Do you work out like crazy, but can’t get rid of that soft belly fat?
Elle Russ is the author of The Paleo Thyroid Solution and host of the Primal Blueprint Podcast. If you want to know how to use food as medicine, improve thyroid function, or become fat-adapted—especially as a woman—this show is for you.
You’re about to learn:
- What to do if you’re still afraid of dietary fat
- Simple steps to optimize your thyroid health
- What it’s like to be a fat-adapted, fat-burning woman
- Why zero-stress makes weight loss easier
- And much more…
ELLE RUSS: OPTIMIZING YOUR THYROID HEALTH
Abel: Elle Russ is a writer, coach, and host of the Primal Blueprint Podcast. After battling two bouts of severe hypothyroidism including an acute Reverse T3 problem, she wrote The Paleo Thyroid Solution. In both instances, she healed herself alone, departing from mainstream medical approach to question traditional protocols and engage in personal experimentation to dial in wellness.
Elle, thanks so much for joining us!
Thank you for having me. We are big fans of yours at Primal Blueprint and I love The Wild Diet audiobook. I recommend it to everyone. It’s one of my favorites. I am on my second listen. There are few audio books I feel that way about, but you’re such a great narrator.
Abel: Thanks! Here’s a fun fact – I recorded my audiobook the same week I sang all the tracks to my music album… so my voice was trashed. You just have to keep leaning into the crazy, baby!
Before I get into how badly I suffered because of doctors using 1973 protocols, I want to start off by saying: Everyone has a thyroid gland. You would die without it or if you don’t have adequate thyroid hormones. So when someone gets it removed, it has to be replaced.
Whether you have a thyroid problem or not, the thyroid is the master gland of your entire body. It dishes out the very important fat-burning hormone called T3. if you were to go online and google it, you would come up with thousands of bodybuilding sites. Weird?
Those bodybuilders jam themselves with T3 for weeks to shed fat quickly, and often screw up their thyroid in the process.
Going Primal or Wild is absolutely the ultimate in blood glucose management and stability. That relates to the adrenals.
I’ll give you a crash course. The pituitary at the base of the brain can sense if you have enough thyroid in the blood. When it senses low thyroid, it triggers the thyroid gland to produce more. But one of three things can happen: (1) The brain can send the signal, but the thyroid doesn’t respond. (2) The brain can send the signal, but the thyroid doesn’t produce enough. Or (3) the brain doesn’t send the signal.
Why would the brain not send the signal? (We’ll get to that in a second.)
The primal lifestyle is what optimizes hormone metabolism. It does you no good to pummel yourself with thyroid hormones unless they’re actually going to get into the cells, punch into work and do the job.
Otherwise, they’re going to be swimming around. And that’s a whole other problem—reverse T3.
The thyroid is the master gland, and it’s also responsible for male and female sex hormones. When thyroid is low, that gets shut down. With women, symptoms usually manifest as gynecological issues, miscarriages, and things like that.
I gave myself hypothyroidism because I followed a low-fat diet and was overtraining and eating every 2-3 hours a day. I achieved a level of fitness that was outstanding, but I suffered because I was hungry all the time and my thyroid shut down.
The way to optimize is to have low levels of stress, and to send signals to the brain that you’re okay. When you have the up-and-down of either hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic because of a bad diet, that’s a stress response. Cortisol will rise.
When I used to overeat, my body had to deal with inflammation and the stress, so it shut down the fat-burning hormone to address those issues.
HOW TO TEST YOUR THYROID
The signal that’s sent (or not sent) can be tested in the blood. Here are the blood tests you can get done: TSH, Free T3, Reverse T3, hashimoto’s
Hashimoto’s affects your thyroid like autoimmune diabetes. It’s triggered by grains and if you catch it in time, you can stay off thyroid replacement drugs. To test for Hashimoto’s you need these tests: TPO antibody, and TGab (thyroglobulin). Get both because you can have one and not the other. The rest are pretty much useless. And if they test TSH without the other ones, that’s a problem.
I had a PPO. I was college educated and was taught to question doctors and get other opinions. After the 15th opinion and no doctor being able to help or testing correctly, I suffered two years and spent six years of my life at home crying, feeling bloated and fat, hair falling out, and had gynecological issues.
When your thyroid is not working, it can cause a host of other problems and create diseases in the body.
I was misdiagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. How? It looked like that on the ultrasound, but no one was questioning why a 30 year-old with normal health is having this problem.
