Fitness instructor and healthy lifestyle guru Katie Dunlop’s health and fitness empire is nothing to sneeze at. With nearly 500,000 followers on her Instagram account Love Sweat Fitness and an even larger following on her YouTube channel (and also a creator on Parade.com‘s!) it’s clear that Dunlop knows a thing or two about taking the best possible care of her body—and it certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s upbeat and encouraging.
Dunlop’s interest in clean eating and nutrition was born from a lifelong struggle with hypothyroidism, which is when they body can’t make enough thyroid hormone to keep the body running normally. Here, Dunlop, 33, shares her journey of knowing something was off with her body, how she got doctors to take her seriously, and the lifestyle shifts that have supported her health journey.
When did you first discover you had hypothyroidism, and what were the symptoms that tipped you off to something being wrong?
I was having severe headaches almost daily along with hair loss, chronic fatigue, and several other symptoms.
You initially took the medication prescribed to you by your doctor. When (and why) did you decide to start making lifestyle changes as well?
I had been on medication for about 12 years with no other guidance from my doctors. When I was about 23 years old I found myself overweight, struggling with depression, and experiencing a lot of my hypo symptoms again. I tried tons of extreme fad diets and pills for weight loss thinking they would fix my problems, but nothing helped. I finally realized torturing myself to somehow make myself feel better didn’t make any sense. I needed to truly start to focus on feeling good, and for me, that started with what I was putting into my body.
Related: Sofia Vergara Opens Up About Life After Thyroid Cancer
The concept of making healthy lifestyle changes is a great one, but it’s so much easier said than done. Many of us start, only to lose steam within a few weeks. How did you start making changes that actually stuck?
I focused more on what I could add to my plate rather than what I had to get rid of. This was a totally new concept for me, but made all the difference in the world. Filling up my plate with the good stuff first just left less room for junk. I also committed to moving my body for 10 minutes a day. That was a manageable goal that I knew I could stick to, no excuses, and it allowed me to continuously feel like I was accomplishing something, which motivated me to do more.
Beyond easing your symptoms of hypothyroidism, what positive changes did you start to see as you lost weight, ate healthier, and started to exercise more?
I felt better! And I don’t just mean I had less headaches. I had more energy, my mood felt more balanced, and I felt empowered knowing I had control and could change things.
Related: Love Sweat Fitness Founder Katie Dunlop’s Mental Prep Checklist
What are the top foods or meals you suggest to anyone dealing with hypothyroidism? How about workouts?
I actually recently launched my Hypo 101 Meal Plan that outlines the best, and worst, foods for someone with hypothyroidism. I also dive into adaptogens and how they can help with symptoms too! Everyone is different, and that’s probably the most important thing to remember. But there are some common things that are true for all us hypo girls. Things like cruciferous veggies are just hard for us to digest and are best when well cooked. It might not seem like a big deal, but if you have hypothyroidism and eat raw broccoli on the regular and also happen to constantly feel bloated, cooking just might help alleviate that bloating and pain.
What’s your advice for someone who feels something is “off” with their body, but is having a hard time pinpointing it or getting a doctor to diagnose it?
You have to be your own advocate. Truly. I went to several doctors before anyone appropriately diagnosed me because they all thought I was “too young” and it “had to just be hormonal changes.” There are things you need to know, like the fact biotin can interfere with bloodwork. Having the knowledge to advocate for yourself is key and if the first doctor doesn’t seem to be interested in what you have to say, find a new one. You know your body better than anyone!
What have you learned from launching your own business in terms of any tips you have for handling stress, putting yourself and health first, and being a busy entrepreneur with a health condition?
I’ve really learned to recognize when the stress starts creeping in and also how to know how much is too much. Running a growing business is stressful, always, but the best thing I can do for myself and my community is to learn to manage that stress. I know when to say no, when to slow down, and when I just need to pour myself a glass of wine and have an uninterrupted date night with my hubby.
Related: Every Amazing Thing Chrissy Metz Has Said About Her Weight Loss Journey
In general, why do you think so many women struggle to get the right help? How can you advocate for yourself?
It’s hard to say why it’s so hard to get the right help, but I talk to women every day who find themselves feeling hopeless even after seeing several doctors. Whether it’s hypothyroidism, PCOS, adrenal fatigue or some other issue, there are a lot of similar symptoms so pinpointing it can be tricky, but not impossible. The best way we can be advocates for ourselves is through education and determination. Finding communities like Love Sweat Fitness where you can connect with other women who get what you’re going through and can share stories is also super important. These experiences can feel isolating, but women need to know they are not alone.
What would you consider your “healthiest daily lifestyle routine,” and how do you get yourself to stick with it when busy days, work, family and friend life compete for attention?
My Daily 10. This goes back to the beginning of my journey when I committed to moving my body just 10 minutes a day, and I still do this. I actually have a free Daily 10 each day in the Love Sweat Fitness app that anyone can get! It’s such an easy way to make sure that I am putting my mental and physical health first, even if it’s just a few minutes each day.
Next up, here’s how health and wellness has changed in 2020.