“An underactive thyroid means your thyroid gland, located in the neck, does not produce enough hormones.” NHS UK
‘Common signs of an underactive thyroid are tiredness, weight gain and feeling depressed.’
So as you may have read on the homepage I have an under active thyroid, otherwise known as Hypothyroidism. For years I was a healthy 10 stone (63.5 kg) girl but slowly the weight crept on and now I have peeked steadily at 11 Stone (70 kg) and gone up a dress size. In 2007 I was diagnosed with an under active thyroid. Since 2003 I have restricted dairy and wheat from my diet and tend to have a healthy diet minus the occasional slice of gluten-free cake, chocolate or some crisps now and then but I am usually very good. I work out a minimum of 3 times a week for about an hour and like to think I lead a healthy balanced lifestyle. I eat more healthily now than I ever did before and tend to have smaller portions too. I watch what I eat and make sure I get my five veggies / fruits a day and have carbs and protein. I’m 5 ft 8 ins and apparently my BMI says I’m on the end scale of the ‘normal’ range approaching overweight.
So with me being more health and food conscious and being careful with treats then my question is:
why can’t I get below 11 stone now that I’m on thyroid medication and my levels are balanced? How can I lose weight?
I’m sure this is a question a lot of frustrated people have who have gained weight and have thyroid issues. So I started doing some research online checking out diets and tips to slim down a dress size. There’s a lot of crazy diets out there and the latest one for under active thyroids at the moment is the cookie diet. It is a concoction of thyroxine with suppressants to make you feel full surrounded by lots of sugars and carbs with a high G.I. in a biscuit, which you eat 6 times a day and then you have just one proper meal for dinner and that’s it. Sounds like a starvation diet to me and with all that sugar and mix of medicines it can’t be good for your body. Your blood sugar would go through the roof then you’d crash and feel dizzy and light-headed etc. Anyway I wouldn’t do it.
Generally across the board it is harder to lose weight when you have thyroid problems. “The thyroid produces a hormone called thyroxine (T4), which controls how much energy your body uses so when the thyroid does not produce enough thyroxine, many of the body’s functions slow down. This goes for digestion, release of carbohydrate sugars into the blood stream and a sluggish or underactive thyroid can slow down your body’s metabolism and delay the clearance of cholesterol from your blood stream.” Many of the medical articles I’ve read online about losing weight with hypothyroidism can be confusing, complicated and full of medical jargon that for me is baffling. I don’t understand it all but the following keywords seem to keep cropping up throughout my research:
So what do they mean? Why is hard to lose weight with Hypothyroidism?
Basically we need to focus on three things: a changed metabolic rate, changes in brain chemistry due to illness and stress, and insulin resistance.
“When we are hungry or need energy we often have the craving for carbohydrates as these release energy quickly and give us that full feeling. Once the hypothalamus (part of the brain) senses you’ve eaten enough carbohydrates, it releases serotonin to tell the body, “enough carbohydrates.” With an under active thyroid:
- Your metabolism is too slow for the appetite level set by your brain.” So by the time you feel full and your brain signals this, you’ve already eaten too much and more than your metabolism can handle therefore creating weight gain.
- “Your body is under stress, which interferes with the neurotransmitter functions to the brain, and is known to reduce the release of serotonin.”
“Insulin resistance means cells that have become less responsive to the effects of insulin. So your body has to produce more and more insulin in order to maintain normal blood sugar levels. If you are insulin resistant, eating carbohydrates can make you crave more carbohydrates as carbs are turned into glucose ie. sugar. You’ll gain weight more easily, and have difficulty losing it. Hypothyroidism slows down our body’s ability to process carbohydrates and our cell’s ability to absorb blood sugar leaving us prone to tiredness, dizziness, fatigue, exhaustion and more hunger.
Any illness; including thyroid problems, also creates physical stress. And stress raises cortisol levels. And increased cortisol increases insulin levels”, which make us crave carbs, which our slowed metabolism then reduces the release of serotonin delaying the full feeling and thus making us eat more as we still feel hungry.
