Author: Crystal Lynn Kamm

gluten free

How to Eat Gluten-Free

I’ve been eating completely gluten-free for over three years and it’s the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I say this, but I do realize that for some people, the process can be daunting. This is especially true of people who enjoy eating lots of processed food. Before I started eating gluten-free, some of my favorite snacks were crackers and cheese, garlic bread, pasta, pizza, and cupcakes. The people who ask me how to eat gluten-free are always concerned about losing their favorite treats. I admit, this is a valid concern, but before you start to lose heart, here’s the simple start to eating gluten-free.

Getting Rid of Gluten

“How do I eat gluten-free? Gluten is in everything. I’ll never be able to eat my favorite foods ever again!”

Whenever someone finds out that they need to cut gluten, usually because a medical professional suggested it, I find that most people have a huge attitude about it, and their response is initially a bit irrational. As creatures of habit, most humans don’t like change, especially when it’s a change to something super personal like our diets. If the “hassle” is really the part that bugs you the most, you’re in for a treat. Getting rid of gluten out of your diet is probably the easiest thing a person can do.

First of all, gluten is NOT in everything. Gluten is in a lot of processed food, but all of the fresh, real food you find around the outside edges of the grocery store (not the center aisles) is almost completely, naturally gluten-free. You will never find gluten in any produce, fruit, vegetable, dairy product, milk, butter, eggs, or meat, unless they’ve been processed in some way. (Like fried chicken or deep-fried zucchini, for example.)

If you’re starting to see where I’m going with this and not liking it, just hold on for a minute.

This is where I like to invoke Chris Kresser whose position on eating and nutrition is pretty solid. “Eat real food,” he says. The simple reminder that processed food is NOT real food is enough to get my attention. (More on processed food in future posts. I PROMISE!)

Tracking Your Daily Food Intake

All right, time for some practical application.

When you first make the commitment to go gluten-free, I recommend starting by identifying all of the sources of gluten in your daily life. You may need to track your food intake for a few days first if you don’t keep constant tabs on what you’re eating. My Fitness Pal is a great app for food tracking, and I recommend that everyone have that app and use it occasionally on their food journey. (You’ll hear me mention it every time I talk about making some major diet change.) For this exercise, writing everything down can be just as effective as you won’t be counting macros or anything. (Yet…I promise to make you do it on other occasions though!)

A list of foods containing gluten that you eat in a day might look like this:

  • Breakfast cereal
  • Sandwich
  • BBQ sauce
  • Ice cream cone
  • Beer

If you commonly eat a lot of processed or packaged foods, or dine out a lot, especially at chain restaurants or fast food places, there may be lots of sources of hidden gluten in your diet, and this list may be a lot longer than my example! For more specifics, you can check out this comprehensive list of gluten-containing ingredients.

A Note About Cross-Contamination

If you’ve been told by your doctor that you can’t eat gluten anymore, you may want to consider the potential dangers of cross-contamination as well. Food labels will mention possible contamination (with labels that say something like “Made in a facility that processes wheat products” or “May contain wheat”) and most restaurants will be up-front with you about possible cross-contamination or ask you if you want their kitchen staff to handle your food with fresh gloves. In your own home, you may want to consider purchasing a new toaster or have one that isn’t shared with the members of your family who still eat regular bread.

Personally, I have learned to choose which situations I’ll be concerned about cross-contamination, depending on my risk and on previous experiences with getting sick because of cross-contamination concerns. People who are extremely sensitive or have a Celiac diagnosis should definitely be aware of the dangers.

stop before ordering french fries

It’s true that most French fries are naturally gluten-free (they’re just potatoes) but some companies put flour on them to retain their shape, so be sure to read labels if you’re still purchasing pre-packaged foods. Always ask restaurant staff about their French fry making policies as well. Most restaurants deep fry their French fries in the same fryers that make breaded chicken, fish, and cheese sticks, and that means that breading may easily end up on your fries, making you sick. Some restaurants use separate fryers, so be sure to ask around and know which restaurants are safe for you.

Choosing Alternatives to Gluten-Containing Foods

Once you’ve identified the list of all gluten-containing foods that you eat on a daily basis, the process of switching to gluten-free alternatives is fairly simple. Breakfast cereals, bread, sauces, and even desserts and beer all have extensive gluten-free options on the market that can be worthy replacements for the gluten-filled versions that you have to get rid of.

In the world of processed food, it’s so incredibly easy to find gluten-free options that you will probably not even miss a beat.

Some of my favorite processed gluten-free products that helped me transition out of gluten-filled processed foods are listed below to help you out:

For the record, I don’t really buy or use ANY of the above items anymore, but these are brands that are relatively reliable and are working to ensure that gluten-free options are out there for people like us. I applaud them for that effort.

Also, most of these options are available right at your local grocery store as well, but they are often a good deal more expensive when purchased there. I recommend shopping around online for better deals (or clicking my links to find them on Amazon.)

You can also message me for more help. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I don’t mind being a resource for people who need help with this process!

Next steps

Now, you’re eating gluten-free! Congratulations. That was easy, wasn’t it?

I’m not going to let you stop here though. You’re gluten-free, but if you are eating the items that I suggested above on a regular basis, you are not yet eating “healthy.” Take a deep breath, and if you’re ready, keep reading.