When we have prescriptionist doctors we get a bandaid and are sent home with a medication.
When we are talking about depression or any kind of mental or brain issues, you can take antidepressants and they’ll work for about 6 months… and then they won’t work anymore. Psychologists should be checking thyroid levels, even for bipolar disorder. Because people with Hashimoto’s go in and out of being hyper and hypo, and that can create erratic behavior. A parent might say their teenager is just acting up, they’re hyper, but that behavior is something that they should pay attention to.
If you have any brain issues, depression or cholesterol problems, thyroid is the first thing to test.
Because the thyroid is the master gland of the body, this should be tested in every scenario with a disease potential.
Abel: Thyroid is huge and a lot of people don’t really talk about it or they or ignore it, but you can see it what the thyroid does quite clearly when bodybuilders abuse it.
What can we do from a dietary perspective to make sure thyroid health is dialed in?
If you are diagnosed with Hashimoto’s you MUST stay away from gluten.
Here’s why: A lot of doctors don’t know you can treat autoimmunity. We know that grains can trigger autoimmune disorders. My coaching partner Eli Rhode, who’s been on the show, she can have three fried olives and her arthritis symptoms come back immediately—from the grains.
Same with Hashimoto’s. Grains are something you’ll be getting rid of for life.
People with Hashimoto’s have antibody levels that go up and down, but they’re triggered mostly by grains, sugar, and inflammation. A lot of doctors will say “This person has Hashimoto’s, of course their antibodies are going to be high.” You don’t want your antibodies high because that means inflammation which equals more autoimmune issues and more problems.
A lot of people with Hashimoto’s are not overweight and don’t realize there are underlying problems going on.
I have a friend who I gave this information to. After switching her diet, her antibodies went down from over 300 to 70 just from eating gluten-free for a couple of months.
One of my fails: I was under the impression that doing hot yoga five days a week, sweating my butt off, and getting my heart rate up was good for me and I’d be burning the most fat possible. But I got fat around the middle because of cortisol.
You’ve got to get all the components right. I’ve found that most people are missing one. They’ve got diet down and even low stress, but maybe they’re overtraining.
So, when you’re overtraining and in chronic cardio mode, your body sees that as a stress and shuts down T3, which is the most important in the mix. The T4 is a pro-hormone. A lot of times we have conversations about the T4 not converting to T3 because it’s dealing with a problem and doesn’t want to give you more energy.
Abel: So what does your exercise look like now?
I swim several miles a week and hike every day, and I wear a heart rate monitor.
I exercise every day for at least an hour. There are times when I go for a 2 hour hike, swim and lift weights, but it’s rare that I punch it that hard. I just make sure I’m doing it at the proper non-glucose burning heart rate for the most part.
And I hate running, but it works, too.
Abel: Sprinting is different though. It’s not like you’re out there running and running. It’s like bam, you’re being chased by a bear.
I’m a high energy person, I love that stuff, and it’s really hard to dial it back. But it’s really important to chill out and realize how much better you feel.
THYROID AND FOOD ADDICTION
Abel: Let’s talk about how the paleo world is blowing up. We’ve got the LA Lakers going paleo and Holiday Inn commercials talking about paleo breakfast options…
It’s so great. I spent so many years reading every diet book imaginable. Even when I started to work for Mark. Back then I was doing hot yoga and still getting fatter and fatter. I’m looking at Mark and his wife and I’m like, “I think they know something I don’t. I should read this book again.”
40 million Americans and 200 million people worldwide have a thyroid condition. It’s an epidemic. A lot of people can’t lose the weight because they’re insulin resistant. You can lose the weight on some of those diets, but then you’re on the sugar-burning hamster wheel.
You think something’s wrong with you. You’re like, “Why am I obsessed with food?” I was a sugar burner until I really got fat adapted, and now this is a freedom I can’t believe.
I just took an eight hour flight and all I ate was a bit of fat and protein in the morning.
The fact that I don’t constantly obsess over hunger and food, it’s a freedom that comes with no other diet I’ve ever tried. It works, and when it doesn’t there’s an element missing—usually overtraining or stress.
I’ve made every mistake there is: I overdid fat or I ate too many nuts…
At Primal Blueprint, we say under 150 carbs a day is good. Well, as a 5’2” female who’s insulin resistant, I can’t do 150 carbs a day. You have to find your own threshold.
When people get frustrated and give up, it’s because they’re not tinkering enough. They’re not looking at all the elements.