The liver is also an organ to look at as it “mediates between the insulin-releasing pancreas and the adrenal and thyroid glands. These glands tell the liver to release glucose. If the adrenals and thyroid aren’t working properly or if the liver is sluggish, stressed out, or toxic then everything goes haywire and the result is elevated excess insulin,” which again makes us crave sugars / carbohydrates and again our slowed metabolism works against us. You see it’s a bit of a cycle here.
So to summarise the less you weigh, the less insulin resistant you will be, the less you’ll crave carbs and the better your metabolism will work to cut through the cholesterol and help you lose weight. But you have to lose the weight in the first place to become less insulin resistant. Nightmare or what?!
So what diets should I follow?
“Many suggest a low fat, low carbohydrate, protein sufficient diet. This means that in addition to the usual restrictions of a low-fat diet, you also need to seriously limit intake of sugar and starches, cutting back on pasta, rice, potatoes, white flour breads, cereal, corn, peas, sweet potatoes, desserts, dairy products, meats, and fruit with a high sugar content.” Some articles even warn about eating soy products as they cancel out the thyroxine. So what should we eat? Fish, vegetables, good fats, brown rice and pastas, sea kelp, kale and iodine rich foods? I also read that generally people with any autoimmune disease, not just coeliacs, should avoid gluten too as this attacks their immune systems also. “Autoimmune thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the UK. This is an autoimmune disease caused by antibodies from the immune system attacking thyroid gland cells.” Now I don’t know if I have an autoimmune thyroid problem but I do have Hypothyroidism and do have problems with wheat so maybe they are also linked. Either way I feel for me and my health gluten free and low calorie are the way to go. I will try to reduce the portions of carbs I eat and increase the protein and veggies but generally I am going to have a little bit of everything I fancy but in moderation. I think cutting too much out of your diet can work against you and I have already cut gluten and a lot of dairy products.
What kind of exercise should I do?
“More exercise will decrease insulin levels, burn calories and fat, raises resting metabolism, and helps combat imbalances in leptin, insulin, and growth hormone in turn helping us to lose weight,” giving us more energy and helping our thyroid produce T4 as well. Online articles say we should be cutting carbs and hitting the gyms everyday but I know I will find that incredibly tough especially in Winter when we get -20 degrees here in Chemnitz and all I crave is the stodgy carb foods that make you feel warm, full and toasty! I also spend most of my days running here, there and everywhere and need a lot of energy and can’t always fit in workouts. I also feel tired a lot of the time and have to push myself to work out.
Over the past week I have read several articles online that are really interesting and this is the reason why I decided to write this blog today. When we talk about exercise to lose weight quickly most of us think of running, aerobics classes or cardiovascular activities as the best effective ones. Well for most people this is true and in my pre-hypothyroidism days this also worked for me as well. But for people with under active thyroids we have it tough and have to work harder than others. We should be exercising at least 5 times a week … and with weights! About.com’s exercise Guide Paige Waehner says:
“When you build lean muscle, you’re giving your body the ability to burn more calories even when you’re not exercising. A pound of fat only burns around 6-10 calories each day while a pound of muscle can burn up to 60 calories per day. Adding more muscle means burning more calories, period.”
And this is the key to losing weight with Hypothyroidism! We need to be adding weights to our exercises to build more muscle to fight the fat and control the insulin levels. Cardio is also important but we need to be doing it with resistance training! With this we may just have a chance of getting back into those size 10 jeans and with more energy! In my last blog I wrote about Zumba with the toning sticks and I am definitely going to continue this as the sticks add weight training and will help build muscle tone. I might try walking with ankle or hand weights, aerobics with weights or simply doing a session of just arms and legs exercises at home when I have 10 or 20 mins to spare. I think if I add more weight training to my exercise regime I might be able to drop that dress size and go back to my old weight but it’s going to be a hard ride. I’ll keep you posted!
The information in speechmarks was cited from the websites below purely for information purposes only and I do not claim them to be my own.
References for further reading: