More than one in ten Americans (and one in eight women) will develop a thyroid disorder in their life. Unfortunately, hypothyroidism causes weight gain.
Hypothyroidism means an underactive thyroid, which is a gland in your neck that secretes necessary hormones. (Hyper-thyroidism means an over-active thyroid.)
It can be difficult to get rid of that extra weight, especially when other symptoms of hypothyroidism seem to create a vicious circle.
As many as 60% of people with thyroid disease don’t know they have one. If you gain weight with no explanation, consider asking a healthcare professional about hypothyroidism.
If you’re interested in working one-on-one with the PrimeHealth team in the Denver area, schedule your free in-person consultation using this link.
Why Hypothyroidism Can Lead to Weight Gain
When your thyroid gland is underactive, your metabolism slows down. A slow metabolism often means weight gain.
But it is more than just your metabolism (metabolic rate) slowing — several factors lead to weight gain during hypothyroidism.
Metabolism is how fast your cells turn nutrients into energy. The slower the process, the less calories you burn at rest and during activity. With a slow metabolism, more stored calories turn to fat tissue.
Weight gain can be a vicious circle. Once you have put on weight, it can be more difficult to:
- Exercise the proper amount — 2 ½ hours per week for most people
- Get motivated to work out or adhere to a diet
- Move around as much as you used to during the day (also called accidental exercise)
Hypothyroidism leads to fatigue. Fatigue is one of the primary symptoms of an underactive thyroid, as your cells need thyroid hormones to make energy.
Fatigue leads to less physical activity, which can lead to weight gain.
Everyone experiences some fatigue, but hypothyroidism causes chronic fatigue. Treating your thyroid condition, getting enough high quality sleep, and eating well can decrease fatigue and make your weight loss goals come true.
Weak, Achy, or Stiff Muscles and Joints
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include weak and aching muscles, joint pain and stiffness, and potentially even carpal tunnel syndrome.
Ask anyone with chronic joint pain: Staying active is a massive struggle.
Although over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can relieve pain, they come with all sorts of side effects. Fortunately, there are many natural ways to relieve hypothyroidism-related joint and muscle swelling so you can get moving again.
Thyroid hormone replacement, thyroid medication (like levothyroxine, though it can also cause side effects), or anti-inflammatory supplements (like curcumin) can treat the root causes of the joint and muscle swelling.
When your joints and muscles feel good, physical activity and, therefore, a healthier weight, become more easily achieved.
Another symptom of hypothyroidism is depression. Depression causes a lack of motivation to do anything, including exercise. This lack of exercise can lead to weight gain.
Many experts link hypothyroidism and depression by citing the similar symptoms. Others claim hypothyroidism directly causes depression.
Most interestingly, if hypothyroidism is misdiagnosed as a mood disorder, and patients take lithium medication, the lithium meant to alleviate depression actually exacerbates thyroid problems. Effective diagnosis should include measuring thyroid hormone levels, as well as thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels.
Isolation fuels depression, as does the indoors. If you find yourself in a depressive state, try spending time with loved ones and enjoying the outdoors and nature.
The AIP diet we talk about below may also help improve your mood.
How to Lose Weight If You Have Hypothyroidism
But don’t fret! If you have trouble with increasing body weight, we can take you through how to lose weight with hypothyroidism.
First off, treat these changes as a new lifestyle, not just a diet. This mental trick will make weight loss more achievable and sustainable.
Avoid sugar at all costs if you are dealing with thyroid-related weight gain.
Just eliminating sugar isn’t the only answer — below, we detailed what foods you should eat.
Foods to Eat
At PrimeHealth, we suggest the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet to those diagnosed with hypothyroidism (especially when autotimmunity is a trigger) for between 1-6 months.
Eating this way has two main advantages:
- The AIP diet is designed to eliminate inflammatory foods that can trigger the root causes of hypothyroidism (called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis).
- The AIP diet incorporates all anti-inflammatory healthy foods that encourage weight loss.
Following an Autoimmune Paleo diet is also incredibly useful for identifying foods that specifically trigger your hypothyroidism symptoms.
While the AIP diet allows small amounts of honey, maple syrup, and fruits, the most prevalent foods in this hypothyroidism diet are proteins and vegetables.
- Lean proteins:
- Seafood (especially fish, rich in healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids)
- Non-dairy fermented foods:
- Apple cider vinegar
- Non-nightshade veggies
- Cruciferous vegetables (like kale and brussels sprouts)
- Sulfur-rich veggies like garlic and onions
- Herbs like rosemary and turmeric
- Collagen and bone broth
- Green tea
- Arrowroot starch
- Small amounts of honey, maple syrup, fruits, and monk fruit
Foods to Avoid
It is important to avoid inflammatory foods. Keep your balanced diet gluten-free, soy-free, and dairy-free. Essentially, any potential food allergens are forbidden in a hypothyroidism diet.