Abel: You think you have it figured out, and then something happens and you need to adjust.
Let’s talk about some mistakes you made while trying to do the right thing.
The first couple weeks are rough when you’re a sugar burner and you’re trying to come off of sugar addiction—you’re like, “Man, what do I eat? What do I do?” You’re tired and hungry.
You still want to eat a lot when you’re a sugar burner. So that first couple of weeks, you might overeat and that’s okay as long as it’s real food. I was eating 220 grams of protein a day, and it was too much for me. So I had to dial that down. I was also eating too many carbs, so I had to go down to about 60 -70 grams because I’m insulin resistant.
I had to bring down the nuts, too. It takes a lot of tinkering. I also had to get the heart monitor out because I was just going too fast.
Brad Kearns talks about it with the newest book, Primal Endurance—it feels like you’re not doing anything, like you’re not working out. But it’s the way to get the results—you’re burning fat in that 55-70 percentage of max. You go over that and you build up lactic acid and glucose, you’re left on empty and then you have to replenish that.
You just have to tinker and see what’s right for you.
I recently took a food sensitivity test. I don’t have much, but it says I’m severely sensitive to cocoa. Well I was eating dark chocolate every day. The more information you have the healthier and better you can be. I spent so many years sick, unhealthy, bloated and fat that now I’m just really into it.
Abel: The nuts are a tough one—even if it’s not the nuts, it’s the nut butter. And then the paleo and primal and wild treats… if you’re using nut butter, nuts and nut flours, it adds up.
Talk about the caloric density. When you start off, you have to really burn the fat that’s on your body. You can get fat on a low-carb diet, it’s happened to me. The first couple of weeks can be tough, but now it’s not tough at all.
Abel: When you’re burning sugar or carbs every meal, it takes constant willpower to avoid overeating. When you transition to burning fat, you eat when you’re hungry and most people find it harder to overeat. It’s not a constant struggle to force yourself to undereat – hunger just normalizes.
I love that. I wish I knew about this 15 years ago. I felt like I had a problem, like something was wrong with me. I almost went to an overeaters anonymous meeting. I was just following conventional wisdom.
With thyroid, some people’s appetite gets so suppressed that you have to make sure you’re getting enough nutrition. This gets into the whole thing in the diet community where people think low-carb, low-glucose is causing thyroid problems.
If our ancestors had hypothyroid based on their 80 carbs a day intake, we wouldn’t even be here. Procreation wouldn’t happen.
The missing element here is that sometimes people’s appetite is so suppressed they’re not eating enough nutrition. They’re starving, so the body shuts down fat-burning.
Someone may have everything right, but they’re running 40 miles a week. Well, they might want to get that heart monitor out because I guarantee that’s the problem.
HOW TO PREVENT ADRENAL CRASH
Abel: You see someone doing all these races and they’re all over Facebook, then you don’t see them for awhile.
How can we prevent adrenal burnout?
Salt will support your adrenals. I’ve had disaster adrenal fatigue—I wish you could have seen me before—there are pictures in the book. When you’re starting to feel run down and stressed out—Celtic sea salt, Himalayan salt, Hawaiian salt. Half a teaspoon down the hatch every single morning.
Salt, B Complex, and Vitamin C. These are the adrenal supporters no matter what kind of stress you’re under.
There’s a lot of adrenal formulas that have herbs, I’m not anti them, but I’ve had things that have had licorice and such and they’ve really jacked me up. I’m more on the salt, vitamin B and vitamin C, and you can do these every day and it’s going to support your adrenals.
Some people are at the end, and need to take hydrocortisone and then wean themselves off… but that’s super severe and rarely happens.
You should have energy all day. People say, “Oh, I’m just 40.” Don’t go there. Mark is 62 and he’s killin’ it. If you’re having a slump and you’re already doing the program, you need to look into adrenal support.
CARBS, PROTEIN, AND FAT: HOW TO OPTIMIZE YOUR DIET
Abel: You talked about carbs earlier… what do you do for carbs?
One large baked potato is about 62 carbs, so if I’m going for 80, that’s it. If I do a crazy workout day I might do that. I try to stay away from fruit—I love blueberries, but I overeat them so portion control is tough. I also don’t want to give my brain any sugar. If you’re trying to do this for the first time, get fat adapted and stay away from fruit.
I mostly eat vegetables. I’m really low carb right now, below 50-60 grams a day. I really like Jimmy Moore’s audio book Keto Clarity. It’s a really good expose on the subject. If you’re insulin resistant and that’s confirmed, it’s a good one to look at.
