural thyroid drugs that help many of us feel well. Many conventional doctors look at us as if we are just lab values on a page — not living, breathing people with lives, symptoms, and challenges we are desperately trying to overcome. This is why I feel so strongly that many thyroid patients do best with a doctor who takes an integrative, patient-oriented approach — bringing in the best of both conventional and holistic and natural approaches. The integrative approach looks at lab results, of course, but it also looks at your personal and family history, your symptoms, the relationship of your thyroid to adrenals and other hormones, your stress levels, nutrition, and how it all fits together.
Dr. Kevin Passero, a naturopathic physician in the Washington, DC area, is one of those doctors who truly gets it. I often refer to him as the “Sherlock Holmes of hormonal health,” because he is not content to hand out prescriptions. Instead, he looks for root causes of hormonal issues, like gut health, adrenal imbalances, and nutritional deficiencies, and solves the mystery from the inside out. He takes time, he listens, he is always learning, and if he doesn’t have the answer, he tells you – and then sets out to find the answer! So Key #1: look for a doctor who will partner with you, who is patient, open-minded, and sees the bigger picture, and who feels passionately about helping you get well. I know I sound biased, because I am, but this kind of care is more likely to come from an integrative or holistic MD or a naturopathic physician than an endocrinologist. Looking for your very own Dr. Passero? You can search for board-certified integrative and holistic physicians at the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine’s “Doctor Finder” page, or the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) Directory of licensed naturopathic physicians.
2. Moving Your Body
I’ve never been a remotely talented athlete. (Yes, I was always picked last for every sport!) I can’t even do a dance aerobics or Zumba class without tripping over my own feet. Forget a 90-minute spin class, or jogging. It hit my adrenals so hard I’m on the couch for days after. So when I kept getting emails from other thyroid patients, telling me that I HAD to look into an exercise program they were doing that was actually working for them, and it was easy and fast, you bet I had to check it out. That is how I met Teresa Tapp, the founder of the T-Tapp system of exercise. (And no, T-Tapp has nothing to do with tap dancing!) It’s a form of gentle exercise that involves mind to muscle activation, reduction of inflammation, and detoxification and elimination of toxins via the lymphatic system. That’s a fancy way of saying that it not only helps you tighten, trim, build muscle, and lose weight, but it helps your body, hormones, and immune system get into better balance. And you can do it when you’re pregnant, if you have a bum knee or a testy back, if you’re already fit or out of shape, and at any age. I popped my first T-Tapp DVD in the player about eight years ago, and I followed the instructions, and did 30 minutes of T-Tapp, three times a week over two weeks. And then, I took my measurements. I lost 12 inches. Seriously. It was crazy! (I had been working with a Pilates trainer several times a week for two years, and hadn’t lost an inch!) T-Tapp worked!
You may be more athletic than I am, and live for those Zumba or spin classes, and if so, I’m in awe of you. But the bottom line: we all need to move, and we need to move every day. Even more so because as thyroid patients, many of us have a slowed metabolism, and building muscle is one of the only ways we can raise metabolism. We also build up mucin – a sludgy waste – that makes us feel bloated and puffy, and hold onto fluid, causing hands, feet, and face to be puffy. Effective movement helps move mucin and fluid out of your body and reduce inflammation. (And of course there are the general aches and pains that can go along with thyroid problems.) At the same time, intense exercise can be counterproductive for some of us, because all it does is raise cortisol, which hurts our thyroid, and can actually make us GAIN weight. If you haven’t found your “go-to” way to fit the right kind of movement into your busy life, I have to say, T-Tapp could change your life. Here’s a brief introduction to T-Tapp on YouTube, where Teresa explains what it’s all about, and already gets you exercising!
