Nicole Morgan is a registered dietitian and nutritionist with a passion for helping people struggling with thyroid conditions! (Hence her web alias — The Thyroid Dietitian!) Diagnosed with Hashimoto’s near the start of her career, Nicole has learned everything she can to help others manage their thyroid symptoms!
When she’s not busy saving her clients’ health, Nicole is working to bring more awareness to thyroid health on social media, cooking up a gluten-free storm, or building memories traveling the world with her husband and daughter.
Here, Nicole answers all our questions about her personal health journey, her passion for helping others with thyroid disorders, and the links between diet and thyroid health!
This is part of Nutrishatives’ Ask an Expert Series where we chat with movers and shakers in health, wellness, nutrition, and medicine about their careers, their current work and their expert opinions on… well… their area of expertise!
We are inspired over and over again by stories of health advocates who use what they’ve learned in overcoming their own health struggles to help other people! Would you mind telling our readers a little bit about how your health journey led to your passion for helping people with thyroid disorders?
In college, I read an article explaining how proper nutrition can truly change lives. I never really thought about nutrition as a life-changing concept. But we need food to live, so, of course, it is!
The subject of nutrition can sometimes be swept under the rug by emotions, life struggles, knowledge deficit, and more. This is when I changed my major to dietetics in college.
Years later, I was still not feeling quite right and was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s as a dietitian. I was shocked and confused. I reached out to fellow colleagues, and some gave a few pointers. Others were discouraging, just as doctors in my past had been.
At the same time, I also realized more than half of the patients that I was working with at the time were on thyroid medication. Now that I know more about thyroid-specific nutrition, I feel it is my duty to not let others feel as lost and confused as I once did.
It took a long time of struggling with symptoms before you finally got your Hashimoto’s diagnosis! Do you think doctors often overlook thyroid health as a potential culprit when people are dealing with chronic symptoms? If so, why do you think that might be?
So many people feel that their symptoms are normal and they can continue to live this way — with sub-optimal symptoms and feelings every day. But your quality of life can truly improve if you stay dedicated to finding answers and solutions.
I find the reason that thyroid nutrition is so confusing is because each person is different. They have a completely different life history, medical history, and genetic make-up. So, there are many approaches that can achieve results and help people feel better. It’s about finding a practitioner that can help you reach your health potential without using a one-size-fits-all approach.
I do not blame doctors for overlooking thyroid concerns, either. In the medical literature for doctors, they do not have a protocol for treating symptoms if tests come back in the normal range.
Many doctors are doing what they know best — following the research. However, research continues to emerge. There is new data suggesting gluten-free diets may be helpful, as may watching out for too much fluoride, and setting narrower “normal” TSH-ranges.
So, when dealing with symptoms, patients do not know what to do. They are feeling poorly, yet their doctor says their lab test results are normal.
However, the patient should know that they can seek the help of other providers, namely, registered dietitians. Registered dietitians can:
- help address vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- write out customized meal plans to balance macronutrients
- give protocols for healthy habits of daily living
Addressing some of these areas can help to improve common complaints!
Anyone who runs in health-conscious circles (like we do!) can’t help but notice an uptick in how seriously thyroid health is taken and in the number of people reporting thyroid diagnoses. Is this just observation bias? Or do you think there has been a change in the conversation around thyroid health? If so, what do you think might be behind these changes?
I believe people now see there is something they can do with their diet and health to change how they feel. Intestinal health has become more “popular” and addressing intestinal health is one foundation for supporting an autoimmune condition like Hashimoto’s or Graves’.
Plus, social media is now more popular than ever. We are able to bring awareness to thyroid health. In the past, we were only able to talk among friends or maybe use a message board. These days, I even run my own private Facebook support group for those who want to share recipes and what has and has not worked for them.
It is easier than ever these days to find information and spread awareness about thyroid health.
You actually became a dietitian before your Hashimoto’s diagnosis! So, while your passion for thyroid health may stem from your own thyroid struggles, your passion for healthy eating and helping people boost their health through food clearly doesn’t! Could you tell us a little bit about what drew you to nutritional health and working as a dietitian?
I grew up learning a few healthy habits from my mom and dad. I am the oldest of four children, and my mom always tried to make efforts to help me make healthy choices growing up. My parents always allowed us indulgences and fun treats. But they also made sure to always offer us plenty of fresh fruit and veggies without the pressure to eat them. (Though, I should say, my youngest sibling probably has a totally different story!)
