I was diagnosed with Hashimotos Hypothyroidism at 25... what I wish I knew.

Look, I realise there are worse things in the world than having a metabolic disorder… but at 25, at drama school, surrounded by a bunch of skinny ingenues, it pretty much felt like a death sentence.

Hashimoto's disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your neck below your Adam's apple. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, which produces hormones that coordinate many of your body's functions.

Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Fatigue and sluggishness

  • Increased sensitivity to cold

  • Constipation

  • Pale, dry skin

  • A puffy face

  • Brittle nails

  • Hair loss

  • Enlargement of the tongue

  • Unexplained weight gain

  • Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness

  • Joint pain and stiffness

  • Muscle weakness

  • Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding

  • Depression

  • Memory lapses

A rare photo of me, severely underweight

What I have discovered is that while this is a genetic disorder and can be brought on by things such as age, pregnancy, viral load, or menopause… I pretty much brought this disease upon myself at a very early age from not taking care of my health.

When I was 23 years old, having finished a Business Degree (the ol’ ‘backup degree’ at my parents insistence) I decided acting was my absolute destiny that I couldn’t deny any longer, so I auditioned for the best drama school in Australia - NIDA - and was accepted.

I underestimated the intensity of the 3 year degree in Sydney. To be fair, I didn’t know anyone who had been to NIDA and I was still a bit of a naive country girl, so the sheer workload and competitive nature of the theatre world I was entering into came as a shock to the system.

There were many shocks to the system over those few years:

  • moving interstate, on my own, to the biggest city in Australia

  • Monday to Friday contact hours 9am-6pm, plus rehearsals nights and weekends

  • The cost of living in Sydney (holy shit)

  • Not being able to have a steady job to support my study (relying entirely on scholarships, family support, and cash jobs when I could get them)

  • Being away from friends and family

  • How FUCKING COLD Sydney is in the winter

  • My own shortcomings at taking care of myself

These shortcomings were many and varied.

*I had moved from Queensland (warmth and sunshine) to Sydney and didn’t have any proper clothing for winter. My first year at NIDA I remember cutting out the crotch and feet of thick stockings to put over my head and arms like ballet dancers do to stay warm.

*I had terrible sleep hygiene - I didn’t value sleep the way I should have and never got enough of it. I have been like this my whole life and I am slowly, slowly changing this as I regain my health.

*I only ever knew cardio as a form of exercise (this debilitating lack of knowledge lasted until I was 35 I’m sad to say) and I would go to aerobics classes or just run for an hour a day.

*My severe and inexcusable lack of culinary skills… I moved into a little one bedroom apartment that didn’t have a kitchen so I had a hot plate and a microwave. My fridge frequently had such delicacies as tinned peaches and ‘low fat’ yoghurt for example. Oh dear.

So, while I had managed to maintain my health somewhat in Queensland while I was at College (where they feed you a little bit too well) then living with a flatmate in Brisbane while working and having a reasonably balanced life…. I pivoted quite dramatically to working ALL THE TIME and then feeding myself whatever cheap shit I could get from the servo next to NIDA.

In the first semester of Drama School the pressure was terrifying. That school fed off the fear of its participants (that was my experience and everyone has a different perspective of what it was like for them). To be fair, I had already experienced disordered eating in my short lifetime and was prone to extremes. I hadn’t ever lost a shocking amount of weight before, and I managed to avoid eating disorders at the all girls’ boarding school I attended through highschool which was pretty remarkable…. But I guess I was just saving it all for my ‘coup de grace’ at NIDA.

I was one of the oldest actors in my year and I was also the tallest. Now, a lot of people probably imagine that being tall is lovely and actually helpful with weightloss and weight maintenance… but I have a long running history of being ashamed of my size, possibly for no good reason, except that good old fashioned self esteem destroyer of being rejected by boys at school for being too tall. There weren’t many boys who were taller than me at school (I was this height, about 5’9” since grade 7) and maybe this had a lasting effect. Or maybe it is because my Mum is tiny and cute (5’2”) or because my sisters are all smaller than me, or because the world tells women to be small and vulnerable…. Let’s unravel that another day.

