In this article:
- Why is it hard to live with a thyroid condition?
- What is a thyroid-friendly diet?
- Tips on how to support your partner's diet
An estimated 20 million Americans (or more) live with thyroid disease. People diagnosed with thyroid disease usually live with the condition for their whole lives. They require a doctor to help manage their health. Fortunately, with the right medication, treatment, and lifestyle modifications, living with thyroid disease can be manageable. If you have a partner that has a thyroid condition, your support is vital to helping them feel their best.
Why is it hard to live with a thyroid condition?
The thyroid gland is an often overlooked and mysterious little organ. Situated at the nape of the neck and shaped like a butterfly, the thyroid gland is the metabolic powerhouse of the human body. This small but mighty organ releases thyroid hormone that regulates and controls every cell in the body. When something is off with the thyroid gland, every organ system can be affected.
One of the most common thyroid disorders is hypothyroidism, in which the thyroid secretes too little thyroid hormone. Not having enough thyroid hormone can cause a cascade of unpleasant symptoms that can be debilitating. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Brain fog
- Depression and sadness
- Thinning hair
- Dry skin
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Slower metabolism
- Bloating and constipation
- Irregular periods
- Muscle weakness
People with hypothyroidism are frequently tired, have cold intolerance, and struggle with weight gain because of their slowed metabolism.
Even with the right medication, many people with hypothyroidism struggle with symptoms and experience a low quality of life. If hypothyroidism is left untreated, it can lead to other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and may cause infertility.
What is a thyroid-friendly diet?
Often, an autoimmune process in the body causes thyroid disease. An autoimmune disease is where your immune system attacks healthy cells in your organs, mistaking them for foreign cells. This attack can lead to inflammation and organ failure.
Graves' disease and Hashimoto's disease are examples of autoimmune thyroid conditions. There is increasing evidence that a thyroid-friendly diet can play a role in treating inflammation and suppressing autoimmune destruction of the thyroid.
Because the thyroid gland is highly nutrient dependent, poor nutritional status is one of the root causes of thyroid dysfunction. Many patients experience nutrient deficiencies or dietary triggers that may worsen symptoms or prevent thyroid medication from doing its job.
A good place to start to identify triggers and heal the gut is an elimination diet. An elimination diet is a short-term process that helps identify foods that a person's body can't tolerate well to remove them from your diet. This process involves two stages: removing potential food triggers and then carefully reintroducing them into the diet to determine whether they are to blame for symptoms.
First, the person eliminates foods that may induce an immune response in the body - like gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, corn, nuts, shellfish, and preservatives. Then, after an extended period, when you reintroduce the reactive food(s), the body will produce a stronger or more specific reaction to the foods that are particularly triggering. This process helps identify which food or foods may be problematic.
Foods that you can eat on the elimination diet include:
- Lean meat and fish that is high in omega-3's like salmon
- Most vegetables - excluding nightshades
- Most fruits - excluding citrus fruits
- Coconut products including coconut oil, manna, creamed coconut, coconut aminos, canned coconut milk (no coconut sugar or nectar)
- Fats like olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, cultured ghee
- Fermented foods like coconut yogurt, kombucha, kefir, fermented vegetables
- Bone and meat broths
- Vinegars like apple cider vinegar, coconut vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic (no added sugar)
- Occasional and sparse use of honey and maple syrup
- Fresh and non-seed herbs like basil, tarragon, thyme, mint, oregano, rosemary, ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon
After the process of elimination, your partner may have a clearer idea of what food or foods to remove from their diet, and can tailor a thyroid-friendly eating plan from there. Each of us is unique with individual sensitivities, so there is no one-size-fits-all diet for hypothyroidism. Generally, it's recommended that a person with hypothyroidism focus on nutrient-dense, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Processed foods and added sugars should be avoided.
As you may imagine or know, it's hard to follow a specific diet protocol, especially if you often eat with other people at home or socially. It can feel isolating to be the only person with a specific eating method. Executing an elimination diet or following a specific diet protocol like AIP takes a lot of dedication. Your support and encouragement mean the world to your partner.
Ahead, seven tips to support your partner's thyroid diet.
Tips to support your partner's diet
Ask your partner what they need
Your partner may have specific requests of you that will help them succeed. Or, they may not want you to get involved at all. Ask your partner what they need from you in a way that allows for openness and safety in conversation. Getting clarity about how you can best support them improves the experience for both of you.
Ask your partner, "What does support from me look like?" instead of "How can I support you?"
You don't have to follow the same diet
Just because your partner's health may benefit from following a specific diet doesn't mean that you have to follow the same. However, thyroid-friendly diets promote whole foods and restrict processed foods, so this may be an opportunity for you to make some diet modifications, too, if desired.
If you share a kitchen, consider storing your non-AIP foods in an opaque container on a higher shelf to keep them out of sight and out of mind.
Make meal planning a priority
If you live together, you don't have to cook two separate meals to meet both of your dietary needs. Spend time together once a week planning out your weekly meals so that you can share a protein and vegetable, and maybe you can add a side dish that you will enjoy. Meal planning and prep is a great way to spend time together, be aligned for the week, and support your partner.
Do date night at home
Eating out can sometimes be a source of stress for people who require modifications to their meals. If you don't live together (or even if you do!), consider doing date night at home instead of eating out. Surprise your partner with a homecooked, thyroid-friendly meal, or get creative in the kitchen together!
Use one of the ideas in our sample meal plan:
Set your own health and life goals
Your partner's efforts can be a testament to their dedication to you. Their hard work toward health and well-being means that together you can live a full and vibrant life. Perhaps this is an opportunity to identify what's important to you and work toward set goals. Goals should extend from a meaningful outcome or vision. While you and your partner may not have the same specific health needs or goals, sharing the mindset of betterment may bring you closer together.
Start by asking yourself, What matters to me? What do I want more of in my life? What do I want life to look like in one year, three years, five years?
Educate yourself on their thyroid condition
Independently research your partner's specific thyroid disease to learn about symptoms, treatment, side effects, and effective lifestyle modifications. Ask questions to communities online or to your partner directly about what you want to understand more fully. Being able to speak the same medical language as your partner makes it easier for them to share with you, and for you to support appropriately.
Know how to react when they go off course
No one is perfect. The role of a supportive partner is to continue to offer your encouragement when your partner loses motivation, feels discouraged, or slips on their diet. Having a conversation about how to respond when everything isn't coming up roses can deepen intimacy and make a massive difference in your partner's journey. Once you have that information, you can use it when the time comes.
Ask your partner, "How would you like me to react when you are struggling?"
Many with a thyroid condition will have to take medication daily for their whole life. Between this treatment and lifestyle modifications, a full, healthy life is possible. Your support and enthusiasm is a powerful way to convey your love and strengthen your relationship.