When Going Gluten-Free Doesn’t Work

Eating gluten-free is easy enough to do initially, but there is a lot more to “eating healthy” than simply replacing everything processed with wheat with other foods that are just as processed but without wheat. Unfortunately, many gluten-free alternatives, like bread, cookies, and cereals, are actually made with more sugar than their counterparts. This is because wheat gluten acts as a binding agent in most baked goods, and without it, bakers and food manufacturers need to find something else that is sticky enough to hold the food together.

Many people who go “gluten-free” by simply switching to gluten-free processed foods may find themselves feeling initially better after the change, but not long-term. If this occurs, it is usually because, in the effort to rid themselves of gluten, the person has dramatically increased their sugar intake.

You’ve just solved one problem by creating another!

Count Your Macros

The best option for most of us is to track our complete daily macros (consumption of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and I like to throw in tracking sugar too because sugar is one of the biggest sources of health problems today.)

Once you begin tracking your macros, you’ll have a better idea of what your daily food intake looks like. Most Americans are getting a bad balance of macros (such as too much fat and sugar but not enough protein, or too many carbs and sugar, but not enough of them sourced from healthier vegetables and fruits, respectively.)

At this point, I would suggest tackling the gluten sources that contain the most sugar, like gluten-free bread, desserts, and cereals, but you may find it in other treats as well. (For me, my daily Starbucks habit was one of the greatest sources of sugar in my diet, but I was also getting it from drinking chocolate milk, eating chips with seasonings that were hidden sources of sugar, etc. These were all things I kept consuming regularly for years while eating “gluten-free” and I just couldn’t understand why I was still so sick!)

Get a Food Allergy Test or try an elimination diet

Most medical practitioners can provide food allergy tests that are either covered by insurance or somewhat affordable (several hundred dollars at most, often with payment plan options, if they aren’t covered by insurance). If you’re still experiencing symptoms and discomfort, you may be allergic to something else besides gluten, like dairy or eggs.

Just keep in mind, if you are told that you don’t have food allergies, that does not mean you should carry on as normal and continue eating lots of sugar and processed foods. You can also try an elimination diet to help you determine which foods are causing difficulty and which foods need to be cut. In fact, elimination diets are such a great idea that you can find information about them from lots of nutritionists, health websites, practitioners, etc. I’ve seen elimination diets promoted by some of my favorites like Kelly Brogan and Chris Kresser, and I’ve linked to these resources below.

Understanding More About How Food Works

In my opinion, the biggest issue surrounding nutrition and chronic disease is that many people simply don’t understand that food is the fuel that makes our bodies work. If you’re hoping to fuel your body so that it works the best it can, you need to give it the right nutrients.

Overall nutrition resources

A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives by Kelly Brogan

The Paleo Cure: Eat Right for Your Genes, Body Type, and Personal Health Needs — Prevent and Reverse Disease, Lose Weight Effortlessly, and Look and Feel Better than Ever by Chris Kresser

The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg

The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health by Emeran Mayer

The Longevity Diet: Discover the New Science Behind Stem Cell Activation and Regeneration to Slow Aging, Fight Disease, and Optimize Weight by Valter Longo

Elimination Diet Resources

Mind Body Green Simple Elimination Diet

Change Your Food, Heal Your Mood ebook by Kelly Brogan

Autoimmune Paleo Protocol by Chris Kresser

Opening Up the Dialogue About Processed vs. Real Food

The world of nutritional health is such a complicated one in our modern society, yet this statement seems like the type that I would have crossed out if I saw it as the opening line of one of my students’ essays 10 years ago. How could nutritional health be complicated, especially here in the United States, the land of plenty? Unfortunately, the answer is simpler than it seems. We have “plenty” of things to eat, but most of it isn’t real food.

the chronic illness and processed food connection

Let me be clear up front. I am not judging. How could I? I grew up eating lots of vegetables from cans, enjoying some of my favorite treats like boxed macaroni and cheese, ice cream sandwiches, Chicken in a Biscuit crackers, squeeze cheese, Ovaltine, Starbucks lattes…and writing this list out used to make me hungry, but now it just makes me cringe. When I was a kid, I struggled with all kinds of things like OCD, occasional depression (which I didn’t realize at the time, but understood later), anxiety, constipation, and upset stomach.

As an adult (age 24) I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis after a long period of unexplained illness. (You can read that whole story elsewhere on my blog.) Even after I was diagnosed, the medical care surrounding the treatment of the illness was confusing and weird. Doctors told me I was in a waiting game because until my thyroid actually “did something” (what a terrifyingly vague warning!) there was nothing they could do to treat me. Meanwhile, I asked what I should do about my diet and activity levels, and I was assured that since I was skinny, I was probably fine. So I carried on as always, going merrily along on my own unhealthy way, eating some real food, but a whole lot of fake, processed food as well.

In 2013, my health hit a wall. I started experiencing those stomach problems that had always plagued me, but with even more intensity than ever before. I had acid reflux almost every day, and I could never decide what was causing it. Over time, I started to realize that the acid reflux generally followed food consumption, so eventually, I stopped eating almost entirely and subsisted primarily on my daily Starbucks chai and any other small amount of food that didn’t make me feel too full. Sure, I ate salads and things like organic chicken, but I was consuming more sugar than anything else. (Back when it was still funny, my friends affectionately called me “the hummingbird,” because I lived on sugary beverages and was always jittery with anxiety.)

