Weight gain. It’s the first symptom people who don’t have hypothyroidism, think of when they hear the term ‘thyroid problem’. For some patients, it can be one of the most upsetting symptoms and side effects of poor thyroid function and/or medication.
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/hypothyroidism, along with many others.
For me, the issue I had 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 and this felt like a reflection on my ability to get back to good health.
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 or hypothyroidism 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 of any low thyroid gained weight, less cold intolerance and more energy.
Two GP’s said to me that the weight gain from hypothyroidism 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 past this number.
I gained 27.5 pounds while hypothyroid and on Levothyroxine or not medicated at all.
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 also been avoiding junk food wherever I can.
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. 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 drink at least two litres of water a day to promote proper bodily functions. Herbal and fruit tea is also my friend. I replaced ‘normal’ tea with these. Water can be flavoured too, with fresh fruit placed in it, or a squirt of lemon juice. Carbonated, flavoured water can also be a good substitute for fizzy drinks and sodas.
I’ve also been trying to improve my fitness, 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.
Disclaimer: Since learning about body positivity and now practising it myself, I want to just leave a statement that: weight is not the be all and end all. It doesn’t make you any less worth of love, of happiness or anything else in life. Weight gain is natural – bodies change all the time – but I do appreciate that for many, the weight gain associated with hypothyroidism can be another frustrating reminder of how it affects your life and takes control from you. However, if you wish to pursue weight-loss, I can’t stop you and I respect your decision. Just know that you can be happy with how you are and make peace with your body. We are battling a difficult health condition which directly affects our metabolic function and energy levels, after all.
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:
Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism
Rachel is a Thyroid Patient Advocate and Expert with Six WEGO Award Nominations, a highly ranked writer appearing in the Top Hypothyroidism Websites and Top Thyroid Websites 2018. Currently studying to become a Life Coach, she has worked with The National Academy of Hypothyroidism, The BBC, The Mighty, Dr. Hedberg, Thyroid UK and ThyroidChange, to name just a few. She is well recognised as a trusted and useful contributor to the thyroid community and has relevant qualifications and certificates in Diet and Nutrition, Reflexology, Motivational Speaking and Positive Thinking.