Weight Loss Strategies for Individuals with a Slow Thyroid
If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid, losing weight can feel like an uphill battle.
Your thyroid gland regulates your metabolism, so when it’s not functioning properly, you may notice weight gain, fatigue, constipation, and sensitivity to cold temperatures. The good news is that with the right treatment plan and weight loss strategies, you can successfully shed pounds and keep them off.
Here are some helpful tips to get you started.
Understand How Your Thyroid Impacts Weight
- Your thyroid gland produces hormones that control how your body uses energy. When your thyroid is underactive, your metabolism slows down, causing you to burn fewer calories both at rest and during physical activity.
- Low thyroid hormone levels can cause your body to retain more water, leading to fluid retention and weight gain. This swelling is often most noticeable around the face, hands, feet, and abdomen.
- Constipation is a common symptom of hypothyroidism, due to the slowing effects of low thyroid hormones on your digestive system. The resulting build-up of waste in your body can cause bloating and weigh you down.
- An underactive thyroid causes a decrease in lipolysis, which is the breakdown of fat for energy. Your body holds on to fat stores rather than burning them.
Get Your Thyroid Levels Checked
The first step is to get your thyroid health evaluated by your doctor. Common lab tests include:
- TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) – This measures how much TSH your pituitary gland is releasing, which indicates how hard your thyroid has to work. Higher levels mean an underactive thyroid.
- T3 and T4 – These directly measure your circulating thyroid hormone levels. Low levels confirm a thyroid problem.
- Thyroid antibodies – Elevated antibodies signify autoimmune Hashimoto’s disease, the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
Once you are diagnosed, your doctor can prescribe thyroid medication to help restore normal hormone levels and regulate your metabolism. Levothyroxine drugs like Synthroid are most commonly used.
Choose Nutrient-Dense Foods
With a sluggish metabolism, every calorie counts. Follow these diet tips to maximize nutrients:
- Go high fiber. Aim for 25-35 grams of fiber per day from sources like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Fiber promotes fullness and optimal digestion.
- Eat lean protein. Include a lean protein source like poultry, fish, eggs, tofu or legumes with each meal and snack. Protein provides satiety and helps maintain muscle mass when losing weight.
- Load up on produce. Fill at least half your plate with non-starchy veggies and a fruit at each meal. Produce packs fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants.
- Choose healthy fats. Focus on getting more unsaturated fats from foods like olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and fatty fish. These support your metabolism.
- Avoid added sugar. Limit sweets, sugary drinks and desserts to help prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes.
Rule Out Other Causes for Weight Gain
While hypothyroidism contributes to excess weight, other factors can too. It’s important to rule these out:
- Check for food sensitivities – Common offenders like gluten, dairy and soy can promote inflammation and fluid retention.
- Assess medications – Steroids, antipsychotics and other drugs can trigger weight changes. Consult your doctor.
- Evaluate calorie intake – Track your meals to ensure you are not overeating, which sabotages weight loss.
- Consider emotional factors – Stress, anxiety and depression may lead to overeating and inactivity.
- Check for PCOS or insulin resistance – These conditions frequently accompany hypothyroidism and also impair weight loss.
Take Any Prescribed Thyroid Medication Consistently
For thyroid hormone replacement medication to be effective at regulating your metabolism, you need to be consistent. Here are some tips:
- Take your thyroid pills at the same time each day, ideally first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Wait at least 30-60 minutes before eating.
- Don’t skip doses. Set a daily reminder to help you remember your medication.
- Allow 4-6 weeks for your dosage to take full effect. It can take time to build up in your system.
- Get your TSH rechecked every 6-12 weeks until levels normalize. Your dosage may need adjustment.
- If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember. For a double dose, make up the missed dose unless it is almost time for your next scheduled dose.
Adopt an Exercise Routine that Works for You
- Aim to exercise most days of the week for at least 30 minutes a day. Options like brisk walking, swimming, strength training and yoga promote fat burning.
- Go at your own pace. With fatigue, start with shorter workouts and gradually increase duration. Allow for rest days.
- Do a mix of cardio and strength training. Cardio burns calories; strength training builds metabolically-active muscle mass.
- If you struggle with joint pain, focus on low-impact activities like walking, cycling, swimming or water aerobics.
- Exercise in the morning when energy levels tend to be highest if possible. But any time of day is beneficial.
