Stronger By Su: How I beat my Autoimmune disease with a plant based diet

Bye Bye Graves’ Disease, Hello Happiness!

It has taken me so long to write this because I usually don’t do well with personal posts. However, I feel like there may be someone out there who is reading this and may be inspired to become healthier. I know I would have been inspired and comforted to read about this experience during the early phases of my disease.

In short, I stopped eating meat, dairy, eggs, and most processed foods at the beginning of January 2016. I also started slowly working out in the gym. Several major changes happened to me because of this lifestyle change, but this post is about the biggest change.

The most significant  change that occurred was the remission of my thyroid disease. I had been struggling with Graves’ disease for almost three years. Nobody in my family suffered from any sort of autoimmune disease, so Graves’ disease was something I never saw coming my way. Unbeknown to me, it was going to change my entire perspective on life.

WHAT IS GRAVES’ DISEASE?

In short, Graves’ disease is when the body starts attacking its own thyroid, and in turn, the thyroid starts producing more thyroid hormone. This leads to an overactive thyroid.

graves disease remission.jpg
The thyroid gland produces hormones which regulate the body’s metabolic rate as well as heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development, and bone maintenance.

The thyroid is an essential organ because it controls your metabolism, among other things. An overactive thyroid means an overactive metabolism. And an overactive metabolism means that I’m tired all of the time. for example, walking up a flight of stairs would leave me panting to catch my breath. I had a resting heart rate around 140bpm, which meant simple tasks like carrying groceries from the car would wear me out. I’d take several naps a day because I was constantly fatigued.

I couldn’t help but be depressed over my condition because I knew that a normal twenty-something year old should not feel like she’s withering away. Since I had an overactive thyroid and metabolism, I wasn’t able to do much on the outside, while my body was running sprints on the inside.

Seeing an endocrinologist every month for those three years to keep track of my blood results, was tiring. Even though my levels started to become normal, I couldn’t sustain those levels without medicine.

To add to that, I was struggling with one of the least flattering symptoms of hyperthyroidism, called Graves’ Eye Disease. This is a symptom where the eyes start to bulge out of the socket and a lot of swelling in the surround tissue occurs. Blindness and vision changes can occur in some people because the swelling crushes the optic nerve. It’s unknown how exactly the Graves’ disease and bulging eyes are connected. All I know is that I fully experienced huge baggy eyes, a bit of the eye bulging, and double vision. People always asked me if I was okay because it looked like I had been crying. And I can’t tell you how many times old friends would see me again and comment, “wow something looks different about your face.” This part of the disease took me the longest to cope with. Medicine could fix my blood levels, but it didn’t do anything for my eyes.

IMG_0021.JPG
Graves’ Disease Bulging Eyes

 

Aside from the obvious physical changes that I endured, I was shocked to find out that Graves’ disease disqualified me from continuing Air Force ROTC in college. I was around 93lbs because of the disease, which was significantly underweight to qualify for field training. Everything I worked for in college was taken from me, and I was left feeling devastated.

cansu.jpg
Cadet Bradford 🙂

Finally I had enough of all the doctor visits and needles being pricked into my arm. I was done with doctors telling me not to exercise because it could hurt my heart. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. It was depressing. It was humiliating. I tried EVERYTHING to end up with what felt like NOTHING. For those three years, I probably read every article, study, and personal blog I could find on Graves’ disease. I listened to the advice of all my doctors. Nothing worked. The disease didn’t go away. I had to either accept the fact that I would be on medicine forever, or continue to fight it.

Well I fought it… and I won.

On January 1,  2016, I made a New Years Resolution to control every aspect of my health that I had the ability to control. I changed my eating habits. I adopted a plant-based diet, and eliminated nearly all junk food and processed food. (Full disclosure: I have added some processed foods back into my diet since then!)

Jan 6.JPG
January 6, 2016 about 105 lbs

I changed my fitness habits from zero workouts to walking one mile each day, despite every doctor telling me not to workout. My logic was this: if a muscle is weak, I would strengthen it by working it and letting it recover; if my heart is weak, I should strengthen it by working it. I eventually started a twelve week calisthenics-based workout program that I did in the comfort of my home. My heart was getting used to the light exercise, and everything about me started to feel right again.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER I CHANGED MY LIFESTYLE?

After just one week of eating plant based and walking a mile, my digestion problems started to go away. I was “regular” after one month. Sorry if it’s TMI, but someone out there who is struggling might want to know!

Also, walking one mile became easy enough that I started walking two, or three, and eventually six or seven miles a day. And then I started with where I am today, with weightlifting. (Read about my weightlifting journey HERE.)

