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Fifteen years ago, I rapidly gained over 25 pounds and was so fatigued that I frequently fell asleep at my desk. On top of that, my hair was falling out and I had severe brain fog — I couldn’t remember where I put my keys, let alone focus on solving a complex problem at the office. As the days passed, I grew more terrified that I was losing my mind, literally.

When I shared the laundry list of symptoms I was experiencing with my doctor, she dismissively said, “You’re not losing your hair. You’re not overweight, so don’t worry about a couple of pounds; It’s not that bad.”

Next, I went to my gynecologist to explore the possibility that I had a hormonal imbalance — that, too, was a dead end. I took myself off the Pill, but didn’t get my period for nearly seven months. I saw two different “top rated” endocrinologists, one of whom intimated that my symptoms were invented and suggested that I keep a food log because perhaps I was eating more than I thought I was. I actually entertained that insulting suggestion — I mean, my mind was muddled, so maybe I was stuffing my face with ice cream and candy and just didn’t remember doing it.

Despite how exhausted I felt, I was working out five days a week and eating a strict diet of  1,200 calories a day. The result? I was gaining weight.

Beyond my physical breakdown, my emotional health, professional life and even my relationships were suffering. My then-boyfriend and I were fighting constantly, mainly because I was so moody and irritable that I would burst into tears about every 12 minutes. At work, I would skip important meetings in the afternoons to go get pedicures just so I could nap in the chair.

I was miserable — not just on the inside, but also to be around. I didn’t want to be social and lost the ability to see the fun in anything. I cried every day. I desperately wanted to fix what was wrong with me, but I had no idea where to start, especially since every physician I sought help from told me I was fine. And I was not fine — not even close.

How I Took Control of My Health

After 18 months with no medical conclusions, I was frustrated and very scared. I had no idea what was happening with my body and neither did the doctors, it seemed. It was the first time I realized that the so-called experts I spent my whole life trusting didn’t have all the answers, which was pretty unsettling.

I had to become my own patient advocate in order to figure out what was going on.

After researching my list of symptoms I was fairly certain the problem was with my thyroid, so I became a student of my own health by reading every book I could find on the subject. Gratefully, I also found a community of people online who had also been let down by conventional medicine and understood exactly how I was feeling. Knowing I was not alone gave me the courage and motivation to keep searching for answers.

Eventually, I stumbled on a life-changing book: What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Hyperthyroidism by Kenneth Blanchard, MD, PhD. Everything in this book validated what I was going through. Getting fat? Yes! Feeling fuzzy? Yes! Moody, sluggish, losing hair? Yes, yes, yes! Most importantly, Dr. Blanchard offered practical advice for getting the right diagnosis and treatment.

After years of seeking, I finally found a functional medicine doctor who did a full panel of thyroid tests, including TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, thyroid peroxidase and thyroglobulin antibodies. Previous doctors had only tested my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which doesn’t tell the full story. Based on these tests, I discovered I had Hashimoto's Disease, an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid gland and reduces its ability to function properly.

RELATED: How Gut Health Impacts Weight Loss

Once I knew that I had an autoimmune condition (in addition to adrenal fatigue and a hormonal imbalance), I could finally take the steps necessary to get better. I learned that autoimmune conditions are largely triggered by toxins, allergies, microbes, diet and chronic stress. I wasn’t exactly sure what was triggering mine, but it was likely a combination of things. For starters, I made major changes to what I ate by eliminating foods that trigger gut sensitivities: gluten, dairy, soy, sugar and alcohol. Food, as I discovered, is medicine and I definitely needed to eat more healing foods.

I won’t lie — overhauling my eating habits wasn’t easy. But once my energy levels returned and the excess weight started coming off, I was motivated to keep going. Next, I kicked off a robust supplement protocol that included a high-quality multivitamin, omega 3 fats, vitamin D, selenium, iodine and zinc.

Since stress can also have a major impact on your thyroid, I needed to find ways to soothe my nervous system. I began studying Buddhism and started a daily meditation practice. I also started getting acupuncture to balance my hormones and further restore energy levels.

RELATED: 5 Signs Your Hormones Are Out of Balance

If this wellness routine sounds like a full-time job, it basically was. I was running all over New York City seeing multiple practitioners and healers in an effort to get better. Though they were all incredibly knowledgeable and talented, they each had their own views on what I should do — and sometimes those views contrasted. I wished they would collaborate, but for the most part, trying to get that to happen was an exercise in futility. This disconnect in the health system planted a seed in my mind: Patients need a more integrated care model — maybe I can help create that.

While working on healing myself, I organically started helping others. I was astounded by how many people — women, mostly — I met who were suffering from the exact same issues that I was and, like me, had been misdiagnosed or dismissed. Ultimately, I left my career in marketing to complete health coaching courses at Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) and Duke Integrative Medicine Center. I started my own health coaching practice, which ultimately led me to co-founding THE WELL with my amazing partners Rebecca Parekh and Kane Sarhan.

RELATED: 5 Reasons You Need a Health Coach

One of the most impactful products we’ve created — inspired, in part, by my own health struggles — is THE WELL Cleanse, a 15-day, food-forward protocol to improve gut health. Developed by Frank Lipman, MD, a renowned functional medicine pioneer and our Chief Medical Officer, THE WELL Cleanse has helped thousands of patients get better. Gut health is the foundation of overall health — it impacts immune function, weight management, brain health, sleep quality, digestive distress, mood regulation and more.

My reason for sharing this story and dedicating myself to THE WELL is to help people — including the over 12 million women with thyroid disease — get the compassionate and comprehensive treatment they need to get their lives back.

RELATED: I Tried THE WELL Cleanse — Here's What Happened

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