There was a time when I loved Cheetos and Chili Cheese Fritos and Biscuits and gravy- Before I knew that they were bad for me. I used to buy white bread and margarine because that’s what I had always known. There was a time when I used to eat a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups each week for the sheer enjoyment of it. I used to feed my children Top Ramen and macaroni and cheese because it was easy and it was yummy and it filled their tummies and I thought they were healthy choices. I still buy those things for them occasionally, but now there is a depressive nagging in the back of my head that what I am feeding them is harmful.
I first had my eyes opened to the natural and organic world of food in 1996 when I took a class on healthy eating that was offered at my church. One woman spoke about the harmful pesticides found on fruit and how all unborn babies are exposed to toxic substances because of the things their mothers consume. Another woman spoke about whole wheat flour vs. conventional white flour and how white flour is poisonous; she only bought whole grain wheat, ground it herself and made her own bread from scratch. I left the class feeling anything but educated and inspired; I felt overwhelmed and discouraged. But because of that class, I began a quest to learn more about how to eat right and which foods to avoid. I tossed out all of my Teflon pans and bought only stainless steel or cast iron. I never bought white bread or margarine again, switching to whole wheat and real butter. I stopped buying soda and majorly reduced my intake of Reese’s peanut butter cups, Cheetos and Chili Cheese Fritos. I tried to buy organic as much as our budget would allow. I joined a health food co-op and bought natural products in bulk. Sometimes I did cheat though. When a craving would really hit, I would buy a candy bar or a bag of chips. But the enjoyment wasn’t the same; I was disappointed in myself for being bad.
Fast forward to 2005, almost 1 decade since the health class at church, we moved to Tennessee. Here we were really able to take our love for natural foods to the extreme. We grew a huge garden- two huge gardens to be precise. The one located by our house was 100’X90’. Here we had a strawberry patch that produced about 10-12 gallons of strawberries each spring. We had an established asparagus plot. We grew various vegetables from early spring to late fall according to their seasons. The upper garden was even bigger, about 120’X200’. In this garden we grew organic sweet corn, watermelon, pumpkins, cantaloupe and various beans. We planted an orchard of 20 different fruit trees (only 15 remain due to weather, disease or a random goat chewing them down). Speaking of goats, we also raised dairy goats, chickens, turkeys, and a Jersey cow. We organized a cow share and sold 20 gallons of milk per week. We kept 6-8 gallons per week for ourselves and made butter, cream cheese, yogurt, cheese and ice cream with it. I had read that raw dairy was healthier than store-bought pasteurized milk (and still believe that to be true), so we splurged on the dairy and I so enjoyed that glass of cold milk at dinner and the mozzarella cheese my husband would make.
I began having health issues creep up on me. I had been diagnosed with hypothyroidism in June 2007 after a miscarriage. I had kept my hypothyroidism in check for several years by taking Armour, but after the birth of my 7th baby in March 2010, my body went haywire. Whether it was hormones, adrenal glands, thyroid, pituitary, or a combination of all sorts of things, I didn’t know. I was referred to an endocrinologist who ran a lot of tests and found that nothing was wrong with me besides the hypothyroidism. So, I ignored my many symptoms. The fact that I would gain 5” around my stomach and waist by the end of each day led me to believe that I was reacting to something I was eating, but I didn’t know what. I was 8 pounds heavier than I was supposed to be (118 lbs. vs. 110 lbs). This, according to doctors, is still a healthy weight and because I had given birth to 7 children, this weight increase wasn’t given a second thought, but I knew that I simply hadn’t gained baby weight and couldn’t keep it off; I knew that I was carrying inflammation from something that I was eating. But which foods? And why? I was a healthy eater by most people’s standards.
I found a new doctor in May 2012 who diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis which is sort of a ‘step-up’ (or step-down depending on how you want to look at it) from hypothyroidism. With hypothyroidism, I had a sluggish thyroid and could take thyroid meds to keep it under control. Life had carried on pretty much as it had before. With Hashimoto’s, because it is an autoimmune disease, my own body views the thyroid as a foreign object and attacks the thyroid in full force. I was told that I should no longer consume gluten or dairy because they cause inflammation and hinder the thyroid from healing. Sugar and corn should also be extremely limited. OK, so now in addition to limiting processed foods, I was told that whole wheat was bad for me, raw dairy was bad for me, corn was bad for me. I removed those things from my diet and lost all of the inflammation and weight gain! I felt great! For 6 months, that is. Then the inflammation snuck back on me. My dr. ordered a thyroid ultrasound to make sure there weren’t any nodules or growths and thankfully there weren’t.
