One of the symptoms of the autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s, is unexplained weight gain and/or the inability to lose weight.
I experienced gradual weight gain over the course of years, despite intense workouts multiple times a week and eating better than most people I knew. I weighed myself regularly, and was incredibly frustrated as I struggled to lose weight, and fought to build muscle.
Innately, I knew something was wrong. Knowing how hard I worked day in and day out, I knew the results I should be seeing. While I was not heavy, I wanted to lose the extra 5-10 pounds I was carrying around.
When I went to my doctor explaining my various symptoms, I would include my struggle to lose weight. He would look at me, look at my weight, and I could tell he thought I was crazy. I was not overweight. Regardless, I asked him to test my thyroid. He would call me days later with the “good news” that I was fine. Little did I know he was doing just one blood test, and other blood tests would have shown I had Hashimoto’s.
Solving the Mystery
When I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I was at my rock bottom, health wise. One of the many things I had little strength to do anymore was to exercise.
Intense work outs were a part of my identity, so I found myself devastated. Years of associating pushing my body past it’s physical limits with strength, left me feeling weak. Nevertheless, my body refused to be pushed any longer. In fact, I struggled to get out of bed and do the simplest of tasks many days. I was sure the extra 5-10 pounds I carried would multiply quickly. After all, my body was holding onto weight despite my intense workouts, so what would happen when I stopped?
Overexercise for a person with autoimmune disease can be harmful because of inflammation and immune suppression, which increase symptoms of disease.Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt, The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook
Hashimoto’s was wreaking havoc on me in the form of fatigue, fevers, brain fog, joint pain, muscle pain, anxiety, cold intolerance, and so on. Finding myself in a place where I cared very little about the number on the scale or how I looked in the mirror, I simply wanted to feel well on the inside. No longer recognizing my life, I wondered if I would ever feel better.
My dreams no longer included muscle gains or wearing a certain size jeans. Instead, I wanted to be able to play catch with my son, rock climb with my daughter, and go snowboarding as a family. I dreamed of being able to travel again. Honestly, in that moment, I would have been thrilled to be able to shower and get ready for the day without needing to rest or take a nap after. I would have been so grateful to have the strength and energy to tuck my kids into bed at night. Most nights, my husband tucked our kids in while I lay in bed, overcome with fatigue. It was one of the darkest times of my life.
During those dark moments, I consciously decided to stop worrying about my weight, and how I looked on the outside. I stopped weighing myself altogether. Instead, I focused on healing. I chose to do everything I could to feel better on the inside and not worry about how I looked on the outside. I decided I could accept any number on the scale if I could just feel better inside; if I could just get my life back.
Within days of being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I learned about the autoimmune protocol and decided to give it a try. The struggle was real, but my “why” gave me the determination to stick to it. I also began overhauling my lifestyle choices – learning to manage stress, improve sleep, and adopt a growth mindset.
It was not long before I saw improvements in my health. Gradual at first, then drastic. I felt better inside! Within a couple of months of being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, starting the autoimmune protocol, and overhauling my lifestyle choices, my jeans started feeling loose and my husband started commenting on how much my body was changing. And change it did!
Within months, I was at a doctor’s appointment, where they weighed me and I discovered I had lost around 10 pounds! Ironically, I did not care. While I saw the number on the scale I dreamed of seeing for years, I truly cared more about how I felt on the inside. Although I felt better, I knew I had further to go, and I felt determined to continue focusing on my healing. I went on to lose another 5 pounds.
Arriving at a healthy weight will probably be fairly easy on the Paleo Approach, as your gut heals and your digestion improves, as inflammation subsides, and as hormones become better regulated.Sarah Ballantyne, PhD, The Paleo Approach
I stayed consistent with the autoimmune protocol, and continued to make healthy lifestyle choices in a desperate effort to improve my Hashimoto’s. Wellness did not come overnight. It took time, patience, and a willingness to change. It really has been the fight of my life.
I am incredibly grateful for the wellness I found. While I feel much better than I used to, Hashimoto’s is an incurable disease, and I still occasionally find myself in autoimmune flares. I am happy to share that my flares are fewer and farther between. I notice my flares occur mostly when I fail to manage stress.
It has been almost a year since I accidentally lost 15 pounds. For health journaling purposes, I weigh myself monthly, and find that I fluctuate between one to two pounds. Keeping the weight off is not the result of an obsession over the number on the scale, or an obsession over how I eat, but the result of my passion for continued wellness.
I am passionate in setting a healthy example for my children, and in living well with Hashimoto’s so I can be the mom I want to be. It gives me joy to report I now have the energy to play catch with my son, rock climb with my daughter, and we are planning a snowboarding day next week. Further, I can take a shower and get ready without resting. Best of all, most nights I have the energy and strength to tuck my kids in bed. Those are some of the things that I hold most dear. My family. My health. Not a number on a scale. I feel like I have my life back, but better than before. Losing the 15 pounds was simply a side effect.
What helped me
After being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and starting my healing journey, the following helped me:
- Changing my mindset. I quit weighing myself, and accepted the reality that I may gain weight in the process of healing. I stopped judging my body, and made the conscious choice to love and accept my body exactly the way it was. My love for my body was no longer conditional, based on a number on the scale. Ironically, that was the stepping stone to my weight loss.
- Eating for my body. Within two days of being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I started eating according to the autoimmune protocol. Three meals, plus snacks as needed. My nutrition choices include choosing to eat only clean, whole foods, not counting calories or macros, and eating until I am full. When I am hungry, I eat more. I focus on nutrient dense foods to include, rather than on foods to exclude. I am now in the reintroduction phase of the autoimmune protocol.
- Remembering not to worry about what others think or say about me. A couple of months ago, someone told me, “I know you’re not eating anything right now.” I can only imagine the expression on my face when she said that, because I actually eat a lot. Here’s the thing, I eat clean, whole, unprocessed foods. Instead of wasting energy worrying about what others think or say, I focus my energy on having a healthy and loving relationship with my body.
- Allowing my body to rest. My body needed rest to heal. Finally paying the price for years of pushing past my limits, I lovingly allowed my body time to heal. During the first weeks, I did no physical exercise. In time, I added in walking and gentle yoga, as my strength and energy increased. To this day, I enjoy going on morning walks, and practicing gentle yoga. While walking and gentle yoga will always be a part of my life, I am now adding strength training back into my life. As I increase my weight training, and the number on the scale increases with muscle gains, I will smile knowing that my body is getting stronger.
- Focusing on healing Hashimoto’s. My family and I made changes in our lives so I could focus on healing. I gave myself permission to stop trying to be everything to everyone, and instead invested time in healing. As I struggled physically, I focused on the person I was inside, and developed a healing mindset and positive environment.
I encourage you to love your body, accept it, and stop worrying about the number on the scale. You are so much more than a number on the scale. Focus instead on healing your body with nourishing, whole, unprocessed foods and healthy lifestyle choices. Build a support network and a medical team who will help you address the root causes of your chronic illness. Nourish your body and feed your spirit. Let go of any weight loss expectations. Just let go. I know it sounds scary, but I promise that it feels freeing! Who knows? You may even accidentally lose 15 pounds!