Low Glycemic Index Diet: An Answer to Thyroid Disease

11-11-11 was a meaningful date for Mia Murphy. She learned was diagnosed with thyroid cancer five years before and not informed. She also was forced to have a second parathyroid gland removed in just five years. With her thyroid removed, her body could no longer produce adequate Thyroid Hormone (T3 and T4), a key glycoprotein in managing a body’s metabolism. Though she did and still does take a replacement hormone, it’s not as effective as the “real thing.”

Thyroid disease is, in a nutshell, a metabolic disease. Without T3 and T4, a person can easily gain weight, become bloated and experience swelling, among other uncomfortable side effects.

Though Mia’s endocrinologist recommended she cut back on carbohydrates, she still struggled maintaining her body weight after her diagnosis. In fact, just six months after her surgery, she started a rigorous hiking schedule and still managed to gain a few pounds.

Last November, when Mia turned forty-five, she decided to make some life changes. For starters, she started bumping up her workouts. Additionally, as a birthday present to herself, she scheduled an appointment with an internist to see how she might be better able to manage her weight.

The physician noted that her blood sugar levels were at the high end of normal and recommended a low glycemic index diet.  Since diabetes is a hormone-related metabolic disease, like thyroid disease, and because patients with one are at risk of developing the other, he wanted to pre-empt a possible complication of her current condition. Not to mention, she might she see a difference in weight management and energy level by cutting back on sugar.

I recently spoke with Mia to find out how the new way of eating and exercising suited her style and outlook on life.

What do you think of the low glycemic index diet?

Not only have I lost nine pounds in just four weeks, but I feel much better, too. Clearly, I have an increased risk for diabetes, so I hopefully I have intervened in time to avoid another debilitating health problem. While I have never been heavy, the indicators are present.

Was it challenging to cut back on sugar?

The first couple of weeks were tough. I was a little irritable because I missed the sugar my body was used to having. But now I have adjusted and really don’t miss it that much. If I really want a treat, I eat something small to satisfy my sweet tooth. But it’s generally something like ten peanut M&Ms that have fat and protein to balance out the sugar.

Another thing that really helps is the healthy, whole foods I’m now eating in place of more sugar-filled foods of the past. I wasn’t a bad eater before, but with less sugar and more fiber and nutrients, I have more energy and stay full longer.

What else do you attribute to your success?

I’m more careful about how much and when I eat. I used to skimp on breakfast, eat a light lunch, and skip the afternoon snack. I was so ravenous by dinner-time that I’d overdo my last meal of the day.

Now, I eat more balanced meals and always have an afternoon snack. This keeps my blood sugar level more constant during the day so that I don’t have energy spikes and lulls.

What sort of guidelines did your doctor recommend?

Originally, he gave me very loose low glycemic index. Since then, I have closely followed the guidelines found here.

I really don’t consider my way of eating a diet; rather, it’s a way of life. It’s eating more balances meals, more wholesome foods and almost nothing processed.

There are some foods I have to avoid because of my hormone medication; otherwise, it’s a very satisfying and fulfilling way to eat and live.

Do you ever eat bread? Pasta?

Since bread, pasta and rice have a high glycemic index, I am careful how/when I eat them. For example, if I make a pasta dish, I add chicken, kale and other vegetables and actually add less pasta than I might have in the past.

I only eat bread made with spelt, a high-protein grain that contains a broader spectrum of nutrients that standard wheat.

Another nice thing about this way of eating is that it doesn’t exclude fats. By adding a small amount of cream here or a pat of butter there, dishes taste better and are more filling.

What about wine?

I like to have a glass of red wine with dinner at night. Wine is heart healthy, too, so why not? As long as I’m eating better, the natural sugars in wine won’t elevate by blood sugar levels enough to affect me negatively. In fact, red wine has a very low glycemic index.

How else do you manage your body weight?

I exercise quite a bit as well. My workouts consist of cardio/weight total athletic training, running and yoga. I work out six days a week religiously, and am even noticing my running times improving, too.

With a thriving law practice, where do you find time to fit in exercise?

I exercise each evening when I get home from work. I only have a 12-year-old child and spouse, and they have adjusted to some of our later-in-the-evening dinners.

Our entire family is eating well and exercising these days, so the new lifestyle is one that is here to stay.

Mia Murphy has been married to her husband Chuck for 22 years has two wonderful children. Megan is a freshman at Arizona State University and Matthew is a sixth grader. She is a native Idahoan and lawyer with her own practice – Murphy Law Office. She loves running, hiking, traveling, and following and studying political and social issues. She also enjoys wine and good food, and her new lifestyle allows for these pleasures.

Melinda Hinson