It has taken me so long to write this because I usually don’t do well with personal posts. However, I feel like there may be someone out there who is reading this and may be inspired to become healthier. I know I would have been inspired and comforted to read about this experience during the early phases of my disease.
In short, I stopped eating meat, dairy, eggs, and most processed foods at the beginning of January 2016. I also started slowly working out in the gym. Several major changes happened to me because of this lifestyle change, but this post is about the biggest change.
The most significant change that occurred was the remission of my thyroid disease. I had been struggling with Graves’ disease for almost three years. Nobody in my family suffered from any sort of autoimmune disease, so Graves’ disease was something I never saw coming my way. Unbeknown to me, it was going to change my entire perspective on life.
WHAT IS GRAVES’ DISEASE?
In short, Graves’ disease is when the body starts attacking its own thyroid, and in turn, the thyroid starts producing more thyroid hormone. This leads to an overactive thyroid.
The thyroid is an essential organ because it controls your metabolism, among other things. An overactive thyroid means an overactive metabolism. And an overactive metabolism means that I’m tired all of the time. for example, walking up a flight of stairs would leave me panting to catch my breath. I had a resting heart rate around 140bpm, which meant simple tasks like carrying groceries from the car would wear me out. I’d take several naps a day because I was constantly fatigued.
I couldn’t help but be depressed over my condition because I knew that a normal twenty-something year old should not feel like she’s withering away. Since I had an overactive thyroid and metabolism, I wasn’t able to do much on the outside, while my body was running sprints on the inside.
Seeing an endocrinologist every month for those three years to keep track of my blood results, was tiring. Even though my levels started to become normal, I couldn’t sustain those levels without medicine.
To add to that, I was struggling with one of the least flattering symptoms of hyperthyroidism, called Graves’ Eye Disease. This is a symptom where the eyes start to bulge out of the socket and a lot of swelling in the surround tissue occurs. Blindness and vision changes can occur in some people because the swelling crushes the optic nerve. It’s unknown how exactly the Graves’ disease and bulging eyes are connected. All I know is that I fully experienced huge baggy eyes, a bit of the eye bulging, and double vision. People always asked me if I was okay because it looked like I had been crying. And I can’t tell you how many times old friends would see me again and comment, “wow something looks different about your face.” This part of the disease took me the longest to cope with. Medicine could fix my blood levels, but it didn’t do anything for my eyes.
Aside from the obvious physical changes that I endured, I was shocked to find out that Graves’ disease disqualified me from continuing Air Force ROTC in college. I was around 93lbs because of the disease, which was significantly underweight to qualify for field training. Everything I worked for in college was taken from me, and I was left feeling devastated.
Finally I had enough of all the doctor visits and needles being pricked into my arm. I was done with doctors telling me not to exercise because it could hurt my heart. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. It was depressing. It was humiliating. I tried EVERYTHING to end up with what felt like NOTHING. For those three years, I probably read every article, study, and personal blog I could find on Graves’ disease. I listened to the advice of all my doctors. Nothing worked. The disease didn’t go away. I had to either accept the fact that I would be on medicine forever, or continue to fight it.
Well I fought it… and I won.
On January 1, 2016, I made a New Years Resolution to control every aspect of my health that I had the ability to control. I changed my eating habits. I adopted a plant-based diet, and eliminated nearly all junk food and processed food. (Full disclosure: I have added some processed foods back into my diet since then!)
I changed my fitness habits from zero workouts to walking one mile each day, despite every doctor telling me not to workout. My logic was this: if a muscle is weak, I would strengthen it by working it and letting it recover; if my heart is weak, I should strengthen it by working it. I eventually started a twelve week calisthenics-based workout program that I did in the comfort of my home. My heart was getting used to the light exercise, and everything about me started to feel right again.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER I CHANGED MY LIFESTYLE?
After just one week of eating plant based and walking a mile, my digestion problems started to go away. I was “regular” after one month. Sorry if it’s TMI, but someone out there who is struggling might want to know!
Also, walking one mile became easy enough that I started walking two, or three, and eventually six or seven miles a day. And then I started with where I am today, with weightlifting. (Read about my weightlifting journey HERE.)
I started noticing my self esteem come back after being lost for three years. I finally started feeling like myself again.
At the end of February, I was scheduled for another blood test. My results were crazy! Not only was it the first time the results were negative for Graves’ disease, but they actually showed that the medicine was causing me to have an underachieve thyroid. For three freaking years, I was trying to get to a normal blood range, and after two months of a plant-based diet and light exercise, I went passed the normal range (medicinally enduced). So, my doctor weened me off the meds until the next blood test in a month. By the end of March 2016, I was completely off the medicine I had been taking for almost three years. I haven’t been back on it since.
A few other things happened after I made this lifestyle change:
- I still have bags under my eyes from scar tissue, but at least the puffiness and bulging have disappeared. Now I understand that I am much more than the bags under my eyes. I am this super cool fit chick who wants to change the world and loves other people for who they are 🙂 I am mentally strong because of this.
- Bye bye migraines! Weekly migraines that I had since I was a child vanished into thin air. I haven’t had a full blown migraine since. *knocks on wood*
- Hello luscious hair! My hair grew back healthier than it ever has in my life. One of the symptoms of Graves’ disease is hair loss, so I had a balding spot from the three years of suffering. And I used to have grotesque chunks of loose hair in the shower. That doesn’t happen anymore!
- Goodbye anxiety! There was one day when I thought to myself, “huh, I haven’t had an anxiety attack in a while.” I used to cry and panic about something weekly. The things that were unbearably stressful are now thing I can easily sort out. I’ve been too busy living life to have time for minuscule worries. I’ve been able to make real friends because I can finally be myself again! I can’t even explain in words how amazing it feels to live life without anxiety.
- HELLO HAPPINESS! I am HAPPY. How do I describe this!? Life is a beautiful treasure for me. I am honored to be a part of it. I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to live to the fullest, and experience everything with an open heart. I love my body, and everything that it can do! I am happy with who I am. I am truly grateful for the experiences which have shaped me, including my thyroid disease, including the loss of my dream career. It all sounds so cheesy, but it’s remarkably true.
My experience with ridding of this disease is why I am certain that the body has the amazing ability to heal itself if given it the right tools. It takes time, heck it took me an entire year of consistency (See: how I stay motivated). But good health is worth it in the end.
Remember, I’m not saying that my experience is exactly what will happen for you if you switch your diet. I’m sharing what happened to me in case it inspires you to live a healthier life. Every human body is different, and usually we should follow the advice of our doctors. But every now and then, if you know yourself well enough, you may have to take matters into your own hands. Listen to your body when it whispers so you don’t have to hear it scream.