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How to Lose Weight with Hypothyroidism

How to Lose Weight with Hypothyroidism

How to lose weight with hypothyroidism
©️ Diana Polekhina on Unsplash
Medically reviewed by

Dr. Minako Abe, M.D., Board-certified emergency medicine physician researching the relationship between lifestyle and disease onset in relation to the immune system and cancer, Japan

Hypothyroidism is a medical condition characterized by an underactive thyroid gland. Through its release of the thyroid hormone, the thyroid gland regulates the rate of metabolism (energy generation from nutrients, energy storage, and energy consumption) in the body. Thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) are the two main hormones that collectively are responsible for  thyroid function.

Hypothyroidism hence slows down metabolism owing to insufficient levels of thyroid hormone in the body. Slower metabolism translates to fewer calories getting burned. These calories get stored as fat, making it more difficult for hypothyroid people to lose weight than people with normal-functioning thyroid glands.

Even among people living with hypothyroidism, rates of energy metabolism vary from person to person. This is mainly because the rate of metabolism is determined by various factors such as body size, gender, age, muscle mass, physical activity level, environmental factors, hormonal factors, and genetics.

While you may have little to no control over some of these factors, there are practical approaches you can take advantage of to ensure that you burn as many calories as possible to help you lose weight and prevent further weight gain.

The following are some weight loss tips for hypothyroidism. These tips work best when applying them in tandem. On its own, each approach is insufficient in effectively helping you lose weight.

Be consistent with treatment and monitor your hormone levels regularly

Levothyroxine remains the standard medication used for treating hypothyroidism. Levothyroxine is a hormone replacement drug usually taken in the form of daily tablets to make up for insufficient thyroid hormone thyroxine.

Of all the participants (hypothyroid patients) that partook in a study that monitored the effect of levothyroxine treatment on weight loss, about half of them lost weight within two years.

The main things to be on the lookout for when trying to lose weight as a hypothyroid person are your thyroid hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. Regardless of how much effort you put into other weight loss approaches, losing weight will still be difficult if  your thyroid hormone levels remain low.

It is, therefore, best to consistently take your medication as prescribed. If you are still struggling with losing weight despite doing all the right things, you should consult your doctor; an adjustment in your dosage may be required.

Once your thyroid hormone and TSH levels are normal and stable, your ability to gain or lose weight should be about the same as euthyroid people. Managing your condition might pose a challenge without frequent testing to monitor your hormone levels.

Exercise regularly

Physical activity is essential for weight loss. When you exercise your body, the body uses calories for energy. With regular, appropriate exercises, weight loss should be possible. Ultimately, the goal is to burn more calories than you consume through your diet to help prevent weight gain. 

While exercising regularly helps with weight management, some bonuses include increased energy levels, increased bone density, and better sleep. Another benefit of regular exercise in your weight-loss journey is appetite control. According to scientists, exercise can help suppress one’s appetite by controlling appetite-regulating hormones. With a controlled appetite, you are less likely to overeat.

You must also be intentional and strategic about what exercise routines to perform. Muscle-strengthening exercises (such as weight-lifting, push-ups, and squats) and moderate-intensity aerobic exercises (such as brisk walking and cycling) are ideal for boosting metabolism by burning calories.

It is important, however, to start easy and slow, especially if you haven’t exercised your body in a long time. Over time, you can increase the intensity and frequency as your strength and endurance levels also increase. This can be challenging for some as the fatigue and weakness associated with hypothyroidism may make some people less likely or motivated to exercise. 

It is crucial to ensure that you do not overexert yourself. Start at a pace that works best for you, or you risk experiencing exercise-induced autoimmune flares and exercise intolerance. Even though exercising is not meant to replace your medication, physical activity does help increase metabolism and improve your overall health. Exercise should therefore complement treatment for optimal outcomes.

Get enough sleep

Many studies have established a link between sleep deprivation and reduced metabolism. Getting enough sleep is essential if you want to lose weight. The National Sleep Foundation recommends about seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults. If you’re trying to lose weight with hypothyroidism, you should strive to get the recommended amount of sleep.

Sleep also helps reduce your overall stress levels, which helps your weight-loss journey. Reduced stress levels translate to reduced levels of the hormone cortisol. High cortisol levels promote weight gain. If you  have insomnia, exercising may help improve your sleep.

Stay hydrated

You need to avoid getting dehydrated if you are trying to lose weight. There are lots of benefits to staying hydrated that also help you lose weight. Not only does drinking enough water reduce your appetite, but some research has also shown that it may boost energy metabolism.

Dehydration also makes you feel tired, which could make exercising more difficult than normal. The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends about 2.7 to 3.7 liters of daily water consumption.

Be conscious and particular about what you consume

Whatever you consume, whether food or alcohol, typically affects your metabolism and overall health. As a hypothyroid person especially, you cannot afford to compromise on your general well-being. While seeking to lose weight and prevent further weight gain, an evaluation of your intake and necessary adjustments will go a long way in helping you lose weight.

