WellTheory Certified Nutritionist, Carrie Herndon, had a lifetime of chronic health issues that were dismissed for years before finally being diagnosed with multiple autoimmune diseases. Carrie had to learn a lot about what it means to manage autoimmunity on her own and it was her love of learning that allowed her to transform her health. We sat down with Carrie to find out how a food as medicine approach to autoimmune care provided her the opportunity to get to the bottom of her numerous symptoms and gave her the tools to keep her multiple autoimmune conditions in check.
Tell Us About Yourself!
Hi, I’m Carrie Herndon. I am certified by the Nutritional Therapy Association and Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Restorative Wellness Solutions, and in the AutoImmune Protocol as an AIP Certified Coach. I've been a Certified Nutritionist for 2 years and Health Coach for 3 years.
I've been married to my husband Daniel for more than 2 decades. We have 2 daughters who are adults and living their best life which means we get to live our best empty nesting life. I love to create recipes, spend time in nature hiking, gardening and I baby my nearly 100 houseplants throughout my home in the Midwest.
What Is Your Diagnosis?
I’ve had Hashimoto's Thyroiditis for 22 years and counting. It was my first of three autoimmune disease diagnoses. Initially, I was simply told I had low thyroid and to take a medicine and come back once a year for tests. I did this for 7 years feeling like there was no end in sight when it came to all of my symptoms. Then finally, I found a doctor who understood, listened, and explained that I had an autoimmune disease. However, my body collected other diseases as the years went on, including celiac which I’ve had for 7 years and rheumatoid arthritis which I’ve had for 4 years.
Tell Us About Your Early Symptoms & Life Before Diagnosis
Before I discovered the principles of nutritional therapy, I struggled with extreme fatigue, swelling and joint pain, digestive illness, weight gain, and many more symptoms that were debilitating at times. I was diagnosed when I was 23 and I've spent half of my life having an autoimmune disease so it's hard to remember what life was like prior to symptoms and diagnosis!
“Looking back with the knowledge I have now, I realize some of my autoimmune symptoms began when I was younger, but because I didn’t know then what I know now, it took until I was in my 30s to realize what my body needed, and how it was reacting to the foods I put in it.”
What Has Been Your Biggest Struggle With Autoimmune Disease?
The biggest struggle with autoimmune disease is that it is an invisible and lifelong disease. For some of us, we may never remove our symptoms entirely, and flare ups can still occur. For me, and I know others, this can be pretty discouraging. On days when my autoimmunity is more present I make sure to reach out for additional support. Sometimes, it looks like a call with 2 of my friends who also have autoimmune diseases of their own. Other times, it's leaning into my stress reducing techniques or just curling up on the couch with my husband and our doodle, Asher. I am thankful that I have the tools of my education as a Certified Nutritionist and the supportive community I have built around me (at work and at home). Having support can't be understated!
Check out Carrie’s Care Plan
Discover what shifts Carrie made to her nutrition and lifestyle and learn how it reduced her symptoms.
I knew very little in the beginning of my healing journey. I had a doctor tell me to avoid meat with my autoimmune disease so I spent 7 years as a vegetarian, but my symptoms and pain only worsened. Not long after I quit being a vegetarian, I found out I had celiac disease.
To sustain my healing journey, I had to build a community of supportive individuals. This meant finding the right doctors I could trust and who trusted me as well, building friendships with people who understand my needs when we go out to eat, and working with a nutritional therapist, despite being one myself because even we need support!
“The turning point in my healing journey was the day I woke up and got out of bed without pain — it was a day that will live in my mind forever. That day was the first time I knew I was on the right path towards healing.”
What Did Your Initial Care Plan Look Like?
When I started my journey, I made my own care plan and it was all trial and error. My first health goal was to be able to move with less pain so I changed how I ate by removing processed foods, eating more whole foods, and eating in alignment with the autoimmune protocol. I also implemented some stress management strategies, addressed my sleep quality, and incorporated daily movement. I had many deficiencies that were being monitored by my doctor so we worked together to tweak my supplements.
Through the years, I've seen many doctors and specialists and undergone countless tests. However, the most helpful thing for me was finding a doctor who also had Hashimoto's, a GP who was more knowledgeable than the endocrinologist I'd seen. He listened to me and understood my struggles, something that had been rare in my experience. Even though I’m a Certified Nutritionist, my Care Team gives me outside support to ensure I’m sustaining my healing.
How Has Your Life Changed With a Foundational Approach to Healing?
As I began to understand what foods and lifestyle choices were impacting my body, I was able to focus on how to support it. I began learning about autoimmune disease, my health, and how nutrition and lifestyle changes could help heal my body. After years of learning, and discovering life changes that had helped me manage my health, I decided I would pursue this as a career! And while I wouldn't say that I have everything figured out, I have become more confident in managing my health through nutrition due to the fact that I love to cook and previously owned a restaurant. I know that the processed and inflammatory foods I previously ate did so much to cause damage and it's been amazing to see how changing my diet has helped me heal and reduced so many of my symptoms!
Although I still have flares from time to time, I have learned to double down on my lifestyle supports in those moments and reflect on my diet to determine if I've eaten any trigger foods. Overall, my symptoms have been greatly reduced, and while I still experience some lingering brain fog and fatigue, they have reduced and have become manageable.
I believe that there is always more to learn, and I enjoy continuing to learn about how to improve my own health and help WellTheory members with theirs.
“While the medical community still has a lot to learn about autoimmune diseases, I am grateful that I know how to navigate my health and maximize the enjoyment I get out of life.”
I’m thankful I get to help others through their journey to being a healthier person as well.
Any Advice for Others With Autoimmunity?
Living with an autoimmune disease can be a challenging experience, but I like to view us as warriors. We are fighting a battle that most people can't see. During my interactions with WellTheory members, my goal is to leave them feeling encouraged and empowered, reminding them of their strength and the importance of leaning on each other for support.
I also always encourage people with autoimmunity to focus on progress over perfection! Keep being persistent in pursuing your health goals, it's persistence and knowing that each step forward takes you closer to the healthier you. There are bumps along every road and no one is perfect. It all starts with one step at a time. One small change can lead to many great habits in due time.