Up until I was 24 years old, my body was rather forgiving and resilient. Like every other child in the 90s, I grew up with electric-hued drinks and processed foods. Even through my eating disorder stemming from my athletic career and being a college student subsisting off microwavable mac & cheese and alcohol, I could tolerate an inordinate amount of sugar and dairy with nary a pimple or stomachache in sight, and my only bodily concern was my figure.
Then, ironically, during one of the healthiest periods of my life, when I had become a trainer and nutrition coach, my body imploded on me. Within two weeks, I ballooned up 10 pounds and lost it, I sprouted painful cystic acne covering my face, my digestion was a disaster, my body was so inflamed it hurt to put my own body’s weight on my feet to stand, and my rings no longer fit on my new sausage fingers. I was so exhausted I’d fall asleep on the floor, and the effort of getting up for a glass of water felt like climbing Everest. It felt like my body had ultimately betrayed me.
My Diagnosis + About Inflammation
After a long and confusing journey, I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease affecting my thyroid and hormonal balance, and a wicked case of leaky gut. 26 million Americans (85% of whom are women) suffer from autoimmune disease, yet there is still not much known about the onset of autoimmune disease. We do know that autoimmune disease and inflammation are like the chicken and the egg: we don’t necessarily know what came first, but they are correlated. Inflammation is actually a key player in most all chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, and neurodegenerative disease, but it can also wreak havoc for the everyday person struggling with digestive issues, joint aches, poor skin conditions, and low energy levels.
I was struggling to find a doctor who could help me manage my inflammation-based symptoms outside of just trying to prescribe medicine. So I turned to all the factors in my life I could control: nutrition and lifestyle. I made quite a few changes over the years, one of which even led to me launching my own food product — it helped me so much with my inflammation and leaky gut issues, so I wanted to help others with it too!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and none of this should be construed as replacement for medical advice for managing autoimmune disease or hormonal issues. This is speaking from my personal experience and as a nutrition coach. If you are experiencing these types of issues, I highly suggest finding a doctor well-versed in hormonal management and autoimmune disease, whether that be an endocrinologist, naturopath, or functional medicine doctor.
Healing My Gut + How I Tamed My Inflammation
It’s similar to any improvement with your health really, but I can’t stress enough that when you are dealing with leaky gut or inflammation, it’s so important to focus on what to remove before spending effort on restoring. All the probiotics, superfoods, and turmeric in the world won’t have much effect if you are still doing things like eating irritating foods your body has intolerances to, not being active, or have poor sleep habits. It’s like dealing with a leaky ceiling: slapping paint on it won’t do anything, no matter how nice or expensive the paint is. You have to first scrape out all the wetness, mold, and let it full dry before repairing and painting it.
Three years later, I am actually in remission for my Hashimoto’s (meaning that my antibodies are no longer registering). And the thing is, the journey is never over — and that’s not a bad thing. Even in Hashimoto’s remission, I am still dealing with hormonal imbalance issues and its effects. Think of your body and health as a seesaw: It will never be perfectly in balance 100% of the time — it is in a constant state of ebbs and flows. You will have periods of fluctuating stress levels, activity levels, and your nutritional adherence. And as a woman? Your menstrual cycle is quite literally a cycle of fluctuations — it is not like you have a steady stream of the same hormones from day 1-28 of your cycle. But there definitely are ways to help support your body’s hormonal balance the best that you can to reduce inflammation.
Here are the ways I tame my inflammation that helped heal my gut health and other hormonal symptoms from my Hashimoto’s, for anyone that is dealing with inflammation and hormonal-based issues.
Turmeric + Collagen
Turmeric is a known superhero of fighting inflammation. But a lot of the time, people don’t use it properly, as it needs to be paired with black pepper and fats for absorption. So I created a nutritionally-optimized golden milk blend called Golden Fuel that has everything you need in one pure blend — and it also contains collagen, which is amazing for your gut health (and therefore skin, hair, and nails experience benefits too) due to the L-Glutamine helping with gut inflammation. After drinking this every day for two weeks when I first had those awful symptoms, my inflamed cystic acne calmed down measurably, my acne scars improved, my stomach bloat went down, my rings fit, and my joints no longer hurt.
Probiotics + Fermented Foods
Having good gut bacteria is crucial for maintaining gut health. An imbalanced gut can lead to things like candida, SIBO, or leaky gut like I had. To help my leaky gut issues and digestion, I started taking probiotics and incorporating fermented foods like kimchi and kombucha. Other good sources are low-sugar probiotic yogurts like kefir or cultured coconut yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, pickles, and natto.
It’s a known fact that people with Hashimoto’s typically don’t tolerate gluten very well, and it can exacerbate our inflammatory symptoms. Especially if you are dealing with gut-health related issues, many people find relief by nixing gluten from their diets. Just make sure you’re not substituting with a ton of processed gluten-free goods that are high in starches and sugars!
Dairy and Sugar
Dairy doesn’t bother everyone, but as much as I didn’t want to admit it, it really helped my health and skin when I stopped having dairy. It helped reduce my acne, and inarguably helped my fatigue and sluggishness. Then let’s talk about sugar — while I won’t demonize it, I’ll just say there aren’t exactly many upsides to sugar. Especially if you are dealing with candida/gut issues, acne, and fatigue issues, try cutting back on the sugars to see how you feel.
Altering my exercise habits
For people dealing with hormonal balance issues, particularly adrenal fatigue, PCOS, and thyroid issues, you may find benefit in changing how you work out. It is very important to get your sweat on regularly, but long duration exercise like an hour long class or training session multiple times a week can actually work against you. When your body is already undergoing stress from trying to heal, a drawn out and intense workout session can encourage high cortisol levels and poor recovery. Instead, try keeping things short and sweet with higher intensity intervals for 20-30 minutes on some days, and on others, focus on active recovery and restorative exercise like yoga.
Stress + Sleep Management habits
Managing your stress and sleep is something you know you “should” do, but it tends to be the first thing out the window when things get busy. Ironically, these things are some of the most silent yet influential factors in supporting your hormonal health and inflammation. I aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night, wind down properly with my nighttime routine for quality of sleep, and I prioritize how to manage my stress (meditation, passive recovery, and managing digital stress).
Environment + Products
There are a lot of environmental toxins we can’t help, and living in a city like NYC doesn’t always have the cleanest air. Not only do plants make my apartment happier, there are also many varieties that actually clean the air in your living space (NASA-recommended guide here) of things like formaldehyde and ammonia that can disrupt your health.
A lot of cities add fluoride to their water, and we’re told that it’s good for our teeth. Unfortunately, it is a proven endocrine disrupter, messing with your thryoid, reproductive system, and even has shown links to type II diabetes. I invested in the best water filter and now always bring a giant reusable water bottle around with me all day.
Cleaning supplies and cosmetics can carry so many toxic chemicals, which they don’t even need to disclose due to loose regulations on those types of products. Thankfully, the availability of non-toxic products is better than ever! I switched all of my cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, bath and body products, and makeup to non-toxic formulas that are free of endocrine-disrupting parabens, sulfates, and other yucky ingredients.
Mind you, these changes all have taken place over the span of about two years bit by bit, so don’t be intimidated by this comprehensive list! Pick what feels most attainable to start, then once you got that down, tackle the next. I will say that the dietary changes are usually the biggest game-changers for most people, particularly if you aren’t in a great place with your nutritional habits to begin with. And that’s totally okay if that’s where you’re starting — that just means that much more room to feel better and begin improving!