If you’ve been following me for some time, you may have heard that I lived in Amsterdam for awhile. My husband received an opportunity of a lifetime to lead up his company’s European efforts. He has dreamed about living abroad ever since his family hosted a Swiss exchange student when he has a little boy.
I grew up in Poland and moved to the United States at age nine and have also dreamed about living in Europe. Unfortunately, due to my rigorous undergrad and graduate studies, career choice, and poor health that started my freshman year in college, I dismissed this dream as a distant fantasy.
But sometimes dreams do come true! I worked really hard over the last several years to get my health back and have since dedicated my life to writing about it in an effort to help others. I’ve wanted to help others ever since I was a little girl; getting sick myself actually helped me to fulfill that passion.
Arriving in a foreign country also felt like a dream come true. Here I was, exploring the beautiful canals on a little boat and riding around the charming city on bike…but moving to Amsterdam definitely took me out of my comfort zone.
You see, I had a huge advantage when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. I had already worked in healthcare for many years and was familiar with thyroid conditions, medications, treatments, healthcare research, and finding doctors. So although I could sympathize with many of you, I don’t think I was fully able to empathize with the enormous shock that a diagnosis like Hashimoto’s can have on someone without a medical background.
When I moved, I had to start all over.
We left our jobs, our families and friends, sold our house and found a small apartment to rent. Standard American amenities like air conditioning, washer/dryer, garbage disposals, and full-size refrigerators are considered luxuries and are difficult to find in Amsterdam.
My car was replaced by a bike and tram pass. My Trader Joe’s routine and kitchen were replaced by a chain grocery store stocked with bread and cheese and strange appliances that I didn’t know how to use. (Have you heard of the microwave/oven combo??) I felt alone and became frustrated and overwhelmed! Life as I knew it was gone, and I had to start all over!
I imagine that getting diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid condition can often feel like moving to a foreign country—without the initial charm and honeymoon phase of being in a new and exciting place. My new challenges have inspired me to think about the things that a person who is brand new to Hashimoto’s would need to know. So here we go…
Here are some tips to surviving in the foreign land of Hashimoto’s
You’re going to get better—even better than you were before—but you’re going to have to accept that your life will need to change.
It’s really up to you whether you’ll feel better. This can be both scary and liberating. I encourage you to do as much research as you can on your condition. My book, Hashimoto’s the Root Cause, is a compilation of 3 years of research. Here are some other helpful articles:
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, lost and discouraged at first
Navigating a foreign world of medical terminology, new foods, supplements, therapies, finding the right practitioners… At times it may seem impossible to thrive in this type of environment. You may want to give up and return to your old ways—just as I had wanted to call my parents in Chicago and come home! This is because, as humans, we are creatures of habit. After all, I was really comfortable in Chicago. I had my routine down to an art and thought nothing of eating a Paleo lifestyle, just as you may be comfortable in your current dietary and lifestyle routine. adopting a gluten-free lifestyle that is helpful for those with Hashimoto’s may seem very daunting.
Find the positives of your new lifestyle
Despite feeling homesick and immobilized without my car, I’m learning how to ride a bike, in high heels, like the locals here. I discovered mint tea, a popular herbal tea served at local cafes, have had the pleasure to visit the Tulip gardens, my family in Poland, and was able to take a weekend trip to London. These are things that I would have never had a chance to do in my old life.
Your new lifestyle may bring on some surprising changes, heck; you might even start enjoying smoothies, green juice and create delicious Paleo recipes. You’ll find that you feel so much better once you let go of the habits, the foods, and toxic people that “poison” you, you will feel better than before.
For me, Hashimoto’s was a wake-up call, a call to action from my body. It has helped me become in tune with my body, instead of taking antacids to silence my angry digestive system, I’ve started to see my body as an ally, directing me away from the foods that cause me harm, and leading me towards foods that nourish me.
Keep in mind that the changes you make don’t always need to be permanent
One day at a time, right? It can seem very depressing to think that the lifestyle change you make has to be permanent. In most cases, it doesn’t have to be. I am a firm believer that the state of our gut is responsible for the foods we can tolerate. While at first, you may have to be 100% adherent to a healthy lifestyle in order to overcome your condition, your goal should be to get to 80/20 (80% clean diet, 20% looser).
When I first started hacking my Hashimoto’s, I had a long list of food sensitivities and had to cut out all grains, dairy, soy, gluten, caffeine, sugar, etc. At one point, I was eating only meat and certain vegetables in purees because everything else caused fatigue, an upset stomach, and bowel distress. Today, I’m able to eat most foods without a reaction. Although I’ve been scared to try gluten (waiting on test results to see), I’ve been able to handle dairy “my once Kryptonite” without problems. You can read my Hashimoto’s and dairy story. Of course, I still eat a really clean Paleo diet because I think it’s the healthiest choice, but I do it because I want to, not because I have to.
Knowing that the move is temporary and that I can come back to the United States at any time helped me to feel better about the move. Try going gluten free or Paleo just for a few weeks. See how you like it and how you feel. You can always go back!