My doctors had no idea what to do with me. I was diagnosed with GERD, chronic acid reflux, and an anxiety disorder, but these issues, they assured me, had nothing to do with my Hashimoto’s diagnosis. Of course, that wasn’t reassuring in the least! Over the following 2-3 years, I stopped eating gluten, which is recommended for anyone who has an autoimmune disease, took food allergy tests, got back on a serious exercise regimen, and minimized the sugar intake in my diet. I started feeling better, but still, I didn’t feel good. Even though I was now 100% gluten-free, the acid reflux occurred regularly and without warning or any identifiable triggers, I spent nights lying in my bed having inexplicable panic attacks, and I spent an entire winter focusing all of my energy on the simple task of not ending my life.

How was I so sick, so desperate, and so unhappy, and yet no doctor seemed willing to admit that I had a problem? I convinced them to do an upper GI scope and they happily told me that my stomach was incredibly inflamed, but there was no sign of any apparent “cause,” and they sent me home. This was when the depression reached its peak. How could I go on with my life when I was suffering so much and there was no explanation about why?

The simple answer? I was suffering from malnutrition and no one caught it.

baby steps: Treating illness with nutritional medicine

When I found Kelly Brogan’s book, A Mind of Your Own, I had been searching for information about alternative treatment options for depression. Even though my depression was so deep that I was continually envisioning my own death, there was a little part of me that still wanted to believe I could get better and could live a life where I felt good, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I started with baby steps, trying Kelly Brogan’s 30-day reset diet. It was fairly simple and at first, if I’m being honest, absolutely nothing happened. On that diet, I was still consuming some sugar through natural sources like honey and maple syrup and berries, but with the removal of other potentially inflammatory foods like grains and dairy, I did start to notice some physical changes. It wasn’t until I bit the bullet and cut out my favorite vice that things really started to happen.

Breaking up with processed sugar

Breaking up with sugar was the best thing I could have done for myself.

Within the first few days of quitting sugar completely, I went through a few normal mood swings. They were far less than they would have been if I hadn’t already been significantly reducing my sugar intake in the 6 months that preceded this. After getting off sugar, I started feeling less of that groggy, sad feeling and instead, I started feeling calm happiness, energy, and confidence. I thought that it couldn’t be just the sugar, but by then, my body had become pretty accustomed to the clean diet I was eating so the only major change had been to cut the last little bit of sugar out of my diet.

Now, when I slip up and have sugar, I feel those unpleasant sensations in my body starting over again. I realize now that underneath what sometimes felt like my body completely rejecting me, there were subtler elements that I often didn’t recognize, like the achy feeling that occurred with a sugar crash, and the depression feelings that would often occur because of the ongoing body aches.

I’d been dizzy and nauseous and achey and unhappy, because I didn’t realize that I was riding a nonstop rollercoaster of sugar spikes and crashes.

Should you stop eating sugar?

I’ve talked with a lot of people who seek me out asking for advice. They see my food pictures and admire me for eating healthy, but often I start losing them as soon as I tell them what’s actually required.

“I can’t eat dessert anymore?”

“What about Starbucks?”

“How much sugar per day can I have?”

And before you know it, they’ve gone MIA. It happens, I’m not judging. In fact, I usually recognize my old self in their actions and, if anything, it strengthens my own resolve.

By the way, if you’ve asked me for advice and not been able to follow through, don’t cut off communication with me because you’re embarrassed. I know it’s hard to follow through, but that’s why I’m here to help you. I didn’t have anyone to walk me through it and that would have been helpful.

It’s okay to be “not ready,” to perhaps “not believe” that it’ll make a difference, or even to “feel fine” and therefore be willing to put it off again and again. It’s okay to live your own life and make your own decisions, but before you do, I recommend that you at least look at the information that’s out there and USE WHAT YOU LEARN to make your decision.

I’m dying to help everyone. As soon as I hear someone feels sick, I am there trying to preach the gospel of good nutrition, but I’m learning that I can’t save everyone. Some people need to be convinced with facts and evidence, other people need to get their hearts ready, and still other people may never change their minds.

The best I can do is share the information that I find most useful and hope that it will help someone else, or help someone else help someone else they love.

Take baby steps, if you must. One. Little. Step. At a time. Just never stop moving forward.

Educational resources about nutrition

It’s no secret that I love listening to Chris Kresser, whether in his books or his podcast. He collects the most interesting data on nutrition and shares the world of other knowledgeable experts, and he presents the information in the most educational and applicable way. While this podcast might not be the best choice for your START on a nutritional journey (for that, I recommend the reading suggestions at the very end of this post), if you’re already taking your steps toward better health and finding yourself struggling, this podcast may help put some things into perspective regarding supplemental nutritional support.

Chris Kresser’s mantra is “Eat real food,” and I’ve taken that for my own as well.

By the way, this resource is mentioned on the podcast. I’ve explored it a bit and so far, it’s extremely robust and helpful. It details tons of important nutritional facts all in one handy “cheat sheet.”

(If you listen to the above podcast, there’s a COUPON CODE that can be used until, I think, March 26, 2018, so hurry up!)

