How An Autoimmune Diagnosis Inspired This Direct-To-Consumer Food Brand
While some health issues are visible to the outside world, many people face chronic conditions that don't have externally visible signs or symptoms—also known as invisible illnesses. In mindbodygreen's new series, we're giving individuals with invisible illnesses a platform to share their personal experiences. Our hope is their stories will shed light on these conditions and offer solidarity to others facing similar situations.
The year 2012 was equally one of the happiest and scariest years of my life: It was the year that I married my husband, and it was also the year I began experiencing some strange health symptoms.
Overall I wasn't feeling great, but there was one symptom that actually scared me into seeking answers: My body would get hot, and I would begin to break out in absurd hives all over one side of my face and down my neck. There was no single trigger for the hives—if I was sleeping, I was fine, but any kind of strain on my body, be it exercise or stress, meant hives galore.
While the hives were irritating in and of themselves, I was also exhausted all the time and my blood pressure would drastically drop, making me dizzy and weak. Meanwhile, I was working really hard at my job, and these symptoms were not conducive to my busy lifestyle.
Seeking an answer — and not settling for the obvious one.
Because my mother has Graves' disease (an immune system disorder that leads to an overproduction of thyroid hormones), I assumed my symptoms might be thyroid-related, too. Despite my natural gravitation toward functional medicine doctors, it made sense to go directly to an endocrinologist.
After running a blood test, I learned my TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) levels were high, and I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease. Hashimoto's disease is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid, initially causing an excess of hormones (hyperthyroidism) and eventually blocking the thyroid from producing enough hormones (hypothyroidism).
The endocrinologist prescribed me medication to help stabilize my TSH production, but I still had questions: Where was the inflammation coming from? Why was my body attacking itself? These weren't questions the traditional medical community could (or would) answer for me, so I went back to my wellness roots and sought guidance from a functional medicine doctor.
On my second visit, I was tested for thyroid antibodies: The results showed not only that my thyroid was malfunctioning but that my body was actually attacking its own healthy cells. Rather than slapping a pill bottle Band-Aid over the symptoms, I worked with the functional doctor to find out why.
The first step was an elimination diet, to get rid of and slowly reintegrate potentially triggering foods into my diet. I discovered that I'm sensitive to gluten, dairy is not my friend, and kale—of all things!—was causing the hives. Turns out, consuming too many raw, cruciferous veggies (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, et al.), was actually aiding my body in the attack against itself.
How my diagnosis transformed my diet today.
As a health and nutrition enthusiast and an athlete growing up, I knew that what I ate mattered, but it's not quite as simple as that. I've discovered that how the food grows, who grows it, and the health of the soil matters, too. Being intentional about all of those factors when shopping for food, prepping, and cooking simply didn't work with my busy schedule.
I was torn between the tension of convenience—which I needed for self-preservation—and eating real, whole foods. That personal need for convenient, nourishing, and sustainable foods led me down a rabbit hole. I couldn't believe there were no options for me out there, and I was tired of compromising. As I continued to pull at the threads, I realized there were real systemic reasons the food I knew I needed to eat did not exist. Most food companies produce food as cheaply as possible, and it's taken a toll on our health and our planet. I knew there had to be a better way, so I created Daily Harvest to reimagine food from the ground up.
Beyond making delicious, nourishing food accessible, Daily Harvest also invests in transitioning farms from conventional to organic and working with farmers to create supply chains with climate-friendly varietals. Real, straight-from-the-Earth fruits and vegetables are objectively good for you (and the planet), so why shouldn't they be accessible to consumers and profitable for farmers? And, most recently, we added an Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)–compliant cremini and asparagus pot pie harvest bowl to the menu.
Other ways I manage my Hashimoto's.
Diet is No. 1 for me, but minimizing my exposure to environmental toxins via air purifiers, safe cleaning products, etc., is also important. Supplementing my diet with thyroid-supporting selenium and anti-inflammatory omega-3s helps, as well. After eight weeks, the hives went away, and after one year my body was functioning at its baseline.
What I want people to know about living with an invisible illness.
Though Hashimoto's is a relatively common diagnosis, I consider it an invisible illness because most doctors will treat the symptoms without treating the root cause. Until you're targeting the source, you may continue to develop unexplained and uncomfortable symptoms.
You know yourself best, so you have to be your own advocate. Western medicine doesn't know everything; Eastern medicine doesn't know everything, either. Do not stop asking why until you begin healing.
As told to mindbodygreen's assistant managing editor, Abby Moore.
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Rachel Drori is the Founder and CEO of Daily Harvest, the company on a mission to improve human and planetary health by making it easy to eat real fruits and vegetables every day. Rather than attempt to correct parts of a misguided food system, she sought to reimagine an entirely new one that can nourish humanity, undo the damage from the past, and set up a better path forward. In five years, Drori has grown Daily Harvest out of the trunk of her car into a trailblazing food company by positioning itself at the center of human and climate health.
In November 2021, Daily Harvest announced Series D funding led by Lone Pine Capital, valuing the company at $1.1B. Other investors include Lightspeed Venture Partners, VMG Partners, M13, Serena Williams, Bobby Flay, and more. Today, Daily Harvest’s offerings have expanded to more than 100 items across ten collections including Smoothies, Harvest Bowls, Harvest Bakes, Flatbreads, Soups, Forager Bowls, Scoops, Bites, Lattes, and Mylk.
Prior to founding Daily Harvest, she led marketing teams at Gilt Groupe, American Express, and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. Rachel holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Columbia Business School. Drori currently resides in New York City with her family.