When lifelong New Yorker Phoebe Lapine was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid and impairs its function, she decided to heal herself through diet. A gluten-free, veggie-heavy one, that is.
Lapine wanted to minimize the symptoms of her thyroid disorder, but she didn’t want to deprive herself, either. She still loved boozy brunches, pasta, and tacos. So her work as a chef, food blogger, and wellness author has been to reconcile her healthy and hedonistic impulses, with zero guilt. That’s just what she has been doing for five years with her popular, award-winning blog, Feed Me Phoebe, where she shares her recipes for “healthy comfort food.” And it’s what she does in her new memoir, The Wellness Project, published this May. The book dives deep into her life with Hashimoto’s, how she’s found a lifestyle that works for her, and how her story can help anyone do right by his or her body, too (it also comes with 20 recipes!).
We like to think of Lapine as your best friend who wants you to be your best self. What Should We Do?! sat down with the healthy hedonist to talk about living with Hashimoto’s, her memoir, and her favorite places in Brooklyn for gluten-free and healthy eats.
What Should We Do?!: You were diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in your 20s. How did you know something wasn’t right?
Phoebe Lapine: I went in for my annual checkup with my general practitioner and she told me very casually about the diagnosis. She said it was no big deal and that it was very common, but that I would have to be on a synthetic hormone for the rest of my life. I was really lucky in some ways, because a lot of doctors don’t actually do a full thyroid panel to check for the antibodies for the disease. At the same time, though, she didn’t explain to me what the symptoms were and she didn’t really offer any solution besides taking a pill for the rest of my life.
WSWD: How did you take the news?
Lapine: I was completely freaked out. Especially the name of the disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I say that reminds me of an answer I missed on a college midterm. I went home and cried for a while, and then I just picked myself back up and told myself, Eh, we’ll see what happens. I wasn’t experiencing a ton of symptoms and I didn’t know how to look for them, so I let denial set in. It was really in the years that followed that some of those things [symptoms] started to appear: being exhausted all the time, weight fluctuation, terrible digestive issues, skin problems, you name it. Things had to unravel before I got my act together.
WSWD: You chose to see a holistic doctor. Why?
Lapine: I took the occasional Z-Pak in college and was on hormonal birth control pills, but my mother was an early adopter of the organic movement. She was into homeopathy, so for whatever reason, the idea of being dependent on a pill for the rest of my life just seemed impossible since I wasn’t feeling that bad. I figured there had to be another solution.
WSWD: How did your diagnosis shift your perspective on health and wellness?
Lapine: I think the way my mom fed me as a child kind of caught up later in life without my even realizing it. I was a healthier cook than I gave myself credit for. I started to realize I had some food sensitivities and that I could potentially alter my thyroid issue with my diet. I was lucky that I already had an appreciation for vegetables and gluten-free foods. It was emotionally jarring when I had to give up gluten, but at least I knew how to feed myself that way at home.
WSWD: Do you have any advice for people who are food blogging or starting a blog?
Lapine: It’s such a different world with all of these various social platforms that were just in their baby stages when I started blogging. It was a lot more of an anonymous platform, which I think allowed you to be more personal and less of a showboat. Today, these social platforms kind of force you to be comfortable with being a star of your own making. So I think my biggest advice is to be as vulnerable as you feel comfortable with, and to share as much as you feel comfortable with. I think the reason why people come to a blog that has a personal tone is because everyone has an easier time digesting information when it’s through another person’s life experience and perspective.
WSWD: And your voice is especially relatable. When I read your blog, I feel like I’m reading a letter my friend wrote, which probably has a lot to do with how it morphed into a book, The Wellness Project. What was the process of writing a book like?
Lapine: Stress levels have been high. When I announced The Wellness Project in the beginning of the year, I didn’t really know what the reaction would be, because I had mostly been doing food content prior, with just a little bit of wellness stuff here and there. Meanwhile, I’ve been obviously living through this healing process and doing a lot of due diligence on my own. For whatever reason, though, I felt trapped in the role of food blogger and was kind of a bit afraid to integrate wellness on my site. The book announcement was the first time I had really opened up about having Hashimoto’s, and people commented and wrote in and said, “Oh, my God, your story sounds so much like mine and I’m so happy you’re doing this. How can I participate?”
When it came to coordinating the book tour, I overscheduled myself up the wazoo. It made me feel incredibly vulnerable. That’s definitely the operative word for how I was feeling when it first came out. Then it seemed to be resonating; I got messages from strangers about how much it was helping them. Some things I just took for granted or I assumed would be obvious, like the message that everybody is different and that you can choose your own wellness adventure.
WSWD: Do you remember the first time a stranger reached out to you about your writing?
Lapine: My first site was very personal and was more like the 20-something, jokey struggles of cooking in a small kitchen. It was sort of a diary about disasters, dating, and all of that stuff. I think people had written in to tell me they had tried the recipes and they had turned out great. That was so mind-blowing, the fact that people were out there making things that I wrote about.
WSWD: How do you get inspiration for your recipes?
Lapine: I eat a lot out in the world. I love to travel, and I do travel a ton, so I am always inspired by my trips. I also read a lot of food magazines and other people’s cookbooks for techniques. I really get excited by new flavor combinations.
WSWD: Your Healthy Hedonist’s Guides is one of our favorite sections on your site. We know you have one coming up about Brooklyn; could you give us a sneak peek?
Lapine: It depends on what neighborhood you’re interested in. I’m breaking up Brooklyn into North and South. I actually just finished the Williamsburg/North portion. I don’t usually choose a lot of new and trendy places for these guides because I know they will be around for a while, but Llama Inn in Williamsburg is one of the best new places I’ve tried in a while. Maison Premiere for oysters. Gluten-free folk, there’s a great pizza place called Wild, and there’s this amazing Vietnamese eatery in Bushwick called Bunker. In South Brooklyn, Vinegar Hill House is so good. I love Good Fork in Red Hook; Colonie in Brooklyn Heights is delicious; Nightingale Nine for Vietnamese food; and Court Street Grocers for sandwiches in Carroll Gardens.
Phoebe Lapine’s Faves…in a NY Minute
Union Square Greenmarket.
Probably a museum. I love the new Whitney. Or going around the galleries in Chelsea with a good umbrella.
Place to watch the sunset?
Brooklyn Bridge Park or my roof.
Spend a healthily hedonistic day around Phoebe Lapine’s favorite Brooklyn spots, courtesy of WSWD. If you want to book a private cooking lesson with the healthy hedonist herself (she’ll come to your apartment!), get in touch with one of our experience advisers.