Crystal’s Healthy reading list

A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives by Kelly Brogan

The Paleo Cure: Eat Right for Your Genes, Body Type, and Personal Health Needs — Prevent and Reverse Disease, Lose Weight Effortlessly, and Look and Feel Better than Ever by Chris Kresser

The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg

The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health by Emeran Mayer

The Longevity Diet: Discover the New Science Behind Stem Cell Activation and Regeneration to Slow Aging, Fight Disease, and Optimize Weight by Valter Longo

grassfed beef

5 Most Common Side Effects of a Ketogenic Diet

First of all, let it be known that I am not a doctor and don’t have any right to medically recommend things. (I’m currently studying, not practicing, nutritional therapy.) This post is merely meant to be informative and helpful in terms of different symptoms you may encounter while on a ketogenic diet. Remember to talk with your actual doctor if you have any concerns! 🙂

Ketogenic diets have grown in popularity, and whether you’re adhering to one because of a health condition, fitness lifestyle, or personal preference, you may experience a number of side effects from this dietary choice. While experiencing unpleasant side effects might make dieters frustrated and want to quit, there are very simple means of addressing these and getting yourself back on track. Here are a few tips for overcoming some of the most common side effects of a ketogenic diet.  

Acne

No one enjoys breakouts, especially the kind that never seem to go away! Unfortunately, many people experience acne during the adaptation phase of the ketogenic diet. It makes sense; your body is changing dramatically in ketosis and that means some of the initial reactions will be more negative than the ones that will develop over time. If you experience acne, treat it gently with natural cleansers and try not to pick at it. It will go away in time if you stick with the diet.

One tip I’ve gotten a few times this winter is to use tea tree oil to treat spots. I never had tried it before and I really like it! it’s not as harsh as spot acne treatment, but it’s also not so mild that you don’t see any results. Plus it smells nice and doesn’t contain chemicals, so there are a few wins for this remedy in my book! I get my tea tree oil very affordably at Whole Foods.

Bad Breath

Keto breath is a common early symptom of ketosis and is caused by the ketone release through your breathing. Some people may choose to brush their teeth more or chew gum or a natural breath freshener to minimize the effects. It’s important to note that this symptom is not caused by the mouth but by the lungs, so it may not be possible to eliminate it entirely. Fortunately, this symptom is part of the adaptation phase and goes away after a short time (1-2 weeks).

There are all kinds of tips for masking the breath, but I think the most effective is “chew gum.” It’s not really coming from your mouth and it’ll go away soon. No need to take such drastic measures. For me, I noticed it for a couple of days and then it disappeared very quickly.

Dehydration

Dehydration, and its primary associated symptoms, constipation and muscle cramps, are common results of ketosis. There are several concerns that this could be pointing to, such as:

  • Not enough water consumption
  • Changes in the microbiome due to ketosis
  • Over-consumption of constipation-causing foods like cheese, eggs, and nuts

Dehydration is treated with water and electrolytes, which help your body retain the water. Choosing the right kinds of minerals to consume can also help alleviate the symptoms of dehydration. Add pink Himalayan salt to your diet! At my house, we got a few packages of Nuun electrolyte tablets so that we could all stay hydrated in ketosis. We liked them a lot! 

Exhaustion

Because a ketogenic diet requires your body to fuel from a different source than what it’s probably used to, you may experience some weakness, exhaustion, reduced physical strength, or even reduced cognition. This is a passing symptom. Once your body grows adapted to its new energy source, this symptom should go away. One option for dealing with this can be consuming more fat. Eating an avocado may potentially help!

“Keto Flu”

Keto flu is one of the most common side effects of the ketogenic diet, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Most people who experience keto flu feel as though they have a flu-like illness, with symptoms like runny nose, headache, aches and pains, etc. A means of remedying this situation can be eating more frequently (have a fat and protein rich snack every 3-4 hours) and ensuring that you drink electrolyte-rich beverages to reduce dehydration.

Why Keto?

For me personally, a ketogenic diet has done wonders for a number of symptoms I struggle with due to my autoimmune disease. I have found the diet to help me increase my calories without increasing my food intake to levels that I can’t manage. I’ve lost weight, especially bloat, and I’ve experienced increased strength and brain power. I don’t think the results are necessarily typical because I’ve heard different reports from many different people. Everyone has their own way of responding to a diet.

If you’ve tried or are trying keto right now, what are your experiences? I always love to hear what others have to say about their experiences in the realm of better nutrition.

 

Additional Resources

The Keto Diet” by Leanne Vogel 

My friend who has also been doing kept, recommended this book to me and it’s been a great resource! Not only is the information helpful, but the recipes are also pretty great. If you click on this link to buy the book, you are using an affiliate link that provides credit to me for the recommendation 🙂 Always appreciated!

healthy food smoothie recipe

The Most Interesting Books I’ve Ever Read About Food: Delicious, Healthy Food

If you’ve known me at all for the past year at least, you know that my obsession with healthy food is at an all-time high. And that’s saying a lot actually because I’ve spent a lot of my life with a pretty unhealthy relationship with the edible stuff. If you’ve read my other posts or followed my Instagram account, you may know my story, at least in part. I’ve spent many years struggling with chronic health problems, anxiety, depression, autoimmune disease, and acid reflux. I spent many of those years feeling increased depression over the simple fact that I didn’t understand what was causing my conditions or how to fix myself. I was eating the way I always had, and it had never bothered me before! In fact, I enjoyed much of the bad stuff, like my daily Starbucks habit which gave me a nice social outlet each day and made me feel good in the moment. It turns out that the way I had always eaten was bothering me, in ways I couldn’t see and that had become the foundations of chronic disease and inflammation inside my body.

