Hypothyroidism is an endocrine disorder where your thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone. It's a common disorder that can cause a number of symptoms like reproductive problems, a poor ability to tolerate cold, tiredness, and weight gain. Generally, hypothyroidism is associated with slowing your metabolism, hence the symptoms. Many individuals wonder how they can lose weight with hypothyroidism.
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A common struggle of people dealing with thyroid disease is an inability to lose weight even though they exercise and follow a healthy diet. If this is something you can relate to, you might feel like you're immune to the effects of even strict exercise programs and rigorous diets. You may even find you're gaining weight although weight gain due to hypothyroidism is generally modest at 5-10lb.
The process by which weight gain is caused by an underactive thyroid or an inability to lose weight is not understood very well, but a few important factors are thought to be involved:
Lowered energy, which results in less exercise and movement
Slightly slower metabolism
Tendency to hold on to excess fluid in tissues
Changes to how your body stores, processes, and burns off glucose and fat
For some individuals, unsuccessful weight-loss efforts are due to a thyroid disorder. And, researchers agree that even slight thyroid function shifts¹ are associated with weight gain.
The good news is, it is possible to lose weight even with hypothyroidism, but it will take a specific approach. This approach means consistently making the right dietary choices and the assessment of your hormones, including those beyond your thyroid. Through the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of any imbalance you have, you should be able to achieve and maintain weight loss.
Having hypothyroidism doesn't have to prevent you from eating foods you love. There are a number of healthy food options you can choose from. However, there are some considerations you'll need to take, including:
1. Avoid simple carbs and sugars
Avoid simple sugars (i.e. soda and candy). Try a low- to moderate- carbohydrate diet that centers on complex carbohydrates like starchy legumes and vegetables.
Foods that have a high glycemic load (i.e. sugary drinks and refined grain products) might increase body inflammation, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University². It's essential that you're eating enough calories since insufficient calories can lead to a stress response, resulting in decreased T3 (the active triiodothyronine thyroid hormone) production and, therefore, worsening hypothyroidism.
2. Required Essentials
Whatever exercise plan or diet you're following, there are three essential requirements that you'll want to add to your weight loss plan:
Regular medical reviews to ensure you’re on appropriate thyroid replacement treatment to normalize your thyroid hormone levels. Initial normalization of thyroid hormone levels can lead to some weight loss due to the excess fluid being excreted.
Adequate sleep: Getting enough sleep³ is important for weight loss for various reasons.
Drink enough water: Hydration and water intake are associated with more successful weight-loss efforts.
3. Consume more anti-inflammatory foods
People with hypothyroidism often have immune systems that are in overdrive. Anti-inflammatory foods could help soothe your immune system.
An anti-inflammatory diet can help with excessive inflammation, calm your immune system and support sufficient intake of important nutrients you need for healthy thyroid function, including:
Some foods that are good for tackling inflammation are:
Leafy green vegetables
An anti-inflammatory diet also reduces the burden on your liver when it comes to metabolizing highly processed foods. It's important to maintain healthy liver function since your liver converts 60% of T4 (the thyroxine thyroid hormone) to T3.⁴
4. Avoid thyroid-specific supplements
Eating a nutritious diet that offers you optimal nutrients is no doubt important for thyroid health. A deficiency in different nutrients may lead to thyroid problems.
Still, for individuals who are not experiencing thyroid problems and are following a nutrient-dense and well-balanced diet, there's usually no need to take supplements for the thyroid.
In fact, certain supplements that are advertised for thyroid health might be harmful to take. For instance, some thyroid supplements contain high levels of iodine and might contain thyroid hormones. Supplements like these could create thyroid problems and cause dangerous side effects⁵ in individuals with healthy thyroid function.
When you have hypothyroidism, it can be a challenge to lose weight, and your thyroid medicine might be part of the problem. If you're seeking to lose weight with thyroid medication, first, it's critical that you get the right dose, and you'll also need to consider the timing of when you take it. There are times when you might have to supplement it with another type of medicine.
For the sake of your weight-loss efforts and overall health, it's essential that you work closely with your doctor to truly benefit from thyroid therapy.
One study⁶ found around 52% of patients that took LT4 treatment lost weight within 24 months. They experienced overall modest weight loss with an 8.4 - 9.7lb mean weight loss.
If your thyroid level isn't where it needs to be when you take your medicine, it might affect your ability to lose weight. You should speak with your doctor about treatment adjustments if needed.
Another essential complement to a healthy diet when it comes to burning calories is exercise. But, this varies for each individual case. If you're extremely fatigued, exercise could suppress hypothyroidism further. If you've managed your hypothyroidism properly and have the energy required, exercise is encouraged. Your doctor can give you advice on how to get started with an effective exercise routine.
Overview of inflammation | Oregon State University
Weight loss and sleep | Sleep Foundation
6 Weight loss tips for hypothyroidism | Everyday Health
Does treatment of hypothyroidism lead to weight loss | American Thyroid Association