If you’ve been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease you already know your thyroid isn’t functioning the way it should. With hypothyroidism often comes one of the biggest laments I hear from women: no matter what they do, they’re having extreme difficulty losing weight.
So many women come to me in despair when they’ve been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid gland. They’ve struggled for so long, but their thyroid problems have thwarted every effort they’ve made to get their weight under control. Conventional doctors are focused on the treatment of the disease – typically with prescription drugs. They often don’t dig into the root cause of the problem.
What that means is that symptoms might be managed, but the lifestyle changes that could heal the thyroid won’t be explored. I can do better than that! You don’t have to simply accept that life with hypothyroidism means carrying around a lot of extra weight.
Let’s take a look at common symptoms and causes of hypothyroidism and then I’ll give you some tips on how to take control of balancing your thyroid and losing that weight!
What Does Hypothyroidism Look Like?
It can be very difficult to recognize the signs of an underactive thyroid, partly because symptoms can take years to develop. The level of deficiency will also dictate the symptoms you feel. Since fatigue and weight gain, the earliest signs of hypothyroidism, are also symptoms of many other conditions, you might not notice them or realize that lack of thyroid hormone is to blame.
When the deficiency lingers for a long period of time, you may begin to notice other symptoms, including constipation; joint and muscle pain; increased sensitivity to cold; dry skin; a puffy face; a hoarse voice; weakness; depression; memory loss; high blood cholesterol; irregular or heavy menstrual periods; thinning hair; and an enlarged thyroid gland, known as a goiter.
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland can’t produce enough hormones. The real question is, what causes this inability in the gland to function properly? There is no simple answer, because many factors contribute to thyroid dysfunction.
The most common cause is an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. As in all autoimmune diseases, your immune system is turning on you, in this case attacking your thyroid gland. There’s no clear answer for why this happens, but when it does, your thyroid can’t perform efficiently. There is however, a correlation between increased amounts of stress and an increase of autoimmune disorders.
Sometimes, a heightened response to treatment for hyperthyroidism causes production of thyroid hormones to dip too low, which can result in permanent hypothyroidism. Other causes include thyroid surgery, radiation therapy, and a number of different medications.
Metabolism, Hypothyroidism and Weight Loss
So how does all this impact your ability to lose weight? The thyroid is often referred to as the master gland, and the hormones it produces play a large role in the regulation of metabolism. When you have an underactive thyroid, your body won’t produce the appropriate amount of hormones to keep your metabolism running properly. Without the right fuel, your metabolism slows down, causing symptoms like fatigue, weakness, and extreme difficulty losing weight.
Years of yo-yo dieting also have a negative impact on your metabolism, decreasing your basal metabolic rate and throwing off production of thyroid hormones. And your body often burns calories slower when you’re dieting, making it even harder to lose weight if you’re seriously restricting caloric intake.
As you can see, your thyroid doesn’t act in isolation. So you can’t solve the problem by looking at thyroid function alone. I explore all the options with the women I treat, and knowing that hypothyroidism often creates trouble losing weight gives me a great place to start.
The first step in diagnosing an underactive thyroid is to have your thyroid hormone levels tested. When thyroid tests are ordered by conventional practitioners, they will frequently test TSH, T3 and T4 levels. That’s a great start, but to get the full picture of what’s going on, you may want to dig deeper. I recommend a full thyroid panel, which includes TSH, Free T3 and T4, Anti-TPO, Anti-thyroglobulin, Reverse and Total T3, a micronutrient analysis, and your basal body temperature. That may seem like a lot of tests, but with the full range of information, you true issues are more easily revealed.
There’s something else I feel compelled to mention, and that’s the fact that the “normal” range for many of these tests is, in my opinion, far too broad. I have had so many clients who fall on the low side of that normal range that feel so much better when I treat them for subclinical hypothyroidism.
Most of the tips I offer just make good sense for anyone. And isn’t it better to actively work towards balancing your body chemistry before you hit a critical high or low level of any particular hormone?
