Here are 7 secrets from a thyroid health coach.
Written by Jen Wittman, Thyroid Loving Care
As a busy mom, small business owner, wife, friend and avid home chef, I often have clients sigh and and ask me, “How do you do it all??? And, how were you able to do this and heal?!?”
My first reaction is always to laugh. Even though, when you’re looking at it on the outside, it seems like everyone else is doing it all, NO ONE does it all! There are days when everything goes haywire for me too: I wake up late, skip my workout, rush around trying to get my son to school on time, forget a meeting I have scheduled, rush past a mirror to realize I only remembered to put mascara on one eye, and by the end of the day I end up face first in a plate of comfort food (read gluten-free chocolate cake!)
Luckily, this doesn’t happen very often any more. But that’s because I’ve built up routines and systems to support me, my thyroid and my general health, so that I don’t have to rely just on my willpower to get me through the day.
In a stress survey done in 2011, 27 percent of people reported that lack of willpower was a hurdle preventing them from making positive change in their lives. But a majority of people in that survey also believed that their level of willpower was something that could be changed or improved.
While studies have shown that willpower is important to making healthy decisions, they’ve also shown that we each have a limited reserve of willpower on any given day. It’s the same reason powerful people like Steve Jobs, President Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg wear the same clothes every single day: they don’t want to waste their willpower or decision-making power on inconsequential choices. Like a muscle, our willpower gets “tired” if we have to use it too often.
That’s why, years ago, I set off in search of the best secrets to having the health, career and lifestyle I truly, truly desired. I looked at what other people were doing that made them so successful when it came to healing themselves, pursuing their passions or balancing their lives. And what I discovered was that I didn’t have to rely on my willpower to keep me making healthy choices throughout the day if I had a good system in place.
You can set your life up this way, too to support yourself in rebalancing your thyroid and boosting your energy. (And no, you don’t have to wear a plain gray t-shirt every day to make it work!) Here are the 7 secrets I’ve used successfully for myself and my clients to set life up to run on autopilot (easily and painlessly) so we can stay healthy, healed and happy:
Secret #1. You don’t have to make every change all at once.
One thing I’ve seen over and over again with my coaching clients is that they get excited about making healthy changes when they first start a program, or talk with me on the phone, or chat with people in our Facebook community. They pledge that they’re going to throw out all their unhealthy foods, start exercising every day, and take an hour every night before bed to destress, journal, and meditate.
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? The problem is that these new habits, when started all at the same time, only last about a day — maybe a week — before they become overwhelming. Making too many changes at once is difficult and if you get too rushed or forget to do it, you often get discouraged and give up.
That’s why I never ever ask someone to overhaul their entire diet, add hours of new habits to their day, or give up their favorite things all at once. It’s just not realistic!
Instead, what works for me and for my clients is to incorporate new, healthy habits one teeny-tiny baby step at a time.
Scientists who have done research into how people successfully create healthy habits have determined that the best ways to change your habits are to change your environment, and then change your behavior in small steps.
And I’m talking TEENY-TINY ITTY-BITTY baby steps.
So, for example, when I wanted to start a yoga practice, I didn’t tell myself that I was going to get up at 5am and do an hour of yoga every day.
I told myself that when I get up in the morning, before I leave my bedroom, I would do one sun salutation (a series of yoga moves that takes about 1 minute to complete).
Yup. One whole minute of yoga.
The idea is to make the new habit so easy and so small that you feel silly NOT doing it.
Then, once it becomes a habit, you can add more. Two sun salutations. Then three, and so on.
This works with things you want to eliminate, too.
Although I know that the best thing my clients can do for their health is to get rid of inflammatory foods like gluten, sugar, soy, coffee and dairy, asking them to give all of those up at once would be incredibly overwhelming!
So instead, we work on cutting back on one thing at a time. Maybe I suggest that they switch to tea instead of coffee once a day. Or that they cut out the grains from one meal a day.
TINY baby steps, over time, lead to big changes and big success.
Secret #2. You don’t have to be perfect.
Wait, don’t be perfect? Sounds easy enough, right?
But for many of us, it’s not.
In my experience, thyroid sufferers tend to be a little type A, a teensy bit controlling, and want to do everything perfectly— myself included (holla!).
So when we hear that we’re supposed to give up sugar, and then we eat a bite of our kids’ cereal at breakfast, the message we hear in our heads is, “You blew that! Oh well. You can start again tomorrow.” Messing up once somehow gives us permission to “mess up” for the rest of the day!
