Guest Post By Kim Jordan, NTP
Achieving fat loss goals when you have hypothyroidism: Is it possible? Is it healthy? How should you go about it?
Part 1 of this blog series covered some reasons why the thyroid may be under-functioning, and just what that means for the body—including why hypothyroidism makes weight loss such a struggle. (If you haven’t read that yet, I highly suggest you check it out first: HERE).
So now what do you do? How can you begin to tackle your fat loss goals in a means that’s healthy for your thyroid? The key is supporting the health of the thyroid first—get the body healthy so that fat loss can occur and be maintained!
Nutrition for fat loss with hypothyroidism
Although it’s often the first course of action when trying to lose weight, cutting calories and depriving your body is not the way to go when you have hypothyroidism (despite every doctor who ever told you to “eat less” when you mentioned weight challenges!) It may seem counterintuitive since your metabolism purposely is working more slowly—but the last thing your body needs is less nutrition and more stress. Instead, work on nourishing your body with the right foods, in the right balance with the following steps:
- Don’t restrict calories, especially at first. Focus on nourishment and pay attention to your body: Listen to hunger and fullness cues, and take note of how your body responds to nutritional changes.
- Remove highly processed foods. Any “food” with a lengthy ingredients list with words you can’t pronounce is a good indicator that a food is processed and therefore, lacking in nutrients.
This includes anything with:
- Heated/processed vegetable/seed oils
- Artificial sweeteners
- Highly refined sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup
- Processed soy products
- Food colorings
- Support healthy blood sugar balance by:
- Removing white, refined sugars and grains
- Properly balancing your meals with quality protein, fats and carbohydrates
- Getting your carbs mostly from vegetables and low glycemic whole grains
- Eating at regular intervals without skipping meals, especially breakfast
- Avoid inflammatory foods and personal allergens/sensitivities:
- Start with the most common: gluten, dairy, and soy
- Legumes and all grains would be the next consideration
- Corn, eggs, and nightshade vegetables like eggplant and peppers can also be problematic, especially with an autoimmune thyroid issue
- Consider an elimination diet and/or paleo way of eating to pinpoint your personal intolerances
- Lay off caffeine. An organic, Swiss-water processed decaf coffee is a great replacement, but you can also try black, green, or herbal teas.
- Eat gut nourishing foods every day, including:
- Fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha tea
- Bone broth
- Grass-fed ghee
- Coconut oil
- Aloe vera
- Fresh herbs
- Anti-inflammatory roots like ginger and turmeric
- Focus on thyroid-nourishing foods including:
- Foods rich in omega 3 fats such as wild fatty fish (salmon, sardines), chia seeds, and pastured eggs.
- Foods rich in minerals, particularly selenium, such as unrefined sea salt, seaweed, bone broth, organ meats, raw nuts (especially Brazil), and nettles tea
- Deeply colored fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens and orange/yellow like citrus fruits and bell peppers, which are rich in vitamin C (and therefore, helpful for the adrenals!)
- Experiment! Many people with hypothyroidism find success with a paleo diet, while others (especially with Hashimoto’s) do better with an autoimmune protocol. Some prefer low carb, others ketogenic. You may also find success tracking your macros to get a picture of how much you’re eating. The point is that there’s truly no one-size-fits-all approach, and it may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you.
- Slow down at meal times. Sit down to eat and chew your food well. Your body needs to be in a relaxed state to properly digest and absorb nutrients!
- Enjoy what you eat! Food shouldn’t be a source of emotional stress. Sure, some of these changes can be daunting in the beginning, but take it step-by-step and overall, think positively. You have the power to spark change and transformation through your food—that’s exciting!
Exercise for weight loss with hypothyroidism
Whenever there’s a weight loss goal, the first thought when it comes to exercise is “do more”—more frequency, more intensity, more challenging movements. But exercise is stress, and under normal circumstances, that stress is a stimulus for change (muscle growth, fat loss, etc.). However, adding more stress to a stressed body will actually do the opposite of what you’re expecting.
With hypothyroidism, less is more, and quality matters more than quantity. First, focus on exercise that restores your energy, not depletes it. Do mostly low-intensity movement like walking, stretching, biking, or yoga. If you feel up for it, resistance training can be amazing for maintaining and growing muscle tissue—you can use just your body weight, or add weights or resistance bands.
