Guest post by Kim Jordan, NTP
If you struggle with hypothyroidism, chances are you have struggled with your weight. You may have gained weight, have trouble losing it, or just feel larger, puffier, and uncomfortable in your body. You likely also experience issues like low energy, lack of focus, and depressed mood, which are interfering with your healthy eating and exercise efforts. You may find that even when you do exercise, you lack stamina in your workouts and it takes you much longer to recover after exercise.
Sometimes, you can be seemingly doing everything right, but the weight does not budge. It may even increase—especially in your midsection—despite your best efforts to eat well and exercise. So what are you doing wrong? Can you achieve fat loss goals when you are hypothyroid? And can you do it in a way that’s supporting your health as well as creating lasting results? How?
What exactly is hypothyroidism?
Let’s first cover what it means to have hypothyroidism, and why it has connections to weight gain and fat loss resistance. Hypothyroidism means the thyroid, for whatever reason, is under-functioning. The body is not producing proper amounts of thyroid hormones.
This usually happens due to one or more of the following: A) The pituitary gland isn’t telling the thyroid to produce enough hormone (the pituitary communicates by sending TSH to the thyroid). B) The thyroid is not listening to the pituitary’s signals and therefore, isn’t producing enough hormone. C) The body is making plenty of thyroid hormone (T4), but it’s not properly converting to its active form (T3). (Often times, especially in cases of high stress, T4 converts to more inactive thyroid hormone (Reverse T3) than active). D) There is an autoimmune condition (Hashimoto’s) causing the body to produce antibodies against the thyroid (the immune system essentially attacks the thyroid).
The thyroid is arguably the most important gland in the body as it controls the metabolic rate of all organ systems. Every cell in the body needs thyroid hormone to function! Therefore, when the body isn’t getting enough of it, everything is affected—especially the ways we create and use energy.
Why does hypothyroidism affect weight and make fat loss more difficult?
Since the thyroid works to control the metabolism, when it’s underperforming, the body’s metabolic rate slows. Yes, this means we “burn” less calories. However, the body is actually using less calories; it conserves the amount of energy it uses, and prioritizes functions that keep us surviving, not necessarily thriving.
This decreased metabolic rate is why weight loss becomes seemingly impossible and we feel fatigued and unmotivated. Digestion slows, leaving us bloated and constipated. We retain fluid, which makes us feel puffy and swollen. Brain function is impaired, and we feel foggy-headed and forgetful. Everything essentially slows down in the body.
Other symptoms of hypothyroidism indirectly affect weight, especially low energy. It’s not as easy or fun to go to the gym when you’re exhausted. Who wants to food shop and prepare healthy meals when feeling tired and sluggish? And even when you go to the gym, you either can’t workout intensely, or try to push yourself and burn out. Then you feel sorer, more tired—the cycle continues. Many symptoms related to hypothyroidism also involve the brain and mood. Those with hypothyroidism often feel sad and unmotivated, even withdrawn. These feelings can lead to emotional eating, derailing weight loss efforts further.
And of course, we can’t forget the connections between thyroid hormones and all other hormones in the body. When we’re stressed and have poorly controlled blood sugar (which often go hand-in-hand), the body will break down muscle tissue to use for energy in times of need. Female sex hormones will also be affected, and imbalances in estrogen and progesterone can lead to increased weight gain in the midsection and hips.
What’s going on under the surface?
With hypothyroidism (or any other hormonal issue), it’s crucial to look to underlying causes and contributors. The body is smart—it speaks to us, whether we hear it or not. Symptoms are a way our body communicates hidden dysfunction and weakness. Sometimes it’s not so easy to differentiate what’s going on, but there are specific areas we can look to first. Nutritional therapy does this by evaluating specific foundations of health to pinpoint possible hindrances of proper function—we find the kinks in the hose. These foundations affect the functioning of our bodies, and are rooted in nutrition and lifestyle choices.
There are many reasons for the thyroid to be under-functioning, such as adrenal fatigue, gut and/or liver dysfunction, poor blood sugar handling, autoimmunity, and more. The point is: nutrition and lifestyle modifications can always help, by mitigating the effects of stress on the body, decreasing inflammation, boosting immune and gut function, balancing blood sugar, improving nutrient availability and absorption, and more. Even further, all of these changes can make achieving fat loss easier. The goal is to get the body back into its healthy balance! Remove the stressors and instead, give the body the tools to create health.
The importance of gut health
A quick note on digestion: Nutrition is the ultimate foundation of health, but digestion is a close second. If your digestive system isn’t functioning well, your body isn’t functioning well. When the body is stressed and inflamed, the digestive system is immediately affected. And since the digestive system has close ties to all other systems in the body—including the immune, endocrine, and neurological—it is crucial to keep the gut happy and healthy!
For hypothyroidism in particular, gut health has specific importance. Much of the conversion of T4 (inactive thyroid hormone) to T3 (active thyroid hormone) occurs in the gut and liver. The building blocks of thyroid hormones—amino acids and specific minerals—need to be extracted from our food by our digestive organs.
If your gut is not healthy, it can directly impact your thyroid health and functioning! Low stomach acid, sluggish gallbladder, intestinal permeability (leaky gut), an imbalance of gut bacteria—these issues and more will be monumental in solving thyroid issues and therefore, losing weight with hypothyroidism!
SO, WHERE DO YOU GO FROM HERE?
Stay tuned for post #2 with all of the action steps you can take to start working toward your fat loss goals while also supporting your thyroid health.
Kim Jordan holds a Master of Arts degree in Health Education and is a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. Focusing primarily on digestive issues, stress and fatigue, and women’s health including hormones and fertility. Her goal is to help women feel, look and be their strongest, most vibrant selves. With a functional and integrative perspective, she works to rebalance and strengthen the biochemical systems that create health with a multifaceted approach that includes nutrition, herbal and food-based supplements, stress-management and mindset. She is passionate about uncovering root causes and helping women take control of their health and become more in-tune with their bodies. You can find more about Kim Jordan on her website, Instagram and Facebook page.