Changing your diet is one of the most important steps you can take with Hashimoto’s. While I can’t tell you exactly what you need to eat, as everyone is a bit different, cutting out processed foods, gluten, dairy, and soy, while adding in organic meats and vegetables, fermented foods and good fats (like avocado and coconut oil) have done wonders for many.
Until you get into a routine, you may feel like you’re spending entire days trying to source foods, driving around to find healthy options (or if you’re in Amsterdam: riding around on a bike) and cooking, cooking and more cooking!
Some tips to overcome the real food overwhelm
Find a food delivery system for specialty items
- Wellness Meats – organic meats
- Paleo On The Go
- Amazon.com for duck fat, coconut cream, Tanka Bars, etc.
- Fermented Foods – Body Ecology Diet for starters, probiotic drinks, etc., Thirty Acre Farms for fermented cabbage
- Your local CSA food delivery
Find local and organic food that can be delivered to your door. This will save you so much time!
Download my free 2-week Autoimmune Paleo recipe plan! I hope it helps you get started.
While a luxury for many, some of these tools may make your life much easier in adjusting to a real food lifestyle. I’ve collected the following over the past few years, taking advantage of birthdays and holidays (and forgoing that cute pair of shoes).
- Vitamix – this little machine is a powerhouse for green smoothies, cauliflower mashed potatoes, soups, nut butter, and making your own coconut yogurt. If I could have just one appliance in my kitchen, this would be it!
- Juicer – Green juice is an excellent way to get nutrients into your body!
- Spiralizer – this awesome tool makes all kinds of veggies into noodles and thin slices that cook much faster. Much healthier that gluten free noodles that are full of processed grains! I’ve made beet noodles zucchini noodles and rutabaga noodles in the last month.
- Yonanas – my most recent acquisition. This little machine makes frozen bananas into delicious dairy free ice-cream!
I maintain a list of the most helpful supplements that I’ve found for Hashimoto’s on my website and describe how to use them in greater detail in my book. Not everyone will need the same supplement, but many have benefited from the following:
- Betaine with Pepsin (used to help digest proteins)
- Systemic Enzymes or Wobenzyme (brand name of Systemic Enzymes), – break apart circulating immune complexes that are seen in autoimmune disease and food sensitivities, thought to promote healing
- Glutamine – helps to restore the gut lining.
- Probiotics – VSL #3 and the beneficial yeast S. boulardii from Pure Encapsulations are my favorite brands (I use 2-4x the recommended dose ). See my article on my top 4 probiotics for Hashimoto’s.
- Selenium 200mcg – can reduce thyroid antibodies, stabilize anxiety. Full article on selenium and Hashimoto’s.
Finding the time to just be in the moment and enjoy life
I know when you are faced with a new challenge, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. You feel like you need to solve this problem that you have, and that you need to solve it now. Your health journey is a marathon, not a race. Pace yourself, stop and smell the roses (or the tulips, if you happen to be in the Netherlands).
Just as I have found support in the local women’s clubs, neighbors and friends to help me navigate the mysteries of my new home, you’re going to need your own support network. Hashimoto’s 411 is a great support group (You need to request permission to join). Don’t suffer alone. As many as one in five women may have Hashimoto’s, and have someone that has been there will make your life so much better.
Find your local health food store
If going out to a restaurant has become a source of stress for you, you may find comfort in checking out your local health food store. Your eyes will be opened to all sorts of exciting new foods. My whole family loves spaghetti squash, butternut squash, and coconut yogurt!
Finding Dr. Right
I believe that everyone needs to find a practitioner that will let him/her be a part of the healthcare team. You want someone that can guide you, that will also listen to you and your concerns. You want someone that’s open to thinking outside of the box and who understands that you may not fit in with the standard of care.
I recommend working with a functional medicine doctor- functional medicine doctors approach the body as a whole, and not just the thyroid hormones. Many patients are often disappointed after going to conventional doctors who tell them that there is nothing that can be done about the autoimmune attack on the thyroid, only prescribe Synthroid, don’t dose the medication correctly, leaving many of us miserable!
Here is a blog post I wrote about the functional medicine approach to the thyroid.
We are currently building a list of Hashimoto’s doctors.
I always recommend working with a compounding pharmacist as well. The pharmacy can work as your healthcare hub. It can be a central place for you to get your medications, supplements, and health care advice.
Often, people with Hashimoto’s will do better on a customized compounded T3/T4 medications.
Compounding pharmacists can also make tailored medications that are free of additives, advise you on your hormones, and can give you a list of doctors in your area that will prescribe Armour, Nature-Throid, compounded T3/T4, and Low-dose naltrexone (an immune modulating medication that can help put Hashimoto’s in remission).
Often the most progressive doctors use compounding pharmacies as these pharmacies provide outside-the-box options for many conditions. I recommend working with pharmacies that use PCCA starting materials, for a list of compounding pharmacies.
I hope this post gives you some great strategies on your journey!
PS. You can also download a free Thyroid Diet Guide, 10 Thyroid friendly recipes, and the Nutrient Depletions and Digestion chapter for free by going to www.thyroidpharmacist.com/gift. You will also receive occasional updates about new research, resources, giveaways and helpful information.