Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn't produce enough of certain crucial hormones. When you develop hypothyroidism, your metabolism (all chemical reactions involved in the breakdown of molecules to release energy) slows down. As a result, you don’t burn calories quickly, and your calories start to stick, resulting in weight gain.
The weight gain usually isn’t extreme and can be managed with a proper diet and weight management techniques. Before you understand how to prevent weight gain due to hypothyroidism, let us take a quick look at how the thyroid gland works and what are the roles of the hormones it produces.
How Does Your Thyroid Gland Work
Your thyroid gland is a part of the endocrine system (a system of glands that make hormones) and is the only gland that absorbs iodine (salt) from your food and uses it to make two hormones (T3 and T4).
The crucial function of T3 (Triiodothyronine) and T4 (Thyroxine) is to break down calories, produce energy and boost your metabolism when released into the bloodstream. Remember that an imbalance in these hormones (either too low or too high), can result in disorders.
If too many of the thyroid hormones are secreted, your body cells work faster than normal, and you may have hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism can lead to a quickening of your heart rate or increased activity of your intestine.
Contrary to this, if too little of the thyroid hormones are produced (known as hypothyroidism), the cells and organs of your body slow down. Hypothyroidism is a common thyroid disorder and weight gain is one of the most common side-effects of hypothyroidism.
Thyroid and Your Weight!
Hypothyroidism has long been associated with weight gain. There are many explanations that connect weight gain with low thyroid function.
Know that T3 and T4 circulate in the body, and they affect your metabolism through their interaction with various other body cells and organs such as fat cells, muscles, liver (the organ that digests food, stores energy, and releases toxins), pancreas (the organ that converts food into fuel) and hypothalamus (the organ that controls body temperature and maintains energy).
Thyroid hormones normally help the body break down fat, and they help the liver and pancreas function to metabolize stored calories to be used for energy. These hormones also help your muscles use energy.
When there is an adequate amount of thyroid hormones in your body, all of these functions are carried out normally and you are healthy.
When you have decreased thyroid hormones, these actions can be disrupted or diminished. Thus, your body has low energy and you start to feel fatigued, bloated, and depressed. As a result, your body starts to hold on to calories, storing them as fat, which is especially difficult to burn off and metabolize. And hence, you gain weight due to hypothyroidism.
How to Lose Weight With Hypothyroidism?
The reduced levels of thyroid hormone hamper your body's ability to burn calories at a normal rate. This makes shedding excess weight difficult but NOT impossible.
Losing weight can be tricky for someone suffering from hypothyroidism. Here’s why:
Hypothyroidism causes fat build-up, which leads to insulin resistance in the body, leading up to weight gain and susceptibility to diabetes (a chronic condition in which there is excessive sugar in your blood). Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don't respond well to insulin and can't use glucose from your blood for energy.
The most effective way of losing weight would be a combination of diet and exercise to regulate your metabolism and burn calories.
Here are some dietary do’s and don’ts to follow in case of hypothyroidism:
1. Emphasize on a balanced diet. Eat more minimally-processed whole foods and fewer highly-processed refined foods. Your diet should be balanced with all vitamins and nutrients to recover from nutritional deficiencies, especially those caused by a lack of selenium and iodine, which hamper the thyroid functioning in your body.
A nutritional deficiency occurs when your body doesn't absorb or get from food the necessary amount of a nutrient. Deficiencies can lead to a variety of health problems.
2. Eat complex carbs. Complex carbs contain fibers that will keep you full and stop you from overeating. Include whole cereals, vegetables, and whole pulses in your diet.
3. Add selenium and iodine. Iodine plays an important role in the synthesis of the thyroid hormone and selenium helps in the recycling of iodine produced by the body. Natural sources of selenium and iodine include seafood, Brazil nuts, eggs, tuna, salmon, sunflower seeds, and plants grown in sodium-rich soil, etc.
Other nutrients that boost thyroid functions like zinc, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin E, are available in abundance in green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole cereals.
1. Restrict foods with high glycemic index, such as corn, white bread, refined flour, muffins, cakes, rich desserts, etc., because these cause excess glucose in your blood, which gets converted into fat.
The glycemic index is a value assigned to foods based on how slowly or how quickly those foods cause increases in blood glucose levels. Foods low on the glycemic index (GI) scale tend to release glucose slowly and steadily. Foods high on the glycemic index release glucose rapidly.
2. Limit goitrogens-rich foods. Goitrogens are substances that suppress the functioning of your thyroid gland by interfering and blocking enzymes that allow the thyroid to use iodine. This leads to enlargement of the thyroid (goitre) gland because the gland starts producing more cells to counter the deficit.
Limiting the intake of goitrogen-rich foods is recommended. These foods cannot be avoided completely since they provide a lot of nutrition too.
Note: Simply watch out for the portion size and whether it’s heated or not because heat deactivates goitrogenic compounds. Some goitrogen-rich foods are soya and its products, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, cauliflower, radishes, turnips, spinach, strawberry, peaches, pears, peanuts, etc.
Besides the above do’s and don’ts, you might also have to control excessive water retention (excess fluids build up inside your body, leading to weight gain) in your body with the following tips:
Avoid salted nuts, salted crackers, pickles, sauces, preserved foods, etc.
Have plain salad without salt.
Avoid soft drinks because the carbonation in soft drinks leads to water retention.
Avoid fried food because fried food takes longer to digest and makes you feel heavy and bloated.
Eat slowly to help digest your food better.
Drink 10-12 glasses of water in a day.
Exercise daily for more than 30 minutes because a normal body starts losing weight after 20 minutes of exercise, whereas a body with hypothyroidism takes longer.
Go for a brisk walk for at least 15 minutes after each meal.
Include fruits and beverages like coconut water, plain lemon water, etc., in your diet.
Avoid having raw vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, etc.
More Tips for Weight Management Due to Hypothyroidism
1. Avoid stress. Stress often leads to unhealthy food choices and overeating. Reactions to stress are controlled by the adrenal glands (glands that produce hormones to help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress, and other essential functions), which are already overworked and under-functioning in hypothyroid patients.
Stress also increases your cortisol (the primary stress hormone) levels, which increases hunger, thereby, affecting insulin levels. Focus on deep breathing exercises like pranayama and meditation to calm your mind and body and reduce stress.
2. Reduce the use of stimulants to conquer your fatigue. Stimulants are drugs or compounds which create increased attention, alertness, and energy. Caffeine found in coffee, tea, and chocolates is the most common stimulant. Most energy and sports drinks are also stimulants.
Hypothyroidism makes the adrenal glands susceptible to overwork and burnout. The adrenal glands can only take so much stimulation before they begin to under-function. Weaning off of stimulants, including coffee, soda, and tea, can help the adrenal gland function at a normal pace without any pressure.
3. Exercise daily. Exercise and diet go hand in hand to manage the weight in a hypothyroid patient. Here are a few benefits of working out during hypothyroidism:
Fights water retention. Fluid retention occurs when water accumulates in the body. Exercise helps you by sweating out the excess water from your body and by moving water into your muscles from the fat cells to be used.
Exercise burns extra calories. While doing exercise your body starts burning extra calories, (which under normal circumstances your body is storing), resulting in weight loss.
Exercise promotes better sleep patterns. When you exercise, your body secretes happy hormones (known as endorphins), that keep stress away and helps you sleep better at night because of decreased stress levels.
It’s a fact that thyroid patients face difficulty in losing weight, due to their subnormal metabolism but there are no shortcuts to weight loss. One has to be patient and focused on the goal. Consult your physician in case you do not lose weight after adopting the above dietary and lifestyle changes.
Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.