- Nuts and seeds
- Dried fruits
- Beans/legumes (because of the potential allergen lectin)
- All nightshade vegetables:
- Vegetable oils, like canola oil
- Refined sugar
- Alternative sweeteners:
- Processed foods
Cutting out these inflammatory foods will promote healthy weight loss and may even lessen the severity of your hypothyroidism.
Use Time-Restricted Eating
In order to stabilize your weight (or lose more), you may want to try time-restricted eating (also called intermittent fasting or IMF).
Here are the basics:
- To practice time-restricted eating, choose a specified time-window in your day during which you’ll eat.
- The end of this window should be no less than two hours before bedtime, which will protect you from blood sugar spikes while sleeping.
- There should be at least 12 hours between the last bite of food one day and your first bite the next day.
- Extending your fasting window to 14 or even 16 hours may even be more beneficial when trying to lose weight.
As it turns out, time-restricted eating is a well-researched option for weight loss. In studies involving both animal and human subjects, fasting in this way may help you lose weight and even enjoy better metabolic fitness.
Keep in mind that if you suffer from hypoglycemia or diabetes and cannot increase your fasting window safely, you should talk to your doctor before this kind of eating plan.
Stress is a leading contributor to an underactive thyroid. Relieving stress can lead to a normal balance in your hormone levels. If your thyroid is normalized, your metabolism speeds up again.
And outside of hypothyroidism, stress has been linked to obesity in general. This is mostly due to exposure to excessive amounts of cortisol over time.
A full eight hours of high quality sleep is important to relieving stress.
Turn off technology before bed. Cutting out blue light exposure an hour before bedtime can improve your sleep quality. You can do this by using programs on your computer that block blue light like f.lux and iristech.
We also encourage everyone to use blue-light blocking glasses after sunset if using any electronic devices. These are all ways to decrease excessive cortisol production at night when it is detrimental.
Meditation is another way to alleviate your stress and decrease excessive cortisol production.
Finally, spending time outdoors, especially in primarily green locations, can lower your stress and cortisol levels.
When you are hypothyroid, regular exercise can help you:
- Relieve depression
- Increase energy
- Boost self-esteem
- Reduce joint pain
- Increase muscle mass
- Improve insulin resistance
- Lose unwanted weight
- Maintain that healthy weight
Physical therapists and endocrinologists alike would probably suggest low impact cardio exercise, especially to start out. Consult with a doctor before engaging in higher intensity strength training.
We suggest 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week.
Here are the best natural dietary supplements to lessen the severity of your hypothyroidism, promote a healthy metabolism, and promote hypothyroidism-related weight loss.
- Iodine is essential to healthy thyroid function. Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of goiters, a thyroid disorder. Iodine is important in preventing autoimmune diseases, such as Hashimoto’s that leads to hypothyroidism. Recent research reveals iodine’s weight loss potential in thyroid patients.
- Gut healing herbs and probiotics help remove inflammatory microbes and promote “good” bacteria, essential to gut health. Gut health is closely linked to your immune system, which is closely linked to your thyroid health. Improved thyroid function means better metabolism. Improving your gut health has also been linked directly with weight loss.
- Selenium is found in fish and muscle meats. As a supplement, researchers found that selenium improved biomarkers of hypothyroidism. Selenium also improves mood, which can relieve stress. Both stress relief and improved thyroid function speed up your metabolism.
- Glutathione is the most abundant antioxidant in the human body. In supplement form, glutathione fights oxidative stress that leads to inflammation. 2018 research reveals that glutathione promotes weight loss in certain obese individuals.
- Curcumin, the primary component in turmeric, fights inflammation and promotes heart health. Animal studies show that curcumin also regulates body fat.
Consult a healthcare provider before starting any new dietary supplement. At PrimeHealth, your dietary and supplement plan is always personalized to your needs and objective laboratory data.
- Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid gland is underactive. This leads to several symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Joint stiffness
- Muscle aches
- Not only does hypothyroidism directly cause weight gain, but the other symptoms contribute to body weight outside the normal range.
- We suggest several methods of how to lose weight with hypothyroidism:
- Avoid sugar.
- Exercise regularly.
- Relieve stress.
- Use time-restricted eating.
- Adhere to the Autoimmune Paleo diet. Proteins and most vegetables are great; all potential food allergens are to be avoided.
- Consider natural supplements, such as iodine, selenium, and curcumin.
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