Over the years, I’ve consulted a number of women experiencing unusual weight gain problems or having difficulty in losing weight. They often ask me, “Is it my thyroid?”
The answer for many of these women is yes, but the connection isn’t simple. Weight gain is not sufficient evidence to conclude that someone has a thyroid abnormality, but it is one part of the picture which must be brought into focus. Efforts to lose weight without addressing related thyroid issues are doomed to fail. Thyroid hormone and its function is intimately connected with our metabolism. They regulate our metabolic activity or in simpler words our body’s ability to burn foods and lose weight.
How are thyroid and metabolism connected?
If the levels of thyroid hormone decreases in our body (hypothyroidism), then so does the activity level of different cells in the body. As a result, the cells need less energy and thus more energy is available to be stored and the weight increases even though the appetite decreases. This is the reason that a sluggish thyroid hormone is related to increased fatigue, a slowdown in our bodily processes and weight gain. On the other hand, if thyroid hormone levels increase due to an overactive thyroid gland( as in case of hyperthyroidism), cells in the body increase in activity. As a result more energy is used up, fat and protein stores are mobilised and the weight decreases even though the appetite increases.
Because patients with an underactive thyroid tend to have a very low basal metabolic rate, one of the most noticeable symptoms of hypothyroidism is weight gain and difficulty in losing extra weight. Most thyroid problems occur within the gland itself and often don’t reveal themselves until a broader pattern of hormonal imbalance develops. Should symptoms drive you to make a doctor’s appointment, one of the first things your physician will ask is if you have a relative with the disease, since thyroid disease tends to run in families. Your risk also increases as you get older; in addition, being female (the disorder is as much as eight times more common in women), or having another autoimmune disorder such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis can worsen your odds. Then there are other factors such as leptin resistance, elevated reverse T3, insulin resistance, thyroid resistance, and other hormonal imbalances which can completely jeopardise the weight loss efforts of people diagnosed with thyroid conditions or hypothyroidism.
Why do women experience low thyroid and weight gain with such frequency?
The reasons are manifold, but primarily:
- Women spend much of their lives dieting, usually in a yo-yo cycle of feasting and then fasting. This undermines our metabolism and decreases our metabolic rate, a compounding factor for the thyroid, especially during peri menopause.
- Women experience monthly hormonal fluctuations that affect their biochemistry and also their sugar cravings, mood swings and bingeing tendencies.
- A healthy thyroid depends on the proper functioning of various body mechanisms, including our neurotransmitters, reproductive hormones and adrenal glands. Stress can have a detrimental effect on our body functions and result in
What you can do about hypothyroidism and weight gain
While some doctors erroneously dismiss thyroid disease as just another lame or lazy excuse for being overweight, the reality is that for millions of overweight people, thyroid disease is a very real reason behind weight problems .The first thing to do if you are experiencing stubborn weight gain is to talk to your practitioner. She or he may ask for a thyroid test or measure TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). I have found in my practice that many women who test within the “normal” range of traditional medical standards may still need certain thyroid support. Their TSH may be only slightly elevated, but enough to influence their metabolism and cause difficulty in losing weight or sudden weight gain. Studies conducted to look at the connection between the thyroid’s TSH levels and weight have found that even slight increases in TSH within the normal range, over time, appear to be associated with weight gain. For these women, supplemental nutrients such as selenium and a regular meal plan that balances a proper ratio of protein to carbohydrates will help to improve their metabolic functioning and their chances of losing weight. In some cases, a low-dose thyroid replacement hormone is also needed.
Diet Plan to Lose Weight for people with Hypothyroidsim
Losing weight may undoubtedly be more difficult for people having hypothyroidism but it is still quite possible.
- Start your day with a healthy breakfast to jumpstart metabolism. Follow it up with a low carb and high protein lunch and end the day with a light snack and fruits.
- Try to select whole grains (jowar, bajra, whole wheat, green vegetables, etc) as they will cause a slower rise in blood sugar levels. Try to space the carbohydrates evenly through the day and eat small and frequent meals rather than 3 large meals. Restrict intake of those carbohydrates that trigger more hunger or cravings (i.e. refined sugar, sweets, candies or chocolates which triggers craving for some people). Choose dates or honey to meet your sugar cravings.
- Never starve as this will upset the metabolic activity even more. Having calorie intake lower than 1200 kcal per day may put the body in starvation mode, further slowing the metabolism.
- Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water per day to ensure better digestion and improved metabolism. Taking B complex supplements and herbs like ginseng and ginko biloba may also prove helpful in perking up the energy levels
- Limit foods high in saturated and trans-fats (i.e., whole milk and products, butter, red meat, fried foods, rich desserts, etc.). Select mainly monounsaturated fats (i.e. olive oil, canola oil, nuts) and omega 3 fats -fatty fish, flaxseeds.
- A combination of aerobic activity and muscle building weight training will help to boost metabolic rate and lose weight effectively.
With an early diagnosis and proper care including regular exercise, healthy diet, and nutritional supplementation, you will have a great defense in battling sluggish thyroid and shedding unwanted weight, whilst maintaining a healthy life.