I started noticing my self esteem come back after being lost for three years. I finally started feeling like myself again.

At the end of February, I was scheduled for another blood test. My results were crazy! Not only was it the first time the results were negative for Graves’ disease, but they actually showed that the medicine was causing me to have an underachieve thyroid. For three freaking years, I was trying to get to a normal blood range, and after two months of a plant-based diet and light exercise, I went passed the normal range (medicinally enduced). So, my doctor weened me off the meds until the next blood test in a month. By the end of March 2016, I was completely off the medicine I had been taking for almost three years. I haven’t been back on it since.

pinterest
Pin for later!

A few other things happened after I made this lifestyle change:

  • I still have bags under my eyes from scar tissue, but at least the puffiness and bulging have disappeared. Now I understand that I am much more than the bags under my eyes. I am this super cool fit chick who wants to change the world and loves other people for who they are 🙂 I am mentally strong because of this.

    95CB5BF5-7B79-44F1-954E-10C0280CC0F4.jpg
    Thyroid bulging eyes are gone, but helloooo bushy eyebrow hair 😀
  • Bye bye migraines! Weekly migraines that I had since I was a child vanished into thin air. I haven’t had a full blown migraine since. *knocks on wood*
  • Hello luscious hair! My hair grew back healthier than it ever has in my life. One of the symptoms of Graves’ disease is hair loss, so I had a balding spot from the three years of suffering. And I used to have grotesque chunks of loose hair in the shower. That doesn’t happen anymore!
  • Goodbye anxiety! There was one day when I thought to myself, “huh, I haven’t had an anxiety attack in a while.” I used to cry and panic about something weekly. The things that were unbearably stressful are now thing I can easily sort out. I’ve been too busy living life to have time for minuscule worries. I’ve been able to make real friends because I can finally be myself again! I can’t even explain in words how amazing it feels to live life without anxiety.
  • HELLO HAPPINESS! I am HAPPY. How do I describe this!? Life is a beautiful treasure for me. I am honored to be a part of it. I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to live to the fullest, and experience everything with an open heart. I love my body, and everything that it can do! I am happy with who I am. I am truly grateful for the experiences which have shaped me, including my thyroid disease, including the loss of my dream career. It all sounds so cheesy, but it’s remarkably true.
IMG_0055.JPG
True happiness is a dog.

 

My experience with ridding of this disease is why I am certain that the body has the amazing ability to heal itself if given it the right tools. It takes time, heck it took me an entire year of consistency (See: how I stay motivated). But good health is worth it in the end.

Remember, I’m not saying that my experience is exactly what will happen for you if you switch your diet. I’m sharing what happened to me in case it inspires you to live a healthier life. Every human body is different, and usually we should follow the advice of our doctors. But every now and then, if you know yourself well enough, you may have to take matters into your own hands. Listen to your body when it whispers so you don’t have to hear it scream.

IMG_7897.JPG
120 lbs and loving every bit of it!
IMG_7898.JPG
Strong is the new sexy!

Was this helpful to you? Have any other tips? Let me know in the comments or simply like this post! Your feedback helps me create stronger content. As always, thank you for taking the time to read this. And don’t forget to follow along on Twitter and Instagram, and  re-pin this! Happy lifting, and namaste my friends.

43 Comments

  1. Welcome to Balanced Body Nutrition

    Amazing Cansu!! Well done on all your hard work and making your health a priority! I truly believe as well that our bodies can heal if we provide the right tools. I believe in the power of food and healthy living to treat and manage a number of diseases and have done so myself with my PCOS. Keep up the great work and keep inspiring! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. sualkk

    Incredible and yes the human body is an amazing piece of ‘machinery’. Congratulations on your life changing experience and I look forward to hearing about your weight lifting ;). I have had a similar thing with changing things in my life due to depression and anxiety, with powerlifting being a huge part of my recovery, among other things! Congrats again, keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alex

    Thanks for sharing, you look so healthy and happy these days.

    I had kind of chronic fatigue years ago, I couldn’t even walk at one point due to inflammation in the leg’s and knees etc.

    I tried everything lol – meditation, yoga, supplements, vegan, paleo, removing mercury filings, tai chi, acupuncture, gratitude etc.

    A combination of these things slowly got me back to my old self (or even better), I think diet and food was a big part of it.

    I had so many weird symptoms the doctors never narrowed it down to a specific disease.. I think a lot of us are suffering from issues based on the same lifestyle cause, it’s just based on our individual genetics different things break first!..

