It's a tale as old as time: you've tried diets, exercise programs, and other lifestyle improvements, and you just can't keep the weight off. You even opt for the standing desk at work, walk during your lunch breaks, and have given up all beverages except plain ol' water. And yet, the scale doesn't budge in the direction you want. Unfortunately, when these healthy lifestyle changes don't make a difference, your weight gain may be due to a bigger problem.
Hypothyroidism is a condition that affects five out of 100 Americans, according to the National Institute of Health. One of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism is weight gain or difficulty losing weight. Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone to support the body's metabolic functions. If you have this condition, you need to be under the medical care of a thyroid specialist.
Ahead, answers to all your questions about how to lose weight with hypothyroidism.
What does the thyroid do?
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped organ located at the nape of your neck. Although petite, this organ makes a considerable impact on your body. The thyroid gland is responsible for regulating your metabolism and directing growth and development. As a result, it influences everything from your heart rate and blood pressure to your fertility and body temperature. More specifically, the thyroid releases thyroid hormones that tell the body how to use energy and when to store it.
When something interferes with the delicate balance of your thyroid hormones, it can cause a slew of problems all over your body. Generally speaking, your thyroid can be either underactive or overactive:
- If your thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormone to sustain your body's metabolic needs, it can lead to hypothyroidism.
- When the thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone, it can lead to hyperthyroidism, which speeds up the metabolism.
What are the signs of hypothyroidism?
Weight gain is one of the most common reasons people see their doctor and end up with a diagnosis of hypothyroidism. The reason you can see your weight increase is that your body's metabolism slows in the absence of sufficient thyroid hormone.
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Cold intolerance
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Muscle aches, tenderness, or stiffness
- Joint pain, stiffness, or swelling
- Heavier or irregular menstrual periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Brain fog
- Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
As you may imagine, any combination of these symptoms above can make getting regular physical exercise challenging, which can certainly tip the scale in the wrong direction.
How to learn if you have hypothyroidism
The only way to know if you have a thyroid condition is to take a blood test. Still, trying to convince your doctor to run a complete thyroid panel can be challenging. Why? Because most general practitioners do not have the training and specialty to manage complex thyroid conditions like Hashimoto's disease (the most common cause of hypothyroidism).
Work with a thyroid specialist
If you have a thyroid problem, the best avenue is to see a provider specializing in thyroid care. Endocrinologists are doctors who specialize in caring for the hormone-secreting glands in your body, such as your adrenals, your pancreas, and, yes, the thyroid. Within endocrinology, some providers prefer to specialize in caring for specific diseases or organs, so they become experts in that particular arena.
Test your thyroid regularly
Paloma Health is an online medical practice that focuses exclusively on testing and treating hypothyroidism. The company offers an at-home thyroid test kit to give you a complete picture of your thyroid function without wrestling with your doctor. With a simple finger prick, Paloma Health's at-home thyroid test kit measures the following biomarkers:
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
- Free T4
- Free T3
- TPO antibodies
- Reverse T3 (optional add-on)
- Vitamin D (optional add-on)
Understanding your thyroid hormone lab values is vital in helping you overcome troublesome symptoms like weight gain, lethargy, and fatigue.
How to lose weight with hypothyroidism
You should know that hypothyroidism is associated with a modest weight gain that is hard to lose. Per the American Thyroid Association, most weight gain due directly to hypothyroidism is from retained salt and water, not excess fat. Indeed, the organization suggests that “5-10 pounds of body weight may be attributable to the thyroid, depending on the severity of hypothyroidism.” A puffy or swollen face and edema on other areas of the body are a sign of water retention.
With that said, we know that symptoms of hypothyroidism like muscle pain, fatigue, and lethargy make it hard to keep physically active, so secondary effects of the diseases may also contribute to weight gain.
Optimize your thyroid medication
Should your lab results show that your thyroid is underactive, treating your condition with thyroid hormone replacement medication is usually the first step in minimizing symptoms like weight gain. When choosing thyroid medication with your thyroid doctor, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. It may take some time to find the right brand and dose for your specific needs. Still, taking your medication every day, following the directions, and staying up-to-date with regular thyroid blood tests are pivotal steps for managing all symptoms, including weight loss.
Eat a thyroid-healthy diet
The leading cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto's disease. Hashimoto's is an autoimmune condition where your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the thyroid gland. Left untreated, the thyroid gland can eventually fail due to chronic inflammation and can no longer make thyroid hormone. Autoimmune conditions may start in the gut or can be exacerbated by our food, so eating a thyroid-healthy diet may help reduce inflammation and curb weight gain.
Tap into holistic approaches
Managing weight gain and hypothyroidism goes beyond medication and diet. Your stress levels, sleep habits, and exercise patterns play a significant role in your overall health and wellbeing. Some people prefer to work with a health coach alongside their thyroid doctor to optimize their health and wellbeing.
Rule out other health problems
Hypothyroidism sometimes accompanies other health conditions, and weight gain can undoubtedly be caused by an imbalance in other hormones aside from the thyroid. Suppose you already are on the proper treatment plan for your thyroid. In that case, you may want to check with your doctor to rule out other complications like insulin or leptin resistance, food sensitivities, or other autoimmune conditions like Celiac disease.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating hypothyroidism and weight loss, which is why every person with hypothyroidism should seek specialized care for their condition. We recommend checking out Paloma Health. The company takes an integrative approach to thyroid care by connecting you with thyroid doctors, complete thyroid testing, thyroid nutritionists, education, and support—all from the comfort of home.
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