- Why is it so hard to lose weight with Hashimoto’s?
- Why I Stopped trying to Lose Weight with Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism
- When I Tried To Lose Weight
- My Breaking Point…
- Why I Stopped Trying to Lose Weight
- What happened when I Stopped Trying to Lose Weight
- The best diets for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- The Wellness Plan That Helped One Woman Lose 70 Pounds and Take Control of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Getting a Second Opinion on Her Thyroid Levels
- Motivating Herself to Exercise and Build Muscle Strength
- Making Over Her Diet to Help Tame Hashimoto’s Symptoms
- Staying Determined to Live a Healthy Lifestyle With Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- What Is Hashimoto’s Disease?
- How Does Hashimoto’s Disease Affect Weight?
- Losing Weight Effectively With Hashimoto’s Disease
- “Yes, I’ve gained weight, but…” | Dealing with Weight Gain and Loss with Hashimoto’s
- How Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Stopped Ruling My Life
- I’m a Fitness Influencer with an Invisible Illness That Causes Me to Gain Weight
- How to lose weight with Hashimoto’s
Why is it so hard to lose weight with Hashimoto’s?
Slow metabolism makes for harder work(outs).
by Dr. Vedrana Högqvist Tabor
Having an underactive thyroid condition makes it more challenging to control or lose weight. I tried with limited success for years, even before I knew I had Hashimoto’s.
Shedding weight comes down to the math: energy in (eaten) vs energy spent (out). But calculating how much energy I have actually used up is not easy, nor it is a constant number. It changes as I age and as my thyroid health and health in general change.
I learned that the first thing to know to successfully lose weight is my own basal metabolic rate (BMR). Knowing how much energy I am using up is a necessary start to make the right lifestyle adjustments and be successful long term.
What is basal metabolic rate?
Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the rate of energy one’s body spends during a minute, hour or a day to maintain basic body functions, such as breathing, pumping blood, maintaining body temperature and brain function. It is the metabolic rate of our bodies during resting periods, and it accounts for up to ¾ of all energy spent throughout the day.
BMR is usually expressed in calories (kcal), and determines for each one of us if we will maintain, gain or lose weight.
There are average charts for people of a certain height, weight, age and biological sex. These charts are based on averagely healthy population, and can be about 20% off for people with Hashimoto’s.
What determines basal metabolic rate?
In healthy individuals, basal metabolic rate is impacted by:
Body size and composition: If you are taller or heavier, your BMR will be higher. If you have more muscle than fat mass, your BMR will be higher.
Biological sex: On average females have 10% lower BMR compared to males.
Age: After the age of 30, increasing age impacts BMR.
Where you live: If you live in tropical or cold climate, your body will spend extra energy to keep your body temperature at its level. That will increase your BMR.
Thyroid hormone levels: Too low T4 and T3, as well as the wrong ratio, will slow down BMR.
Inflammation: Inflammation from fever or injury will increase BMR.
Thyroid and BMR
Measuring basal metabolic rate used to be one of the earliest tests doctors performed to assess a patient’s thyroid functionality.
This test is no longer used, as BMR can change on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis and is impacted by many processes in our bodies that might be independent of our thyroid status. Basically, one measurement of BMR might not tell us much, but a series of daily measurements throughout a month might give us a good average value, which is close enough to our true BMR value.
Thyroid hormones impact our basal metabolic rate. Low levels of thyroid hormones will decrease our BMR, while the excess of thyroid hormones, especially T3, will increase the BMR (1–4). It is not only the amount of T3 or T4, but also their ratio (T3:T4) that is important for regulating metabolism rates (5).
So, how does our body regulate BMR?
It does so through deiodinases, enzymes whose function is to convert T4 to T3. Deiodinases become active after we intake food and the process of digestion starts. This is when our body signals that we need to have enough T3 made from T4 (6). A similar process happens after the exercise in our muscles: deiodinases help convert T4 into T3, so that T3 will help with muscle growth and maintenance (7, 8). For this T4 in T3 conversion to happen, our bodies need minerals such as selenium, which has been shown to be important for proper metabolism(9).
Thyroid hormones activate energy-producing processes in mitochondria (10, 11). Mitochondria are organelles within the cell, and are known as the powerhouse of the cell. They break down nutrients and create energy for the cell in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is a molecule with which energy is transferred within the cell. If there is not enough thyroid hormones, not enough ATP will be produced and cells metabolism will slow down.
Thyroid replacement therapy
Although levothyroxine restores normal T4 levels, it does not restore BMR to it’s normal levels. Metabolism remains 10- 20% less efficient, which may cause problems with maintaining a healthy weight (12, 13).
Five no-go(s) when losing weight with an underactive thyroid
Starving yourself — By eating an extremely low calorie diet, you are pushing your body into starvation mode. As a result, the body will try to conserve as much energy as possible, because it does not know when will it have enough food again. By entering starvation mode your body actually needs less calories than in a non-starvation mode.
Counting every calorie — you might want to do it, but it could be counterproductive. Rather try to understand what foods are good for you and how many calories each meal has. Eating a meal that has 30 calories less instead of eating a meal that has a good nutrient composition might work against you in the long run.
Weighing yourself every day — the number on the scale will not always go down, and this might discourage you. Weight on a day-to-day basis can change for other than diet reasons and it does not reflect the work you have put in losing weight. Instead, try weighing yourself once a week. Weekly measurements should be a better reflection of your progress.
Overexercise — you run the risk of using up all the available fT3 in your body. As a consequence,there is not enough T3 to run your metabolism and use up the food you have eaten. You definitely need to work out, be active and move, but do not overdo it. If you make medium-intensity exercise your routine, and lead an active life, your BMR will increase and you will use up more calories throughout the day.
Drinking alcohol — alcohol directly blocks thyroid function, blocks both fT4 and fT3, and increases rT3 (12). This will lead to lowering your BMR.
If you have lost 10% or more of your weight, visit your healthcare practitioner to see if it is necessary to re-adjust your thyroid medication. The risk of losing weight and staying on the same thyroid medication dose is to overdose on thyroid medication. If you start experiencing some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism, including excessive sweating, rapid or irregular heart beats, and/or short sleeping cycles, contact your health care practitioner as soon as you can.
How to calculate your BMR?
I looked into my average food intake through years in my food diaries. I realized I was eating on average 250 kcal per day more than my BMR allowed me during the times I believed I was eating a balanced diet. To give you a feel of what this number means: 250 kcal/day turns into 1 kg or 2.2 lbs of extra weight in a month.
Calculating BMR is complicated. You will need to take in consideration your age, biological sex, fat-free mass, and your thyroid hormone levels. As you age, your BMR will decrease on average between 1% and 2% per 10 years of your life, starting in your 30s. Depending on your thyroid functionality, your BMR will change too.
If you use BOOST Thyroid App your BMR will be calculated automatically on a daily basis.
Why I Stopped trying to Lose Weight with Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism
Summer is on the way, and all of the social pressures to start trying to lose weight are right on schedule. Magazines with scantily clad celebrities claiming they have 5 secrets to lose weight, commercials for low fat fruity yogurt that will help you squeeze into a bikini, workout info graphics and “fitpiration” on Pinterest… we all see it and we all feel pressure. Some more than others, and I know that those with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism like myself fit into the “more than others category”. However, after seven years of having Hashimoto’s during what arguably is the most body conscious years of a woman’s life, I’ve thrown in the towel and have altogether stopped trying to lose weight with Hashimoto’s.
I was 17 when I was first diagnosed with the autoimmune thyroid disease that often results in weight gain. I was under as much pressure as any other girl to look thin, and I felt like I was out of control of my weight. Though my weight gain was never more than 20 lbs at the most, I struggled and I tried over and over again to shed the unwanted weight.
When I Tried To Lose Weight
In college, I became addicted to calorie counting to try and normalize my weight. I would plan everything that I was going to eat one day in advance to make sure everything added up, and follow according to plan. Anything that had a label was welcome in my diet, including M&M’s, Reeses’s (the seasonal one’s were my vice… oh pumpkins…) and whatever restaurant food I could look up in my little calorie counter of choice was fair game. Though I understood the need to be gluten free with my diagnosis, and even spent my first two years of college as a Dietetics major, I paid no mind to food quality and felt repulsed by many real foods. I was only focused on calories and getting away with as much as could all while trying to avoid my frequent hanger episodes.
