Food is not just calories…
How I became interested in nutrition
Until 2013 I was the girl who considered myself as the beacon of health. I could eat anything. Always energetic and active. In 2013 I joined University to study engineering, moved to a hostel, started living with roommates. There were so many unfamiliarities, so many things to adjust to. But one thing I didn’t pay attention to was the change in my food habits.
I spent my childhood in a hill station where we used to grow most of our veggies. We had a cow and along with that came fresh homemade yogurt and full-fat milk. I used to walk a lot out of necessity even though I was not the athletic kind. I used to love the slow and long walks to school with my friends chatting about all kinds of things under the planet. This was before the smartphone wasn’t even a thing (at least not where I lived).
Since the move to the University, I started having some symptoms like skin problems, hair fall and even anxiety. I blamed the climate and water for all my problems. I could manage everything till the third year of my college. Then I started having sleep problems, extremely low energy, quick weight loss, frequent colds and many other symptoms. After a certain point, I thought that was normal and moved on with my life.
After graduation, I moved back with my parents and I was on a self-restoration bandwagon. Where I live, the main source of carbohydrates is brown rice. I grew up eating lots and lots of curries, veggie stir-fries packed with fresh shredded coconut, fish and fruits. Here, everybody believes roti is healthier than rice. Wheat has a lower glycemic index than rice. (The glycemic index is a system of assigning a number to carbohydrate-containing foods according to how much each food increases blood sugar.) So I started making rotis with whole wheat flour for every single meal. And my symptoms got worse than ever.
Finally, I had to get out of the denial and see a doctor. And he said my thyroid was acting weird all this time. I felt devastated. He gave me some thyroid-blocking medication and that was the end of the treatment.
I was so curious about how this happened. So I started researching the causes of thyroid dysfunction. There were a lot of videos on YouTube about what food to eat and avoid. But I wanted to know the root cause and the mechanism. That’s when I came across leaky gut and autoimmunity and how our environment and food habits can wreck our immune system.
My doctor never checked my antibodies, so I went to a lab and did a test. And antibodies against my thyroid came back positive. Everybody who lives in the modern world will have some antibodies. But it’s problematic when the levels are high. In conventional medicine only approach to treat hypothyroidism is supplementing thyroid hormone, which does not treat the root cause. Taking hormones will reduce the symptoms though.
Now that I got an answer I started thinking about my timelines. In my childhood, I used to get sick so often and I was pumped with antibiotics. I used to get some skin issues and random hives as a child. Gut issues were so common for me. All this definitely paved the way but the main culprit was gluten. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. My meals were always rice-based when I was small. But whenever I had too many snacks from the bakery, I used to feel slightly sick. I said slightly sick because the symptoms were never that noticeable or nobody figured out the correlation. When I moved to the hostel, there was a big change in my diet. Junk food became a staple. Now I see the correlation between all my symptoms and my diet.
In her book The Hashimotos Protocol, Dr. Izabella Wentz says the thyroid is like the yellow light in a coal mine. It is always shows something is going wrong with your body.
As soon as I went gluten-free I started noticing changes. I tried an elimination diet to figure out what I was reacting to. Gluten was definitely positive. Eventually, my thyroid levels went back to normal. I was never put on synthetic hormones. If that happened, going back would have been harder. Taking hormones is necessary if the levels are so low. But it’s just management, not a treatment. Later I went dairy-free too except for occasional homemade yogurt. I started learning about how our body works. Started learning about food, started cooking. Most of all started listening to my body and how it reacts
A few things I learned from all this experience are that always prioritize your health, take responsibility for your health and wellness.