- Split exercise into multiple short sessions if one longer workout is too much at first. Doing something is better than nothing.
Set a Realistic Goal Weight
Aim to lose 1-2 pounds per week for steady progress without major restriction:
- Use a TDEE calculator to estimate your maintenance calories for your height, weight and activity level.
- Eat in a 500-1000 calorie deficit to lose about 1-2 lbs weekly, primarily from fat.
- Losing more than 2 pounds a week often backfires. Aim for lifestyle changes you can continue long-term.
- Expect weight loss to slow down as you get closer to your goal. Adjust your calorie intake.
- Weigh yourself once a week or less to track progress. Weight fluctuates daily.
- Focus on how your clothes fit and energy levels. The scale is not the only measure of success.
Be Patient and Celebrate Non-Scale Victories
Remember that weight loss with hypothyroidism requires consistency and patience over months. Stay motivated by tracking non-scale victories like:
- Having more energy for daily tasks and exercise
- Less bloating and stomach discomfort
- Better sleep and brighter mood
- Improved digestion and regularity
- Tighter fit of your clothes
- Achieving exercise milestones and fitness goals
- Compliments from friends and family noticing positive changes
Sarah’s Weight Loss Story
Sarah was one of the research subject of Hypothyroidism research in 2019. She is diagnosed with hypothyroidism at age 32 after struggling with unexplained weight gain, fatigue and constipation for over a year. Despite eating healthy and being very active, she had gained 25 pounds and couldn’t lose it.
After starting thyroid medication, Sarah worked with a dietitian and personal trainer to develop an individualized plan. She focused on making sustainable changes like eating nutritious meals, exercising daily even for just 30 minutes, and getting 8 hours of sleep.
The weight came off slowly – just 2-3 pounds monthly. But after a year and half, Sarah had lost over 40 pounds. She felt like herself again with more energy, fewer aches and pains, better digestion, and improved mood.
Most importantly, Sarah didn’t fall back into old patterns once she reached her goal weight. She kept up her healthy habits and newfound confidence. Sarah knows it requires continued effort to manage her thyroid disorder, but she is in control.
What if I’m already at a healthy weight – should I still have my thyroid checked?
Yes, have your thyroid tested. Hypothyroidism causes symptoms beyond just weight gain, including fatigue, hair loss, and feeling cold.
I’m taking my thyroid medication consistently but not losing weight. What should I do?
Speak to your doctor about adjusting your dosage or trying a different medication. Weight loss can take time. Review your diet and exercise too.
How can I tell if my medication dosage is correct?
You’ll feel relief from hypothyroidism symptoms. TSH level will be normalized. Your doctor should recheck this every 6-12 weeks when first treating.
Will eating gluten or dairy really affect my thyroid and weight loss?
For some people, yes. Removing gluten and/or dairy helps resolve autoimmune thyroiditis and related inflammation. Try a 30 day elimination diet.
Do I really have to cut out all sweets if my thyroid is low?
Limit added sugars – they spike and crash blood sugar. But you can still enjoy treats in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
Should I take thyroid medication and supplements like iodine together?
Don’t take supplements that directly affect thyroid function without medical supervision. Let your doctor guide treatment.
I’m exhausted. How can I find energy to exercise?
Start low and go slow. Even just 5-10 minutes a day can boost energy over time. Prioritize sleep too.
What type of exercise is best for a slow thyroid?
Choose a mix of cardio like walking and strength training. Low-impact options help if you have joint pain. Do what you enjoy and can stick to.
What happens if I miss my thyroid medication for a few days?
Take the missed dose as soon as possible. You may experience hypothyroidism symptoms again until medication builds back up in your system.
How can I stay motivated for the slow weight loss process?
Celebrate non-scale victories like better energy, less bloating, tighter clothes, meeting exercise goals. Focus on feeling better.
Losing weight with hypothyroidism requires a multipronged approach:
- Get on the appropriate dose of thyroid medication to regulate your metabolism.
- Choose nutrient-dense foods and avoid empty calories.
- Rule out other causes like food reactions, insulin resistance or medications.
- Adopt regular exercise you enjoy and can stick to long-term.
- Aim for 1-2 pound weight loss per week and be patient with a slower process.
- Celebrate non-scale victories when the scale is slow to budge.
With the right treatment plan tailored to your needs, you can successfully manage your thyroid disorder and reach a healthy weight.