I say for everybody, under 150 grams of carbs to start, and then you have to find your own threshold. Do you have any idea how much protein you eat a day?
Abel: I cycle it. Some days less than 50 grams, some at 100 grams. What I find is the more I intense the exercises the more I crave protein within those few days. The first time I broke as a vegetarian, I was strength training. My muscles and my body were screaming “Steak!”
It’s important to listen to your body and honor some of those cravings, if you can tell that they’re coming from the right place.
And you’re not craving pretzels. When I was seriously anemic, had hypothyroid and was low in vitamin B, I was craving chopped chicken liver from Jewish delis nonstop. I was craving meat all the time, but at that point no amount of food can do it and you have to take an iron supplement.
I can’t shop for a week at a time because I don’t know what I want. One day I’ll eat a huge steak with butter and think I’ll want it the next day, too. But then I just want raw fish. There are some days when I just crave cucumbers. Or I’ll crave fat.
When I do eat too much fat, it’s clear and I feel it. I get nauseous if I eat too much fat.
I love the documentary The Perfect Human Diet. They talk about how you can overeat protein as a slow release glucose mechanism. For our primal ancestors, when they didn’t have access to carbs, that mechanism was an awesome thing.
If I go too far on protein, I can’t calculate how much will turn to glucose, so then I keep the carbs low that day.
Abel: It’s important to account for when you overeat fat, protein, or carbs. Honor that, and hopefully you crave something else the next day. What else do you do to balance nutrition with lifestyle?
I’m not hungry until one or two o’clock, or I might just eat dinner at three or four o’clock. I know with families it’s harder because you have to cook for your family. But don’t eat because there’s a mealtime or because you think you should.
When I exercise, I feel like it’s important to eat straight up fat. I’ll go hiking and take a spoonful of coconut oil because I’m not hungry but I know I might not be eating for a while.
Like when I took the flight to Hawaii, I knew it was going to be 10 hours till I’d be eating, so eating in the morning was a strategic move. They had grass-fed burgers at the L.A. airport, which I ate with an egg on top and I didn’t eat again until late that night in Hawaii. I did that as a strategy move. You don’t want to get into a situation where you’re starving—even though that usually doesn’t happen when you’re fat adapted. Eat a bit of fat or just make that strategic move. My brain is on fire when I eat straight up fat.
Abel: Some of the research is catching up – the fat equation is not as simple as it used to be.
Breastmilk is 50% saturated fat, so is it really wrong?
I was a little worried because I went to town on saturated fat this year and ate more meat and fat from animals… and I thought I might have overdone it. But my lipid panel was amazing. When you have other elements involved, then your body can handle that.
I get into this conversation all the time: I’ll be in the Whole Foods meat department and order ribs and someone will be like, “Do those have less fat? Can I cut the fat off?” No, leave it on! You need fat!
It’s a hard thing to get over initially. I had to pound it into my head. This is everyone’s misconception—it’s high protein. When in doubt, eat meat. I had to calculate it. I had to make an effort to get coconut oil, etc. Now it’s intuitive.
Abel: There’s so much conditioning that you can feel your arm resisting you as you spoon coconut oil into your mouth.
Low fat is the way to give yourself hypothyroidism. It’s going to jack up your adrenals and give you host of other issues. So fat’s really important.
The toughest thing is giving up grains, but once you get over it, you just look at that stuff and you’re like, hah. That’s not to say that on Thanksgiving I’m not going to have stuffing and other things… I might pay for it, but I’m a human being.
One thing we talk about is that quitting this stuff is not a life sentence.
Don’t make it a copout to not take the next step. You don’t want to never eat a bagel again? Well, you can have a bagel eventually… but you won’t want it.
Abel: I used to love fruit juice. And just the thought now… it’s gnarly.
It’s like diabetes. I look at it and, ugh. My father was like, “What do you mean orange juice is bad for you?” I live in Malibu, and in Southern California there’s a lot of juicing going on.
Look at Steve Jobs. He drank a ton of juice. He had a constant juice intake and look what happened to his pancreas. I read an article where Ashton Kutcher tried mimicking his diet for about six weeks as he prepared to play him in the movie, and he got pancreatitis.
People talked about Steve Jobs being moody—well if you’re living on Odwalla juices, I’d be a nightmare, too. We’re talking someone who’s a super juicing fruitarian—all carbs, all sugar.