Tips to Balance Thyroid Hormones, Heal Your Thyroid Gland, and Lose That Weight
If your hypothyroidism is severe, medication may be your best option. But if you catch and address the problem early enough, you may be able to avoid a prescription, and treat the problem naturally. Here are a few tips to help you level out your thyroid hormones and finally shed that extra weight.
Make Healthy Food Choices
The best way to keep your thyroid hormones – and other vital hormones – balanced long term, is to be sure you are getting the best possible nutrition from the food you eat. Processed foods simply don’t have the same nutritional value as lean meats, fish, fruits and vegetables.
There are some foods that can be particularly helpful to thyroid balance, including foods naturally high in B vitamins (like whole grains, nuts and seeds) and foods high in iodine like fish, seaweed and root vegetables.
Eating mindfully is another important piece of the puzzle. When you’re really paying attention to the food you’re putting into your body, you’re much more able to stop when your satisfied, not overstuffed. And though caloric intake isn’t the magic weight loss solution it’s been made out to be, when you’re eating far more calories than your body can use, they will end up stored as fat.
One of the best ways to rid your body of toxins and keep your system healthy is to be sure you’re drinking plenty of water on a regular basis. Because tap water can be full of chemicals that counteract its benefits, I suggest drinking filtered water (not bottled). If plain water isn’t appealing, try squeezing the juice of citrus fruits into it, or infusing it with other fruits or mint leaves. Flavored seltzers can be another great way to keep yourself well hydrated.
Don’t Forget to Move
There’s no need to exercise for hours at a time, but you do need to keep your body moving! There are plenty of options, even if you don’t enjoy traditional exercise. Grab a friend and go out dancing, take a brisk walk around your neighborhood, or swim laps at the community pool.
Address Other Issues, Like Inflammation and Adrenal Fatigue
Thyroid imbalance often goes hand in hand with other problems, so doing all you can to support your entire body can really make a difference. When inflammation runs rampant in your body, making sure you consume plenty of antioxidants – in food or supplements – is important.
When your adrenals are under constant stress, losing weight is difficult enough. Throw in thyroid imbalance, and it’s a near impossible task. That’s why it’s crucial to support your adrenals – especially if you know you have hypothyroidism. The best way to keep your adrenals healthy is to reduce stress in your life.
Try Targeted Supplementation
There are so many essential nutrients that you need to keep your body healthy and strong. The best source is the food you eat, but it’s increasingly difficult to get everything you need through food alone. Discuss your unique needs with your health care practitioner to find the best supplements for your situation. My Thyroid Support has been specially designed to balance hormone levels, promote healthy levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, and support the conversion of T4 to the bioactive T3 hormone.
Get Plenty of Sun and Plenty of Sleep
Some research has shown a connection between hypothyroidism and Vitamin D deficiency. Making sure you have appropriate Vitamin D levels can support immune function and calcium metabolism. The best way to get Vitamin D is to get 15-20 minutes of unprotected exposure twice each day – the early morning or late afternoon hours are best to avoid sunburn. In some climates, it’s difficult to get appropriate exposure and you may need a Vitamin D supplement.
Sleep is also critical to a healthy thyroid. A wealth of research connects loss of sleep to metabolism dysregulation. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Choose a bedtime early enough to allow for at least seven hours of sleep, and create a relaxing routine to help you fall asleep quickly. Turn off screens at least an hour before bedtime, make sure your bedroom is cool and comfortable, and avoid alcohol in the evening, as it can disrupt your sleep patterns.
Look Beyond Traditional Solutions
As I said earlier, many conventional practitioners focus on treatment with prescriptions. But there are so many amazing options out there that don’t require chemical intervention. Acupuncture, naturopathic and homeopathic medicine, osteopathy, and treatment for emotional issues are natural ways to help you feel your best.
You Can Lose Weight – Even With Hypothyroidism!
Weight management is tricky under the best conditions, and when you have complicating factors like hypothyroidism, it can feel like an uphill battle. But trust me, weight loss is possible with some persistence and a healthy lifestyle. Finding the best solution for your own unique circumstances is key. And once you do, you’ll be amazed at how great you can look and feel!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD