Weight gain. It’s the first symptom people who don’t have hypothyroidism, think of when they hear the term ‘thyroid problem’. It’s often one of the most upsetting symptoms and side effects of poor thyroid function and/or medication, that thyroid patients put up with.
Thyroid disease is often used as a joke or a scapegoat for weight gain. People throw it around, and as such, it’s not taken very seriously.
Many people think it’s just an excuse for being overweight.
But weight gain is a legitimate symptom of an underactive thyroid, along with many others.
For me, the issue with the weight gain was that it was yet another sign of how my health was crumbling and I had lost control of my health. I couldn’t control the weight gain and couldn’t lose any of the weight. I just kept gaining. I go in to more detail about that here.
So what did I do?
Honestly, the single most important thing was getting my thyroid levels optimal. By correcting your thyroid levels (TSH, Free T3, Free T4 and often Reverse T3 too), you tend to correct your sluggish metabolism. Why is this? Because the main purpose of thyroid hormones, produced by the thyroid gland, is to ensure the metabolism is running properly. When we don’t have enough of the thyroid hormones, our metabolism doesn’t work properly. Therefore, people with an underactive thyroid have a slow metabolism, so will have symptoms associated with a slow metabolism, such as cold intolerance (from the lack of heat made) and extreme tiredness and weight gain (from the lack of calories burned to make energy). Therefore, when you correct thyroid hormone levels, normal metabolism should resume, including weight loss (given you are on a calorie deficit, more on that below), and less cold intolerance and more energy.
Two GP’s said to me that the weight gain from an underactive thyroid is usually between 10 and 30 pounds, thinking that the body adjusts for the slower metabolism after a while. This is very much disputed, though, as many patients carry on gaining, despite a low calorie diet. It can be one of the most distressing and frustrating parts of being hypothyroid. I gained 27.5 pounds while hypothyroid and on Levothyroxine.
So how did I get my thyroid levels optimal, thus correcting my metabolism?
I switched thyroid medication. T4-only Levothyroxine was leaving me inadequately treated, so I switched to NDT, which raised my levels to optimal, thus correcting my metabolism and kick starting the weight loss.
Whilst T4-only meds may work for some people, they also don’t for a lot of others. Many doctors, endocrinologists etc. won’t acknowledge this, but the fact is, a lot of us have conversion issues and don’t get better on Synthroid or Levothyroxine. This is worth exploring if you’re on T4-only medication like Synthroid or Levothyroxine. You need a full thyroid panel doing to check if your thyroid medication is adequately treating you.
I also implemented other lifestyle changes, though. NDT isn’t a magic pill. I have been consuming 1500-1600 calories (net) a day, and avoiding junk food wherever I can. An app like My Fitness Pal can calculate how many calories you should be consuming a day to create the deficit you need to lose weight. It’s actually quite simple; use more calories than what you put in, and your body will use up the stored fat instead.
I did also go gluten-free for a few months, but I don’t think this slowed down or sped up any weight loss for me.
I based my meals and snacks around protein, which keeps you fuller for longer and is better for your blood sugar, compared to carbs. Balanced blood sugar also means you’re less likely to snack on bad foods. You can read more about blood sugar imbalances here. Basically, I made sure to have protein with every meal and snack, so meat and nuts in particular became staples, with some cheese, too.
I have made sure to eat lots of different salad, fruit and vegetables to keep the healthy eating interesting, as I tried new flavours and combinations. I tend to have a salad every day for lunch, so this can get boring, but switching it up with different salad items and meats (protein!) kept it interesting. I always feel good after eating my salad. You could also try some low-cal dressings, too.
I drink at least two litres of water a day which again, keeps you that bit fuller and promotes proper bodily functions. Green tea is also my friend. I replaced ‘normal’ tea with green tea, thus saving me some more calories. As I only drink water or green tea, I don’t take in any calories through drinks, so I had more calories to use on food. Definitely a good tip! Water can be flavoured in a low-cal way too, with fresh fruit placed in it, or a quirt of lemon juice. Carbonated, flavoured water can also be low-cal and a good substitute for fizzy drinks and sodas.
I’ve walked whenever I can, without overdoing it and making my adrenal fatigue worse. I haven’t implemented any other exercise regime since I need to keep to walking only, for my adrenals’ sake. Each time you exercise, the adrenals pump out extra cortisol, and with mine already being high as it is, I could do without that! So I keep it at gentle walking. It has been difficult to resist doing more, since I used to be a very active person.
I plan my whole food intake at the start of the day, so I don’t deviate from my allowed calories. I use the app My Fitness Pal to track my calorie intake, inputting my breakfast and planned lunch in to the app in the morning, so this tells me how much I have left for dinner and any snacks. I also plan the whole weeks’ food shop before going shopping, and don’t allow myself to buy anything not on the list for a planned meal. If it’s not in the cupboards, I can’t eat it!
I have weighed myself every 1-2 weeks, at the same time of day (morning, after going loo and before breakfast), so as to keep as accurate a log as possible. Weighing yourself too often can be disheartening, as your body can fluctuate in weight due to processes and natural changes within the body throughout the day. Also try taking physical measurements. Knowing how much I’ve lost and where has been really helpful. Sometimes you don’t go down on the scales but lose inches on the body.
And so now, I have some control back. This is demonstrated in my ability to lose weight, yes, but also in that I’ve not got any other hypothyroid symptoms, either. I need to make sure I remain at a healthy weight and I’ll be keeping a lot of these lifestyle changes going.
You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given, but more reading and references can also be found at:
To get notified of all my posts, blogs and articles, like my Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/TheInvisibleHypothyroidism/
And follow me on Instagram.
I run a Facebook group, called Thyroid Family: Hypothyroidism Advice & Support Group. This group is for underactive thyroid/hypothyroidism patients only, and not medical professionals or anyone else. If you have any questions on living with hypothyroidism, or want some support, help or advice, please join us.
I also run a group for the spouses, partners and other halves of hypothyroid patients, called Hypothyroid Patients Other Halves – Support & Advice Group. This is for the other halves only and not patients.