When I learned about Phoebe Lapine‘s new book, The Wellness Project, which dives into her 12-month self-experiment to regulate and manage her Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, I bought and devoured it in a matter of three days. I myself was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, the auto-immune disease where your immune system attacks your thyroid like it’s a bad guy with a gun, and I couldn’t wait to read about someone else’s experience. I hoped to glean some guidance about what I could do to treat my disease naturally.
I wasn’t disappointed. Phoebe’s new book is a revelation in the wellness industry. Part memoir, part guidebook (with more than 20 recipes for thyroid health), Phoebe provides a road map that moves past overwhelming (and expensive!) health to-do lists and into what she calls health and hedonism. She comes from a food background where she’s been a professional gluten-free chef and award-winning food writer, so she knows what she’s talking about. I got to chat with her about how the book came about and how her yearlong experiment went. Here’s what she had to say.
Tell us about how and why The Wellness Project came about.
As a 22-year-old, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis—and immediately used the power of denial to not do anything to change my lifestyle. My doctor’s solution was synthetic hormones, and I instinctively said, “No thank you!” to that idea. So I did start a natural thyroid medication, NatureThroid, but it wasn’t until I had severe stomach pain, numb hands and feet, insomnia and skin issues that I sought out other changes.
At 25, I ventured into the holistic medicine world and eliminated gluten from my diet, but I continued to feel this struggle among all the auto-immune action plans I was given. They contradicted each other, they weren’t always financially feasible and even though doctors made them sound easy, they weren’t.
It took until my vanity was challenged to have the motivation to change anything. I had this lightbulb moment around my bad skin (I had perioral dermatitis)—I had been on all these creams and antibiotics from dermatologists but nothing worked. I knew I had to try something else.
I was inspired by The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin to take 12 months to tease out what changes I could make to my diet and lifestyle that would have the most impact on my health. And I mean all-around health. That’s where my healthy and hedonism idea comes from. I wanted to pay attention to my social and financial health too. Often, for me, doctors weren’t taking into account the anxiety and isolation having an auto-immune disease can bring (not to mention the mind-gut effect).
So I adopted 12 of my own wellness protocols, one for each month of the year and I documented it all in what’s now The Wellness Project.
How did you choose which wellness areas to focus on?
I started by asking wellness experts what I called, The One Big Question: If you could tell someone one thing to change to impact their health the most, without spending a lot of money, what would it be? Then I created a curriculum that combined my specific health challenges and their answers.
There was a lot about movement and detox, and the liver (which is the second largest organ in our bodies, after the skin). I relied on this Dream Team of experts to guide me to 12 ideas, like eliminating sugar, switching to all-natural beauty products and getting in touch with my spiritual side. Then I let my body dictate what it needed when, so the order changed as I went along.
What changes had the most impact on your Hashimoto’s?
Getting gluten out was the biggest. The gluten protein looks similar to the thyroid protein, so they’re linked. It’s a chicken and egg syndrome about which comes first, but gluten had to go.
Eliminating anti-inflammatory foods was the second thing. I audited what processed GF foods I was eating, and ate less animal protein, fewer grains. My Vice Detox [chapter 1 in the book] was where I got rid of sugar, alcohol and caffeine. The big three. With an auto-immune disease, balancing your hormones is so important. You need your endocrine system at optimum functionality to heal. Even just eliminating sugar eliminates so much inflammation.
I want to hone in on the food aspect of Hashimoto’s management for minute. Taking into account that everyone’s body responds differently, what first steps would you recommend to a recently diagnosed #HashiPosse member?
First, get gluten out of your diet in a non-negotiable way. Like, at first, I was eating pizza every so often. But then I learned that my slice of gluten-full pizza was causing my immune system to go on a crazy ride for one to two months AFTER I’d eaten it. So, don’t cheat.
When I was first diagnosed, it was really hard to wrap my head around what an auto-immune disease was. My acupuncturist explained it like this: You’re at a bar, and suddenly someone insults one of your drunk, hot-blooded guy friends. He starts throwing punches right and left, and soon enough, he accidentally hits you in the face. That’s auto-immune: When your body can’t tell the difference between friend and enemy anymore. And because gluten looks so much like the thyroid protein, my body gets confused.
Two, add three Brazil nuts to your breakfast every day. They’re super high in selenium, which is a key nutrient for auto-immune sufferers. They help balance your hormones.
Three, a lot of root causes of auto-immune diseases are gut imbalances. So add one fermented food to your diet every day. They fine-tune your immune system. Supplements are okay if you can’t add the foods in, but like everything, try to get your nutrients from food first.
Four, experiment with a liver reset for 30 days. It’s not only a eye-opening healing month, but it really shines a light on your habits.
What advice do you have for someone who also doesn’t want to be on a synthetic hormone for the rest of his/her life?
Let me say first that the synthetic hormone Synthroid is the most prescribed medication in America. So it’s clearly working for some people. But some people have a problem with it because it’s a synthetic T4 hormone, and your body still has to convert it to the needed T3 hormone to use it. Until you patch up other elements of your gut and stress and nutrients, that can be hard for your body to do.
If you don’t want to take the synthetics, find a doctor who will consider diet and lifestyle changes as part of your treatment. As part of your path to daily vitality. The benefit of NatureThroid is that it has both the T3 and T4 hormones, so your body has to do less work.
If someone wants to start their own wellness project, what would you tell them?
You don’t have to go on your own yearlong odyssey. Start with a one-month wellness project. Do four baby steps, one week at a time, and record all your data [note: Phoebe has a guide on her website too!]. I highly recommend journaling your daily symptoms—and record alllll the symptoms. Poop, gut, skin, water intake, sleep, stress. Everything.
Make your first intention to pay attention. That’s how your path forward is revealed. Your goal should be to both learn something about yourself and your wellness values. What are your hard lines and where’s the wiggle room?
And remember that none of this is a life sentence! A lot of auto-immune people are on super restrictive diets, but you don’t have to stay there. You can experiment! Just take notes and pay attention to your body.
Food can be one of the most powerful agents of change—but that’s not all of it! So many other practices can impact you. It’s a choose your own happiness adventure.
Awesome. Can you share a Hashi-friendly recipe with us?
Totally. This one uses Brazil nuts, those high-in-selenium nuts I mentioned earlier. Eat them every day!
Chili-Roasted Root Vegetables with Chickpeas, Tahini and Brazil Nut Pangritata
- 1 large sweet potato (1 pound), cut into 1-inch squares
- 4 small carrots (1/2 pound), cut into 1-inch pieces
- 4 small parsnips (1/2 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 5 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- One 15-ounce can chickpeas (about 2 cups cooked)
- 1/3m cup Brazil nuts, pulsed in a food processor or finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup tahini paste
- 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
1. Position the racks in the upper and lower third of the over and pre-heat the over to 425 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sweet potato, carrots, parsnips, 3 tablespoons olive oil, cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon salt. Toss until well coated in the oil and spices.
3. Arrange the veggies in an even layer on the prepared baking sheets. Roast for 20 minutes, then remove the pans and add the chickpeas. Return the pans to the oven, swapping the top one to the bottom, and cook for another 20 minutes, or until vegetables are nicely browned and caramelized.
4. While the root veggies are roasting, make the pangritata: Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet. Add the nuts and garlic and cook over medium heat until fragrant and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and set aside.
5. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt until a thick paste forms (culinary magic!). Add 1/4 cup of water (or more) and stir until the sauce is the same consistency of ranch dressing.
6. Transfer the roasted veggies to a serving plate, drizzle with the tahini sauce and garnish with the Brazil nut pangritata and parsley.