3. The Power of Nutrition
You know that old saying, “you are what you eat.” But what are you supposed to eat? A Paleo diet? Autoimmune diet? Low-carb? Low-glycemic? Gluten-free? Dairy-free? Vegetarian or vegan? Organic? Mediterranean? It is so confusing. On the one hand, we hear that broccoli is a “super food,” but we also hear that too much raw broccoli can slow down the thyroid gland. And forgive me if these are your favorites, but if I see another article touting the wonders of kale and quinoa, I may run to the nearest McDonald’s! Do you have time to bake your own gluten-free bread, and spend hours trying to make sure you’re eating a healthy diet? (I know I don’t.) There are so many experts out there trying to sell you on the idea that their particular system, program or book is THE answer for your health condition or weight loss, but the truth is, just as with thyroid treatment, with nutrition, one size does NOT fit all. A vegetarian diet that is perfect for one person will zap the immune system and energy of another person. The raw smoothies and soy diet that might work for someone without thyroid disease could actually slow down thyroid function and cause weight gain in someone with a thyroid condition! Your friend who went gluten-free may have lost 20 pounds, but cutting out gluten could have no effect on your stubborn extra pounds. This is why I have become a huge fan of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN), which is the premier training program for integrative nutritionists – nutritionists who look at the complete you, and help you determine the perfect nutritional approach to meet your unique needs and physiology. Their motto: “Food changes everything!” And it does.
It’s this approach that makes my friend and integrative nutrition coach, Lisa Moretti, a graduate of IIN, so effective. She helps me fine-tune and tweak my diet, but at the same time, Lisa never makes me eat kale (bless you, Lisa!), and she knows that healthy eating has to be easy and fast, or some of us are just going to reach for convenience foods or take-out. If you have no idea what to eat, or how to eat, put down that donut, and find yourself an integrative nutrition coach!
4. Breath it Out
I had a friend tell me, years ago, “You HAVE to go to a transformational breathing class. You’ll love it!” Ok, sounded interesting. I’d done deep abdominal breathing and yoga breathing, and I figured that it would be the same – a relaxing breathing practice. I signed up for a class, and I had my mind blown. This was not yoga breathing. This was a technique to get the entire body breathing – to bring in oxygen – and lots of it – fast, detoxing body and mind quickly. After my first session, I was incredibly energized, but calm and peaceful. And I was clear-headed – brain fog was banished for DAYS!
No surprise…I went back. Again, and again. And I discovered how the power of specialized types of breathwork – and Transformational Breathwork in particular – could change my life. I now had an incredibly effective tool I could use, even for a minute or two, to lower cortisol, raise my energy level, rebalance myself energetically, physically, and emotionally. I didn’t even have to go to class – I could do breathwork in the morning, at bedtime, or any time during the day – even in the car – when I needed energy, clarify, or stress reduction.
I have Lauren Chelec Cafritz to thank. She transformed her own situation – suffering from body pain, anxiety and constant stress – into calm and energetic bliss using breathwork, and now she teaches others how to do the same miracles for themselves. I was fortunate to have Lauren as my teacher for my first breathwork class, and it’s been a number of years…and I’m still breathing! It has changed my life.
5. Get Body, Mind & Spirit in Communication
There’s a popular saying: ‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” What does that really mean? What it means is that body, mind, and spirit all have distinct purposes, and are meant to work together, seamlessly. Sometimes, however, they end up not speaking the same language and there’s no translator in sight. The mind gets overwhelmed with thoughts, the body is doing its own thing, and who has time to get in touch with spirit? (And you can call it heart, soul, essence, or life force…the concepts of spirit and spiritual don’t have to have religious connotations to make sense to all of us.)
I found myself often realizing that what I was thinking was at odds with how I was feeling in my body, and that none of it had to do with what was in my heart and soul. That is, until I learned about guided meditation. I had tried regular meditation – sitting on the floor, legs crossed, while my feet went all pins and needles and went numb, and my mind went from “what do I need to get at the grocery store,” to “hmmm, I wonder what’s on television tonight.” To be honest, it didn’t work for me. Some people walk labyrinths, or do Tai Chi, or go to religious services, to get to that place. But those weren’t the right fit for me either. What I discovered did work for me was guided meditation…listening to someone guide me through a meditation helped me stay focused. (And I could do it laying on my bed, or sitting on the couch, so I could still feel my feet!) The breakthrough for me was Demo DiMartile, a true healer, who founded a company, One Life One Spirit, to publish variety of guided meditations. As I learned to do guided meditation, I discovered that it reduced stress, helped me sleep better, and put me in touch with my feelings, and got mind-body-spirit back into balance. If you are looking for a way to get in touch with yourself in ways that can help your health, your happiness, and your stress levels, I highly recommend you explore Demo’s guided meditations. Demo writes and speaks the meditations – and he has a gorgeous, soothing and empowering voice — and they include beautiful original music. Try it for yourself. Demo has a 5-minute “Mastering Deep Relaxation” guided meditation sample online at YouTube.
