As Sandi Holder glanced down the pew during her brother Larry’s funeral, she was startled by the sadness on her children’s faces. Jessica, Josh, and Jenna had all loved their uncle, but Sandi hadn’t expected the young adults to be so shaken. Uneasiness came over her. "Are they worried I’ll be next?" she wondered, furrowing her brow.
The truth was, she and Larry had a lot in common — especially their love of junk food and lifelong weight struggles. Older by a few years, Larry had been fine one day, then his heart gave out the next. "I’m probably in worse shape than he was," thought Sandi, who’d started thyroid meds at age 17, dealt with early menopause at 35 and suffered severe digestive problems. Just then, Jessica slipped an arm around her mom. Sandi leaned in. She wasn’t ready to leave her kids. All she could think was, "I’ll do everything in my power to get healthy."
Before bed that night, Sandi was already making plans. Her thyroid prescription had long failed to help with her weight and fatigue. Despite countless crash diets, she carried 215 pounds on her tiny 4'11" frame — nearly 100 pounds more than was recommended.
"Obviously, I need to try something new," she thought. She went to the library the next day and found books suggesting she simply cut back on portions of her usual foods. But Sandi’s instincts told her no amount of Shake ’n Bake, boxed potatoes and Cheetos was a good idea. Eventually, she discovered the Slurpees she used as a pick-me-up contained a whopping 750 calories and 78 grams of sugar. "For half those calories and zero sugar, I could have an entire meal of chicken, veggies, and sweet potato — and it would keep me full for hours," Sandi realized. It felt like her “aha!” moment. "I’ll switch to common-sense helpings of whole, natural foods and see what happens."
The Thyroid-Healing Plan
Early success, including improvements in her chronic tummy trouble, made Sandi’s motivation soar. Soon she was down 35, 45, 55 pounds. Did she have off days? Sure. “I’ll do better tomorrow,” she’d say and scour the journal she kept, hunting for clues, things she might tweak to get better results. Without realizing it, she gravitated toward a paleo-style diet, one built around the types of nutrient-dense foods our ancient ancestors hunted and gathered. That meant grains, soy, and dairy were mostly off the menu. “Eventually, a friend told me about Practical Paleo, which has so many yummy recipes,” recalls Sandi.
As she whipped up one-pot chicken dishes, superfood meatloaf, and berry crumble, “my energy went to a level I never knew existed,” she recalls. “My brain fog lifted, I felt stronger, my digestive problems were almost gone, and I slept so deeply.”
When her thinning hair came in noticeably thicker, she got her thyroid rechecked. Sure enough, the doctor cut her prescription in half. Her “metabolism gland” was working better than when she was a teenager!
Sandi, 62, ultimately shed 98 pounds and has been maintaining for years.
How the Paleo Diet Slims and Heals
In a recent Swedish study, the paleo diet helped postmenopausal women whisk off 20 pounds and proved better than other diets at easing a type of internal inflammation that slows thyroid function. Meanwhile, Colorado State research found going paleo often reduces or eliminates the need for thyroid meds. Explanation? Paleo meals provide up to 800 percent more nutrients than typical fare, flooding us with compounds that soothe inflammation by up to 82 percent, optimize hormone levels, and much more.
Also key: “Paleo dieters avoid grain, the main trigger for autoimmune thyroid disease,” adds California-based thyroid expert Gary E. Foresman, MD. “This alone reverses up to 66 percent of thyroid issues.” With experts estimating 20 million of us currently have a thyroid issue, this means over 10 million stand to be cured by a paleo approach. Bonus: The thyroid is crucial to overall health, so when it gets better, “it makes life amazingly better!”
The Paleo Plan
Paleo dieters eat foods a cavewoman might have hunted or gathered: veggies, roots, fruit, nuts, eggs, seafood, poultry, and unprocessed meat. A little honey or maple syrup is fine, but skip sugar, dairy, grains, beans, and highly processed foods. There are no set portions; stop eating when lightly full. Always get a doctor’s okay to try any new diet. Suspect your thyroid is slow? Tell your doctor, as you may need a prescription to protect your health.
Breakfast — Eggs, any style, served with fresh or roasted veggies such as tomatoes and spinach; add a serving of roasted potatoes, if desired.
Lunch — 1 serving chicken or fish (preferably wild-caught) served with sautéed greens and cauliflower rice with herbs and olive oil to taste.
Dinner — Top a generous portion of cooked spaghetti squash with no-sugar-added marinara and meatballs prepared without breadcrumbs.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.