    I’m glad to see another person out there who managed to get better through hard work on lifestyle changes !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cansu Ashley

      Alex, thank you for this thoughtful response. I completely relate to you with having tons of odd symptoms that don’t make sense to any doctors. It’s amazing to me how a lifestyle change can be the answer to many of our health concerns. It’s also great to hear of another who has healed themselves in this way! Keep pushing forward and sharing your story!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. gohealthy

    Hi Cansu, I can completely relate to your experiences because my friend’s daughter had a similar autoimmune condition, and we were able to control it through a healthy diet. That was the reason I started writing my blog , to share the experience. your story sounds very similar.Quite a surprise. My heartfelt congratulations ! Wish u good luck for a great future.Btw u look very cute 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cansu Ashley

      That’s awesome that you were able to help your friend’s daughter. I can only imagine her struggles. Similarly, my story prompted me to start a blog as well! Hopefully we can spread this message. Oh and thank you for the kind comment ☺️

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Spooky & Nookie or is it Nookie & Spooky

    Great Blog! Thanks for sharing. 29 yrs ago my thyroid went hyper and nearly burned me out from the inside out. The first doctor i went to diagnosed me as being Anorexic when she couldn’t find anything wrong with me the second doctor I went too discovered that I was suffering from Graves. My normal weight back then was 132 in the summer and 145 in the winter but when I started to take Lithium for depression i gained up to 160 lbs + the therapist i was talking too convinced me to stop taking the Lithium and I lost down to 119lbs in thirty days which meant that the Lithium was masking the symptoms. Back then the treatment was to take a radiation pill to kill the thyroid and induce hypothyroidism which is of course treated by taking a medication for the rest of my life. I am happy for you that you were able to take control of your life, treat and cure your condition by living a healthy lifestyle. 🙂

    Like

  6. jdzerocarb

    Awesome! I’m so glad you were able to see such great improvements in your health and your life by switching your diet. It’s pretty amazing what the body can recover from just by changing the foods that we eat. I also find it fascinating that different bodies respond to very different diets, so it’s always worth experimenting. Congratulations and thanks for sharing!

    Like

  7. Jade

    Thank you for sharing your story, I have been suffering from Graves’ disease for over 3 years and I too am going to switch to a plant based diet and see if this magic can happen for me! You’ve just gave me so much motivatation to change the way I live! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Xiomara

    Wow this is amazing. Your awesome! My husband just got diagnosed with Graves’ disease a month ago. I read in an article that plant based diets were great for this and we started a plant based diet a week ago. He has some scans that need to be done, to see if he is going to need a nodule removed or his thyroid removed but we just watched what the health and he’s decided he wants to go keep up with the plant based diet. How do you tell your DR you don’t want to be on medication? Should he still take the medication?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cansu Ashley

      Hi! I’m not a licensed health professional, so I can’t really give the best advice on whether he should stop taking meds. But I can tell you what I did: I kept taking the meds every day. After being completely plant-based for two months, I went in for my regular blood work. The blood work showed that I was HYPO thyroid, which was basically medicinally induced. So my doc put me on an ultra low dose of the anti thyroid meds (like 5mg a day). And then after another month of the same results, I was taken off the med completely. I haven’t been back on since, and haven’t had any relapse 🙂 hope that helps! Sorry it took so long to reply. I wish your hubby the best of luck!!

      Like

      1. Xiomara gomez

        Thank you so much! That’s what we ended up doing. He’s taking his medication and he has a drs appt for blood work in a month. It’s crazy his DR literally told him changing his diet wouldn’t help him with his thyroid. I was astonished when she told him that. We are trying really hard to stick to this and get him through this! Thank you so much for your advice!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Cansu Ashley

        My goodness! If it’s any consolation, my doctors told me the same thing! They aren’t taught enough nutrition inked school. Check out nutritionfacts.org for knowledge on different foods and diseases ☺️

        Like

  9. ellenlucytrent

    I stumbled upon your blog today in between playing with my two little kids and I’ve been brimming with excitement to get back to it once they went to bed so I can understand more of what you did to cure Graves’ disease and completely change your life! Wow! What an incredible turnaround in just one year. I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease three years ago and it’s totally rocked me. I’m going to try a plant based lifestyle with gentle exercise as your results are just so astonishing. I used to run, lift weights and cycle but now my muscles feel fatigued brushing my hair or lifting my baby from his cot. I’m determined to get the best out of this life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your story.
    Ellen from Oz xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cansu Ashley

      This right here is the reason I wanted to share my story. Please don’t ever give up and lose hope! I know how hard Graves’ disease is emotionally, but trust that your body wants to work optimally for you if you help it along. Natural foods and light exercise are a great place to start. I’m so glad to hear your kind words. Please keep me updated on your progress!