But that sort of thinking is so self-defeating. Striving for perfection can do more harm than good and can make it harder to create new and healthy habits.
So I gave being perfect up! And, now I feel so light and free. (You know, sometimes we are our own worst enemies…)
So, instead of saying, “I screwed up, so the rest of the day is ruined,” I say, “Whoops. That was a mistake. I’ll start over with the next bite.”
…Or the next workout, the next meal — whatever it is.
Instead of writing off the whole day, I just acknowledge that I’m not perfect, and that’s OK.
And then I’ll start over right away.
Secret #3. Laziness can create the best solutions.
Let me tell you a little something about me: I can be pretty lazy at times!
If something sounds intimidating, uncomfortable or doesn’t sound fun at first, I’ll try to find an excuse not to do it.
So I have to actively work to overcome my own laziness sometimes. I’ll tell you what I mean.
When I wanted to start exercising in the morning, I realized I was having the hardest time getting out of bed on time to do it. I would stay in bed until I absolutely had to get up to start my day in order to be places on time — even though my intention was to get up with enough time to exercise.
I sat down and examined what the problem was, and it all came down to laziness: I didn’t want to have to find my workout clothes, get dressed in the cold room, cue up the exercise video… etc.
So I started coming up with solutions to overcome those barriers.
First, I started sleeping in my exercise clothes — they’re practically pajamas anyway!
Next, I got everything I needed ready the night before: exercise video, yoga mat, weights, whatever.
And finally, I added a small heater by the side of my bed (within arms’ reach) so I wouldn’t be so cold climbing out from under the covers.
And you know what? It worked!
Once I didn’t have those excuses any more, it was much easier for me to start the habit of exercising. And let me tell, getting up early in the morning to have some “me-time” and exercise time before the house wakes has totally changed my life! My mood and energy levels completely improved and my day was set up better. Now, I start the day relaxed and happy…and proud of myself for taking care of my body exercising.
I’ve done this in many other areas of my life too: putting a meal in the slow cooker early in the morning when I have the most energy, filling up a big water bottle to drink from all day, and so on.
Where can you get creative to come up with ways to make your healthy habits a little bit easier?
Secret #4. You have to stand up for yourself.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to chat. Yet when it came to speaking up for myself, I hated to do it. It was one of the hardest things I had to learn when it came to my own healing.
I was uncomfortable with conflict – whether it be in my relationships or telling my doctors that I disagreed with their diagnosis (or lack thereof!). I wasn’t able to tell my husband what was really going on with me. And, I was afraid friends and family members would think less of me if I asked for help.
But it wasn’t until I started using my voice, speaking up for myself, and asking for the help I needed that I really started to heal.
Research has shown that when you’re trying to make healthy changes in your life, speaking up about your needs and participating in a community of likeminded individuals has a measurable effect on helping you reach your goals.
Many of my clients are reluctant to speak up, tell others what they really think, ask for help or even to tell people what their goals are. They’re afraid of not being heard, of being rejected, of being judged or of failing publicly.
But in my experience, the only way to be able to take action on all the things that go into healing is to build yourself up with the support of your friends, family, and a community that understands what you’re going through.
Oddly, it can sometimes be easier to ask for help with strangers, so I encourage you to join the Hyporthyroid Mom Facebook group and my Thyroid Loving Care Facebook community to help you find other women who understand what you’re going through.
Secret #5. Eat as though you love your body.
My site and my programs are called Thyroid Loving Care for a reason: it wasn’t until I started treating myself and my body with real love and respect that I started to heal and see positive results.
I used to think that foods like biscuits and gravy, pasta drowning in cream sauce, and delicate Italian pastries were what loving my body looked like. Sure, they were loving up my emotions but in reality, that were taking a huge toll on my body. Once I started to connect how I felt after eating those foods with my overall health and the health of my thyroid, I realized I wasn’t treating my body with love.
If I really loved my body, I needed to feed it the foods that would make it feel good, not bad. The foods that would nourish it and support it in healing. Sometimes, we eat a certain food because it’s attached to fond memories….or maybe it’s our go-to food when we’re stressed or sad. Maybe we eat a certain food because of tradition or because it’s a family favorite… but that doesn’t mean that particular food is good for us.
So eating as though you love your body means tuning in and feeding it the foods that give you the least symptoms and the most energy. Frankly, once I started to see how much better I felt when I was eating the foods that were healing for my body, I really didn’t want to go back to my old ways.