But I am now back to not being able to fit in my regular size pants, back to looking 4 months pregnant by the end of the day. I think I can pinpoint it down to the fact that I do sometimes cheat. You don’t know how hard it is for the wife of a chef to not take a bite of some delicious culinary creation my husband may bring home. His clam chowder is to die for- but it’s full of cream. His artisan breads remind me of the European bakeries I would buy fresh bread from. And I am coming to grips that I can’t have those things unless I want to pay the price and ravage my body for a few weeks afterwards. So even the occasional bite of bread or pizza is my enemy.
I have even read things that say that green tea is bad for Hashimoto’s patients (and I drink 2-3 cups per day), that caffeine is bad (and I drink 1-2 cups of black tea per day). I went 3 days without any of my beloved Jasmine green tea or Darjeeling tea and the effects were terrible- emotionally speaking. I felt so deprived and yet not knowing if I was even making a difference with my thyroid, I decided to indulge in my teas again with this subconscious gnawing that I may-or-may-not-be harming my body. Confusion rules with Hashimoto’s.
Even more difficult is finding healthcare that agrees with treatment for Hashimoto’s. I have spent hours reading books and articles about Hashimoto’s and autoimmune disorders, only to find that there is always conflicting advice given. We moved 4 hours away from the doctor that I had been seeing that I loved and now I am surrounded by doctors who either 1) Only treat the basic symptoms and do not look at overall function, ye they do accept my insurance or 2) Look at the whole patient and are concerned with healing (because people have been healed from Hashimoto’s), but do not accept my insurance. I am between doctors right now, you might say. I don’t know what my next step will be.
What I do know is that I don’t like feeling sick. I don’t like feeling constantly bloated, with thinning hair that won’t grow, with exhaustion as my constant companion. I don’t like having a weakened immune system that has difficulty recovering from basic colds. I don’t like knowing that I have a diseased thyroid, this diagnosis of an autoimmune disease. How did it happen? When? Why? For how long? I don’t want to feel this way, emotionally or physically. I would like to know that there is hope this side of Heaven.
I remember the days when I could eat whatever I wanted and had no consequence. I reminisce about the times when I could go on a date with my husband and I could pick whatever sounded good to me, not caring about the effects it may have upon me. I miss the simpler times of my life when I could feed my children strawberries and grapes and not have to worry about the poison that was sprayed to grow them. Or we could go to Wendy’s and buy a hamburger and ice cream and this treat was special and there was no “death” written on my mind of what we were putting in our mouths. I am angry that our food has been adulterated, that our environment is causing autoimmune diseases at an alarming rate, that the water I drink may be causing me to be sick, that the food I eat may or may not be GMO. I really am weary. I am weary of not having enough money to truly treat my condition. I am weary of even having a condition. I wish I could go back to not knowing anything, to simply trusting my doctor that swallowing a pill will make all things better, that eating a variety of fresh foods was enough. I wish I could rewind the clock to the time before that first health class at my church, back when my life did not depend on being so health conscious.
Ignorance sounds like bliss right about now. But I know it’s not. I do care. I care about my health, about my body, about my children’s bodies, about treasuring this temple that the Lord has given me, about being a wise steward with my life. Lord, guide me as to how I can do that now when I know too much, or not enough. I just don’t know…Your burden is easy and your yoke is light. I want to feel that in my life.
Thank-you, reader, for hearing me out. And forgive me for not ending this article on an upbeat, happy tone. You have endured a lengthy pity party. A bit of encouragement though: I do have hope in Heaven and I look forward to that day when I will have a new body and there will be no more sickness or pain or death for anyone who is a believer in Christ. “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinithians 5:1-5 NLT). Yes, I can end this article with a smile because I believe these truths about Heaven and the gift of a new body. One day I will be completely healed and everything I have lived through will be completely worth the reward of resurrection. Thank-you, Jesus!