6. Feel and Look Beautiful
It’s hard to feel good when you don’t look your best. None of us are supermodels, and we don’t expect to be, but I know with the thyroid issues, between puffiness, and weight fluctuations and such, there have been times where I felt pretty awful about myself – especially my hair. I was cleaning hair out of the drain, out of my brushes, and I got to the point that I dreaded shampooing, because I would be pulling huge chunks of hair out. And, as I mentioned before, there was that pencil thin ponytail looking back at me in the mirror. It was awful. Hair is so visible, so out there. Gain a few pounds and you can always throw on some Spanx and make it work. Lose hair, and what do you do? Wear a hat all the time? I think I went for a year with my hair in a bun, stuffed in a scrunchie. Not a great look, to be honest.
This is why I absolutely adore Brent Hardgrave. He’s an internationally-known hairdresser, and he’s also hysterically funny, eternally optimistic, and filled with so much heart. And he’s also on a mission to help women with thinning hair or hair loss. He has a unique “dry-cutting technique” (seriously, he’s like Edward Scissorhands, with the hair flying as he cuts!), styling tricks, safe extension techniques, and products that can make even the thinnest, coarsest, limpest “hormone hair” look amazing. He’s also a fountain of wisdom about nutrition, supplements, and even cutting edge techniques like Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) treatments, to help stimulate hair regrowth. Brent says that whether you’re menopausal, or have a thyroid problem, or are dealing with age-related thinning, you deserve to look and feel beautiful. I agree. Every girl needs a hairdresser like Brent, who is not just giving you information, a great cut, color and a blow dry – but really, is giving you your confidence and spirit back!
7. Being Informed and Empowered
And here we get to the last of my keys to health and wellness. It’s what my work as a patient advocate, author, and About.com Thyroid Expert has been about for twenty years. It’s what motivates the amazing Dana Trentini, our very own Hypothyroid Mom. It’s the pressing need for every thyroid patient to be informed and empowered. We no longer live in a world where we can turn over every decision about our health care to doctors, HMOs and insurance companies. We can’t expect most doctors to have the time to explain our options, or the pros and cons of different approaches to diagnosis and treatment. We have to become informed, and then take that information and transform it into practical action as empowered patients who have an active role in our own health care. To that end, the key is to learn. Read the sites, read the books, read the journal articles, participate in the Facebook communities, meet other patients in person to exchange support and ideas…take every opportunity you can to increase your own knowledge about your health, and to extend your community. Knowledge is power, and power allows you to be an active partner in your own health and wellness.
– – – – – – – – –
Along the way, as I have explored these keys to wellness, I had a dream of bringing together this incredible group of experts and friends, and to make their wisdom, knowledge, and practical skills available to others. And I’m thrilled to say, my dream has become a reality! The Me Time Wellness Weekend is scheduled for March 3-6 at the Renaissance Capital Hotel, minutes from Washington, DC’s Reagan National Airport, in Arlington, Virginia. It’s a weekend filled with sessions on integrative health with Dr. Kevin Passero, gentle workouts with Teresa Tapp, nutrition advice from Lisa Moretti, breathwork sessions with Lauren Chelec Cafritz, guided meditations with Demo DiMartile, hair loss and styling seminars with Brent Hardgrave, and workshops on thyroid and hormonal health with me. All at a gorgeous, luxurious (but not pricey) hotel – with a heated indoor pool. The idea behind the Me Time Wellness Weekend is to take time for yourself to reboot, revitalize, and relax, while learning what you need to know to go back home to busy lives with the skills you need to truly feel and live well. I would love every thyroid patient to have an opportunity to be transformed by these guiding stars of wellness. If you’re interested in joining us for this life-changing weekend, please visit our site, at http://www.metimeweekend.com/i-need-me-time and give yourself the gift of “Me Time!”
About Mary Shomon
Patient advocate and author Mary Shomon transformed her 1995 thyroid diagnosis into a mission to educate and empower others struggling with thyroid and hormonal conditions. She has written a number of best-selling books on thyroid disease including New York Times Best Seller The Thyroid Diet Revolution. Mary is the original Guide for the About.com site on thyroid disease and founder of Thyroid-Info.com.