Today’s blog post includes an interview of Jen Wittman, who reversed her Hashimoto’s condition through diet and lifestyle. Jen is a holistic health care expert and a thyroid/autoimmune coach who has degrees in culinary arts, psychology, transformational coaching, nutrition, and Italian. She spent a year honing her cooking skills in Italy and is passionate about physical rejuvenation, family, laughter and helping people craft the life of their dreams.
Dr. Eric: When reading your book it looked like you had a similar diet to myself growing up! Chips Ahoy, Spaghetti O’s, Hostess cupcakes, Pepsi, etc. How hard did you find it to make the transition from eating junk food to eating a clean diet?
Jen: At first, I found it terribly challenging to transition from eating junk food to eating a clean diet not because the changes were difficult but because I had a lot of emotional ties to certain foods and my general mindset around changing my diet. I wanted to see if I could reverse Hashimoto’s without altering my diet at all…and I tried…but it didn’t work. I tried every other healing modality I could find just so I could avoid making any dietary changes, but over time, it became clear that if I didn’t change my diet, my health wouldn’t improve either. In fact, I realize now that I stayed sick an extra year and a half because I was unwilling to change my diet. Once I changed my mindset and looked at changing my diet as a gift I was giving myself, my health improved immediately. Each nourishing dietary change I made gave me more energy and helped me to get my thyroid and antibody levels back to optimal.
Dr. Eric: How challenging was it to give up gluten?
Jen: As a trained chef, foodie and Italy lover, it was especially challenging at first for me to give up gluten. I didn’t want to give up any of my favorite foods like biscuits and gravy, fried mozzarella sticks, pastas and pastries. I just didn’t want to do it. But one day, I felt so awful that I decided I’d had enough. Was eating a donut more important than having the energy to play with my son? Was having a croissandwich more important than feeling fit in my body and having my hair back? Was it worth it to feel crummy everyday just so I could eat foods with gluten? No! In the end, I decided my health, my energy, my mood and my body were more important than gluten. Once I put the emphasis on feeling my best by eliminating gluten, it was easy to make the switch.
Dr. Eric: When you moved from Los Angeles to Italy you spoke about the “Italian lifestyle” and compared it to the “United States lifestyle”. Can you please elaborate on this?
Jen: Yes! The Italian lifestyle was so eye opening for me. I was used to the Type-A go-go-go lifestyle of the U.S. – fast food, lots of doing, lots of multi-tasking and an overwhelming schedule. When I got to Italy, I was so surprised at how different it was from the U.S. First, food is really valued there. The ingredients are high quality, unprocessed, simple, and fresh. People really honor their meals by sitting down and taking time to eat together (not alone, in the car or standing up!). One eats at home usually for all meals and eats “slow” food. In general, everything is done at a slower pace in Italy. “Being” with friends and family is more of a priority than “doing” a million things. It really helped me understand the importance of balancing work and life in healthier way.
Dr. Eric: You developed Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis during your pregnancy. Can you explain why it’s common for women to develop Hashimoto’s when pregnant?
Jen: So many major shifts happen during pregnancy – changes in hormone levels and immune function can play a role. Sometimes, pituitary function changes as well. And many women are now going into their pregnancies already stressed by demanding work/life schedules, or physical challenges like food sensitivities, autoimmune conditions, gut infections or blood sugar imbalances. These challenges coupled with the enormous hormonal changes during and post-pregnancy make women’s bodies the perfect storm for Hashimoto’s (and post-partum depression) to occur.
Dr. Eric: In your book you mentioned that “love” is what allowed you to heal and reverse the symptoms of your condition? Can you please talk about this?
Jen: Yes, I was really awakened (by one of my doctors) to the fact that as women, we tend to nourish, care for and serve everyone else in our world but we don’t often apply that same love to ourselves.
As I learned more about thyroid and autoimmune conditions, it became clear that my needs weren’t being met…and I wasn’t allowing them to be. I often didn’t speak up when I needed help and I rarely reached out for support. I wasn’t showing myself the same love I was giving to others. And when you think of what an autoimmune condition is, it really is the body attacking itself. And with Hashimoto’s, the body is attacking your thyroid, the seat of communication. So, if you’re not speaking your mind and your truth, and you’re holding on to a lot of stress, anger, shame, guilt and you’re not asking for help, your body is manifesting symptoms in your thyroid to get your attention. For Hashimoto’s, I see it time and time again with my clients, the message your body is screaming at you is that you need to love yourself, care for yourself and speak your mind. You have to nourish yourself first before you can take care of everyone else.
Dr. Eric: In your book you discussed how you started a self-love practice every single day. How did this benefit you? Also, I assume this is something you recommend for others to do?
Jen: Yes, I’d absolutely recommend this practice to do. It has benefited me enormously by allowing me to put myself first at some point every day. It has helped me to reduce my stress levels and have more energy throughout the day as well.
Dr. Eric: You spoke about how your thyroid levels were always within the “normal” range, but not within the optimal range when you were dealing with Hashimoto’s. Can you talk about this, and why people can’t rely on the lab reference ranges?
Jen: Yes. This is the single most prominent reason thyroid conditions go undiagnosed and misdiagnosed so often. The lab reference ranges for normal thyroid levels are way too large and aren’t even based on people with thyroid conditions. So, a person can have all the symptoms of a thyroid condition but their thyroid levels look normal because the range is so large. Instead, the key is to focus on the optimal functional levels for your thyroid. For most people, being just outside the optimal ranges in one direction or the other indicates that the thyroid isn’t functioning optimally and this is why you’re having so many symptoms. When we look at symptomatic clients/patients, we can see that those with symptoms often fall outside of the optimal ranges but within the “normal” ranges. And, the medical community/insurance companies need to start diagnosing thyroid conditions when they fall outside of the optimal range so that more people can catch the condition in its early phase; making it easier to reverse.
Dr. Eric: Can you please talk about the three transformative phases of healing?
Jen: Sure! When it came to healing thyroid and autoimmune conditions in my practice, three stages began to emerge consistently. I called them The Caterpillar, The Cocoon and The Butterfly.
The Caterpillar is the phase of nourishment – nourishing your body and mind with healing foods and self-care. In this phase, you are putting the most focus on your healing.
The Cocoon is the phase of restoration. It is a time of rest so your body can repair itself. It’s also the optimal time to go within and address stresses, obstacles and getting the support you need from others. During this phase, your body is rebuilding and rebalancing itself.
The Butterfly is the phase of freedom. This is when you emerge from the cocoon whole again and ready to fly. You can put less focus on healing because your symptoms are gone and the thyroid or autoimmune condition has been reversed.
To discover which phase you’re in, there’s a free assessment on my site. Click here.
Dr. Eric: Can you explain why having a healthy thyroid is necessary to have a healthy gut, and vice versa?
Jen: Poor gut health is intricately connected to low thyroid function and additionally, can trigger Hashimoto’s disease. When your thyroid isn’t functioning optimally, it causes inflammation and immune dysregulation which in turn causes a leaky gut. The leaky gut then causes more inflammation and immune dysregulation which then further harms the thyroid. Press repeat. The cycle of destruction is endless if it is not addressed.
Dr. Eric: You mentioned how limiting sugar is one of the fastest ways to see results when you’re trying to heal from Hashimoto’s. Why is this?
Jen: Sugar is so incredibly inflammatory to the body. When there’s a lot of sugar in your diet, your body spends a lot of time and energy dealing with the inflammation and not repairing itself. Also, oftentimes, women with thyroid conditions also have issues with candida and sugar feeds candida. It also promotes weight gain and blood sugar, insulin and leptin imbalances.
Dr. Eric: I’m always encouraging my patients to eat more veggies, and in your book you also said that you believe in “veggie heavy Paleo eating”. How many servings of vegetables per day do you recommend?
Jen: I’m lazy about counting calories (which I never recommend) or servings…instead, I like to make things quick and simple and encourage folks to look at their plates. At each meal, make sure 75% of your plate is filled with veggies. I recommend 50% cooked veggies and 25% raw (like a salad) and then 25% a high quality protein. That’s just a simple way to eyeball it. I also encourage fruit smoothies with greens and fresh green juices as a way to get more veggies in your diet. I am personally not a veggie lover. I wasn’t raised to be…so this is my simple way to make sure I’m getting enough veggies in my diet.
Dr. Eric: What are some of your favorite techniques for managing stress?
Jen: For me, it’s singing. Singing massages the thyroid, it helps regulate breathing and it immediately puts me in a less stressed mood. Other techniques I love for managing stress are EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), acupuncture, massage, epsom salt baths and journaling. Really though, anything that brings you joy and helps you refocus your energy on giving time and care to yourself, is a great tool for managing stress.
Dr. Eric: Thank you for this interview Jen. Please tell my readers where they can find out more about you.
Jen: You can find me at Thyroid Loving Care www.ThyroidLovingCare.com and right now, I’m able to give away free digital copies of my book, Healing Hashimoto’s Naturally. And, if you’re a food lover like me, follow my adventures at The Gluten-Free Food Crawl, where I go all over the globe in search of the best gluten-free meals out there.