Along with calorie counting, I also became obsessed with how many calories I was burning, and how much I was exercising. I was a regular elliptical goer, cardio kick boxer, you name it. I would spend entire days on the treadmill, in the gym, and doing random workouts that I found on some exercise TV channel. While trying to obsessively log my calories one day, I remember once asking my dad if the 7 minute warm up during a 30 minute belly dancing TV workout also counted towards my calorie burn… as if my dad was an expert in calories expended doing TV workout video belly dancing warm ups.
An undernourished, over exercised me fueled by coffee, gluten free bagels and the hopes and dreams of a flat stomach. Circa 2009. I would sleep constantly, and would experience regular Hashimoto’s flares. (Also, dat phone.)
I joined three different CrossFit gyms in total, went through more calorie counters than I can remember, and cried many tears over feeling out of control of my weight… because no matter how hard I tried, I would still gain unexplained weight with my thyroid problems.
My Breaking Point…
I experiences a lot of days of reckoning over the last several years. I’ve felt over it, I’ve been exhausted, and I’ve spent way too much time and money on trying to get better all while failing time and time again.
After years of avoiding the reality of it, I had come to the conclusion that everything I was doing to try and make myself lose weight was only making me sicker. Trying to “be healthy” for the sake of losing weight and looking a certain way was never going to actually make me healthy. I had to accept that if I was going to manage my Hashimoto’s, I had to stop the obsession and the extreme attempts to lose weight.
That realization did not come over night, and it’s still a tough pill to swallow at times. However, it was necessary to heal… to stop feeling tired… to stop feeling miserable… and to be okay with my body regardless of its size.
Why I Stopped Trying to Lose Weight
1. I use food to heal.
I finally began to look beyond the calories, the macros, and the commercials telling me that x food would make me skinny, and began using food to heal. My old diet consisted of fake butter, egg whites, too much sugar, and tons of processed carbs. I basically never ate a real food nutrient dense diet before I came to my breaking point, but it’s made all the difference.
Today, I eat a diet of local vegetables, fruits in moderation, local, pastured meats, good quality fats and starches. I don’t eat low carb, I don’t avoid fat, and I couldn’t even tell you how many calories I eat.
I use the nutrients in real food like bone broth, greens, sardines, sauerkraut and even liver to give my body the real food nutrition that it needs to function properly. Our cells need proper nutrients to heal and for our bodies to thrive.
If I kept restricting food and counting calories, I wouldn’t be giving my body what it intuitively needs to heal.
2. Intense exercise was making my thyroid worse.
I used to love the adrenaline rush that a cycle class gave me. That was before I cut it out and realized how much better I felt without that adrenaline and cortisol spike on a regular basis. Tearing my body down with high intensity exercise was spiking my cortisol, which unbeknownst to me was throwing off the delicate balance of my hormones even further.
A year ago, CrossFit would exhaust me to the point of wanting to pass out. Though CrossFit is known as a supportive environment which it totally is, it wasn’t doing me any good to have someone pushing me to go harder and harder when I just physically couldn’t. The overly intense exercise was throwing off my thyroid even more.
Today, I enjoy a routine of lots of walking, light weight lifting, and yoga. I’ve quit the expectation of how much I’m going to workout in a week, and only push myself as far as I can reasonably go.
3. It’s too stressful in general which also made my thyroid worse.
Trying to lose weight is stressful mentally, emotionally, and physically. Stress is often one of the missing pieces in reversing autoimmune disease and can’t be measured by a blood test.
My constant attempts to lose weight were stressful in every sense of the word which was also just making me more exhausted, and throwing off my thyroid hormone even more.
4. I don’t really have weight to lose after reversing my Hashimoto’s in general.
I’d be lying if I told you that I still had 20 lbs to lose after adopting a real food diet and smart exercise. Actually treating my body right and not putting it through the constant stress of forcing it to try to be smaller have allowed me to reverse my Hashimoto’s and reduce my antibodies. As a result, I don’t really have tons of extra weight to lose anymore.
It’s certainly not to say that Elite Model Management is signing me anytime soon, but it’s amazing that when I stopped trying is when my weight became stable
5. Accepting my body, and loving myself take priority over trying to lose weight.
“Self-love” seemed like a fairy tale to me. Something that sounds nice but isn’t actually achievable or as great as it sounds. However, loving myself regardless of my size has been vital to my healing journey and has quickly taken priority over hating my body. With all of the stress that our bodies are always under, the last thing we need to to hate it.
Accepting myself regardless of how many calories I consume is a day has been exactly what I’ve needed all along.
What happened when I Stopped Trying to Lose Weight
So, I stopped trying to lose weight about a year ago. Judging by what society tells us about weight loss, you would think that I would have just gone completely off the deep end and would have blown up 5 dress sizes. However, that’s not the case…
- I’ve reduced my symptoms immensely
- I no longer have serious fatigue
- I don’t get hangry anymore
- I reduced my Hasihmoto’s antibodies by 60% and am within normal range, which essentially means I’ve reversed it
- My weight normalized.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… none of this happens over night. It takes time to be okay with not working out like a fiend and not counting your calories. It’s okay if it takes time. At the end of the day, the journey is worth it, and the freedom in letting go of constantly trying to lose weight is liberating.
The best diets for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
Share on PinterestThe Paleo diet may be recommended to treat Hashimotos’s thyroiditis.
There is no specific diet proven to treat everyone with Hashimoto’s. An individualized approach to nutrition is necessary.
Some clinical evidence has shown that the following diets have helped some people with Hashimoto’s:
- gluten-free diet
- sugar-free diet
- Paleo diet
- grain-free diet
- dairy-free diet
- autoimmune modified paleo diet
- low glycemic index diet
We take a closer look at some of these diets below.
Gluten-free or grain-free
Many people with Hashimoto’s also experience food sensitivities, especially to gluten. There is no current research to support a gluten-free diet for all people with Hashimoto’s unless they also have celiac disease.
However, in a survey of 2232 people with Hashimoto’s, 76 percent of respondents believed they were sensitive to gluten. Those respondents cited constipation, diarrhea, cramping, bloating, nausea, reflux, gas, headaches, fatigue, and brain fog as symptoms of their reactions to gluten.
Of the respondents, 88 percent of those who attempted a gluten-free diet felt better. Many people also reported improvements in digestion, mood, energy levels, and weight reduction.
Gluten-free diets remove all foods with containing gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains.
Gluten is commonly found in pasta, bread, baked goods, beer, soups, and cereals. The best way to go gluten-free is to focus on foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as vegetables, fruits, lean meats, seafood, beans, legumes, nuts, and eggs.
A grain-free diet is very similar to gluten-free, except grains are also off-limits. These grains include:
There is little evidence, however, that cutting out non-gluten grains is beneficial for health. Cutting out these grains may also eliminate fiber and other sources of essential nutrients, such as selenium, which are important for people with Hashimoto’s.
Paleo or Autoimmune Paleo
The Paleo diet attempts to mimic the eating patterns of our early ancestors, with an emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods.
Grains, dairy, potatoes, beans, lentils, refined sugar, and refined oils are not allowed. Cage-free and grass-fed meats are encouraged, as are vegetables, nuts (except peanuts), seeds, seafood, and healthful fats, such as avocado and olive oil.
The Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet aims to decrease foods that may cause inflammation and damage to the gut. It begins with the basic principals of the Paleo diet but also cuts out nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggs, nuts, and seeds.
A low glycemic index or low-GI diet is based on an index that measures how each food affects a person’s blood sugar levels.
Some people with type 2 diabetes use this diet; the diet can also lower the risk of heart disease and may help some people lose weight.
Share on PinterestA nutrient-dense diet plan that includes leafy greens, such as kale, may be recommended.
For people who do not want to focus on what foods to cut out, opting for a nutrient-dense diet plan may be the best option.
A nutrient dense diet includes variety and focuses on whole foods with a selection of colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins, and fibrous carbohydrates. Foods include:
- leafy greens, such as kale and spinach
- fatty fish, including salmon
- a variety of colored vegetables, such as brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, beets, and red, yellow, and orange peppers
- fruits, including berries, apples, and bananas
- healthful fats, including avocado and walnuts
- lean proteins, including tofu, eggs, nuts, beans, and fish
- fibrous foods, including beans and legumes
Having these foods as the primary focus of the diet will leave less room for processed and refined sugar foods.
Anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric, ginger, and garlic are also encouraged.
The Wellness Plan That Helped One Woman Lose 70 Pounds and Take Control of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
When Erin Mulkins was 39 years old, she was living with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, but she wasn’t living well. “I was at my all-time low,” she says. “I thought no one was helping me, and even my general practitioner was telling me everything’s okay.”
She didn’t feel okay, though. Mulkins had been struggling with thyroid issues since she was 16 years old, but through the years, her general practitioner reported her thyroid levels were fine. At age 35 and with a newborn son, she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the hormone-producing thyroid gland, according to the Mayo Clinic. Often, inflammation caused by the disease can lead to an underactive thyroid, called hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s include sluggishness, constipation, pale skin, a puffy face, and increased sensitivity to cold, according to the Mayo Clinic. Fatigue is what bothered Erin the most. “I was just very, very tired,” says Mulkins, now 45 and living in Phoenix, Arizona. “I would work, come home, take care of my son, take a nap, get up and make dinner, go to sleep, and wake up the next day exhausted. It was just years and years of that.”
RELATED: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and 9 Other Causes of Hypothyroidism to Know
Mulkins’s job teaching special-needs preschool students demanded a lot of her both physically and mentally, and her illness made it difficult to keep up. “I didn’t feel good — it was wreaking havoc on my job,” she says. “I just wasn’t who I was before.
“I got really frustrated and thought, ‘I cannot live like this,’” she says. She decided to make a change and search for answers — efforts that eventually helped her take control of her symptoms and turn her health around.
Getting a Second Opinion on Her Thyroid Levels
Mulkins’s general practitioner had insisted her thyroid levels were normal, and the endocrinologist who diagnosed her with Hashimoto’s said the disease couldn’t be treated. At the urging of a friend, Mulkins made an appointment with Tricia Pingel, NMD, in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the author of Total Health Turnaround.
Dr. Pingel ordered blood tests, and when the two women sat down together a week later to review them, Pingel told Mulkins that her body was a mess. Mulkins took it as good news. “For the first time in my life, I was validated that it wasn’t all in my head,” Mulkins says. “My blood levels were showing everything was off — I had adrenal fatigue, my thyroid levels were off, I had Hashimoto’s and the antibodies were very high at that point. That was the aha moment of like, ‘This lady is going to be able to help me.’” According to the Mayo Clinic, adrenal fatigue is a term used to describe a range of symptoms, including fatigue, body aches, and trouble sleeping. Though the use of the term is widespread, it isn’t recognized as a legitimate medical diagnosis.
RELATED: What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?
Mulkins also had weight to lose — she weighed 130 pounds (lb) before her pregnancy and reached 210 lb after she gave birth. Her thyroid issues may have played a role, because weight gain is a symptom of Hashimoto’s, according to the Cleveland Clinic. “I wanted to lose weight, but said, ‘That’s not why you’re here. We’re going to get everything in line and then if you do the things I tell you, your body hopefully will go back to what it was beforehand,’” Mulkins says.
Pingel prescribed a handful of medications and supplements — including Nature-Throid, Adrenal Response, and various vitamins — which Mulkins credits with jump-starting her return to health. These may have helped Mulkins feel better, but it’s unlikely they played a role in her weight loss. “There is no evidence that a dietary supplement can increase weight loss,” says Kelly Kennedy, RD, a staff nutritionist at Everyday Health. But if these medications and supplements improved Mulkins’s thyroid function, they may have helped with weight loss, Kennedy says.
RELATED: 21 Tips for Weight Loss That Actually Work
Motivating Herself to Exercise and Build Muscle Strength
Three months after that first appointment, Mulkins felt ready to add exercise back into her life — it had been on hold for eight or nine years because she was too tired to make it through a workout. One Saturday morning, she ventured to Jabz Boxing, a women’s-only boxing studio in Scottsdale, Arizona. “I finished, and then I got in the car, and I threw up and cried for 45 minutes,” she says. “I sat in my car staring at the sign saying, ‘I’m not coming back, I’m not doing this, I can’t do this, I’m not ready.’ And then I said, ‘You know what, no.’” Mulkins wanted to be healthy and strong enough to make it through the class. She wanted to get her body back to normal. And so she went back to the workout studio — again and again and again. “I like the atmosphere because it’s all women,” Mulkins says. “Nobody cares what anybody else looks like. It’s just an environment for people of all body types.”
Since that day six years ago, she’s exercised for 45 minutes to an hour six or seven days a week. Most days, she works out at Jabz, which she says has helped her build muscles she didn’t know existed. “Erin’s journey has grown from just getting ‘healthy’ to now wanting to be strong and fit,” says Kimberlee White, the cofounder and CEO of Jabz Boxing, who’s witnessed Mulkins’s exercise journey. “Her attitude has also changed drastically.” When Mulkins started at Jabz, White says she was timid and underestimated her abilities. Now, White says, she works out hard and holds her head high when entering and leaving the studio.
Exercise has been shown to help people with underactive thyroids. According to a study published in Archives of Medicine & Health Sciences in 2015, thyroid functions improved when hypothyroid patients incorporated one hour of exercise per day into their routines.
RELATED: 9 Tricks to Help You Start Working Out and Actually Stick to It
Making Over Her Diet to Help Tame Hashimoto’s Symptoms
Mulkins also adjusted her diet and eliminated gluten (the grain protein found in many breads, cereals, pastas, and desserts, according to the Mayo Clinic). Research has shown that following a gluten-free diet can help people with Hashimoto’s. A study published in April 2018 in World Journal of Gastroenterology noted that Hashimoto’s is the most common autoimmune disorder linked to nonceliac gluten sensitivity. And a review published in 2017 in the Hellenic Journal of Nuclear Medicine found that a diet low in gluten seems to protect patients against the progression and complications associated with Hashimoto’s. “The body has an amazing ability to heal if you give it the opportunity and treat it right,” Pingel says.
Soon after Mulkins made these changes, the pounds started to come off. “When she came to me , she had both Hashimoto’s antibodies,” Pingel says. Hashimoto’s is caused by abnormal antibodies that prevent the thyroid from functioning properly. According to a study published in 2014 in Clinical Thyroidology for the Public, about 90 percent of Hashimoto’s patients have TPO antibodies and about half have thyroglobulin antibodies. “By August, she’d lost 22 pounds and one was completely negative and has remained negative to this day, and the other had dropped by half.” Her symptoms began to improve. Mulkins ended up losing 70 lb in two years and found herself feeling more energized.
RELATED: A Comprehensive Guide to an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Staying Determined to Live a Healthy Lifestyle With Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Mulkins says there wasn’t one single thing that transformed her health. Rather, she says it was a combination of things: the medications and supplements Pingel prescribed, her exercise routine, and her diet changes, all of which required time, effort, and serious commitment. “That’s why I think she is so successful — she did the work,” Pingel says. “I told her where the problem was, but she dove in.”
Mulkins admits it hasn’t always been easy, even six years into it. “I go to Jabz at 5:30 in the morning,” she says. “I don’t like to get up that early, but is part of my routine now and it helps with my endocrine system and is something I’m so used to doing.”
RELATED: Can Vitamins and Supplements Help Treat Hypothyroidism?
She still has some days when she’s tired — stress can exacerbate some of her symptoms — but for the most part, her energy levels have bounced back. “Even my husband said when I woke up at 5:30 one morning, ‘Who are you, and what did you do with my wife?’” she says.
Pingel adds that everyone is different, and the right treatment, diet, and exercise programs depend on the individual. She advises, if you’re in a similar situation to Mulkins’s, that you find a practitioner who jibes with you. To find a doctor who will treat Hashimoto’s holistically, search the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians’ online directory or the one from the Institute for Natural Medicine. Pingel recommends seeking a doctor who will check for antibodies in the beginning, not just when hypothyroidism has been established, which is the practice of many doctors.
Finally, be willing to make a commitment to your health, like Mulkins did. “The amount that you commit changes the timeline it takes to reverse,” Pingel says. “If you’re 100 percent committed, you’ll see changes faster.”
You’re tired all the time. You’ve gained weight. You can’t stand the cold. And you’re looking kind of puffy.
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A blood test reveals your thyroid is underactive. Could it be Hashimoto’s thyroiditis?
In the United States, Hashimoto’s is the top cause of hypothyroidism, or shrinking production of thyroid hormone.
“Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition that can strike at any age, but is most often diagnosed between ages 40 and 60,” says endocrinologist Mary Vouyiouklis-Kellis, MD.
“It is eight times more common in women, but affects men and children, too. Family history plays a big role.”
Here, she shares five surprising facts about the condition also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis.
1. Hashimoto’s is not as scary as it sounds.
Read patient blogs about Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and you’ll find it portrayed as a frightening disease.
“In reality, Hashimoto’s is a benign, highly treatable condition,” stresses Dr. Kellis. “Taking thyroid supplements will improve most of your symptoms, and most people do quite well on them.”
The bow-tie-shaped thyroid gland, at the base of your throat, secretes a hormone called T4 (thyroxine). Your body must convert T4 to T3 (triodothyroinine) to maintain your metabolism, and regulate your body temperature, heart and other vital organs.
“Sometimes, when you’re first diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, you can still produce some thyroid hormone,” she notes. “As the years go by, you may produce less hormone, so your doctor will gradually increase your dose of medication,” she says.
Those with celiac disease or who have had gastric bypass surgery must be carefully monitored because they may not absorb thyroid medication properly, and their levels can fluctuate.
2. Hashimoto’s often goes undiagnosed.
Hashimoto’s prompts your body to create antibodies that attack and inflame the thyroid.
But doctors often don’t check blood for the telltale antibodies because all hypothyroidism is treated the same way.
“Many people are never told they have Hashimoto’s,” says Dr. Kellis. “But at the end of the day, if your thyroid is underactive, it’s usually Hashimoto’s thyroiditis,” she says.
Other, less common, causes of hypothyroidism include:
- Surgical removal of the thyroid.
- Radiation to the neck.
- Use of certain psychiatric, heart, cancer or rheumatologic medications.
So knowing whether or not you have Hashimoto’s may be a moot point — unless you’re a woman trying to conceive.
“Hashimoto’s carries a slightly higher risk of miscarriage, so you’ll need the blood test for thyroid antibodies,” says Dr. Kellis.
“You may need to take thyroid supplements, even if your TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) levels are normal.”
3. Your thyroid isn’t always to blame for fatigue and weight gain.
“Many patients with Hashimoto’s complain of weight gain, fatigue and brain fog,” says Dr. Kellis.
But the thyroid’s relationship to your metabolism is complicated. Other hormones and proteins also come into play.
“Hashimoto’s can often be associated with some weight gain — it’s mostly salt and water weight, which is why you look puffy,” she says.
“However, the weight gain seen with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is usually less dramatic than the weight loss seen with autoimmune hyperthyroidism (Graves disease).”
If you’re still fatigued after thyroid hormone levels are optimized, your endocrinologist will look for other causes.
For example, having Hashimoto’s puts you at risk for other autoimmune conditions that contribute to fatigue, including:
- Vitamin B12 deficiency (pernicious anemia).
- Celiac disease, which can lead to iron deficiency anemia.
- Low cortisol levels (adrenal insufficiency).
- Type 1 diabetes.
If fatigue persists, let your doctor know so they can help rule out other conditions that cause fatigue — such as sleep apnea, which is often undiagnosed.
4. Thyroid medication only works if taken the right way.
The most common medication for Hashimoto’s is levothyroxine (Synthroid®, Levothyroid®, Levoxyl®), or T4.
Because some people are unable to convert T4 to T3, doctors may prescribe a combination of T4 and T3.
The addition of T3 can help patients who also have mood disorders like depression. But while some studies suggest that adding T3 to T4 may help weight loss, “it is not a skinny pill,” says Dr. Kellis.
Both thyroid hormone medications — T4 and T3 — must be taken one hour before any other prescription pills, and three to four hours before multivitamins or iron supplements.
“Even taking them with orange juice or coffee can interfere with thyroid supplement absorption,” she says. “We recommend taking them with water only.”
Levothyroxine is so safe that it can be taken during pregnancy.
But your doctor must check blood levels periodically to make sure thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels stay within mid-normal range (the goal: < 2.5).
If your dose is too high, symptoms can swing the other way — into hyperthyroidism, causing insomnia, anxiety, weight loss and heat intolerance.
5. You probably won’t need to modify your diet.
“Avoiding refined sugar will be helpful, as eating sugar can often contribute to fatigue,” says Dr. Kellis.
And if you have, or are suspected to have, celiac disease, you’ll want to avoid gluten.
But you won’t need to steer clear of cruciferous vegetables or soy — both nutrition powerhouses. They can be eaten in moderation.
Doctors recommend eating one or two Brazil nuts per day rather than taking supplements to get your selenium.
Iodine supplements are not advised. While women need iodine during pregnancy to prevent goiter, most U.S. foods are already fortified with it.
“As long as you’re being treated and followed by a doctor, and getting your blood levels checked, there’s no reason to modify your diet,” she says.
Losing Weight With Hashimoto’s Disease
- 15 February 2019
- by: Adam
- in: Blog
This article was written by a Medical Doctor (MD) and reviewed by the thyroid health experts at ThyroMate.
ThyroMate articles uses only proven, accurate, credible sources (such as research studies and academic papers and websites) in order to provide accurate, fact-checked information about thyroid health that is helpful and objective. All references are linked throughout the article and sources for each are cited at the end. Visit these links to learn more about the research studies and conclusions drawn from the research methods.
Information contained on this website is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should always consult your physician for questions related to your health.
Almost two billion adults throughout the world are overweight1, each of them at a significantly increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. While some people are able to lose weight in a relatively short period of time, others tend to find it more difficult to shed excess pounds that they have gained.
This can be concerning and often leads to a person following one diet after the next – many of these diets often referred to as “fad” diets, requires a significant restriction in calories and can ultimately lead to problems like malnutrition.
When weight loss seems like a difficult challenge, it is important to consider underlying issues in the human body that may contribute to excessive weight gain and, of course, difficulty reducing body weight.
Hashimoto’s disease is an example of a condition that can cause weight gain and make a journey toward a healthier body weight seemingly impossible. With adequate knowledge of the condition, appropriate treatment, and an effective weight loss strategy that takes the condition into account, weight loss is certainly possible.
What Is Hashimoto’s Disease?
Hashimoto’s disease is a term used to refer to an autoimmune disease that affects the human body. Autoimmune diseases are known to alter the way that the immune system works, ultimately causing the immune system to attack cells that are healthy, mistaking them for pathogenic substances. Hashimoto’s disease often has these symptoms.
In patients with Hashimoto’s disease, the immune system starts to attack healthy cells in the Thyroid gland2. In some cases, Hashimoto’s disease is also referred to as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis or autoimmune thyroiditis.
The Purpose Of The Thyroid Gland
The Thyroid gland sits in the neck and is also called the glandula thyreoidea. Its specific location is underneath the voice box in the front region of the neck. The gland features a shape that is often said to resemble a butterfly – it is divided into two lobes, each leading to the left or right side of the neck. There is a small amount of tissue at the front area that connects the two lobes together.
The gland plays a crucial role in the human body. It forms part of what is known as the endocrine system, the system in the human body that is responsible for the secretion of hormones. The Thyroid gland’s role is to secrete Thyroid hormones – in turn, and these hormones have several roles to play in different functions that occur in the body. Thyroid hormones have been found to act upon the body’s development and growth, as well as on metabolism3.