Then in 2017, everything changed for me, because the depression was at its all-time worst. Sure, I was going through some major things that year too, so many people who were loving, kind, and supportive suggested over and over that it was circumstantial, that it would change when I changed.

But I knew better. It was far more than the circumstances. It felt like my body was turning against me. Something had to change, and I knew it had to be changed by me.

 

The books that saved me

There will be a time and a place for the details of how this story unfolded, but now is not the time for that. For now, I wanted to create a handy little resource for my friends and family who want to check out the books that I’ve been reading, the books that have literally changed my life and my entire world. The shift from junk food to healthy food has taken a while, and the results even took a while to manifest themselves, but in the end, any sacrifice I’ve had to make (like ending a 13 year steady relationship with chai) have been barely worth mentioning when weighed against the countless benefits.

Full disclosure, these are affiliate links which means I can get a commission if you click on these links to buy the books. I finally signed up for this because I’ve recommended my favorite health books to hundreds of people and know so many have already made the purchase. Might as well get some credit from it, right? 🙂

The Paleo Cure by Chris Kresser

I’ve been following Chris Kresser for a long time, because when I was first diagnosed with Hashimoto’s back in 2009, he was one of the only people actually sharing information about systemic illness and natural treatment options. After a friend alerted me to his appearance on Joe Rogan a few months ago, I decided to grab this book and I’ve been reading it like a Bible ever since. It’s so full of incredible food facts that I have to put it down every few pages just so that I don’t overwhelm myself. There’s so much to learn and so much more to apply!

a mind of your own by kelly brogan

The first book that came up when I started researching dietary intervention for depression was Kelly Brogan’s, and I bought it immediately after reading the intro and some of the testimonials on her website. To my surprise, after I got the book I found out that the author herself also suffered from Hashimoto’s before she put it into remission with the dietary plan she details in this book. (She talked about this briefly on her episiode of Joe Rogan as well. Seriously, shout out to Joe Rogan for all his awesome guests!) This book taught me so much about how to live healthier and eat for my actual needs.

If you decide to read either or both of these books, please let me know! I love talking with people about their experiences and discoveries. The journey to good health is like planning for a great adventure: life itself. Once you’re equipped and ready, it’s time to GO and there will be no holding you back.

Yeah, all this sounded corny to me too once upon a time, but I was looking at life through a sugar haze. Now, I can see clearly. JOIN ME!

Does Skin Brushing Really Work?

What does rubbing a coarse-bristled brush over your skin have to do with your health?

A lot, apparently!

I was first introduced to the idea of skin brushing by Goop, and naturally I was a bit skeptical. I find Gwyneth Paltrow to be interesting because she has some unique views on health and natural living, which I appreciate, but she has been criticized for presenting outrageous ideas. (Like, Oh god, vagina steaming?!) But she also has her fair share of excellent ideas, even if they’re on a celebrity budget that an average lady in Indianapolis can’t necessarily afford follow. (Sorry, GP, I can’t get locally sourced wild caught fish from the Pacific here.)

The benefits of skin brushing

Skin brushing, however, is super affordable and achievable. I have “alligator skin” sometimes, which is a very common side effect of having Hashimoto’s disease. For many years I looked for something that would manage that problem because no amount of moisturizing was able to deal with it.

Let me back up a second. When I say “alligator skin,” that’s kind of an inside joke, but what I mean by that is the skin, especially on my legs, but also in a few other places like my forearms, becomes extremely dry, flaking off in almost a honeycomb pattern. If I don’t get those dead skin cells off before I wash or shave, the results can be really gross. Sometimes the dead skin rolls up after getting waterlogged, gets stuck in the razor, and almost takes on a rubbery texture, making it absolutely impossible to get off!

This isn’t just me, is it? * Crickets * Well, okay, moving on….

Apparently there are a number of other benefits to skin brushing. According to Goop and Dr. Kelly Brogan, skin brushing benefits you by:

  • Boosting circulation
  • Helping the cells and body remove toxins and waste
  • Improving the appearance of cellulite
  • Sweeping away dead skin cells
  • Stimulating the lymphatic system

Of course, before I claim that all of these benefits are accurate, I’d want to get a few more experts on board. For me, removing the dead skin cells and getting smoother, softer skin is a big plus all by itself, so I’m not sure if I even care whether the rest of it is true. I’ve tried every kind of salt and sugar scrub imaginable and none of them have ever done the trick. In fact, they seem to add to the build up on my skin, which is definitely not the look or feel I’m going for.

Next, I’ll explain how it do it, but go ahead and scroll down to the end if you want to know more about what the experts say about Goop’s claims before you decide.

Choosing the right brush

First, I bought a brush, and just like the instructions say, it’s not too soft and it’s not too rough. Actually, when I run my fingers over the bristles, it feels just right, but when applied to the skin, it made me cringe at first. However, I didn’t want to go softer and risk not actually being able to brush away the dead skin cells. I need those gone!

skin brushing

 

The process of skin brushing

I try to follow the appropriate strokes detailed in the Goop article above–long sweeping strokes starting at the legs and then moving to the arms–except I start by using more of the edges of the brush rather than applying the whole thing directly to my skin. It takes a moment for the nerves to get used to the process. If you break or scratch the skin in any way, that’s how you know your brush is too rough! Skin brushing should remove the dead skin, but should never penetrate the dermal layer or cause skin to become red and irritated.

