Why Prevention Doesn’t Work

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It was a busy Monday morning. My to-do list was miles long and I was cruising my way through it. I hopped on a website looking for test results for a client and happened upon some of my own bloodwork I was waiting for.

I couldn’t resist taking a peek. I scanned through the markers quickly, just looking for the key highlights. I figured I’d dive in for a more thorough analysis later.

And then I saw it.

I’d run a couple of thyroid antibody markers just to rule them out. I’d seen some suspect imbalances on another test I’d run that warranted further investigation.

My breath caught in my throat when I saw the results:

POSITIVE.

Positive?? I was producing antibodies to my own thyroid?!?

It took a moment for this to sink in. Antibodies to my own tissues mean an autoimmune response. Given my overall presentation and the rest of my labs, I quickly realized that the new word in my health journey was Hashimoto’s.

The word “autoimmune” isn’t one any of us want to hear, but for me it had extra weight. My mother struggled for over 20 years with two very serious autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis and lupus) and I’d seen first-hand how horrifying this can be, especially going the medical route.

I sat with this new information with a heavy heart.

Why Prevention Doesn't Work | eatnakednow.com

I cried. A lot. I shared the news only with my husband, feeling overwhelmed not only by sadness but by the idea that I could have done something to prevent this.

No one really knows the exact cause of autoimmune disease, but there are certain factors that are typically present: genetic predisposition, major life stress, and the consumption of gluten.

Genetic predisposition? Check.

Significant stress? Check, check, check.

That left gluten consumption: the only factor among these three over which I had any real control.

Ever since studying nutrition I’d shifted my diet away from being gluten-dependent (I used to eat it multiple times every single day). I wasn’t always perfect – I’d go from eating no gluten at all, to the rare indulgence, to the slightly-less-than-rare indulgence, but overall I was pretty good. I knew that this was one tool in my toolkit that could make or break the autoimmune puzzle for me.

And then I got pregnant with our second child.

I didn’t have many food aversions, but I did have this steady state of nausea that simply wouldn’t lift. The only thing that helped it was gluten. Toast, pasta, a lil’ pastry… I tried their gluten-free counterparts and they just didn’t do the trick. Since I was doing everything else so well, I just gave in.

I had a gluten-party.

I’m not one of those people who blows up digestively when I eat gluten. In fact, I’ve done enough healing work over the last few years that I can actually tolerate it pretty well. I wouldn’t say I feel my best when I’m eating it, but it doesn’t take me out like it does a lot of people.

And so, since I was already feeling pretty crummy from the early days of pregnancy, I gave in and ate gluten. Lots of it. I knew it wasn’t good for me. I knew it was risky. And I just didn’t care. It tasted So. Damned. Good. I let that override what I knew I should be doing.

Of all people, I knew better.

I have intimate experience with autoimmune disease and how ugly it can get.

I am well-versed in the many, many ways that gluten is so hard on people’s systems.

I knew that one of the most important things I could do for my own health was to stay away from it.

And yet, I still ate it.

Until I had very clear evidence – read: a medical diagnosis – that now moved this up to the very top of my priority list.

Without another thought, I immediately implemented the single most important dietary change anyone with autoimmune disease can make:

I went 100% gluten free.

Within an hour of sharing my results with my husband, I asked him to take all gluten-containing items out of our house so that I wouldn’t be tempted. There was no looking back. From that moment forward, I was committed. Fully committed. Gluten hasn’t (knowingly) crossed my lips since.

This experience was a major Aha! moment for me. I realized that most of the time, it’s just not enough to know that we should or shouldn’t do something in order to prevent a potential health issue. Most of the time, we need those labs in our face, the hard data telling us it’s time to make that change.

The amazing thing? After a day or two of mourning buttery croissants and good dark beer, the adjustment has been painless. In fact, it’s easier than ever to stay away from gluten-containing foods, no matter how delectable they appear, because it’s no longer an option for me. I know that every time I consume gluten I am inspiring my immune system to attack my thyroid. And that is a no-go for me.

This is why prevention doesn’t work.

With the rare exception of the truly internally motivated:

It’s not enough to know what we “should” be doing to stay healthy.

It’s not enough to want to feel good and live long, vibrant lives.

It’s not enough to know the risks.

Until there’s a specific health reason – usually in the form of a diagnosis or feeling really shitty – it’s almost impossible to do everything we know we should be doing. There are too many reasons not to!

I see this all the time in my practice.

Mostly, I work with clients who are really sick and thus powerfully motivated to make significant change. The sicker the client, the more compliant they are with strict protocols. But occasionally I get someone who’s just wanting some fine tuning preventatively, someone who’s basically healthy but wants to take it to the next level. We dive in, and when it comes time for the protocol, they panic.

I have had several of these “why am I doing this again?” urgent phone calls over the last few weeks with these very clients – those who don’t manifest significant symptoms yet, who’ve been given no formal diagnosis, who are for the most part healthy and just addressing things that we see preventatively.

That is the hardest work.

As practitioners it’s so easy to tout the value of preventative health care. Of course it’s optimal and ideal and I wish everyone would do it. Including me.

But for most of us it’s just not that easy.

Tell me: what has your experience been? Have you been able to make significant lifestyle and dietary changes just because you want to feel optimal, without things going majorly downhill first? Or have you needed the weight of a diagnosis or serious health issue to inspire change?

8 Comments

  1. leslie

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    As another holistic nutritionist you just had a child, it is not uncommon to have this symptom after child birth. Give your body a chance to heal itself, monitor it, watch it, but check out the concerns after child bearing children and immune issues with the thyroid. Take Care

    • Thank you, Leslie. Yes, I’m aware of that. I actually discovered it DURING pregnancy, so it’s something we’re carefully monitoring. Thank you for your thoughts!