There are three hormones that the Thyroid gland secrets. These include Triiodothyronine, referred to as T3, Tetraiodothyronine, or T4, and Calcitonin. T3 and T4 are considered the “main” thyroid hormones and these are the hormones that interact with metabolism and other processes in the human body.
What Happens To The Thyroid Gland And Hormones With Hashimoto’s Disease?
As previously mentioned, Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune condition where the immune system starts to attack the Thyroid gland. When this happens, it essentially causes the development of hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is a condition where there are insufficient levels of Thyroid hormones in the body, which can alter several functions that depend on these hormones – including metabolism, growth, and more.
Hashimoto’s disease has been linked to genetics, environmental factors, and endogenous factors – all of which can contribute to a higher likeliness of developing the condition. It is known that the condition is more prevalent among women.
One of the most common environmental factor known to play a role in the development of Hashimoto’s disease is an inadequate consumption of the mineral iodine. The Thyroid gland is the only part of the body that absorbs and uses iodine – this mineral plays a crucial role in the functioning of the Thyroid gland and is important for the production of both T3 and T4 thyroid hormones.
Other environmental factors that are also known to play a factor in the risk of Hashimoto’s disease include exposure to certain chemicals, as well as infections4. Drugs may also cause an increased risk.
How Does Hashimoto’s Disease Affect Weight?
The fact that Hashimoto’s disease leads to hypothyroidism is the reason behind the fact that many people tend to gain excess weight once they develop the condition.
Hypothyroidism causes an inadequate production of Thyroid hormones – in this case, the cause would be the Thyroid cells being attacked by the immune system. When there are not enough Thyroid hormones circulating in the human body, metabolism slows down, energy starts to become drained, and other potential complications will start to develop as well.
With the reduction in Thyroid hormone production, the body becomes the host for a number of problems, such as:
- Estrogen dominance may occur, which essentially lead to excess weight gain in certain areas of the body. Women tend to gain weight in their hips, thighs, and the buttocks area when their estrogen levels become too high.
- Insulin resistance may start to develop, and this sets a person up for weight gain and on their way to obesity. Insulin resistance may also alter the way that cells absorb and utilize thyroid hormones, further contributing to the issues that Hashimoto’s disease is causing.
- With Hashimoto’s disease, cortisol levels may increase – in turn, this causes a worsening of the insulin resistance. Increased cortisol in the body directly contributes to fat gain as well.
Losing Weight Effectively With Hashimoto’s Disease
Significant restrictions in daily caloric intake are not the answer to losing weight successfully for a person diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease. In one study5, scientists found that a 40% restriction in daily caloric intake can cause a significant reduction in Thyroid hormone production – in some cases, Thyroid production may be lowered by around 50%. With Hashimoto’s disease already in effect, this can be disastrous to Thyroid health, metabolism, and the production of these crucial Thyroid hormones. Ultimately, this would rather cause more weight gain in the long run.
With this in mind, it is obvious that following fad diets that require such significant restrictions in calories are not an ideal approach to weight loss for people with Hashimoto’s disease. There are, however, a number of tips that can become useful for these individuals – and when implemented correctly, can yield effective results.
Confirming Thyroid Hormone Levels
One of the very first things that a person should do before they start to consider a diet or weight loss plan, in terms of Hashimoto’s disease, is to gain a complete laboratory test to check their current Thyroid hormone levels. Tests should ideally be conducted to provide the following values:
- Free T3
- Free T4
Once these values have been confirmed, it becomes easier for a person to understand how serious their condition is and what particular measures need to be taken in order to combat their weight gain and ultimately help them shed their excess pounds.
Restoring Thyroid Hormone Levels
Before weight loss can be successful, it is important to try and restore Thyroid hormone levels – this should be done prior to implementing a diet plan. There are many effective treatment options available that can provide synthetic Thyroid hormones to make up for the reduction in these hormones that occurred due to the development of Hashimoto’s disease.
At the moment, the standard treatment option for patients with hypothyroidism is levothyroxine6. This is a synthetic type of thyroid hormone that the body can convert and use as needed. Treatment with this medication can sometimes pose difficulty, as an appropriate dose need to be determined.
The first dose provided to a patient does not always offer them effective results – some patients may need to go through multiple changes in their dosage in order to experience a better balance of Thyroid hormones in their body.
It is also important to consider specific factors in a person’s life that may alter the body’s ability to produce adequate levels of Thyroid hormones, as well as factors that may cause problems with the body’s ability to convert T4 into T3. Some of these factors may include:
- Soy products
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Cigarette smoking
- Excessive alcohol usage
- Heavy metal exposure
- Low levels of progesterone
- Growth hormone deficiency
If any of these factors are present in a person’s life and they are struggling to maintain a good balance of Thyroid hormones, especially with treatment, it is crucial to try and remove as many risk factors from their life.
Eat A Healthy Diet
A lot of people try to follow a diet that restricts their intake of food significantly – the idea is that if they eat little, they won’t gain weight and they will end up losing weight. Unfortunately, this can be harmful to the body, especially in people with Hashimoto’s disease.
Not all calories are the same. Calories obtained from a bowl of vegetables are completely different from those calories gained from eating a donut. This is an important factor to take into consideration here. Switching to a healthy diet can yield positive results in terms of weight loss – fruits, vegetables, lean meat products, fatty fish, nuts and seeds – these are all food products that can be included in a healthy diet.
At the same time, while a healthy diet should be followed, a caloric deficit still needs to be in place for weight loss to be possible. This, however, does not mean calorie intake should be restricted significantly. A person should consider their daily energy expenditure to determine how many calories they are burning on a day-to-day basis. They should then determine their ideal daily caloric requirement and from there create an appropriate caloric deficit that will still allow them to obtain enough food to provide their bodies with essential nutrients. Thyroid supplements are often to supplement diets with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids the thyroid requires.
Hashimoto’s disease, a condition that causes the Thyroid gland to become less effective in producing essential hormones in the human body, can lead to excessive weight gain. People with the condition often also find that losing weight is more difficult.
This, however, does not mean a person should give up on their weight loss goals. Weight reduction can be extremely beneficial and is possible with the right strategies put into place, as described in this post.
2 D.L. Mincer, I. Jialal. Hashimoto Thyroiditis. StatsPearl. 27 Oct 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459262/
3 How does the thyroid gland work? Informed health Online. 17 Nov 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279388/
“Yes, I’ve gained weight, but…” | Dealing with Weight Gain and Loss with Hashimoto’s
Ever since I was first diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease at 17 (and most likely before my diagnosis) I’ve often felt like I’ve been at the mercy of my thyroid function when it comes to my weight. Whether it be that I gain weight during a flare, or lose weight from being overmedicated or a hyperthyroid swing, it’s just all over the place. With weight gain being one of the more loathed symptoms of hypothyroidism, and hashimoto’s disease, I know I’m not alone. However, living in a world where we’re constantly made to believe that weight gain and loss is nothing but a display of self control, hard work, and willpower, the social and emotional implications of gaining weight due to hashimoto’s are huge.
First, know that I’d be lying if I said that I was actually ever very overweight or extremely underweight. I’ve always been close to being within a healthy range, and by no means am shaming myself here. I’d also be lying if I said that all of my weight fluctuations have been weight gain related. Though it’s not always typical for Hashimoto’s sufferers, I’ve seen my fair share of drastic weight loss as well. My hashimoto’s initially presented itself as hyperthyroid when I was first diagnosed, and my body has this weird tendency to immediately switch to hyper once I start a new thyroid medication dose.
This time last year, I was in another hypothyroid slump and about 15 lbs over my normal weight. Though, I honestly don’t really even know what my real normal is. More than just my weight, I was dealing with some serious brain fog, migraines, fatigue, and blood sugar issues. Sound familiar? Something had to change. That’s when I started tightening up my diet to cut out the junk and start embracing real food again. At first, it feels absolutely liberating. I shed the initial 10 lbs that my Hashimoto’s was holding onto, and my symptoms drastically decreased. I felt like me again. Things were normal.
