My Confession: How Subacute Thyroiditis Helped Me Find My Way (again!)

My Confession: How Subacute Thyroiditis Helped Me Find My Way (again!)

I have a confession to make.  I lost my roots but, ironically, subacute thyroiditis helped me find my way again. I launched The Plant-Based Diet website in 2010 while I was studying and earning my certificate in plant-based nutrition.

I learned so much and wanted to share everything I learned with those I loved and even those I’d never met because I knew that if more people ate plant-based, not necessarily “plant-exclusive,” their lives would be improved and health-care costs would go down.

My Confession

My confession is that as I worked on the website, filling it with recipes and knowledge, I also worked on my other jobs as a brand journalist, consultant, speaker, and podcaster for The Brand Journalism Advantage Podcast, a show that helps brands and entrepreneurs learn marketing, branding, social media and public relations tools and strategies.

My days, weeks, months soon became very busy, and travel also caused my lifestyle and diet to slip.

I was eating extremely poorly. Don’t get me wrong. The food was rich and tasty but all wrong for my body and very weak in plant-based portions.

I kept thinking I would turn things around when my life slowed down. It’s kind of like the way couples say, “We’ll do date night when there’s more free time in our lives.” It never seems to happen.

What Went Wrong

The busier and more active I was, the less time I had to devote to eating right and following a healthy plant-based diet.  I also was covering a lot of stories on travel, restaurants, and wineries. My workouts suffered, and I suffered. I was catching frequent colds and I was constantly tired. No, exhausted.

I was a far cry from the person who founded I wasn’t eating mostly plant-based and often I wasn’t even eating. Many mornings I’d grab my coffee with heavy cream, and that’s all I’d have until lunch. Or, worse, I’d have the coffee with another simple carb like toast. I was “too busy” to realize that my body was becoming malnourished. I was depressed, stressed, and fatigued, but I couldn’t seem to reel my old lifestyle back in. I didn’t feel much like posting here on The Plant-Based Diet because, quite frankly, I was ashamed. I felt that I should be a perfect model and practice what I preach–eat mostly plant-based.
 I wanted to, but I was

My acid reflux problem was coming back from drinking too much coffee and wine and eating heavy foods. Working late. Going out. Sleeping little.
What happened?  I wondered. How did things get so out of control? I had lost my way. My work was stressful and, as I was growing my brand journalism consulting business, I forgot my roots.

I forgot that my health is a gift that must be cherished and cared for–it’s not a given. If you ruin your health, it can take a long, difficult while to get it back.

How Subacute Thyroiditis Got Me Back On Track

Then it happened. It was too late. 
In April of this year, I was under a lot of stress. I was traveling to speak at a conference in Chicago and then for a client’s wedding in Mexico. My daughter was graduating from college and life was busy and rapidly changing for both of us.

There were many good things happening but, nonetheless, stressful times. 
I became very ill in early April, and I thought, well, this is the flu: fever, chills, teeth hurt, insomnia, and more.

I was completely sick and forced into bed. This went on for days before I realized this wasn’t the flu. It was something worse that landed me in ER for half a day while they tried to get to the bottom of this mysterious condition. Was it meningitis? I did have a very bad headache and neck pain.

No, that wasn’t it.

It was something else that’s rather rare. A condition called subacute thyroiditis.


What Is Subacute Thyroiditis?

I knew very little about my thyroid. I only knew that a couple of years ago I had my TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) checked and the numbers seemed a bit low, but I was assured they were “normal”. I’ve since learned that reading was truly subpar despite the fact that the numbers fell in the “standard” range.

It’s kind of like when I had a reading of 31 for my Vitamin D lab test, and the “below-normal” rank was 29. So, technically I wasn’t much Vitamin D deficient.

Are you kidding me?

That’s not optimal. That means a few weeks of poor eating and no sun, and I could be Vitamin D deficient, but nope, my doctor told me nothing except that my Vitamin D level was good. 
Anyway, subacute thyroiditis is a nasty acute inflammatory disease of the thyroid that can last for several months–even up to 18 months—before the thyroid starts to function normally. The disease goes through several phases. First, hyperthyroidism, which often includes tachycardia (racing heart), fever, chills, pain in teeth that frequently radiates up to your ears, and overall malaise.  Even my eyes seemed to be unfocused at times.

I basically could hardly get out of bed for nearly three weeks. When I climbed a flight of stairs, my heart rate shot up to 130, and my average resting heart rate was 93, when it’s normally 70 or below.

I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my skin. Its wild beating even kept me awake at night. I didn’t want to take beta blockers to stop the tachycardia if it wasn’t absolutely necessary because I was afraid of the side effects.  Unfortunately, I had to give in to taking a course of 20mg of Prednisone for 10 days after a week of 24/7  pain, fever, chills, and tachycardia that wouldn’t let up.

