As the new year begins, many of my readers will start focusing on their New Year’s resolution. Often times, they vow to themselves that they will practice self-care and improve their health. Are you one of them?
Perhaps your decision to better your health includes making dietary changes — like removing gluten, dairy, soy, and your personal food sensitivities from your diet — or maybe you’ve decided to try the Paleo or Autoimmune Paleo diet. And you may be super excited to start feeling better.
However, emotional components often play a role in healing, and sometimes, healing can be delayed when a patient struggles with self-limiting beliefs about their self-worth or feel socially isolated, especially when their health and dietary choices make them “different”.
Unfortunately, many people who get diagnosed with Hashimoto’s will find that the people in their lives are not as supportive about their choices as they would like them to be. Hashimoto’s is an invisible illness — people can’t see what we feel on the inside. Hashimoto’s is also a spectrum — one person may have no symptoms, while another may have debilitating symptoms. Additionally, conventional medicine doesn’t support the use of nutrition or other advanced interventions at this time. All of these factors may lead friends and family members to disregard our symptoms, dismiss us as hypochondriacs, or disagree with the lifestyle changes we are attempting in order to make ourselves feel better.
There’s another factor to consider, however. Although it may sound strange, many times people treat us the way that they do because we allow them to, and it’s up to us to assert our needs and boundaries. In most cases, relationships can be saved and people can learn how to support us better once we begin to gently demand their care.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- How I got my husband onboard with my lifestyle choices
- How to deal with toxic and unsupportive people
- Tips for dining out
- How to succeed on your diet
My Personal Experience – with My Husband!
At first, my husband didn’t understand why I needed to be 100 percent gluten and dairy free. He was supportive of my eating a healthier diet and less sugar, but he was a fan of moderation and thought my new diet had become an unhealthy obsession. He does not have a medical background and did not understand that even tiny amounts of gluten can make a sensitive person sick. He was embarrassed about the fuss I made at restaurants when I refused to eat meals that possibly contained contaminated foods. It didn’t help that I didn’t seem to be getting better as I tried various interventions.
Of course I was upset that my knight in shining armor wasn’t coming to my rescue, but once I calmed down and allowed logic to take over, I said, “Gluten and dairy make my thyroid numbers get out of range and cause me to have acid reflux and stomach cramping. Even tiny amounts can do this. I deserve to eat the things that make me feel good, just like anyone else in the world. It would really mean a lot to me if you were supportive of my diet.”
Having this talk with him was enough for him to understand that food was affecting my health, and he became very supportive. He even tried a 30-day Paleo challenge with me later that year and found that he actually felt much better on this type of diet, which has now become our diet.
Dealing with Toxic People
I hope that you can gently remind and encourage the people in your life to be supportive, but keep that in mind that some people just aren’t going to be sympathetic. In fact, they may even be toxic, and you might have to let them go. Toxic people get their energy, confidence, and encouragement from the pain and suffering of other people, whether that’s through subtle mean comments, manipulation, or causing physical harm.
A woman in a Hashimoto’s support group I follow shared the story of a “friend” who invited her over for lunch, assuring her that the meal would be gluten, dairy and soy free. Shortly after the woman with Hashimoto’s started eating the meal, she became ill. Her “friend” admitted that she was just testing her to see if she was faking; she had purposely made a meal that hid the very ingredients she promised would be avoided, so that she could “test” her. With friends like that, we don’t need enemies.
I’ve also had experiences with unsupportive friends. I once made a meal to share with a friend and told her about how much better I felt without gluten and dairy in my life. She rolled her eyes and proceeded to accuse me of being a hypochondriac! She also claimed that food sensitivity testing was unreliable and a waste of money. Though I knew my body best, had a doctorate degree in health, and certainly knew what I was talking about, I felt down and discouraged after that meeting — until I realized that like gluten and dairy, unsupportive friendships did not work for me — so I chose to focus my time and energy on the people who supported me instead!