However, it took a turn at some point. I went from being, and looking healthy to starting to swing towards hyperthyroid again. The stress of my wedding along with life in general, and most likely being over medicated, pushed my TSH down to 0.05. I lost about an extra 12-15 lbs which when you were starting at 135 lbs, 5ft 6in, it’s pretty noticeable. The cycle is always the same. All of a sudden everyone starts noticing. “Have you lost weight?” becomes a more common greeting than, “Hi, how are you?”. I couldn’t go 48 hours without someone calling me tiny, or little, or asking about my weight.
It represented will power, and hard work. Like I did something to get that thin. It was desirable.
However, that’s the farthest thing from the truth. I did absolutely nothing that anyone would conventionally assume would cause weight loss. I actually cancelled my crossfit membership and amped up my carb intake hugely. I actually ate six sweet potatoes two days before my wedding because my body was craving it so badly. Everyone wanted to know what I did to lose weight, but really, it had nothing to do with what I did, but what was happening to me and my body.
Fast forward a few months, and now my TSH is normal, and my antibodies have decreed by 60% since my hyper stint. I feel better, sleep better, I think more clearly, I’m not jumpy. And of course, that weight that was unhealthfully lost came back. No, I haven’t been called tiny in months, and no I probably don’t scream “will power” and “discipline” anymore. However, I’ve gained, so, so much more than weight. I’ve regained so much of my health.
On the outside, my weight, your weight, everyones weight, so often represents our “habits”, “will power”, or “discipline”. We watch shows like the biggest loser where contestants have panic attacks on a treadmill and lose 20 lbs in a week and say, “Wow, I wish I could be that disciplined!. We mindlessly like image after image after image of meal prepping and body building on Instagram and we say, “Wow, I wish I had that will power!”.
Weight loss can be about hard work, yes. But in my world of Hashimoto’s, and so many other disease, it has literally nothing to do with it. Sometimes it just happens. It doesn’t mean that we can’t work to be healthier, but it doesn’t automatically mean that we’re doing anything to cause it. People are judged constantly for their weight and it can have nothing to do with the choices that they make. We need to stop measuring people’s character by their outward appearance.
So, here’s a little something addressing my weight gain…
Yes, I’ve gained weight, but it has nothing to do with my willpower.
Yes, I’ve gained weight, but I’m now healthier for it.
Yes, I’ve gained weight, but I’ve also inspired hundreds of others who also suffer from Hashimoto’s disease to eat real food, address their root causes, and live holistically to get healthier.
Yes, I’ve gained weight eating kale, salmon, parsnips, and brussels sprouts. No, I do not eat fast food or drink soda.
Yes, I’ve gained weight, but I still love myself, so bye.
Yes, I’ve gained weight, but I’m not going to starve my body and punish it with intense exercise.
Yes, I’ve gained weight and God, and family still love me regardless.
Yes, I’ve gained weight… my weight and however you want to judge me for it will never, ever define me.
Though my weight loss, and eventual gain were a symptom of my disease and our weight can be dictated by our thyroid function, we don’t have to just rely on medication. Hashimoto’s and other chronic autoimmune disease can be managed by listening to our bodies, and feeding it nourishing foods rather than starving. I wrote more about how I live holistically with Hashimoto’s and reduced my symptoms here.
So, how can you start dealing with unintentional weight gain or loss due to Hashimoto’s, today? You can start thriving regardless…
- Address your digestive distress, adrenal fatigue, and possible underlying causes.
- Feed your body real, nourishing food. Protein that’s wild caught or pasture raised, good quality fats, fruits and vegetables from a local source, and treats within moderation.
- Drink lots and lots of water.
- Move your body in a way that’s freeing, and fun, rather than punishing and oppressive.
- Get a handle on your nutritional deficiencies and supplement where needed.
- Lean on the Lord, prayer and support from loved ones.
- Help others.
- Rest, sleep, and give yourself a darn break.
- Understand that you’re worth more than others perception of you, and that weight is literally just a number.
I pray that if you’re dealing with weight gain and hashimoto’s that you too will recognize that your weight doesn’t define you, and that you are not a victim.
As always, much love, and shoot me a message if you want to talk more.
How Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Stopped Ruling My Life
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is typically characterized by weight gain, fatigue, brittle hair, difficulty concentrating, tiredness, feeling colder than normal, dry and itchy skin, goiters, and my most prominent symptom—depression. At least, that’s the clinical list of symptoms. Living with them without a diagnosis was a whole other experience.
Misdiagnosed for Years
I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in my early 20s. Before that, medical professionals couldn’t find the cause of my problem (eg, symptoms). Like many other people with this illness, I was misdiagnosed with depression for years before the real issue was discovered. I bounced from antidepressants to mood stabilizers, one medicine on top of another, side effects, and still felt heavy—both physically and mentally! It took me three hours and a good cry just to crawl out of bed to go to work.
One day, when walking, I found myself stumbling sideways. It could have been due to the mounting side effects of the psychotropic medications I was taking, but I didn’t think so. I felt like something was wrong, so I made a doctor’s appointment.
During the appointment, the Physician Assistant (PA) ordered a blood panel and thyroid test. I already had my thyroid tested in my mid-teens, and at that time everything registered within normal range. I couldn’t see how it could be any different now, so when I left the appointment, I felt even more hopeless than I had before.
Not long after the appointment, the PA called to say my thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) level was high. She indicated I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis; an autoimmune condition wherein my immune system had begun to register my thyroid as a foreign invader and attacked it. Much the same way the body attacks a cold or the flu. The PA explained that a high TSH meant the thyroid wasn’t producing the hormones my body needed to function. Those hormones—named triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) suppress the level of TSH in the body. When T3 and T4 levels are low, the TSH level in the blood tends to climb. After years of being attacked, my thyroid became inflamed and stopping producing the T3 and T4 hormones my body needed to regulate my metabolism.
One Small Pill
The Physician Assistant prescribed levothyroxine; a synthetic thyroid hormone. Levothyroxine is often the standard thyroid medication of choice. A few days after taking the first dose, the clouds began to lift. There was hope in my life again, and it was all thanks to one tiny, seemingly insignificant hormone pill a day.
I was overjoyed for how good I was starting to feel, but angry that my first thyroid function test was normal. Why didn’t the psychiatrists who prescribed different antidepressants think of re-testing my thyroid? More than anything, I felt enraged, ashamed and distressed over all the years I’d lost!
Over the next year, I continued to improve. I could discontinue all the medications my psychiatrists had prescribed. Better yet, I could wake up in the morning and go on with my day. The symptoms were gone, for now.
Symptoms Recur; A Treatment Change
About six months later, my symptoms reappeared. After a lot of personal research, I asked my doctor to change my medication to a natural thyroid supplement, such as desiccated thyroid. Desiccated (dried) thyroid is made from powdered pig thyroid glands. Some patients report it works better than synthetic hormone therapy. Proponents of desiccated thyroid treatment claim it works so well because it offers all four thyroidal hormones, not simply T4 (like levothyroxine) or T3 (like liothyronine).
Talking with my doctor and asking for a natural thyroid prescription therapy was one of the best things I did to treat my manifestation of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Everyone’s body is different and paying attention to the way your symptoms cycle is one of the best ways to determine if a medication or dosage change is right for you. For the most part, from my experience, natural thyroid supplementation requires few dosage adjustments.
My Health Hurdle: Accurate Diagnosis
Diagnosis is often the most difficult part of dealing with a chronic condition; and that was very true of my experience with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Once diagnosed, though, the treatment options for this autoimmune disease are so fantastic that the original symptoms shouldn’t interfere with life, if they don’t completely disappear. Just stay informed and involved in your own treatment, pay attention to how your body cycles throughout the year, visit your doctor regularly, and discuss adjusting your dosage with your doctor when you need to. The rest will take care of itself.
Updated on: 05/16/19 View Sources
I’m a Fitness Influencer with an Invisible Illness That Causes Me to Gain Weight
Most people who follow me on Instagram or have done one of my Love Sweat Fitness workouts probably think fitness and wellness have always been a part of my life. But the truth is, I’ve been suffering from an invisible illness for years that makes me struggle with my health and weight.
