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?? 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.
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?
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