As a general rule, I recommend that you seek people who will lift you up, not drag you down. Don’t be afraid to cut ties with abusive, unsupportive friends and family members and seek out companionship from supportive and loving people. There are a lot more good people in this world than bad, and letting go of relationships that no longer serve you is often what opens the door to find ones that do.
As you know, I’ve found that removing inflammatory foods from your life can create profound improvements in your health and well-being. (You can read more about removing food sensitivities here.) I’ve also found that removing “inflammatory people” from your life can have even more profound effects!
Suggestions for Eating Out
When it comes to bonding with people in your life that matter, you’ll often find yourself in situations that involve food.
Eating out on a restricted diet can be quite intimidating, especially for those of us who don’t like to draw a lot of attention to ourselves or tend to avoid confrontation. I’ve spoken with women who have celiac disease who were too afraid to speak up at restaurants and fell ill, often for weeks at a time, after dinners out with friends and family members. Some of my readers and clients have also reported feeling bad about speaking up or starting a conversation with a server with negatives like, “I can’t have…”
You may think you’re a bother or that you’re making a big deal out of things. Society has taught us that being “high maintenance” is a very negative thing for a woman, while a “high maintenance” car generally implies that the car is worth more attention and care because of its value.
Let me let you in on a little secret. You too are worthy and deserve proper care and attention, and you deserve to have your needs met.
Here are some tips for keeping on your plan while eating out and enjoying a social life:
1. Review the restaurant’s menu online before you go to see if the restaurant offers gluten free options and accommodates people with food sensitivities (many do!), or call ahead to speak to a manager. I like to use the website OpenTable to make reservations ahead of time and review the menus. Some of my clients love using phone apps and websites like Find Me Gluten Free to discover restaurants that offer gluten free options.
2. Don’t be afraid to recommend a restaurant you know to be food sensitivity friendly when dining with friends or work colleagues. When I lived in Chicago, I often asked colleagues to meet me at Francesca’s, an Italian chain that offers gluten free options. Everyone was able to find something they enjoyed, and I didn’t have to worry.
3. The chefs and wait staff at most restaurants want to help you and want you to have a great experience. I usually start the conversation with a statement like, “Hey, can you help me out? I’m on a new diet that restricts X, Y, and Z, and I’d love to know if there’s anything on the menu that would suit my needs.” Most servers are more than happy to go out of their way to help you find something that works or to talk to the chef. Lately, I’ve noticed that telling people that I am nursing a baby who is sensitive to certain foods, and therefore need to avoid them for his sake, goes very far as well. Of course it’s the truth for me, but there’s no harm in telling a little white lie like this (unless, of course, you happen to be male, a teenager or a grandma — in such cases, you may get some funny looks!).
I’ve often had fun and creative meals made for me by excited chefs who enjoy the challenge of creating something out of the ordinary for their guests. An experience that used to be intimidating and anxiety provoking can be turned into a VIP experience with a bit of patience, kindness, and gratitude! (Of course, I’m always happy to tip a little extra for the special service!) Often when I eat out with friends, they look at my food and comment that it looks better than theirs. I’m happy to have food that truly nourishes me, instead of worrying about eating like everyone else and then being sorry I did!
4. You might also consider ordering what are generally reliable “safe” orders. A Cobb salad (greens, tomato, bacon, grilled chicken, boiled egg, onions and avocado) or a Greek salad (some variation of grilled chicken, olives, greens, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and cucumbers) are good options. Ask for grilled chicken and have them hold the cheese and dressing (many salad dressings contain soy and high-fructose corn syrup), and order olive oil and lemon juice to use as your dressing.
Other go-to meals include any grilled meat served with steamed or grilled veggies. (Ask for a double serving in place of any grain or cheesy potato side.) If you’re concerned about cross-contamination from breaded foods, share this with your server and ask if any efforts can be taken to prevent gluten exposure — sometimes a chef will cook food in foil or keep foods separate from certain appliances or utensils.
5. Carry a gluten/dairy digestive enzyme with you when you eat out. The digestive enzymes won’t eliminate the reaction, but they can minimize it if you are accidentally exposed to gluten or dairy.