I was about 11 years old when I was first diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid doesn’t release enough of the T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) hormones. Usually, women are diagnosed with the condition are in their 60’s, unless it’s generic, but I didn’t have a family history. (Here’s more about thyroid health.)
Just getting that diagnosis was incredibly difficult, too. It took ages to figure out what was wrong with me. For months, I kept exhibiting symptoms that were very unusual for my age: My hair was falling out, I had extreme fatigue, my headaches were unbearable, and I was always constipated. Concerned, my parents started to take me to different doctors but everyone kept writing it off as a result of puberty. (Related: Doctors Ignored My Symptoms for Three Years Before I Was Diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma)
Learning to Live with Hypothyroidism
Finally, I found a doctor who put all the pieces together and was formally diagnosed and immediately prescribed medication to help control my symptoms. I was on that medication through my adolescent years, though the dosage changed often.
At that time, not a lot of people were diagnosed with hypothyroidism-let alone people my age-so none of the doctors could give me more homeopathic ways to deal with the illness. (For instance, nowadays, a doctor would tell you that foods rich in iodine, selenium, and zinc can help maintain proper thyroid function. On the other hand, soy and other foods that have goitrogens can do the opposite.) I wasn’t really doing anything to fix or change my lifestyle and was completely reliant on my meds to do all the work for me.
Through high school, eating poorly caused me to gain weight-and fast. Late-night fast food was my kryptonite and when I got to college, I was drinking and partying several days a week. I wasn’t conscious at all about what I was putting in my body.
By the time I was into my early 20’s, I wasn’t in a good place. I didn’t feel confident. I didn’t feel healthy. I had tried every fad diet under the sun and my weight just wouldn’t budge. I failed at all of them. Or, rather, they failed me. (Related: What All Those Fad Diets Are Actually Doing to Your Health)
Because of my illness, I knew I was destined to be a little overweight and that losing weight wouldn’t to be easy for me. That was my crutch. But it had gotten to a point where I was so uncomfortable in my skin that I knew I had to do something.
Taking Control of My Symptoms
Post-college, after hitting rock bottom emotionally and physically, I took a step back and tried to figure out what wasn’t working for me. From years of yo-yo dieting, I knew that making abrupt, extreme changes to my lifestyle wasn’t helping my cause, so I decided (for the first time) to introduce small, positive changes to my diet instead. Rather than cutting out unhealthy foods, I started introducing better, healthier options. (Related: Why You Should Seriously Stop Thinking of Foods as ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’)
I’ve always loved cooking, so I made an effort to get more creative and make healthy dishes taste better without compromising nutritional value. Within a few weeks, I noticed that I’d shed some pounds-but it was no longer about the numbers on the scale. I learned that food was fuel for my body and not only was it helping me feel better about myself, but it was helping my hypothyroidism symptoms too.
At that point, I started doing a lot more research into my illness and how diet could play a role in helping with energy levels in particular. Based on my own research, I learned that, similar to people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), gluten can be a source of inflammation for people with hypothyroidism. But I also knew that cutting out carbs wasn’t for me. So I cut out gluten from my diet while making sure I was getting a healthy balance of high-fiber, whole-grain carbs. I also learned that dairy can have the same inflammatory effect. but after eliminating it from my diet, I didn’t really notice a difference, so I eventually reintroduced it. Basically, it took a lot of trial and error on my own to figure out what worked best for my body and what made me feel good. (Related: What It’s Really Like to Be On an Elimination Diet)
Within six months of making these changes, I lost a total of 45 pounds. More importantly, for the first time in my life, some of my hypothyroidism symptoms started to disappear: I used to get severe migraines once every two weeks, and now I haven’t had one in the last eight years. I also noticed an increase in my energy level: I went from always feeling tired and sluggish to feeling like I had more to give throughout the day.
Being Diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease
Before, my hypothyroidism left me feeling so fatigued most days that any extra effort (read: exercise) felt like a serious chore. After transforming my diet, though, I committed to moving my body for just 10 minutes a day. It was manageable, and I figured if I could do that, I could eventually do more. (Here’s a 10-Minute Workout to Help You Feel Better Instantly)
In fact, that’s what my fitness programs are based on today: The Love Sweat Fitness Daily 10 are free 10-minute workouts you can do anywhere. For people who don’t have time or struggle with energy, keeping it simple is the key. “Easy and manageable” is what transformed my life, so I hoped it could do the same for someone else. (Related: How to Work Out Less and Get Better Results)
That’s not to say I’m entirely symptom-free: This whole last year was tough because my T3 and T4 levels were super low and out of whack. I ended up having to go on several different new medications and it was confirmed I have Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland. While hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s are often considered the same thing, Hashimoto’s is usually the catalyst for what causes hypothyroidism to occur in the first place.
Luckily, the lifestyle changes I’ve made over the past eight years all help me deal with Hashimoto’s as well. However, it’s still taken me a year and a half to go from sleeping nine hours and still feeling incredibly exhausted to finally having the energy to do the things I love.
What My Journey Has Taught Me
Living with an invisible illness is anything but easy and will always have its ups and down. Being a fitness influencer and personal trainer is my life and passion, and balancing it all can be challenging when my health gets sidelined. But through the years, I’ve learned to really respect and understand my body. Healthy living and a consistent exercise routine are always going to be a part of my life, and luckily, those habits also help combat my underlying health conditions. Plus, fitness not only helps me feel my best and do my best as a trainer and motivator to the women who rely on me.
Even on days when it is really hard-when I feel like I literally might die on my couch-I force myself to get up and go for a brisk 15-minute walk or do a 10-minute workout. And ever time, I feel better for it. That’s all the motivation I need to continue taking care of my body and inspiring others to do the same.
At the end of the day, I hope my journey is a reminder that-Hashimoto’s or not-we all have to start somewhere and it’s always better to start small. Setting realistic, manageable goals will promise you success in the long run. So if you’re looking to take back control of your life as I did, that’s a good place to start.
- By By Katie Dunlop as told to Faith Brar
How to lose weight with Hashimoto’s
Find a Doctor Who Understands Natural, Functional Medicine
When I treat patients for thyroid and other hormone imbalances, I look at the larger context of the entire human being sitting in front of me. Too often, the medical establishment treats hormone imbalances by using drugs to either boost or suppress the endocrine system back to “health”. However, this short-sighted approach does nothing to address the underlying health conditions that lead to Hashimoto’s Disease in the first place.
Health conditions like nutrient deficiency, estrogen dominance, unhealthy gut bacterial overgrowth, Epstein-Barr Virus, complications from the Standard American Diet, past antibiotic use, imbalanced blood sugar, insulin resistance, past heavy metal exposure, poor nutrient absorption, stomach acid levels and even long-term stress can all exacerbate or contribute to thyroid dysfunction. Without dismantling these complex underlying and/or contributing factors, hormone imbalances will likely continue and even get worse.
Another troubling fact is that standard thyroid panels won’t raise an alarm until thyroid problems are bad enough to require a prescription drug. What this means is that the standard of care taught to many medical professionals won’t truly intervene until hormone dysfunction is has reached clinically unhealthy levels. In contrast, the functional medicine and naturopathic school of thought seeks to use natural interventions much earlier in the disease process so that drugs are unnecessary. For those who already need a prescription hormone replacement, functional medicine and naturopathic primary care seeks to resolve the complex health patterns that lead to hormone dysfunction in the first place.
When I do prescribe thyroid medications, I do so with a long-term goal of helping my patients reach a level of wellness where medications are no longer necessary.
Functional Medicine & Naturopathic Thyroid Care in Portland, Oregon
Get Comprehensive Labs & Hormone PanelsFor those who either have or suspect thyroid problems, it’s a good idea to have comprehensive thyroid panels and labs done regularly. A well-trained functional medicine and/or naturopathic doctor will know how to interpret those lab reports and translate them into a comprehensive plan for healing the underlying causes of hormone disruption. Pay close attention for any signs of depression, mood swings, low energy, weakness, shortness of breath, cramping, anxiety, dizziness or hair loss. These symptoms may indicate one of the common nutrient deficiencies that accompanies thyroid dysfunction.