Be sure to get adequate rest and support recovery—get plenty of sleep, but also work on mobilizing and stretching, take Epsom salt baths, and get relaxing bodywork like massage, chiropractic, or acupuncture. If you need an extra rest day, take it. If you need a nap, go for it! Just listen to your body’s needs.
Once your thyroid levels are optimized (through diet, lifestyle, and medication if needed), then you can bump up the intensity according to how you feel. Interval training with rest periods can be especially helpful for fat loss.
Overall, exercise needs to be enjoyable and not a form of punishment. Think of it less as a means to an end, and more of a lifestyle habit to keep you feeling your best! The most important piece is movement. It’s okay if you don’t feel like dedicating an hour, even a half hour, to a workout. Just make sure you move during the day, even if it means a few short walks and some stretch breaks at your desk!
The crucial missing piece: Take care of your whole self
Thyroid problems are more common in women, and while there isn’t one concrete reason, there are valid hypotheses. For one, we are more susceptible because of the impact of stress and our delicate hormonal balance. Women have a tendency to run themselves into the ground. We constantly take on more and more responsibilities. We care for everyone else before ourselves. And we can’t ignore the effects of constant social pressures to be and look perfect—we commonly have extensive histories of dieting and over-exercising.
All hormonal imbalances have a major stress and adrenal component. Physical, emotional, mental, and even social stressors have similar effects on the body and hormones. The pressures we feel and the way we handle them, has a significant impact on our health. Chronic stress and adrenal weakness are major contributors to thyroid problems, especially hypothyroidism.
Addressing adrenal issues is especially crucial to fixing thyroid weakness.
If you want to support thyroid health and therefore reach your weight loss goals, you must prioritize your wellbeing and practice self-care.
- Simplify your to-do list. Prioritize what’s most important and let go of things that don’t really matter. Do less, better. Say no more and slow down.
- Make sleep a priority. Aim for 8 hours at least, more if needed. If you can, take naps—even just 15 minutes can do wonders to restore your energy.
- Food prep and do simple cooking at home to alleviate the stress of what to eat, especially if you’re making new changes to your nutrition.
- Get outside! Getting fresh air and vitamin is amazing for your physical and mental health!
- Enjoy yourself. This means finding a healthy balance for nutritional indulgences, too! Have a glass or two of wine from time to time. Indulge in some delicious dark chocolate. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up over it!
- Manage your stress. We all have it, and it’s not going away. Yet there is plenty you can do to mitigate its negative effects and prevent them from building up. Try yoga or meditation. Do something every day that is enjoyable and helps you relax—read, take a bath, color, go for a hike! Whatever that is for you, make time for it daily.
Most importantly, take control of your health and wellbeing—not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, too! Health precedes fat loss—a healthy body that’s in balance will reach and maintain a healthy body weight much easier than one that’s stressed and dysfunctional.
If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, or suspect you may be affected, get the right tests and treatment to optimize your levels.
This will entail finding the right doctor. Unfortunately, many conventional MDs and even endocrinologists only know how to treat the thyroid with synthetic medications. While these work for many people, this is usually not the case. It may be in your best interest to find an integrative doctor, such as one who practices Naturopathic or Functional medicine. Finding someone who is holistic-minded and incorporates lifestyle, diet, and medication when needed, will be a huge help in your healing journey.
When looking for the right doctor, ask if he/she is uses T3 medication alone or in addition to T4, and if he/she is open to prescribing Natural Desiccated Thyroid (NDT), which has both T4 and T3 hormones. The right labs are also crucial to figuring out exactly what is going on with your thyroid. Ask for a complete thyroid panel that includes TSH, free and total T4, free and total T3, Reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies (TPO and TGAb).
Especially if you’re already on thyroid medication, make sure you’re getting routine blood-work to monitor your levels, since they can change. Your dosage or brand may need adjusting. Speak up and voice your concerns to your doctor!
So yes, you can achieve fat loss goals with hypothyroidism—but it will require that you optimize the health and function of your thyroid. You can do plenty on your own to boost your thyroid health, and that includes starting with the foundations of nutrition and lifestyle, and getting the right treatment. Find a doctor who is the right fit for you and be your own advocate!
And most importantly—be compassionate and patient with your body. It wants to be healthy, but it needs the right tools and the right time. Trust in your innate capacity to heal and rebalance. You will get there, I promise.
- Kim Jordan, NTP
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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.