So let me ask you….
How would you eat if you truly loved your body? What if your body was a child you were caring for…how would you treat it? Would you eat smaller portions? More veggies? Less of the foods that inflame you and make you feel sick?
It doesn’t have to be some huge, difficult decision. Every time you go to put a food into your mouth, ask yourself, “Does this food help me love myself? Is this the nourishing choice?” If the answer is yes, go for it! If the answer is no, make a different choice — one bite at a time.
6. Do or do not; there is no try.
Yes, I just quoted Yoda, but it’s good advice!
So often I hear women say that they’re going to “try” to give up sugar, or “try” to start exercising regularly, or whatever their particular healthy goals are.
And I say that’s bunk.
Do you want to heal or do you just want to try to heal?
When you “try” to do things, you’re not making a commitment to them. In fact, you’re giving yourself an easy excuse to not really do it at all. “Trying” to do things sets you up for failure; not success.
Sound like tough love? It is, a bit. But here’s the cool thing: When you break down your healthy habits and goals into those tiny baby steps I was talking about before and change your mindset around them, it becomes much easier to stop trying and start doing.
It’s all about mindset. A positive mindset will take you a long way. Just changing the language you use when you think about your habits can have a profound effect on whether or not you achieve your goals.
So practice positive self-talk whenever you can. And, make yourself accountable to YOU. Commit to taking action and feeling better. Instead of thinking, “I’ll try to get up and exercise tomorrow morning,” flip that script and say to yourself, “I will get up and exercise tomorrow morning for x number of minutes— I know I’ll feel so good after!”
Secret #7. Skip the shame game.
I’ve saved the best – and probably most powerful – secret for last.
Here’s the honest truth: Most of us are plagued with shame, guilt and blame even though everyone falls off the wagon sometimes.
I do it. I said up above that there are days when I just watch my life unravel in front of my eyes. The day starts off right (or maybe it doesn’t) but I don’t seem to get things done the way I’d hoped. And sometimes on those days, I might end up “cheating” on my healthy eating plan, skipping my workout, or postponing my self-care.
We all have those days when the guilt or shame creeps in…where we beat ourselves up and think, “I’ve failed.” But, since we can’t be perfect; the trick is to skip the shame and guilt about it and move on.
See, the shame is what gets you stuck. You feel guilty about the slip-up, and then those broken records in your head start playing: “I can’t do this. It’s too much. I’m too sick. I’ll never be able to feel better.”
Believe me when I tell you I’ve been there, done that.
But shame and guilt are an inside job. They are a way of punishing ourselves…and it’s needless…energy depleting…and not fun. Shame stands in our way, but the amazing and fantastic thing is that you can choose how you want to feel when it comes to anything in your life. You can choose to move past it. And, you can choose not to shame yourself.
First, recognize that your guilt has a purpose: it’s there to remind you that you made mistake; a choice that wasn’t nourishing. That’s OK. Instead of seeing it as a failure, see it as feedback reminding you to make better choices next time.
Then learn from your behavior. Obviously you don’t like the choice you made (or you wouldn’t feel guilty about it!), so how will you make a different choice next time? Practice making a better choice in your mind then make a different choice then next time the situation arises.
And finally, remember that perfection doesn’t exist. Remember No. 2 up there, “You don’t have to be perfect”? It really should say, “You can’t be perfect.” Because you can’t. No one can. Not even the Dalai Lama or the Pope. Nobody’s perfect. And that’s OK.
It’s easy to get stuck in that message that things are “too hard,” that the changes you have to make are “too big,” or that you can’t do these things for one reason or another.
But the truth is, the only thing holding you back is your attitude. If you can make one teeny tiny change today, you can make another one tomorrow — and another, and another until you have the life and the health you really want.
These are the real secrets my colleagues and I use to feel our best – the ones that had to be in place to make those dietary and lifestyle changes stick so we could overcome our thyroid and autoimmune conditions. Consider these techniques to help you create the system that works for you – so you can have the energy you need to have the life you truly want. These are the secrets and strategies I use every single day… and I hope you will too!
If you’re looking for one baby step you can take today, I encourage you to take my free Thyroid Healing Type Assessment. Once you take the quiz, you’ll receive a report with your results and some suggestions for the baby steps that will help you start feeling better fast. Plus, I’ve included incredibly helpful done-for-you print outs to bring to your doctor at your next visit.