Some helpful tips include cutting back on the consumption of alcohol and sodium-rich foods, avoiding skipping meals, and reducing the amount  of high-calorie foods. If you struggle with making healthy adjustments to your diet, you may need to consult a dietician to help you develop a suitable meal plan.

The following are some helpful dietary tips to complement other weight loss approaches highlighted in this article:

Eat foods rich in protein and fiber

Protein-rich diets are capable of boosting metabolism. High protein intake promotes the burning of calories. Proteins form the building blocks of muscle and promote muscle mass and development. Consuming enough protein also helps make exercising easier and more efficient. For people with hypothyroidism, especially, consuming selenium-rich and zinc-rich proteins (such as from poultry or seafood) is extra beneficial.

Fiber increases the bulk of your diet, making you feel full faster. This helps reduce the likelihood of overeating and helps keep your weight in check. Similarly, unsaturated fats in eggs, avocado, fatty fish, and dark chocolate give the same feeling of “fullness.”

Aside from its benefit for weight management, fiber-rich diets also help give stool bulk and relieve constipation, a common symptom of hypothyroidism. However, fiber consumption has been reported to worsen constipation in some cases. In such cases, increasing water intake and reducing fiber intake to tolerable levels is advised. To prevent bloating and abdominal cramps, it is best to slowly incorporate fiber into your diet if you are not accustomed  to it.

 

Cut back on your intake of simple carbs and high sugars

Significantly reducing your intake of foods with lots of refined carbohydrates, such as potato chips and French fries, can help with weight loss and reduce blood sugar levels. Cutting back on simple sugars and foods with a high glycemic index could help lower inflammation in the body.

While you may want to reduce your calorie intake, it is also important to avoid having insufficient calories, as that can trigger a stress response that eventually exacerbates your hypothyroid condition, resulting in reduced production of the T3 hormone.

 

Eat more anti-inflammatory foods

Inflammation occurs naturally as part of your immune system’s way of fighting infection or injury. Inflammation only becomes a concern when it is excessive or chronic or in cases of autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s.

People with hypothyroidism, especially due to Hashimoto’s disease, have an “overactive” immune system. Anti-inflammatory foods could help calm your immune system. Since excessive sugar consumption can cause inflammation, it is advisable to cut back on dietary sugar while seeking anti-inflammatory foods to incorporate into your diet.

This dietary change, along with other measures, could help mitigate your hypothyroid symptoms and make your weight loss journey a little easier. Some common anti-inflammatory foods you can include in your diet are fatty fish, tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, and nuts.

 

Eat more fresh, non-processed foods

Since processed foods typically contain high levels of sugar and oils likely to cause weight gain, it is necessary to cut back on those and opt for fresh whole foods.

Reducing or avoiding the consumption of food and drinks with added sugars and additives may promote your thyroid health and weight management. Some highly processed foods to watch out for are ice cream, fast food like French fries and burgers, sugary drinks, potato chips, and cakes.

 

Keep a food journal

A food journal or diary helps you note down your daily consumption of food and drinks. This helps you or a healthcare professional (or both) to monitor your eating habits. A food journal facilitates tracking your iodine intake, overall food consumption, and progress toward weight loss or a specific nutritional goal.

It also makes it easy to figure out the problem with your diet and the necessary adjustments you can make to help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

Be mindful of other medications you are taking

Some prescription medications tend to cause weight gain. You may have been prescribed some medications by your healthcare provider for either some symptoms of hypothyroidism or other medical conditions. It is important always to discuss the side effects of your medications with your healthcare providers.

If a medical assessment of your condition indicates that your weight gain might be due to a prescription drug, your doctor can help you develop a workable solution that best suits your medical needs.

Never stop taking these medications without consulting with your doctor. Some medications typically associated with weight gain include antidepressants, diabetes medication like insulin, antiseizure drugs, and contraceptives/hormone therapy.

Key Takeaways

  • Hypothyroidism lowers the rate of metabolism in your body and increases one’s susceptibility to gaining weight. 
  • It is important to equip yourself with tips to help you manage your weight if you live with hypothyroidism.
  • Some treatment and lifestyle measures can help you lose weight with hypothyroidism. Some of these include regular exercise, getting proper sleep, avoiding dehydration, consistent and effective treatment of hypothyroidism, eating healthy, and regular check-ups with your doctor to monitor treatment progress and possible side effects of other medications.
  • Essentially controlling your weight is going to be about finding the right balance between a couple of factors instead of a single approach. For instance, the amount of sleep you get, your food intake, and exercise could be helpful if you combine them effectively.
  • The main things to look for when trying to lose weight as a hypothyroid person are your thyroid hormone and TSH levels. Abnormal levels of these hormones (low thyroid hormone and high TSH) could strongly work against your efforts at weight loss.
  • Your doctor may adjust your treatment doses if your thyroid hormone levels are still abnormal after consistently taking your medication as prescribed.

Disclaimer

At ThyForLife, we do our utmost to provide accurate information. For detailed medical information regarding diagnosis, treatment, and general practices please consult your healthcare professional. Always listen to the advice of your healthcare provider.
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