Too often, the standard of care from primary care doctors is to run a basic thyroid panel and prescribe a hormone if necessary. However, these overly-simplistic tests don’t take other hormones that affect thyroid into account. Hormones like cortisol, insulin, estrogen, progesterone, TSH as well as the balance between T3 and T4. I also test for thyroid antibodies like anti-thyroid peroxidase and thyroglubulin, which are strong indicators of a thyroid autoimmune condition. In cases of Euthyroid Sick Syndrome, TSH and T4 levels may be normal, but serum T3 levels drop. This condition is complex and has been reported in the research in a variety of settings. But, there does seem to be a relationship between liver function and a strong inflammatory component, according to the research.
All this is to point out what naturopathic and functional medicine doctors understand: standard thyroid panels are not enough and patients deserve comprehensive hormone panels along with in-depth lab tests to check for nutrient deficiencies.
Maintain an Active Lifestyle
With symptoms like depression, fatigue and joint pain, the symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis probably don’t lead one to feel like exercising much. That said, physical activity is still an important aspect of how to lose weight with Hashimoto’s disease. It’s important to stay active and incorporate movement into one’s daily routine in order to boost the metabolism while also stabilizing blood sugar and mood. Physical activity helps alleviate the stress that can exacerbate thyroid symptoms.
Strength training has been noted to be particularly helpful for patients with Hashimoto’s because it increases the metabolism, boosts mood, helps with hypothyroid symptoms and improves muscle tone. Consider exercises like squats, dead lifts, pushups and lunges because these movements work major muscle groups that will burn fat and keep us strong and healthy. On other days, mix in activities like walking, yoga, pilates or light/moderate aerobics to boost the metabolism, mood and circulation while also helping to reduce the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
It’s important to progress slowly and don’t over-train, because exercising too much will leave the body depleted of nutrients it needs for proper thyroid function. If you’re not used to physical activity, start slowly and talk with your doctor about your health and fitness goals first.
Don’t Overtrain, Avoid Excessive Cardio
When it comes to fitness training with Hashimoto’s, there can definitely be too much of a good thing. While increasing one’s fitness and activity level is recommended for those with hypothyroidism, it’s important to keep in mind that exercise expends energy and depletes the body’s resources.
Be particularly careful with extended-time cardio workouts like distance running or cycling. These strenuous cardio exercises can be especially problematic if done right after strength training because the body has no chance to recover. Although running and cycling can burn a lot of calories, exercising too long and/or too often results in reduced muscle strength and conditioning. Over time, less muscle means reduced fitness and a slower metabolism. By extension, reduced strength and a slowed metabolism means no weight loss happens. But, that’s not all. The stress of running depletes nutrients like Vitamin D, B Vitamins, Iron, Magnesium, Zinc and Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Unfortunately, these are the same nutrients that are often lacking in those with low thyroid.
The goal for exercise is that we deplete excess fat while causing a small amount of damage to our muscles so that they’re stimulated into regrowing stronger and more toned. However, over-training doesn’t allow muscles time to recover and grow stronger while depleting nutrients faster than they can be replaced. Working out too frequently or at too high of intensity results in lost muscle, slowed metabolism, nutrient deficiency, failing to lose fat and worsening of Hashimoto’s symptoms. Ironically, working out too much can have the opposite of the intended result, especially for those with Hypothyroidism.
The autoimmune process and the hormonal state of being in low thyroid and over-training deliver one-two punches to the precious nutrients that the body needs to function properly. The bottom line is that over-training is bad news for thyroid health.
Ditch “Diet Food” & The “Standard American Diet”
The Standard American Diet is linked to inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, weight gain, cancer and, you guessed it, hormone imbalance. Knowing this, one of the fundamental strategies of how to lose weight with Hashimoto’s Disease centers on improving our relationship with food.
Much like a torrid romance where sparks fly while inevitably leading to ruin, our collective addiction to processed foods high in refined carbohydrates leave us feeling terrible, yet strangely craving more. As described more fully in my article on thyroid and blood sugar fluctuations, high insulin index foods (and zero calorie sweeteners) cause blood sugar spikes that pave the way to diabetes and thyroid dysfunction. Refined carbohydrates also feed unhealthy gut bacteria that cause thyroid-damaging inflammation while reducing the body’s ability to absorb proper nutrition.
Sugar, processed foods high in carbs and zero-calorie sugar substitutes cause the body to have an extra-large insulin response that tells our cells to lower blood sugar. When insulin tells cells to lower blood sugar too much and too often, our cells just simply stop listening via a process called “insulin resistance”. Medical research shows that repeated blood sugar peaks and crashes lead to diabetes-inducing insulin resistance that damages the thyroid.
Buyer beware: many foods marketed as “healthy” or “diet” are loaded with sugar, artificial sweeteners and fillers. Yogurt, while it does contain healthy pro-biotics, is usually loaded down with so much added sugar that its calorie profile is similar to candy/desserts (yogurt’s dirty little secret). Also, strange as may sound at first, zero calorie products like diet soda can also contribute to weight gain and diabetes (diet soda is bad news). Diet products are too good at fooling the body into thinking it’s eating sugar, so the body goes through all of the same hormone responses that it has to eating real sugar only to crash even worse because no actual calories were consumed.
The bottom line is that processed foods high in refined carbs as well as so-called “diet foods” like zero-calorie soda, zero-calorie sweeteners and most yogurts will leave you worse off than before.
Consider a Revised Meal-Plan
In the above section, we examined the problems with so-called “diet foods” and the Standard American Diet in general. Now that we know what not to eat, let’s look at more nourishing options that will give us the outcome that we want. When it comes to sustainable meal-planning for healthy hormones and weight management, there are three main goals we want to achieve:
- Smooth Out Blood Sugar Peaks & Crashes
- Lower Thyroid-Damaging Inflammation
- Improve Gut Health
The best way to achieve these goals is to choose foods that are low on the Insulin Index and that support anti-inflammatory processes while eliminating foods that don’t align with these goals. Low insulin-index and anti-inflammatory foods go a long way in achieving the third goal of improving gut health in that those foods encourage a healthier balance of gut flora in the body.
- Incorporate these foods:
- whole eggs
- olive oil
- Limit or eliminate these foods:
- processed foods
- refined carbohydrates
- grains, bread, gluten
- zero calorie sugar substitutes
- french fries
- corn syrup
- sweetened yogurt
For those looking for a more comprehensive meal-plan to try, many people have had success with various forms of the Mediterranean, Paleo and Ketogenic styles of eating. That said, I don’t like to make blanket recommendations for a one-size-fits-all meal plan. The main drawback to Paleo, Keto and Mediterranean “diets” is the diet part. “Diet” implies a temporary fix, whereas lasting results come from balanced food choices over the course of one’s entire lifetime.
I will often have patients temporarily eliminate certain foods as part of resetting gut flora and metabolic processes. During the treatment process, we may add in foods back into the meal plan one at a time to see which foods work well for a particular individual and which foods are problematic and are best avoided.
Further Reading: Nutrients, Stress & Autoimmune Conditions
There is no way to truly do the complexities of the thyroid justice in a single article. The study of the nuances, biochemistry and related health conditions that affect endocrine function are the life’s work of countless brilliant scientists, doctors and researchers and I myself am a lifelong learner. I don’t have time to address a number of important factors to consider in regard to how to lose weight with Hashimoto’s Disease. Two that immediately come to mind are addressing nutrient absorption and treating autoimmune conditions related to EBV.
In my related article on thyroid hair loss, I discuss nutrient deficiency in greater detail. There are many times when gut health, hormone dysfunction and other disease processes can interfere with proper nutrient absorption.
I also have an article about Epstein barr virus and thyroid function that provides useful insight into the autoimmune process and how to start dismantling it.
Today, we’ve only just scratched the surface of the subjects discussed. Nonetheless, I hope my readers leave feeling educated as well as touched, moved and inspired to seek greater health and wellness for themselves.
Yours in health,
Dr. Danielle Lockwood