Note: Unlike the instructions from the Goop article, I choose not to apply oil to the brush because my goal is to sweep away all the dead skin cells before a shower or bath, not get it all stuck in the oil like what happens with a body scrub. If I’m shaving, I use a nice shaving lotion to soothe everything during my shower or bath. For me, hydration comes after.

Also, Goop recommends brushing in the morning for the energizing benefits, but since I do weight training and hiking after work, I usually prefer to brush and shower in the evening. (Some have claimed that brushing before sauna use is a good idea too, but I’m not sure how my fellow gym goers would feel about watching me brush my skin in the locker room after my workout.)

(Is anyone interested in photos or videos demonstrating how skin brushing works? Let me know in the comments and I’ll put something together!)

After my bath or shower and shaving, I moisturize the areas that were brushed. Personally, I feel that lotion does a number on my skin, adding to the gooey build-up that sometimes occurs when those dead skin cells don’t come off. Plus, lotions are made of all kinds of weird ingredients, unless you make it yourself or purchase a trusted brand. Other options include coconut oil and aloe vera. Coconut oil is natural moisturizer, plus has a number of health benefits, according to Dr. Rhonda Patrick. Personally, I think coconut oil is too oily for my skin most of the year and if I use it a few days in a row, it doesn’t seem to absorb very well. I prefer to use natural aloe vera gel as a moisturizer (or rather more of a skin refresher) most of the time. It’s also extremely refreshing after the effects of exfoliating.

So, does it really do what they say?

To be honest, the jury is still out this. I personally enjoy getting rid of that flaky, icky skin a few times a week, but certainly not every single day! The only experts I’ve found who tout skin brushing are of the pseudoscience variety, and while that does not bother me because of my complicated history with the “legitimate medical community,” I want to make sure we all recognize that this practice may not be quite as powerful as it claims to be.

I’m fine with using this practice for the notable benefits and if the other benefits exist, all the better!

Does it feel good? Yes. Does it make my skin feel healthier? YES.

Beyond that, who knows!

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Thyroid Disease From the Perspective of a Patient

Imagine a disease that makes you gain (or lose!) tons of unexpected weight, lose your hair, feel nauseous all the time, and experience severe mood swings like bipolar disorder. And these are just some of the possible symptoms. Sounds like a great time, right? It’s not. This disease is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and it affects 14 million Americans, most of which are women, among whom you’ll find me.

What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?

I’m not sure how common the name Hashimoto’s is for people who don’t have it and aren’t exposed to the topic on a regular basis, but in my family and among my friends, everyone has at least heard the name. I’m not shy about telling people about my condition, not because I am a hypochondriac who wants to rest on the laurels of my illness accomplishments, but honestly…because I’m embarrassed.

But before I get into that, let me explain what Hashimoto’s is. Some people mistakenly take the easy answer and say that Hashimoto’s is a condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive. While this may be (sort of) true, it’s not the only thing to expect if you get a Hashimoto’s diagnosis.

In fact, you may never experience this particular symptom, or it may be your main symptom. The disease manifests itself completely differently for everyone, which is why it’s often so hard to identify! The only people ever tested for it either a) have some kind of thyroid level issue, or b) have a family member who has already been diagnosed. I fell into the latter category when I was diagnosed 8 years ago after severe cases of anemia and depression.

Recently, a childhood friend of mine was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and began to experience many of the things I’ve experienced, from symptoms to a lack of concern from doctors, and it made me see the importance of drawing attention to this oversight in the medical community. Her hair was falling out in handfuls and she was prescribed an antidepressant. She and I both suffered endlessly from GERD and I was referred to a psychiatrist. This is what we deal with! We talk nearly every day about the latest development in her condition and her dealings with medical professionals. I sometimes fear that it isn’t very encouraging for her to see that road I’m 8 years farther along on isn’t much easier than hers so early in the journey, but the more people I know who share my experiences, the more I want to help.

If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, you may recognize some of the signs and symptoms I mention here. You may also recognize some of the reactions from doctors. If you’ve ever been treated like your symptoms were unimportant or like you were saying something crazy by mentioning them, I want you to know that you’re not alone!

How thyroid disease is diagnosed

When thyroid disease is discovered, it is usually done with a blood test. More than the basic TSH, T3, and T4 have to be tested, however. The test required is a 6-panel test that also identifies thyroid antibodies, which are the indicator of thyroid disease.

Note: Many patients have reported that doctors are extremely reluctant to offer this test if the patient doesn’t have a family history, probably because the test is considered expensive. Check with your insurance company and opt for the 6-panel test if you can afford it. This is especially important if you have thyroid indicators in addition to inexplicable physical symptoms. If they counter your suggestion with an offer of antidepressants, push harder. Taking an antidepressant will not help if you really do have thyroid disease.

When I was first diagnosed, I had perfectly normal thyroid hormone levels and off the charts antibodies. The doctors assumed that my condition was Hashimoto’s because my mother’s doctors have assumed that is her diagnosis because her sister had a confirmed Hashimoto’s diagnosis (although her daughter had a confirmed Graves diagnosis). See, it’s all just a matter of guesswork. Doctors also assumed that I had Hashimoto’s because I was lacking some of the major symptoms of Graves disease, which is kind of, though not exactly, the flipside of Hashimoto’s.