I began college majoring in graphic design. I enjoy creative outlets! As I mentioned before, I changed my major to dietetics after reading one little article about how an entire population of people was able to become healthier, happier, and live longer lives simply because someone with qualifications in nutrition stepped in to show them how to balance their meals.
In general, I have always wanted people to understand that their lives do not have to be dictated by food, but if you use food strategically, you can feel freer and happier, overall.
Food and nutrition are much more complicated these days with all of the options out there. So, as a dietitian, I can help people navigate the tricky and confusing world of nutrition and simplify my patients’ lives. And I am thrilled to help people become happier at the end of the day.
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In addition to your dietitian’s license, you are also a licensed LEAP (Lifestyle Eating and Performance) therapist. This allows you to perform very detailed food sensitivity tests for your clients. Can you talk a little bit about why you find it important to know your client’s food sensitivities?
LEAP MRT has been a key tool that has helped me (and my patients!) to feel my best and to reduce my thyroid antibodies. LEAP MRT helps you to identify which foods are causing inflammation and gives you a scale. Then, we can create a plan of eating based on the results.
Many times, a patient comes back reactive to a food included in a paleo diet or an AIP diet and we realize this is the reason that diet was not working for them in the past. I find it invaluable to get this information so that we know how to construct a diet that is the most anti-inflammatory for that unique person.
We love that you allow clients to work with you remotely, via Skype or telephone! This obviously opens up your counseling services to people who never would have been able to work with you! How did you come up with the idea to offer long-distance consultations? Do you think this may be an up-and-coming trend in nutritional counseling?
I do think it is up-and-coming! Many other registered dietitians have been offering virtual counseling sessions for years now.
After giving birth to my daughter, I wanted to spend less time commuting to an office and more time working or with family (and not in Atlanta traffic!).
I also wanted to travel the country and that is what I have been doing. I always felt like you never get a guarantee that you will live to be 65 and then retire and be able to travel. So, we are doing it now! This allows me to see clients anywhere and everywhere.
I do not use Skype, though, as it is not a privacy-secured platform. I use secured web platforms built for healthcare providers. You can communicate and send the client everything they need within the platform. My clients love it! It saves them time. They can message me, and they do not have to commute to come see me.
If some of our readers haven’t been feeling themselves, what symptoms would you consider a head’s up that they may want to have their thyroid tested? If their tests show their thyroid is, in fact, the culprit, what steps would you recommend they take next?
Extreme tiredness is always one key. And, I am not talking a little afternoon sluggishness, or difficulty getting going in the morning. I am talking extreme.
For example, if you are finding you need to keep making coffee after coffee to make it through the day, or if you are feeling sleepy while driving, or if you are sleeping more than 9 hours overnight. Other common symptoms are constipation or skipped menstrual cycles in women.
As a next step, I review their diet to look for any deficiencies or imbalances and we correct those. For example, we check vitamin D and iron levels as well and correct those if they are not optimal. After working on these steps, they often re-test their thyroid levels and work with their doctor on medication if needed.
These are a few simple first steps, but it is often more complicated than this and depends on the individual.
What one misconception about either thyroid health or nutritional counseling do you wish you could wipe from the world’s consciousness?
I believe the public still doesn’t “see” Hashimoto’s or thyroid conditions. It is an almost invisible disease where no one may see that you are struggling, but you truly are. Spouses also may have a hard time understanding thyroid conditions because there are ups and downs, and the person looks normal for the most part.
I don’t want it to be such a minor or invisible condition. It can take a toll on a person’s health — physically, mentally, and emotionally — and this can be very challenging.
If you could get everyone in the world to make a single healthy lifestyle change, what would it be and why?
Make half your plate vegetables at lunch and dinner! Doing something as “simple” as this could change a lot of lives.
What impact would you like to have on the world?
I hope to make as many people as I can become happier by having fewer symptoms that are caused by nutritional inadequacies (or excesses!). Happiness is really the zest of life and it is such a drag if health conditions get in the way!
What one question have you never been asked in an interview that you have always wanted the opportunity to answer?
I had someone ask me why I don’t share much about myself or my own struggles on social media.
Answer: I am a somewhat shy and private person and never want to turn “my condition” into “my Hashimoto’s” or let it define me. I am generally doing pretty well with my health and nutrition and want to try to portray the positive. It’s never all about me. I always want to know how I can help others and want to hear the story of others.
So, if you see me on social media, @thyroidnutrition, I may post a picture here and there. But I really want to know more about how you are doing!
Are you struggling with thyroid issues and would like to learn more about managing your symptoms? Head over to Nicole’s website for excellent resources or to sign up for a consultation!