Sometimes You Need A Little Medication

The Prednisone seemed to help the inflammation. The steroid is commonly used to reduce inflammation, and for that, it appears to have helped. But it caused severe insomnia and left me even more fatigued after the first, typical, burst of energy I got from taking the drug. Since my doctor didn’t taper me off of it, I had two days of HELL  after abruptly stopping Prednisone. 
I felt dizzy, my racing heart escalated even more, and shortness of breath set in. Gradually, these went away, and I grew stronger, but the first phase of subacute thyroiditis lasted about six weeks with the first four being extremely debilitating. 
Doctors believe a virus causes it and then your own body can start to make antibodies that mistakenly attack your thyroid much like the way your body can behave if it has an autoimmune response to a food allergy.
 This was the jolt I needed. Subacute thyroiditis may have been my blessing in disguise—a warning to eat better, keep my stress level under control, and watch the results of tests as well as question my doctor about them.

“In 90% or more of patients with classic painful subacute thyroiditis, there is a complete and spontaneous recovery and a return to normal thyroid function,” according to the National Center for Biotechnology.  After learning that, I was determined to be in that 90 percent and not become part of the 10 percent group whose thyroid becomes compromised or wrecked and therefore needs thyroid replacement drugs throughout life because they now have a hypothyroid condition.

Immediately after being diagnosed, I began extensive research. But there was little I could find on how to eat for subacute thyroiditis because it’s sort of transient. You go from one phase to the next–from hyperthyroid to hypothyroid–and the beneficial diet for the two conditions is quite different.

How Gluten And Dairy Impacted My Subacute Thyroiditis

I decided, since my most critical condition was hyperthyroid, I’d eat to support and tame that beast first. Some things I did were right for both conditions and, ultimately, were how I should’ve been living all along. In fact, it was how I did live for a good number of years until I fell off the wagon and didn’t realize the harm I was causing my body. 
Among those things was to go 100 percent gluten-free and casein-free. You probably know that gluten is the protein found in foods like wheat, barley, and rye. But casein, the protein in dairy products, you may not be as familiar with.

Both proteins are highly addictive. Gliadin is the specific name of the protein in gluten that many people are allergic to and unable to tolerate. Due to its molecular structure being similar to the thyroid’s, it can cause the body to attack the gliadin when it enters the bloodstream. However, the antibodies for gliadin attack the thyroid tissue too. Source.

It’s been nearly five months since I got subacute thyroiditis and changed my diet back to a lifestyle that’s mostly plant-based.  I’m working out again, but not quite at full throttle.  I had to take a break from hot yoga and weight lifting when I got sick.  My heart rate was just too high to take the heat in hot yoga, and I needed all my strength to heal, so I stopped lifting weights and going to yoga. But, YAY! I’m feeling stronger and better than I have felt in years.

Going Back To A Plant-Based Lifestyle

I started my walking regimen about one month after getting subacute thyroiditis.  Very short and slow walks at first, though now I’m up to where I was before getting sick.   I can do my 10+ mile hikes. YAY!  A side benefit from all of this is that I shed about 10 unwanted pounds!

However, my blood work still shows my thyroid is not performing as it should.  This is common in subacute thyroiditis. Patients typically go into a hypothyroidism state before full recovery of the thyroid.  So, I have to be careful not to push too hard and give myself a break.  Also, my ferritin (iron stores in the body) level is very low and my red blood cells are low.  So, I’m borderline anemic.

To sum up, what I’ve learned from all of this is that sometimes I have to go back to my roots.  I have to find my way and reconnect with the lifestyle that I know keeps me healthy and feeling my best.

I’ll be blogging here and on Instagram, posting pics about my journey back to health.  Follow me on Facebook to see the change.




  1. Isabel Razavi says:

    Hi Phoebe,
    I also had subacute thyroiditis this year in March and went through the same symptoms and phases as you. However, my doctor told me to supplement with Levothyroxine during the phase of hypothyroidism which I have been doing since May. You aren’t taking any hormones to get your blood levels right? And diet alone is doing the job?
    Thank you for sharing your insightful experience!
    Best wishes

    • Hi Isabel,

      Yes, that’s correct I am not taking thyroid replacement because after six months my thyroid levels are good! I’m not a doctor so I can’t advise for anyone else but I know that my course of action was to immediately change my diet which I believe was contributing to my condition. Gluten is a common irritant. Are you eating gluten? I did take a 10-day course of prednisone when I first was diagnosed with subacute thyroiditis because I had a very high fever and my doctor wanted the inflammation in my body to go down. My sed rate was very high due to inflammation. After that, I still didn’t feel well and flipped from hyperthyroid to hypothyroid to eventually normal. How are you doing today? Is Levothyroxine helping?

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