  2. Diane

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    I have had digestive problems all my life. I would throw up in my sleep ( many a nights I would find my mother sitting at the foot of my bed, or my sister jumping off the top Bunk bed to help me when they heard me start retching). Little did we know I was born with a rare cyst on my biliary ducts and a non functioning Gall bladder. It wasn’t until an near fatal car accident that they found these two problem. Three surgeries and multiple hospitalizations later the cyst and non functioning ( deformed) Gall bladder was successfully removed. I have always been a very picky eater many foods made me feel sick to my stomach and I suffered from nausea. Pastas and cereal was the easiest for me to digest.The healthiest I had ever felt was during my pregnancy, After giving birth I was so busy my meals were rather simple and I am not a “lover of food”, Oatmeal or dry cereal for breakfast ,working for a busy pediatric office I rarely had lunch , and dinner was miso soup with tofu. along with tuna sushi or a vegetable roll At 5’8″ i was only 110 lbs. I was always tired and also had a huge goiter, Hashimotos My Mother, Uncle and grandmother all had thyroid disease. Through the years I developed bowel obstructions that needed emergency surgery and surgery to repair a hernia in the midline incision as it had been opened many times leaving little healthy tissue to properly close the incision. Fast forward 27 years, I have had my thyroid removed due to a rapidly growing tumor crossing the midline which would make me choke on food or even fluids. I’m having difficulty getting the dose of Synthroid correct due to my inability to absorb solids in a normal time frame. A gastric emptying test revealed food sits in my stomach for over 6 hours before finally dumping rapidly through my system . * side note Much of my small intestines have been removed due to other extensive surgeries including a bypass of the mesenteric artery a bowel that died due to loss of blood flow and loosing the illil secal valve. Leaving me with Gastroparesis. I was finally diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis and wasting syndrome. My pancreatic ducts were stinted twice and I was doing somewhat better after that procedure. I am in constant pain and struggle to remain at a healthy weight. I’m only 54 years young and already have Osteopenia. My foods are all low Fodmap, Gluten free dairy free and I drink close to a gallon of water a day. My blood sugar level is difficult to control as it is usually very low or normal, until I eat. I have a ridiculous amount of food and environmental allergies or sensitivities. My goal is to avoid future surgeries ( to date I have had over a dozen abdominal surgeries. I still have an inability to absorb foods normally. I do love fresh veggies but they are difficult to digest in any form. I also have difficulty digesting lipids and proteins. My goal is to find foods that I can eat that wont cause difficulty breathing or cause severe distention yet give me the energy I need to make it through the day. Many of the approved Fodmap foods , I seem to have an allergy or sensitivity ( such as , broccoli , cauliflower, bok choy, ANY form of pepper being bell peppers red peppers or black pepper, paprika, turmeric,Cinnamon, all spice ginger, Nutmeg, peanuts or anything prepared near these spices and foods. All shell fish , all melons, cherries, & I need to avoid any food or fruit with small seeds because of the possibility of lodging in the pancreatic ducts. I’m sure I have left a few things out since this has been a life long problem. I must take pancreatic enzymes to help in digestion or I am in horrific pain. I remain hopeful that one day I will find the correct balance and be pain free and look forward to a meal instead of being in fear. For now , coconut water with blueberries ,lemons, oranges, rice, and few vegetables , tofu Miso are my main foods. I would love to expand this list without causing abdominal pain. I have faith and will continue my quest to find the right balance for my body!

    • Diane, you have been through quite a tremendous struggle with your health. I certainly wish for you to find balance in your body so that you can expand your diet!

  3. Leslie

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    I can really identify with what your saying! In some ways, my own treatment has been really challenging for the very reason that I haven’t discovered some serious diagnosis. Some days, I wish I had – not because I want to be sick or struggle with illness – but because it would explain how I’m feeling AND give me a really, really good reason to stay on the straight and narrow. Most days, I do really good sticking to my diet protocol, but when family functions, holidays and night out abound….food becomes my greatest challenge and it turns into a very slippery slope. Thank you, as always, for being so candid about your journey. Appreciate you!

    • Thank you for sharing, Leslie. It is so hard! You’re doing amazing work. xx

  4. Barb Bukovnik

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    Hi Margaret, I just found your Hashimoto story on Facebook tonight and my heart goes out to you. It took 4 doctors in about five or more years before the right tests were done and I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s also. A year earlier, I decided to experiment with eliminating gluten and putting it back several times to see if I noticed any difference in how I was feeling. Fortunately I could tell that I simply didn’t feel as yucky when I was not eating it so I decided to eliminate it completely from my diet. After learning about the diagnosis, I was scared but relieved to know that it wasn’t something worse until I heard that there was no cure and I would be dealing with it for the rest of my life. I kicked into attack mode and learned everything I could about it, changed my diet, lifestyle and added supplements that support my thyroid, one from S.P. that works as a decoy for my immune system and replaced certain nutrients that Hashimoto’s diminishes. I am happy to say that today my labs do not support the diagnosis of Hashimoto’s any longer. I still have symptoms that get worse every time I mess up with food choices or allow myself to get tired and recently learned I am fighting a secondary infection, not EBV however, to get rid of the remaining symptoms. I need to finish healing my thyroid and stop the compounded thyroid hormones I am currently taking. I didn’t notice how long ago you wrote your story out, but please know that it is possible to reverse this condition and teach your immune system to do only the job it was created to do in the first place. I’ll be praying for you to get the same results I’m getting and we can work toward the same finish line! God bless!

    • Thank you Barb. I’m very happy to hear your results! You’re doing great, necessary work. I’m glad it’s paying off. Thank you for sharing!

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