Author, blogger, and food guru Phoebe Lapine has Hashimoto’s disease. But Phoebe decided to look to food as a way to resolve her autoimmune thyroid condition, without depriving herself of the satisfaction that comes from enjoyable foods and meals.
Phoebe chronicled her year-long journey to explore approaches in her blog. The blog was subsequently turned into a popular book, The Wellness Project: How I Learned to Do Right by My Body, Without Giving Up My Life, featuring Phoebe’s story, experiences, recommendations, and recipes.
We had an opportunity by email interview to learn more from Phoebe about what inspired her to blog about food, her approach to her Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and why Phoebe believes in what she calls “health and hedonism.”
HealthCentral (HC): You have a popular healthy food blog, Feed Me Phoebe. What first inspired you to blog about food? What do you think set you apart from so many other food bloggers?
Phoebe: My goal when I started blogging was to inspire my peer group of fellow 20-somethings to get in the kitchen and get cooking. But as I’ve grown up along with my audience, my food point of view has evolved to include more about physical wellness.
I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in my early 20s and it took a while for my focus on health to catch up with my cooking. I was in the corporate world, and my self-care practices fell by the wayside. At the beginning of 2015, I left the corporate world to become a professional slicer and dicer (chef). I decided to double down by making one lifestyle change, one month at a time. That became a blog series, The Wellness Project — and ultimately the book — and broadened my focus beyond food to include more lifestyle topics.
What sets me apart is that I know there is no one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. I try to give folks who feel overwhelmed by all the health to-dos the permission to choose their own wellness adventure. I help them find practices that are worth the time, money, and energy we spend on them, and a shame-free way to kick those that aren’t to the curb.
And for those who don’t want to think that hard about their health equation, I’ve included delicious, easy recipes.
HC: You were already interested and involved in healthy eating before you were diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Did that approach change after your diagnosis with an autoimmune disease?
Phoebe: The first lifestyle adjustment I made for my Hashimoto’s was taking gluten out of my diet. Before then, I hadn’t thought much about how my cooking was affecting my health, other than making my mom’s famous green “detox soup” whenever I was feeling sick.
My food philosophy (as well as my life philosophy) these days revolves around “healthy hedonism.” Balancing the things that nourish your body with the things that feed your spirit, which sometimes include chocolate and French fries. I had to establish what my non-negotiables are and where there can be some wiggle room. An elimination diet can help most people identify these factors. Right now, my only hard line is around gluten, and I’ve gotten celiac-level strict about it. With everything else, I embrace a little flexibility when I’m not the one fully in control of my meals.
HC: How do you treat or manage your Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and do you consider yourself cured, healed, or in remission?
Phoebe: My Wellness Project blog and book were powerful reminders of what my body was truly capable of. In taking that scenic route back up health mountain, I turned my bloodwork numbers upside down (in a good way). And my new normal is one that makes me feel happy and at ease in my own skin. But I still have bad days. When you’re sensitive, it doesn’t take much to knock you back a few steps. And I may never feel 100 percent without some sacrifices I’m unwilling to make.
HC: You blogged for a year about your effort to transform your health and life, and then turned it into a successful book. Tell us about "The Wellness Project."
Phoebe: I began coming to terms with my Hashimoto’s thyroiditis diagnosis just as my career in food was taking off. At that time, wellness seemed black or white; wine or kale; cool girl or sick girl. If it weren’t for my debilitating stomach cramps, unfortunate skin rashes, crushing fatigue, and unstable weight, I might have continued hustling hard and paying little attention to what my body was trying to tell me.
But as I got more serious about my health, I was dismayed to find that very few bestselling medical books offered an on-going strategy for balance, much less one I could identify with — the kind that wouldn’t require me to drink cucumber juice for lunch and meditate three times a day like the cover girls of the Whole Foods’ magazine aisle.
I decided to design my own protocol: a year’s worth of monthly challenges. I began putting together my curriculum by tracking down experts on all sides of the wellness space — yogis, health coaches, aestheticians, nutritionists, chefs, endocrinologists, gastroenterologists, etc. — and asking them all the same one big question: If you could tell someone to make just one lifestyle change that would have a profound effect on their general wellbeing, what would it be?
The answers I got were just what I was looking for. No one talked about superfoods or Soul Cycle, dry brushing, or oil pulling. They focused on the big picture — the common-sense building blocks that we often forget about in favor of the latest fad.
By the end of the year, through this one-baby-step-at-a-time process, I really came to understand how each of these prongs — sleep, hydration, stress management, movement, green beauty — impacted my life. I also learned many lessons along the way about what it truly takes to be “well” and not just healthy on paper. That’s what I share in the book.
HC: You often use the term “health and hedonism” in your blog and book. Can you explain a bit more why this is such an important part of your philosophy?
Phoebe: Hedonism was the part that I felt was missing from so many health protocols. I’m not talking about drinking chalices of wine. Rather, my definition of hedonism stands for everything that lifts our spirits and brings us pleasure. Restrictive dieting may pull off the pounds and bring us closer to looking like a Greek goddess. It may even make us healthier on paper. But it can often get in the way of living.
Healthy choices can’t happen in a vacuum. I knew if the true mission was to find a sustainable path forward, all these elements of wellness — financial, social, etc. — needed to be part of the pro/con columns. In simpler terms, either a health practice must have a huge physical benefit, or it must bring you some joy if you’re going to stick with it.
My way of maintaining healthy hedonism in the face of Hashimoto’s is to pull from this self-care arsenal. I consider self-care not to be a specific practice, but a process of honing your toolkit. It’s knowing what works for your body, and when to use each carefully crafted spear of nourishment to center yourself.
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Mary Shomon is a thyroid disease, hormonal and autoimmune health writer, and patient advocate. For two decades, Mary has been a leading force advocating for more effective, patient-centered thyroid and hormonal health care. Mary is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Thyroid Diet Revolution,” “Your Healthy Pregnancy with Thyroid Disease,” “Living Well With Hypothyroidism,” and 10 other books on thyroid disease and integrative health. She co-stars in two PBS health specials, “Healthy Hormones,” and “Vibrant for Life.” Follow her on Twitter at @thyroidmary or at her Facebook communities: ThyroidSupport and ThyroidDiet.