Mayo Clinic gives a fancy description of the disease, explaining it as follows:

“Hashimoto’s disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your neck below your Adam’s apple. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, which produces hormones that coordinate many of your body’s functions. Inflammation from Hashimoto’s disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, often leads to an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).”

The article, which details largely the same information that’s found on other popular medical websites, goes on to explain that the causes of the disease are not known. The suggested reasons that the article offers, things like genetic predisposition, hormones, excessive iodine, and radiation exposure, as well as age and gender, are interesting because current science has begun ruling out some of these as the causes. For me, this is just another example of the smoke and mirrors surrounding Hashimoto’s.

What are the symptoms of Hashimoto’s?

As for the symptoms of the disease? Well, these are endless. A few of these which I have experienced at some point in my life are:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Constipation
  • An inability to get warm
  • Hair loss and thinning or brittle hair
  • Irregular periods
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Slowed heart rate

Most general practitioners don’t know or understand the condition and give patients a referral to an endocrinologist. Perhaps I’ve always been sent to the wrong endocrinologist, but my personal experience has shown me that even these experts don’t understand the disease. What they understand is how to prescribe thyroid hormone and how to check in with you every year or so to make sure you’re still alive and your thyroid levels are still normal. I’ve never had a doctor take interest in my particular symptoms, which go beyond the above list and also include “little known” concerns (which can still be found listed out neatly on a variety of medical websites) such as:

  • Mental fogginess
  • Forgetfulness
  • Dry skin
  • Non-specific aches and stiffness in muscles and joints
  • Decreased reflexes
  • Sleepiness

The mental fogginess one? Where you’re thinking about something and you get the concept but you literally cannot remember the words to express the thought so you just start crying because you can’t talk and everyone thinks you’re a crazy person? THE WORST!

The list goes on, but these are the primary symptoms I’ve personally observed in myself. While Graves is typically the condition that boasts such symptoms as extreme weight loss, anxiety, and panic attacks, because Hashimoto’s is characterized by a swing between hyper- and hypo- states, it’s possible to pick up symptoms from both diseases, depending on where in the cycle you are. And most people with Hashimoto’s swing like a pendulum between hyper- and hypo- states until they begin taking meds or have their thyroid gland removed.

When your body is practically registering on the Richter scale, how could you not experience mood swings?

Why am I embarrassed of my autoimmune disease?

Embarrassment is never something you should feel about a legitimate medical condition that you can’t control, but I feel it. The reasons are endless, but let me go ahead and jot down a few things I can think of right off the bat. I’m embarrassed because:

  • THIS IS THE BIGGEST ONE. The mental fogginess, or what it usually simply called “brain fog,” affects my conversations and my personal relationships. In high stress situations, I may try to express myself and I end up stammering away at someone, trying desperately to express myself but the words will not come out. Of course it usually ends in tears. It’s like there’s a barrier between my brain and my mouth and I can’t speak for a time. I feel like I sound senseless and pathetic, and based on the facial expressions of the people I’m talking to, I’m certain that I do. I’m a professional writer and a former teacher with, honestly, decent communication skills. The brain fog is truly horrifying because I begin to imagine it’s similar to the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia, but if I panic while it’s happening, it becomes worse in the moment. To me, this is the one symptom that hurts me worse than all others.
  • I experience weird, unexpected symptoms sometimes, like sudden inexpressible emotions, usually because of the physical symptoms like sudden severe body pain, sudden weakness, sudden exhaustion, sudden dizziness…you get the idea. The key is “sudden.” I become embarrassed when this happens at a party or during a social event. While other people who have been diagnosed with autoimmune diseases say this is the case for them, most doctors look at you like you’ve lost your mind when you mention it. Their first response is to provide you with an antidepressant because, yes, sudden pain all over your body is extremely depressing, but an antidepressant doesn’t help the cause: the actual pain.
  • Doctors are always trying to treat me separately for health conditions that are actually related to thyroid disease. I have been treated for GERD, chronic sinus infections, anxiety, depression, anemia, B-12 deficiency, migraines, etc., and no doctor has voiced the suggestion that these conditions were related to my Hashimoto’s diagnosis. In this case, my embarrassment is more a feeling of being crazy. I have long suspected a connection between these concerns and the disease I’ve already been diagnosed with, so why won’t any medical professionals take that connection seriously? Hashimoto’s causes inflammation, which in turn causes most of the conditions.
  • The research is there, but the process of treating systemic inflammation is still largely experimental. (Fortunately, there are things we can do ourselves to counteract inflammation.)
  • People in my life think I’m “sickly.” I would say this applies to people who don’t know me very well or who only see me during those occasions where I have sudden symptom onset. But even in some cases, my friends and family misunderstand. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me “you’re always sick.” It’s a simple, offhand comment, but it hurts me deeply to hear it. I am embarrassed that people realize how often I feel sick because I try to keep it light and avoid mentioning my pain and my discomfort as much as possible. (I’m uncomfortable writing this extremely public post because I don’t want people to feel weird about my symptoms, but I want to put aside my embarrassment for the sake of the people who have similar experiences and want to know that they’re not crazy.)
  • I am an extremely health-conscious person! I am embarrassed when my body betrays me because I spend so much of my time thinking about what I’m eating, planning my next workout, and practicing mindfulness to offset depression and anxiety. When someone says “cheer up,” I feel embarrassed because they don’t know how far I’ve come, probably just in a single day.