Me n my cute little mamma circa 2006

At NIDA I felt huge. I also felt that I had to be thinner. Again - basing my worthiness on my ‘thinness’ has been an ongoing struggle. We had a show coming up at the end of the first semester called ROCKSTARS where we would do an entire show of back to back hits impersonating the ‘rockstar’ of our choice. We would mime and rock about the stage in character. It was actually a brilliant thing to do as a young actor and I loved it…. But I was so obsessed with being thin that I think a lot of the joy was overshadowed.

I chose to play Cher. I kind of look like her sometimes. I had also seen her in concert and was absolutely astonished by how charming, effortless, and entertaining she is.

The real deal - CHER

So of course I did ‘Turn Back Time’ in the full outfit… you know - the one where she is wearing a mesh body stocking? Yeah that one. No pressure tho Munro… She only has one of the most admired bodies in history.

I pretty much stopped eating. Some days I would take a boiled egg into school for the whole day. Some days it was some lollies. Some days just coffee. I subsisted on air. We drank a lot of alcohol, usually only on a Friday or Saturday night and I would just pass out really quickly from not eating anything. I spent months like this, running for an hour in the morning, not eating all day… trying to do everything I could not to eat at night, then toss and turn in bed at night (because you cannot sleep when you don’t eat).

But I got so THIN.

Funnily I don’t even have any photos of this time. This was around 2006, so pre smart phones. You had to have a camera to get a photo. I dropped down to around 60kg’s and was rail thin for my frame. It was the smallest I had been since puberty I think, and I have never been back there. (Thank God)

We did the show and it was a big hit. I think Cher went down pretty well - I did have a bunch of shirtless young men in sailor’s hats dancing behind me who were also a big hit - and I had a blast doing it. Then I ate everything in sight for about a week and put on 5kgs in the following week alone. All that work. All that starvation. It all just went away.

As soon as we went back the following semester I tried to do the same thing again. I stopped eating dinner most of the time… I would go home and just try to avoid eating by going for a run or studying. But this time it didn’t work. I wasn’t losing weight. In fact I kept putting it on! I tried everything - I tried one of those food delivery programs where you only get 1200 calories a day and I tried juices, I tried green tea and tablets… everything. Nothing worked.

My face got all puffy, my hair started falling out, I put on weight everywhere but mostly around my stomach, I got pigmentation in patches all over my face, I couldn’t sleep, and I had terrible brain fog. All of this while working around 70 hours a week, memorising lines, getting in and out of costumes all the time, and being surrounded by beautiful thin girls competing for roles. It was bloody brutal and a dark time in my life.

Over the following 12 to 18 months I had such a battle. It took a very long time to diagnose the Hashimotos because there were so many other confusing symptoms clouding everything - all my hormones were haywire, my insulin wasn’t working, my cortisol had skyrocketed, and I was also just too damn busy and broke to get to the bottom of it.

Doctors (grrrr I have so many gripes with so many doctors) put me on a contraceptive pill to try to help my oestrogen that had bottomed out, thyroxine to boost my thyroid, diabex for the insulin resistance and I just got sicker and sicker.

I continued like this for my first 2 years at drama school. Miserable, fat (not really, but I certainly thought I was), pigmented, sad and confused. It was awful. I was also living on my own for most of it, so many of my disordered eating and exercising habits were going unnoticed. I must say that when I moved in with a friend for my third year of drama school things got notably better.

Photo courtesy of NIDA 2008 in the production of 'Days of Significance' by Roy Williams

So, what changed and what did I learn? I researched. I started reading everything I could get my hands on. I tried to listen to my body and work out what the hell was going on. AND most importantly I found a fantastic doctor who actually listened to me and worked out a way for me to get out of the mess I was in.

I found a female GP who also practiced naturopathy, acupuncture and Chinese medicine. What a coup! I went to her at my wits end and said that I didn’t want to be on any of those medications anymore. I was too young! Surely there was something we could do!! She was the one who discovered that my cortisol was 3 times that of a normal person, and after ruling out a pituitary tumor (that was scary) she linked the cortisol to the thyroid damage and set out a protocol for getting that under control.

The protocol:

Cut out Gluten, Dairy and Sugar.

Eat protein at every meal, and try to eat at regular intervals, around 4-5 times per day.

Stop over exercising - long walks and yoga only.

Start meditating regularly.

That’s it.

That’s it? Seriously?

I was so desperate to try anything, and so disciplined, that I stuck to this 100% for 3 months just to see what would happen. I went off all medications (**I am not a doctor, this is my own journey and you need to talk to your doctor about yours) and at the end of the 3 months I did my blood tests and for the first time in nearly 3 years they came back normal. No more high TSH, no more high cortisol, and normal hormone panel.

And I lost all of that excess weight. No dieting, no exercise. It all just fell off.

You may be wondering why she prescribed those things.

Gluten and dairy are quite difficult to digest. They certainly are for me (and I have a full blown allergy to dairy, as well as gluten intolerance) and for a lot of autoimmune sufferers. If you have ‘leaky gut syndrome’ from poor health, stress, and overuse of antibiotics, then you get inflammation in your gut from eating these foods - while sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your gut. Cutting out these foods gives your digestive system a bit of a rest. So does eating well-cooked foods (nothing raw), warm broths and soups etc. This is all just good general knowledge that I didn’t have at the time.

Eating protein at every meal was a way of ‘grounding’ my system and boosting my metabolism. Protein makes you feel full, calms your brain, and feeds your nervous system where things like carbohydrates on their own (sugars in particular) can rev you up a bit. Just getting my protein in each day reset my system, and reset my metabolism. I came back to carbs later - I’m now a huge fan - but at the time I needed a rest. I also didn’t realise things like ‘low fat’ yoghurt is full of sugar - the one that I was buying from the service station had 60 grams of sugar in it! So READ YOUR FOOD LABELS.

The over exercising is a really interesting element that so many people misunderstand. Exercise produces cortisol - and the higher intensity, the higher the cortisol levels. Now that’s all well and good, that’s great for your system and for boosting energy IF YOU CAN HANDLE IT. When you are under extreme stress or pressure, this can overload your system. I was clearly under too much pressure to be exercising like that. I have gone back to high intensity workouts these days when I am in a very balanced state, but I also know now that when I am under extreme pressure and I am not sleeping very well, that I need to back off on the high intensity workouts.

And finally, meditation. THIS IS THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING. I know this is annoying to hear and everybody talks about it, but it’s this very esoteric thing and you need to find your own way into it. Put simply, this is the only scientifically proven way to lower cortisol in your body. It also balances your hormones, helps brain function, regulates your mood and sleep, and alleviates anxiety and depression. I mean c’mon. There is no drug on the planet that does that. Just do it.

Long long long story short - I got better. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster since then, and I am now medicated after another struggle with hypothyroidism in 2014 for a completely different reason (an epic battle with a nasty parasite) which I will go into another time.

When I was diagnosed with Hashimotos, I didn’t eat enough protein, I didn’t think about the effects of extreme exercise and malnourishment on my body, and I didn’t take care of my mental health. Autoimmunity is a unique journey, but it is often triggered by stress, lack of nutrition, and poor gut health.

So please take care of yourself now, before you are forced to.

I wish I did.

First year out of drama school - happy and healthy. Photo by Sally Flegg

#health #fitness #fksknny #actor #actress #film #movies #theatre #bodyimage #NIDA #nutrition #nutritioncoaching #blackironnutrition #holistichealth #precisionnutrition #reversedieting #hashimotos #hypothyroid #fitspo #loveyoself #follow #happy #beautiful #style #smile #food #autoimmunity #photography #sallyflegg #gut #guthealth #giuliaenders #leakygut #cher #turnbacktime

800 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All
  • Instagram
  • Facebook