The ancestral evidence is too compelling. The science is there. It’s undeniable.
I had a lot of naysayers…I had someone tell a friend, “That’s so sad you can’t try the brownies. I’m so glad that I don’t have a problem with flour.” I wanted to say: “You do. You just don’t know it.”
Someone else told me I was religious about this. It’s not religious. My friend was not lying when they said their back pain went away after cutting out grains for six weeks. People lose weight but then, oh wow, their back pain goes away, too!
Abel: People will change their diet to lose weight and all of a sudden everything else improves.
People accidentally get on board.
You should be talking to the doctors on the Primal Docs website. If you have a thyroid issue, you should be warned against seeing an endocrinologist. They have super egos and are trapped in 1973 protocols. You really need to see an integrated doctor. Those are the ones that are up on the latest science.
I dosed myself twice in ten years because no docs could help me. I think the big message is: Don’t ever get blood results and let your doctor say everything looks good. Just because something is in range doesn’t mean it’s optimal.
I just listened to them at first. They must know better… they went to Harvard. They don’t know better. You’re the best advocate for your own health. You have to get on board, and understand what the tests mean.
We put too much faith in doctors. Even though they’re good people, they often come from a very outdated conventional approach. Until you seek out the people who are still interested and excited about medicine (usually integrated doctors), you’re just going to get a prescription and sent out the door.
Abel: If you want to take your health into your own hands, you can succeed. If you put a little work into understanding your blood markers, you can learn how to read those metrics. It’s a terrific investment in your health.
I love western medicine. It comes in handy. For the first time in years, I got laryngitis and I couldn’t swallow. I went to Urgent Care and got an injection in my butt—a steroid. I couldn’t sleep all night. But I had to do it. I had to face the consequences because I couldn’t swallow.
I take a thyroid hormone manufactured in a lab, so I’m not poo-pooing western medicine. But at the end of the day, I can’t tell you how many people on thyroid medicine don’t even know how the thyroid works. They have no idea how the hormone they’re taking actually works.
If you’re on thyroid medication, if you’re feeling great or not, you have to understand what you have going on.
Many people on thyroid medicine aren’t feeling great, but their doc keeps checking thyroid and it’s “fine.” They say it must be something in your brain—just work out more and eat less. No, they’re either on the wrong hormones, or there’s something affecting the thyroid, so it’s not working.
WHERE TO FIND ELLE RUSS
My new book, The Paleo Thyroid Solution, is ready for pre-order on Amazon.
I’ve read every book on thyroid out there, but none of them seem to have all the information. This book includes everything you need to take your thyroid health into your own hands.
The Paleo Thyroid Solution also includes in-depth interviews and commentary by progressive integrative physician and paleo doctor, Gary E. Foresman M.D.
LEARN HOW TO DROP 20 POUNDS IN 40 DAYS WITH REAL FOOD
BEFORE YOU GO…
I just want to give a quick shout-out and thanks to all of you who came to see me speak at Penn State!
Our favorite microbiologist, Tammy, made us coffee kombucha – you ever heard of that? It’s out of this world. Then there was the cranberry kombucha, home-roasted coffee with raw heavy cream, homemade Snicker’s bars, fermented garlic, grass-fed kefir and anything else you could possibly ferment.
If you haven’t ventured into the world of food-geekery and fermentables, you’re missing out!
Then our chef, Drew at Theodora’s, made a four-course meal for us inspired by The Wild Diet—including bacon wrapped sea scallops, grass-fed steak, and even cheesecake. If you’re in Pennsylvania, you’ve got to go see Drew.
At the book signing, I met a man named Brandon who lost an incredible 90 pounds in about six months with what he learned in The Wild Diet. That takes serious dedication and trust in the process, Brandon, so I just want to give you huge props for making it happen.
I also met another young superhero named Jack, who read The Wild Diet the whole way through. Then he used what he learned to drop weight for his wrestling team, and went on to kick butt in the state finals! So proud of you, Jack.
So are you ready to drop fat, boost energy, and take your health into your own hands?
Just enter your best email address in the box in the upper right hand corner, and I’ll send you a quick-start guide with a 7-day Wild meal plan to help you get results right away—absolutely free of charge.
It’s time for you to be the best you possible. You can do it. We can help.
LEARN HOW TO DROP 20 POUNDS IN 40 DAYS WITH REAL FOOD
Do you have a thyroid success story? Share your experience with us in the comment below!