After realizing that doctors weren’t going to take me seriously, I embarked on my own health journey, playing my own doctor in some cases. I realize that there are ethical reasons why patients should not make decisions without a doctor’s input, but when you’ve experienced the shrug and head shake over symptoms that are legitimate and real (for example, hypochondriacs can’t fake anemia and B-12 deficiency) you begin to see the benefits of setting off on your own.

Note: I don’t recommend or endorse a self-care approach that abandons medical knowledge, but I am doing it safely and with professional guidance, where needed. There will be more about my methods in future posts.

Thyroid disease misdiagnosed as depression

I mentioned my struggles with depression and anxiety and I’ve admittedly been able to alleviate some of those concerns through diet, exercise, and mindfulness techniques. There are times when mindfulness doesn’t work, where the panic attack comes on and nothing seems able to offset it or where the pain moves through the body at such a rapid rate that there’s nothing to do but crumble into despair. (Eventually, I hope to master a technique to replace despair. I had this experience not too long ago and it knocked me right off my feet, literally and figuratively. It caused an emotional breakdown because I don’t know what to do when I’m doing everything technically right with diet, exercise, and meditation, and yet the symptoms persist!)

I started reading Kelly Brogan’s book A Mind of Your Own, so I was already beginning to feel frustrations over the way that the field of psychology indiscriminately prescribes medication instead of looking at the root causes. Again, here is a case of doctors (medical or not) simply ignoring the cause-and-effect of conditions. And let me emphasize, sometimes these are conditions a person already has been diagnosed with and the doctors are completely ignoring the connection between the diagnosis and the symptoms. I’ll get back to Kelly Brogan’s book in another post, but for now, here’s my initial reaction to this research. While studying this subject, I found another post making the rounds on social media, and it’s click-baity title, “4 Conditions That Resemble Depression But Aren’t,” got my attention right away.

The article starts out great, focusing on a lot of the same concerns that Kelly Brogan references in her book. I particularly appreciate the section that explains the misdiagnosis of standalone depression (emphasis added by me): “Mental illness is often difficult to diagnose, particularly because there are few psychological tests to help clinicians make a diagnosis. Diabetes is diagnosed through blood tests, cancer is diagnosed through biopsies and medical imaging, but mental illness is largely diagnosed through checklists of self-reported symptoms.”

Let me clarify this. People are telling their medical and psychological doctors that they are feeling listless, depressed, sad, unmotivated, sexually disinterested, etc., and they are being prescribed medication for depression because of these symptoms. Very few other medical conditions would be treated this way. Doctors want a diagnosis before treating a patient with the medication designed for an illness. (For example, a doctor wouldn’t prescribe thyroid hormone to a patient who had gained a ton of weight unless a diagnostic blood test had been performed to confirm that need!)

On the flipside, I tell my doctor that I’m feeling listless and depressed, anxious, bloated, sick to my stomach, weak, etc., and I am being prescribed medication for depression too! (And not taking it, but that’s a different story.) But I already have a legitimate medical condition that can cause these exact symptoms, so why am I being treated with antidepressants? Who wouldn’t be depressed about these symptoms? That doesn’t mean that these symptoms are depression!

When I started reading this article, I really thought it was going to go the direction of Kelly Brogan’s statement (my emphasis added again): “I believe depression is a meaningful symptom of a biological mismatch with our lifestyles–we eat poorly, harbor too much stress, lack sufficient physical movement, deprive ourselves of natural sunlight, expose ourselves to environmental toxins, and take too many drugs. I believe that inflammation is the language the body speaks, expressing imbalance, inviting change. We usually suppress these symptoms with medication. That, to me, is like turning off the smoke alarm when your house is on fire.”

That makes sense! But this article goes a completely different direction.

I was particularly unimpressed with the section of this article that detailed the way that hypothyroidism is often misdiagnosed as depression. Although this is true, the author still gets a lot wrong on this front. The description explains that the thyroid gland failing to release sufficient hormones causes the patient to experience “fatigue, diminished concentration, and low mood” which are obviously symptoms of depression, Other symptoms these sufferers may also notice are sensitivity to cold temperatures, dry skin, hair loss, and a hoarse voice. So far, accurate. It’s the conclusion.

“Hypothyroidism can be properly diagnosed through a simple blood test, and treatment requires only one pill a day.”

Behold, the great lie of the medical field.

I have talked with so many medical professionals who truly believe this, and so many autoimmune disease patients who have been told that this is what they should expect from their care: a single daily pill and then everything will be fine. Unfortunately an autoimmune disease is not the same thing as an underactive thyroid, just because they have that particular symptom in common. Meanwhile any number of the 14 million people who have Hashimoto’s may read this article and wonder why their symptoms persist in spite of the “single daily pill.”

It’s outrageous, isn’t it? I think so.

Now what?

This is just an overview. I have so much more that I want to cover about what I’m doing, how I’m treating myself, and what my results have been. First and most importantly, I wanted to make sure that everyone had a good, foundational understanding about what Hashimoto’s is, from the perspective of a patient.

I’m still embarrassed. No one wants to feel crazy or exhibit craziness, especially when, inside, they feel completely normal. I don’t like who I am with Hashimoto’s, I hate that self, and since I made the decision to transcend my disease, I will continue to fight to do so. Whether deciding and achieving are exactly the same thing remains to be seen, but this is my journey toward health and happiness, and I will not give up.

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