Every now and then, you read a nonfiction or self-help book that shifts your perspective, opens your eyes and maybe even changes your life. In the past decade, a few come to mind for me: Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (I kind of hate to admit this one, but it has an impact far beyond house cleaning); Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (you’ll never see food the same way again); Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (you’ll never see anything the same way again); The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (yes, you are a creative soul!); and Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson (foragers are on to something).
Recently, I’ve had that life-changing, course-correcting experience reading The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution by Aviva Romm, M.D. I’ve promoted Dr. Romm’s work many times within the pages of Mother Earth Living because her female-focused approach is refreshingly holistic. She combines Western medicine with herbalism, midwifery and plain good sense to help women take control of their own health and well-being. Her advice is often more proactive than what you may hear from medical professionals who default to prescribing medications rather than lifestyle changes. She has confidence that women can improve their own lives — body and mind — and is dedicated to arming us all with science-backed strategies for gaining balance.
If you’re a little put off by the book’s title, or it doesn’t seem immediately relatable, rest assured: If you are a female adult, this book is relevant to you. Kids or no kids, relationship or none, period cramps or menopause … If you feel tired, sluggish, stressed, underappreciated or overworked, Dr. Romm’s plan may help.
System Overwhelm Leads to Symptom Overload
First, Romm outlines the concerns she hears most often from female patients. For example, more than 80 percent of her patients are chronically fatigued. Unfortunately, the stresses of life as a woman are ubiquitous: too much work, too little rest; too much responsibility, too little energy; too much “yes” and “should,” too little “no way!” Thousands of women also report problems with brain fog, memory, motivation, cravings, aches and pains, anxiety and sleep. Combined, all of these symptoms send women’s bodies into an unrelenting stress response driven by the adrenal and thyroid glands.
Next, Romm explains what she has found to be the primary causes of this cluster of symptoms: chronic stress, toxin overload, gut and hormone imbalance, food triggers and undiagnosed infections. Her four-week plan to repair these root causes helps you examine each area of your own life systematically to remove whatever is standing in the way of optimal health.
28-Day Plan: Basic Overview
Dr. Romm’s plan is highly customizable, and it is meant to be customized. She provides questionnaires and checklists to help you discover the areas of your own physical health and mental well-being that seem to be most in need of repair. For example, if you have chronic stomach problems, you will add a set of foods and supplements to your individual plan. If a main concern you have is sleep disturbance, Romm’s resources help tailor a plan that includes sleep support; tips for rest and relaxation; an eating schedule that may help; and more. The numerous individual options are beyond the scope of this article, but the resources in her book and on her website, Aviva Romm, help you craft a personalized approach to maximize positive results.
Dr. Romm’s 4-Week Plan for Repair
The basic plan any woman can follow to improve overall health and energy is outlined here.
Reboot: Through an elimination diet that is both sane and nourishing, you’ll discover food triggers particular to you. And it’s not all about removing foods. You’ll also improve micronutrient intake by enjoying a diverse, delicious and nourishing diet — complete with recipes. Dr. Romm recommends people eliminate all of the offenders found in processed foods: artificial ingredients, colors, additives, preservatives, trans fats, sweeteners, low-quality oils and fried foods. In addition, you’ll rule out common triggers and allergens, including wheat and “cross-reactive” grains, such as corn, as well as nuts, soy, yeast, nightshade plants, dairy products, alcohol and caffeine.
Meanwhile, your “elimination” diet will also include tons of delicious “additions,” such as dark chocolate, avocado, leafy greens, colorful vegetables, grass-fed animal products (except dairy), low-mercury fish, legumes, whole grains, healthful fats, such as olive and coconut oil, plenty of fermented foods, like sauerkraut, and superfoods, such as berries and pomegranates. Romm also encourages you to try a huge variety of delicious herbal teas. She warns against counting calories, and instead helps you understand portion sizes and healthful eating schedules.
In this preparatory phase, Romm also guides you through making over your pantry, medicine cabinet and other rooms of your home by removing hidden toxins that could be affecting your hormones dramatically.
Reframe: Learn to shift from a mindset that keeps you overwhelmed to one that gives you energy and permission to live life more freely. Meditation and writing exercises help you identify behaviors and beliefs that make your life harder, such as perfectionism and the fear of missing out. In this part of your plan, you’ll focus not only on ways to mitigate stress and learn to relax, but also on how to improve your sleep. Many self-care steps are introduced here. Again, it’s not all about taking things away. For example, you will have to give up alcohol for this plan, but you’ll learn how to relax in new ways.
Repair: This section handles the body’s systems step-by-step: digestive, immune, hormonal and detoxification. You’ll learn how to choose foods and supplements that heal and support these critical functions. In addition, Dr. Romm provides comprehensive guides about all kinds of medical tests you can discuss with your physician in order to uncover serious health issues.
Recharge: In the last phases of Romm’s plan, you’ll learn to recharge your adrenal and thyroid glands with supportive adaptogens, and how to increase energy levels naturally. Romm also offers advice on how to talk with your physician about personalized medications.
Replenish: The final piece of Romm’s four-week revolution is to take what you’ve learned about your own body and mind to formulate a long-term plan for vitality. It will include real, delicious foods and strategies to keep you focused, calm, energized and better able to handle inevitable stress. At this point in the plan, you also begin to reintroduce foods you’ve eliminated in order to further understand what fuels you effectively and what doesn’t. About at this part in the process is when you’ll likely also find that you’ve begun to move toward a healthier weight, calmer mind, better sleep schedule and a more sustained energy level.
3 Busy Women Reflect on a Rejuvenating Month
Last winter, some friends and I decided to do Dr. Romm’s 28-Day Plan from The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution. We spent a few weeks preparing for it by discussing the book; planning meals and activities; visiting our physicians to get bloodwork done; and trying to kick our caffeine habits in advance of starting the plan. We each had different complaints, so we customized our plans according to the worksheets in Dr. Romm’s book and discussions with our individual doctors. But we did follow the same core advice for the elimination diet as well as the basic self-care routines. In addition, the three of us often met up post-workout in the steam room of our women’s gym, which is where we conducted most of our discussions about how the plan was going for each of us. Rest, relaxation, self-care and social connection actually are part of the plan!
Prior to this plan, I was completely put off by detox diets. As Food Editor of this magazine, it’s essential that I approach diet trends with skepticism. Elimination and detox plans typically seem to be forms of dieting that make women feel “toxic” unless we’re practically starving. Dr. Romm’s plan is different. It does involve an elimination diet, but it’s also deeply nourishing — not only through the foods you’re encouraged to eat, but also by helping you take care of your whole person. The removal of foods is accompanied by the addition of foods, all with a laser focus on increasing self-awareness and body confidence.
Tabitha Grace, 37; Food Editor
I came to this plan at the most stressful time in my life. My romantic relationship was reaching its end; I was overcommitted at work; I was coming off the heels of four years of breastfeeding and not sleeping; and I hadn’t lost the baby weight from having two kids. What I discovered is that I was experiencing serious stress, anxiety and depression, and that, for me, prescriptions would be in order. I felt good about choosing to try anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds for the first time after I had earnestly tried every other holistic approach — from inputs (adaptogens, supplements, herbal teas, light therapy) to outputs (yoga, tennis, talk therapy, social connection). My physician, my therapist and I were able to discuss options conscientiously, because we had done quite a bit of testing and talking, and because I had tried alternatives to feel better, sleep better and improve motivation.
Today, I incorporate much more self-care into a still-busy routine than I could before the sharp focus of those 28 days — even though I am now a single mother. I’m a better mother, partner, friend and colleague if I take care of my own body and mind first, and I don’t feel a bit bad about it! I’ve also discovered there are foods I don’t tolerate well, and that elimination diets aren’t all silly. I’ve lost the baby weight, and am able to maintain a naturally healthy weight easily now that my fight-or-flight system is not in overdrive. The most surprising benefit for me? Completely without trying, my physical flexibility improved dramatically by the end of the month. The cause was likely inflammation from stress and food triggers — lifelong inflammation, apparently. I had no idea my body could feel so good!
Sus Kramer, 33; Yoga Teacher and Midwife
Sus Kramer had been dealing with hypothyroidism since the birth of her son. Then, out of nowhere, her toes turned blue, which was a symptom of another autoimmune disorder: Reynaud’s Syndrome. This was her wake-up call to figure out the causes of her chronic problems, including these issues, plus fatigue, headaches and allergies.
“I came to this plan after trying different elimination and gut-healing diets in the past, always looking for something I could stick to long-term. I eat healthy, home-cooked foods, but no matter what, it seemed like I was always bloated and not feeling 100-percent, whether I was experiencing headaches, fatigue or brain fog. I love to eat, so having buddies to share the experience with was vital for the first few weeks. Today, about six months later, I’m still roughly following Dr. Romm’s diet and know that I have a plan to return to if my symptoms creep back in again. For the most part I feel great, and I definitely know what to pay attention to when I don’t. I learned that, for now, I cannot eat gluten. I also learned what it feels like for my body and mind not to be stressed. It’s amazing, and I’m so grateful for that piece of it.
Erica Gascon, 38; Realtor
Erica Gascon had stomach pain and digestive problems since the birth of her twins about a year prior. She didn’t have problems with sleep or weight, but felt dependent on caffeine for energy. Meanwhile, four little ones were dependent on Erica, including two tandem-nursing babies.
“After having four children within three years, my body was tapped out. I was relying heavily on coffee to get me started in the morning and an afternoon coffee to push me through the rest of the day. My digestion wasn’t working properly, and I was regularly experiencing bloating, gas and upset stomach. I was in a rut of grabbing a granola bar in the morning as I rushed out the door, eating my kids’ leftover food from lunch, snacking through the afternoon and throwing together something for dinner. As Dr. Romm would say, I needed a reboot!
There were many benefits I was not expecting when I started the plan. After the initial shock and sadness from cutting out caffeine, I found it easier to get going in the morning and I didn’t feel the afternoon slump I was used to. It was a great exercise to focus on meal planning to ensure I was getting all my necessary nutrients, and it enabled me to spend less time feeling stumped (and stressed) about what to cook. My indigestion cleared up completely, and I felt energized after meals rather than bloated. The biggest advantage that I carried forward after finishing the plan was making sure to incorporate vegetables into every single meal and snack. Planning ahead by roasting several vegetables at once and having fresh greens always on hand has become a regular healthy habit in my life — and my whole family benefits.”
Join the thousands of women benefitting from Dr. Romm’s holistic approach to overall wellness by connecting with them on Twitter and Facebook: #takebackyourhealth.
Food and Garden Editor Tabitha Grace is the author of Whole Grain Baking Made Easy.