      Like

  10. Xiomara gomez

    Thank you, I know I’m bugging. I just really like to be informed as well. I’ve been doing slot of research. I read an article,e about how soy products are bad for Graves’ disease? I saw on your instagram you eat tofu and other soy products. Is it because you no longer have it? Is it safe to eat them while having Graves’ disease?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cansu Ashley

      You are not bugging! No need to apologize. I can relate completely to just wanting some dang answers! Okay so to put it the best way I know how: you have to be able to determine what works and what doesn’t work for you. Soy products have never given me any issues. In fact, I have found research of plenty of the benefits of soy beans. You have to remember, it’s a bean. It’s incredibly high in protein! Check out this site for info. He even breaks it down in some videos with the science to back it up https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/soy/
      In the end, it’s all about personal preference. If you notice that soy is giving you a hard time, then don’t include it. 🙂

      Like

  11. Kelly

    Hi Cansu! I was diagnosed just today, and have been searching Pinterest for the best diet to adopt to treat it. I eat pescatarian, but I’m going to hastily transition to vegan again. Your article is inspiring, and really helped me feel like I can be proactive about it and actually see tangible improvements. Wanted to say thank you for sharing your story and being transparent about it. You mentioned a couple of times that you were writing it to hopefully help and inspire others, and you definitely have, and I appreciate it. Take care and thanks again. ✌🏻🤞🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Tim Betts

    Thank you for writing this! I’m just at the beginning of my Graves adventure having just been diagnosed. A confusing venture since I am showing none of the signs of Graves. I have my appointment tomorrow to tell me about options. Your information has been great so I can ask about natural ways to beat the autoimmune issues. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Debbie Walker

    Thank you for sharing your story! I just found out 3 weeks ago I have Graves Disease and they have put me on a low dose of 1 medication and I stay nauseated all the time and one of the side effects is the liver can shut down. Have you posted a menu and food list of what you ate daily? I would be totally interested in the foods you had, to give me some ideas to go by if possible. You are such a blessing, continue to share your story to others! God Bless You and Your Family ❤

    Like

  14. Aaribnme

    Hello!
    I have recently been diagnosed with an overactive thyroid and after reading your post I am certain I have the same symptoms.. especially fatigue, hair loss and migraines.. I’m really sick and tired of it.. and ur article has given me hope because I am only 24 years old and I need your help. Plz contact me .. my blog is aaribnme.wordpress.com.. i need your help in creating a diet plan and exercise 🙂 thank u and ur post was v v helpful!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Kristy

    I am so glad to have found this. I am someone who can relate and am happy to hear about your continued success. I also was diagnosed about three years ago with Grave’s Disease and have had a heck of a time for the last few years with the symptoms and the medication causing me to go hypothyroid and in turn gaining more weight than I ever have in my life. I’ve always been a thin person but managed to gain about thirty pounds in the last few years because of this. I had finally had enough and was to the point of looking for a new endocrinologist and possible thyroid removal in order to get myself better controlled. My endocrinologist told me that people who go into remission from Grave’s will have this happen within 12 to 18 months and anything longer than that they would not go into remission. Unfortunately, I believed her at the time but now I know that is not true. In June 2017, I decided because my TSH was a little higher than I would have liked to remove myself fully from the thyroid meds, which my doctor wasn’t happy about but decided to test my thyroid in a month to see where I was at off the meds. My fiance changed my life by making one simple statement. He said if he ever had a decision like that to make regarding having my thyroid removed, the first thing he would do was eat a plant based diet for 90 days and work out every day before he made that big of a decision. He ended up getting me to watch “What the Health” on Netflix and that day I told him lets do it, eat a plant based diet. That was 2 weeks after I had already taken myself off the meds. About 2 weeks or so later, I had my blood work done and my TSH levels were still in the normal range off the meds and my grave’s antibody test (TSI) showed a level less than 85 which was in the normal range. Basically I wouldn’t have been diagnosed with Grave’s Disease with those results, they were all normal. At the beginning of this month I had more blood work done and again my TSH was in normal range 3 months after changing to a plant based diet. After reading this, I have even more hope that I will continue to be off my medication and in remission from Grave’s Disease. It feels good to have someone else that understands and I appreciate you putting this out there because all it takes is one person with Grave’s to read this and make a change and you’ve changed someone’s life. I am still at the beginning stages but this gives me more of a reason to spread the word that this can really happen. So happy for you and thank you for letting people know!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cansu Ashley

      This warmed my soul to the core! Thank you for writing such a thoughtful comment and connecting with your story. Your fiancé sounds like an amazing person who truly understands the power of food as medicine. Please keep in touch and let me know how your journey goes. I try to send an email once a quarter to all my email subscribers to ask how they are doing and keep in tough ❤

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s