When you’re battling a thyroid condition or imbalance, trying to lose weight can feel like a cruel joke. You try to eat well, and you take your thyroid medication. But nothing seems to help. So what gives?
It’s common knowledge that the thyroid regulates metabolism. If the thyroid is struggling, so does your waistline. But what if you’re on medication, and your thyroid numbers look good? And you’re still not losing weight? What then?
There are a few factors to consider.
Looking at the reason why your thyroid is struggling in the first place can often reveal sources of inflammation. Even if your thyroid is being balanced by medication, an inflamed body is going to struggle to let go of weight
Managing thyroid disease (or hypothyroidism) is about more than just medicating for good lab-test results. It’s about living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, which includes a diet rich in vegetables, and lifestyle factors that support general well-being (such as enough sleep, gentle exercise, and good hydration). Yoga, meditation, lots of sleep and a diet rich in antioxidants can help you manage hypothyroidism.
Yoga, acupuncture, and meditation are all ways to support relaxation efforts, which can then help reduce inflammatory levels.
Proper Thyroid Testing
Maybe your thyroid is only being monitored by TSH. If so, there’s a chance that your T3 and T4 numbers are way off that—even though your TSH number looks right. And that could be the culprit behind an inability to lose weight. In order to get a true reading of your thyroid hormones, you need to have your Free T3 and T4 monitored. In fact, TSH is less important than those two, because TSH is actually a pituitary hormone.
Additionally, people who’re taking thyroid medications can often have very low TSH levels. Then the pituitary doesn’t have to tell the thyroid to work, thanks to the presence of enough thyroid hormones. In that case, the only true barometer of thyroid wellness is seeing how many free thyroid hormones are available for the body.
Mistakes with Metabolism
Thyroid problems can slow the metabolism. So to speed up metabolism, people may exercise more frequently and in a more challenging way. It’s a huge mistake. Gentle exercise that’s a regular part of your routine will help reduce inflammation, which will promote weight loss and support the thyroid in the process.
Bottom line: The thyroid needs to be properly monitored, but there are also bigger factors (such as exercise, sleep, and inflammation levels). They can influence how the metabolism responds.
Thyroid and Blood Sugar
When the thyroid is off-balance, many other things within the body can also get thrown off. Blood sugar is no exception. When blood sugar is high, it can spur on the immune system to attack the thyroid, particularly in cases of established autoimmune disease or inflammatory processes. (1) Low blood sugar (referred to as hypoglycemia) can stimulate a cortisol stress response.
When blood-sugar levels fall below the norm, the body can begin to think there’s an impending crisis. It releases extra glucose for the brain and restricts the process of digestion. When this process repeatedly happens over time, cortisol levels remain high. And stress levels get higher. When the body is in this state of chaos (no matter how well you’re eating, or how regularly you take your thyroid medication), the thyroid will remain in a teeter-totter state. Keep your blood sugar level to help you lose weight with hypothyroidism. Counting calories alone is useless!
When thyroid sufferers attempt to ditch their extra weight by restricting calories—usually at a level that won’t sustain proper hormone production—the body doesn’t respond by shedding extra pounds. Rather, it believes it’s starving, and moves into fat-storage mode. The thyroid needs balanced blood sugar and carbs to produce hormones. The first things to go in times of caloric restriction are regular meals and carbohydrates.
Bottom line: The thyroid responds to blood sugar, and so does weight loss. Keeping blood sugar balanced is essential for weight loss. Counting calories is useless if your blood sugar is a wreck.
Thyroid and Hydration
The actual amount of water that’s needed for optimal health is still up for debate. The short answer is that it varies for everyone. Water needs will change based on season, fitness level, diet, and health condition.
As a nutritionist, I frequently see that people are dehydrated, even when they don’t think they are (especially people who have hormone imbalances or thyroid issues).
After being chronically dehydrated for a long enough period, our thirst signals don’t accurately represent how much water we truly need to be hydrated at optimal levels. While half the body weight in ounces might be too much water for some, it might not be enough for others . But it’s a good starting point to help you determine your hydration baseline. Need to drink more water? Aim to drink about half your body weight in ounces.
Being well-hydrated not only influences hormone wellness, but also weight loss, skin health, energy levels, and detoxification (since toxins are partially flushed out of our bodies via the kidneys and bladder, as well as the intestines). (2)
Bottom line: Often, people with chronic health issues are actually more dehydrated than they know. Balancing water intake can help release body weight and toxins.
Thyroid Health, Insomnia, and Healthy Sleep Habits
The thyroid is a tiny gland, but it can mess up sleep in a big way. Insomnia tends to be a common symptom for those who suffer from thyroid imbalance. Fatigue also tends to creep in, especially the type of fatigue that leaves you feeling tired but unable to fall asleep.
Thyroid sufferers may give up on normal sleep habits because they don’t automatically sleep well. This reaction can actually lead to further sleep disturbance, and cause the body to get weaker and more rundown.
Even if sleep doesn’t come naturally, that’s no reason to give up on a regular bedtime. Help train the brain by creating sleep hygiene. Don’t use digital devices in bed, and keep the bedroom a dimly lit, cool place of relaxation. Even if you go to bed and can’t sleep, you can train your body to fall into a feeling of calm, which may be beneficial when dealing with thyroid-induced anxiety.
Sometimes, magnesium can be a beneficial supplement. When taken before bed, it can promote muscular relaxation. A lack of a proper thyroid balance can also lead to magnesium deficiency. So replenishing it in supplement form can boost thyroid function and decrease inflammatory markers. (3) Magnesium is also helpful in regulating blood sugar and managing anxiety. (4)
Bottom line: It’s very hard for thyroid sufferers to get restful sleep, but that shouldn’t stop you from creating a healthy sleep routine.
Thyroid and Gut Health
Leaky gut is a digestive problem that’s been linked to autoimmune and chronic disorders, and thyroid conditions are no exception. The thyroid is particularly susceptible to toxic overload. Perhaps your body is dealing with leaky gut, toxins, and partially digested food particles. If so, viruses and bacteria are left to circulate through the bloodstream, unchecked by the normal immune and digestive protocols.
Leaky gut can open the thyroid up to attack, and can even be an initial trigger for developing autoimmune thyroid disease (known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis). (5) Leaky gut combined with an out of whack thyroid can be dangerous. Eat lots of probiotics to break the cycle.
You can effectively addressing your gut health with a Paleo diet. But beyond that, it’s important to nourish the gut with good bacteria (probiotics), as well as foods that are rich in antioxidants (leafy greens and berries), folate (avocado and eggs), and collagen (bone broth).
Bottom line: It’ll be very hard to lose weight if your gut is a wreck. Through specific dietary support, you can improve your beneficial bacteria, and reverse leaky gut.
Trying to lose weight when your thyroid is messed up can feel impossible. But when you start looking at the problem from a whole-body perspective, you can see that there are ways to address weight beyond the thyroid.
- Reduce inflammation with healthy diet and lifestyle principles.
- Support nutrient needs.
- Stay hydrated.
- Make sure that you’re getting your thyroid levels properly managed—by testing your Free T3 and T4.