Wow! My first ever food post! As part of the more varied content I want to share with you here on A Constellation, I’ve added a Food category so you can join me on this journey to the unexplored territory that is my kitchen. A little backstory; I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease when I was around 16 years old. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease; basically my body is attacking itself, primarily my thyroid tissue, to the point where I’ve ended up with hypothyroidism.
Back then, the doctor who diagnosed me in Miami just said “take this pill every day in the morning”, period. He didn’t explain what the symptoms were; he didn’t explain anything, really. Just that I was stuck with this for the rest of my life. I would think that if anyone had to live with something for the rest of their life, they’d deserve a better explanation. But anyway, I was young and still had that fervent sense of immortality that comes with being a teenager. So I didn’t give it much thought. Years later, 9 to be exact, I ran out of my current prescription of Synthroid, so I made an appointment with an endocrinologist in Panama to get a check up and refill my prescription. He interviewed me, ran my blood work and concluded that it wasn’t necessary for me to continue taking Synthroid anymore. He said he would need to monitor me for the next few months, but for now I was off the meds. I was happy; did this mean I was cured? If only!!!
Two years went by, I never saw that endo again. I was feeling tired, having trouble waking up, crashing every afternoon at around 3 or 4PM, couldn’t even go out to dinner or bars because I would pass out on the table at around 10PM. No matter how much sleep I got, this was my day to day. Constant fatigue. I was suffering from heartburn and getting gastroenteritis often. During one of the many visits to my gastro’s office, he ordered an ultrasound of my torso and found gallbladder stones. Then, by December 2012, I started losing my hair. I always compare it to that scene in The Craft where one of the witches makes a girl lose her hair by the handful. People always snicker when I make that reference, but I am not exaggerating. It was horrific. My hair was clogging the drain, it was all over my pillow, it was all over my clothes, my back… I was afraid to brush or wash it. I used to loop my hair ties twice around my ponytail, I ended up looping it 4 or 5 times after only one month of hair loss. By then, my sister, my nephew and I think my father had also been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. My sister, being the bookworm she is, had read quite a lot on the subject. She told me about Dr. Kharrazian and recommended I read his book. I think I only made it halfway through it –I’m terrible with books– but it was enough to realize all my symptoms where thyroid related. It even made me realize that long before I was 16, I already had many hypothyroid symptoms. When I was very young, I always had the sensation that I couldn’t breathe, that I wasn’t inhaling enough, that I needed more oxygen. It was a terrible feeling, it made me so anxious. I gasped and gasped until I yawned; yawing made me feel better. I was also terrible at Phys-Ed, our teacher would make us run from the gym to the end of the property where the school was and back. It could have been half a mile total. We were kids, and kids are supposed to be good at running, right? So many games involve running; hide and seek, tag, etc. But no, I couldn’t run like the rest of them. I ran out of breath so fast. My teacher always nagged me about it, thinking I was lazy. And then there was the migraines in middle school. Head splitting migraines; I couldn’t stand the light or even the slightest sound of any kind. Later, in high school, I became constipated. I would go one or two weeks without passing stool, until something gave me a bad stomach ache which would then relieve me from my issue, only to go back to being constipated a few weeks later. It was a constant cycle of not going and then going too much. College, for once, was a great time. I don’t know if it was all the partying and the excitement of learning (for real, I thoroughly enjoyed it), but I had a genuinely good time in Savannah. During my masters, in New York, I do remember suffering from a lot of anxiety and even feeling depressed every now and then. I was also eating terribly; I constantly craved sugar and carbs, and I gave in to those cravings every single day. No surprise, I gained about 20 pounds in a year or so, and kept them on for another year. But I could not allow myself to return to Panama from my masters with those extra pounds on, so a few months before my return I fought my urges and luckily shed half of the excess weight, relatively easily, so I still had that going for me.
That brings us back to when I ran out of that fateful bottle of Synthroid, which opened up the box of pandora that is an autoimmune disease. Thanks to my sister and Dr. Kharrazian, I began making some lifestyle changes. According to Dr. Kharrazian, and many other doctors, there is a big link between gluten and the thyroid of Hashi patients. Our immune systems confuse gluten molecules for thyroid tissue (or something like that), so eating gluten sends our bodies into high alert and a state of attack. That may also explain why many patients with Celiac Disease –another type of autoimmune disease– also suffer from Hashimoto’s. Furthermore, healing our guts is the most important part of healing our immune systems. All the vitamins and minerals we need get absorbed through our intestines, so our digestive system needs to be working like clockwork if we expect to get the proper nutrients from the food we eat. This means cutting out any foods that cause inflammation: gluten, diary, sugar, etc. I started with giving up gluten, having the sweet tooth that I do, sugar seemed like a much harder feat. I also hired a personal trainer. I’m not good with gyms; between the people around you, my lack of resistance and trouble getting up early, the most plausible option for me was to hire someone to come drag me out of bed and force me to workout. Someone who wasn’t judging me even when I was about to pass out next to the treadmill.
I also found a doctor that understands and is up to date with the reality of Hashimoto’s Disease. Dr. Alan Christianson in Scottsdale, AZ, who found that, besides Hashimoto’s, I was also highly anemic. He prescribed iron citrate, a very complete and thorough multivitamin without iodine, and Westhroid; a natural form of thyroid hormones derived from pork. Unlike Synthroid, which only contains a synthetic form of T4, one of the two necessary thyroid hormones, Westhroid contains both T4 and T3 and is, for some patients, a more effective form of treatment for Hashimoto’s.
So here I am, two years gluten free and counting, my thyroid levels are looking good… I’m still anemic, but I am much better than before. I have stints where I go dairy free and, for the most part, refined sugar free. I eat salads or vegetables almost every day. I am more alert, well rested and happier than I’ve been in years. Giving up gluten of course, also meant that I would have to learn how to cook. If I want to have a pizza or a cupcake once in a blue moon, where would I find a gluten free one in Panama? Thus, little by little, I’ve been venturing into the kitchen, learning the basics and overcoming my fear of fire and sharp objects. I’m not a foodie, I’m not a chef, I’m not even that good of a cook… Yet. But I will get there, sharing my steps along the way here, hopefully, for your enjoyment.
This here, um, experiment, turned out only half well. I adapted this recipe for Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars from one of my favorite food blogs, Sally’s Baking Addiction, by replacing the flour of the shortbread crust 1:1 with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour. But, as some of you may know, gluten free flour can rarely substitute regular flour 1:1. So I still have to work out the ratio for the shortbread crust, or find a separate recipe for gluten free shortbread and incorporate it into Sally’s. The streusel, on the other hand, was a complete success. Since oats aren’t exactly gluten free, I combined the streusels of this recipe and this recipe, with a dash of improvisation, and it turned out great! But I also need to figure out the exact amounts before I share the complete recipe with you guys. In the mean time, tell me… What are some of your favorite food blogs out there?
Disclaimer: The information included on this post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
All photos by me.