6. When in doubt, pack your own food or eat a meal at home before you head out. If you are going to a baseball game where the food options will be limited to beer and hot dogs, bring your own food or eat before you go!
How to Succeed on a New Diet
Introducing a new way of eating into your life can seem scary, but I assure you that you can do this, as many others have. You can succeed. Your health can get better, if you invest in yourself. Remember that you are worth it!
Here are a few tips I recommend to help you stay on track with your new diet:
- Use a food and symptom journal to help track what you are eating and symptoms associated with foods. This will help you to identify patterns and foods that may or may not be benefiting you.
- Eat simple! Many of my recipes in my upcoming cookbook are simple yet nutritiously satisfying.
- Cook in bulk and freeze for future meals, especially if you find that one day you are in a bind and do not have time to cook for yourself. Freezer meals are quick and convenient.
- Meal prepping is also a great way to help you stay on track. In Hashimoto’s Food Pharmacology: Nutrition Protocols and Healing Recipes to Take Charge of Your Thyroid Health, I explain in detail the way I like to meal prep for the week. Setting a few hours aside on a single day can really make a difference!
- If you find it difficult to go “cold turkey,” you can slowly transition yourself into your new diet. Pick one type of food each week and slowly switch your foods. An example would be, instead of eating gluten-rich pasta, start by introducing gluten free noodles or substitute some spiralized vegetable noodles to boost your vegetable intake!
- Meal plans can really help to simplify any dietary transition. Choose a plan that you would like to begin with, such as the Root Cause Paleo diet meal plans in my new cookbook, and start cooking! If it’s too much all at once for you, start with my Root Cause Green Smoothie in the morning. When you are comfortable with making smoothies daily, you can incorporate dinners and use the leftovers for your lunch the next day.
- Take things one day at a time, and celebrate small wins and successes! Forgive yourself for “falling off the wagon” and setbacks. Take some time to reflect and be kind to yourself.
Remember that you can do this!
Keep in mind that all the tips shared here are just suggestions. You might already have some strategies in place that work for you. If this is the case, hopefully I’ve shared some ideas that you can add to your success toolbox!
As I mentioned, if you’re looking for simple yet nutritious recipes to inspire you on your health journey, be sure to check out my new Hashimoto’s Food Pharmacology: Nutrition Protocols and Healing Recipes to Take Charge of Your Thyroid Health cookbook! In this book, I give my readers a crash course on how to heal your body with nutrition, filled with recipes and eating strategies that are easily incorporated into your daily life. All the recipes remove the most harmful trigger foods and incorporate beneficial foods to help your body heal and your thyroid thrive.
If you’re new to cooking and to cooking for healing specifically, I hope the suggestions help build your confidence as you get started with self-nourishment. You can save and print the infographic below to remind yourself of my go-to strategies:
Before you start, I’d like to share another suggestion to help get your friends and family to understand your dietary choices. Some people need to see “scientific proof” in print before accepting something as fact, so you can share a copy of my articles on the importance of eliminating gluten, dairy, soy, and food sensitivities with them. By sharing your knowledge of Hashimoto’s and the success stories of others, they may finally begin to understand why you’ve chosen to embark on your healing journey with dietary interventions.
Lastly, remember: although your dietary choices may seem “limiting” to others, over 88 percent of my readers in my 2015 survey experienced significant improvements to their health by cutting out gluten, 79 percent felt better dairy free, and another 81 percent felt better on the Paleo diet — so by limiting your intake of food sensitivities, you may be expanding your enjoyment of life in the long run!
Again, it’s important to remember that those who truly love you will want the best for you and your well-being.
As always, I encourage you to do what will be best for your thyroid on your health journey. 🙂
For more information on finding your support team and building up your pillars of strength, please check out my article on getting support in Hashimoto’s.
How have you dealt with unsupportive people in your life? I’d love to hear your story below or on my Facebook page.
P.S. Be sure to sign up for my weekly newsletter to get a free book chapter, recipes, Thyroid Diet Starter Guide, information about Rootcology supplements, and notifications about upcoming events and my latest research.