Hello there! I’m Ginny Mahar, a full-time mom, freelance writer, and cooking instructor. I am lucky to live in beautiful Western Montana with my husband, Noah, our son, James, and our rescue dog, Pablo. For 10 years I worked as a professional chef in restaurants and catering before obtaining a Cordon Bleu culinary certificate at the California Culinary Academy in 2004. These days my culinary endeavors include writing about food, cooking for family and friends, and teaching cooking classes.
My Postpartum Hypothyroidism Diagnosis
In 2011, two months after the birth of my son James, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I thought my fatigue was normal for someone recovering from a c-section and breastfeeding a newborn. But my doctor informed me after some postpartum bloodwork that my thyroid function was low.
For the first few years I managed it with medication (Levothyroxine), and still do. But each year when I visited my doctor to run blood tests and see if my medication needed adjustment, I would tell her I didn’t feel great, and wondered if my numbers were off, or if maybe the medication wasn’t addressing all my symptoms. I felt tired most of the time, even upon waking. I couldn’t lose weight even though I had been on a calorie-restricted diet for three years. I was sick a lot, sometimes for months at a time, doing round after round of antibiotics for things like ear infections, strep throat, tonsillitis, you name it. My brain felt foggy, I couldn’t trust my memory, my joints ached. Looking back, it’s no wonder I often felt depressed.
Each year, the lab results would come back in the normal range, and I would resign myself to my doctor’s prognosis that my symptoms were just, “the aging process,” that my concerns about my degree and frequency of infections were unrelated, and that since my numbers looked fine, I must be fine. The unsaid implication was that it was all in my head.
But here’s the thing:
I didn’t feel FINE. I wanted my normal life and energy back.
This diminished, compromised, and tired version of myself was not fun. It wasn’t me. And it wasn’t an existence I was willing to accept without a fight.
Was it possible to feel vibrant and optimal once again?
I wanted to keep up with my energetic son. I wanted to enjoy eating again and be done counting calories. I wanted to play hard and not be wrecked for days afterward. I wanted to stop losing my hair, and staring at this tired person I didn’t recognize in the mirror anymore. I wanted to spend life in pursuit of my dreams, not just trying to get through each day.
Like many of you, the people around me never knew how much I was struggling. I was powering through, overriding my low energy with caffeine and a smile, checking off responsibilities on autopilot, and coming up with tricks and avoidances to cover up my steadily declining health and mental state. I didn’t want to believe or accept it myself, anymore than I wanted to complain, or bum out those around me. And always the foodie, I didn’t want to inconvenience my friends and family with dietary restrictions. But we all have our breaking point.
Accepting this compromised fate went against my very nature, because I am the kind of person who wants to suck every last drop from the juicy peach that is LIFE. I owed it to myself, and I owed it to my family. Most of all, I owed it to my son, to at least try.
Although my doctor told me it wasn’t possible, I still wondered if I could make a dent in how I felt and maybe even my lab results by eating foods that supported healthy thyroid function, and avoiding those that diminished it.
Like Parenthood, This Changed Everything
My previous blog, The Sunday Dinner Revival, began collecting cobwebs after my hypothyroidism diagnosis, as I embarked on the long journey of renovating my relationship with food. Although I had been eating “healthy,” organic, home-cooked food for decades, it wasn’t working for me anymore.
My hypothyroidism had already completely changed my career, as I began to turn down writing assignments and cooking classes that required me to eat anything and everything. It simply did not work for me anymore. I was struggling to maintain a healthy weight but the number on the scale was the least of my concerns. By the end of 2015, I was fighting for my energy, my joint health, my happiness, and my cognitive abilities. Correlations were becoming undeniable between those aspects of my health and what I ate (like grains and brain fog, for example). It was only the beginning.
A process of experimentation began. Gluten-free, low-carb, Weight Watchers, vegan, green smoothies, cleanses– I tried so many approaches. They sort of worked. Some of it stuck. Sometimes I felt better. But never in a consistent way. And I never understood why.
I started to wonder:
How Is my diet affecting my thyroid?
I asked my doctor numerous times about diet and lifestyle interventions, which she dismissed as unnecessary and unsuccessful.
Before you decide she was just a bad doctor (she wasn’t), keep in mind that her treatment approach was the conventional standard: medication, probably in increasing dosages, for the rest of my life.
Through a stroke of sheer, dumb luck, a different answer came to me when I was teaching a cooking class. I was preparing recipes from the My New Roots cookbook by holistic nutritionist, Sarah Britton. For me, that book reignited the idea of food as medicine. I felt better as I tested and ate the recipes, adding more nutrition to every mouthful I consumed. I happened to share with the students that I was trying to focus my classes on nutrition-oriented cooking because I had hypothyroidism.
Sharing is Caring
After class, two out of the twenty students approached me with their personal hypothyroidism journeys. (This was statistically on par with the one in ten Americans who will struggle with thyroid dysfunction at sometime in their life.) One of them told me that both she and her sister had reversed their hypothyroidism by completely omitting wheat, and only wheat. Another shared that she was able to eliminate her brain fog, weight gain, and memory issues by avoiding foods like soy and raw cruciferous vegetables.
It was true. Diet can make a difference when it comes to hypothyroidism.
They had book recommendations. They shared their email addresses with me. They were the spark that helped me rekindle my health.
I’ve always believed that we are all connected, and that everything happens for a reason. I think on that fateful day, I had reached the point where I was ready to receive that knowledge, and I am so grateful to them for sharing theirs.
A Healing Journey Begins
That night, I started to read and research the hypothyroidism diet– of which there are many, and no two the same, but I began to note the common threads. At first glance, the list of foods to avoid was tremendous– like the mother of all elimination diets! I was surprised by how many healthy foods were on it– no one ever told me I should be avoiding gluten, cooking my broccoli, or skimping on tofu. But the list of foods that supported thyroid health was also long.
My mind began to flip through an inner rolodex of recipes that fit the bill. I found some good books on hypothyroidism, a few of which included recipes. I found dozens of “programs” and supplements for sale, but no hypothyroid-specific recipe blogs. This was I call I felt compelled to heed.
Hypothyroid Chef is Born
I figured, I’m doing this anyway– the research, the recipes, the experiment of trying to feel better by eating better– why not share it? Maybe it will help someone else figure out what works for them.
As I began to apply some of the dietary guidelines I was learning about, and eating for my thyroid health, I started to feel better. I took baby steps, making myself my own guinea pig, seeing how I felt if I ate more turmeric, or cilantro. I hesitantly dipped my toe into eliminating certain foods. As a chef, it wasn’t easy forcing myself to paint with a more limited palette, but I felt empowered. Feeling energized after years of feeling tired, hurting less after years of hurting more, and finally, enjoying life and my family once again instantly began to restore my inner fire.
I resisted giving foods up completely for as long as possible, but the feedback I was receiving from my body was undeniable. I decided to seek professional guidance, so I asked around and made an appointment with a highly-recommended naturopath. The wait for the preliminary appointment was two months. During that time I let myself indulge in the things I knew in my gut (pun intended) I would have to say goodbye to, at least for a while.
A Key Discovery: I Have Hashimoto’s and You Probably Do To
In March of 2016, I requested blood tests from my doctor, additional to the TSH test I had been given yearly since diagnosis. They revealed and confirmed that my hypothyroidism is in fact autoimmune. In other words, I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. If you live in the U.S. and have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, there is a 90% chance you have Hashimoto’s. Please, read the linked articles from this paragraph, to learn how and why you should find out. You must advocate for and educate yourself here because there’s a good chance your doctor won’t test for it, even if they suspect you have it.
That’s what happened to me. I will never forget how angry I was when the nurse called to give me the test results.
“So I have Hashimoto’s then?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “It’s just as the doctor suspected.”
In other words, unbeknownst to me, my thyroid was quietly being demolished by my own immune system, for FIVE YEARS, without my doctor testing or educating me on what that meant. Knowing what I do now, about the huge difference that diet and lifestyle interventions can make for us, this was upsetting to say the least.
Yet again, this is the standard of care for hypothyroid patients in the United States. As part of my efforts, I vowed to share this information, and to advocate on behalf of hypothyroid patients everywhere for better standards of care. THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE.
How I Reclaimed My Health from Hashimoto’s
The simple blood test that confirmed my Hashimoto’s was the catalyst that turned my health around in a meaningful, consistent way. Now that I knew I was dealing with an autoimmune condition, a world of information opened itself up. Success stories are spreading like wildfire about patients lowering their thyroid antibodies, or reversing their hypothyroidism altogether through dietary and lifestyle changes. Interventions like the Autoimmune Protocol Diet, high-quality supplements, measures to restore gut health, heavy metal detoxification, or testing for hidden infections and parasites can be of tremendous help to the 1 in 5 Americans with an autoimmune disease.
But without professional guidance, it can be like throwing a handful of darts at the wall. Finding the right doctor, an integrated or functional MD, or naturopath can be crucial to getting to the unique root cause of your hypothyroidism.
In the spring of 2016, I found a naturopath who was willing to be my Hashimoto’s Root Cause detective. With her help, we uncovered food sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies, and the kingpin: a gut infection I had no idea I had, but may have contracted in the hospital when I gave birth to James…right before I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism.
To hear the whole story, you can read this post:
How CAN I Help YOU?
With a background in and passion for good food, I have high standards when it comes to what goes on my plate. I am not a nutritionist but I do know how to make nutritious things taste good. I am not a doctor, but I am an expert on how I feel. I am a voracious reader and researcher and have the skill-set to build delicious recipes on a foundation of foods that support and don’t diminish thyroid function. That list will vary person to person, so if you’d like to hear more specifics on my personal food list, please visit my Recipe Guidelines page.
Thanks for stopping by. While you’re here, I hope you find ideas and inspiration to change the way you feel through food. Here’s to your health. Bon appetit!
Here’s wishing you the best of health,