Hypothyroidism and Your Weight

When your thyroid hormone levels go down, the number on your scale sometimes goes up. But there are lots of ways you can take control of your weight.

Thyroid and Your Weight

Your thyroid gland sends hormones into the bloodstream that help regulate metabolism -- the process that controls how your body uses energy. When you don’t make enough of these hormones, it slows down.

That puts the brakes on body functions. You might feel cold, tired, or sluggish. Your body may also hang on to salt and water, which causes bloating.

You might put on a few pounds -- but not too many. Only about 10% of your total weight gain is likely due to the water and salt that your body keeps because of hypothyroidism.

If extra weight is the only symptom left standing after thyroid medication brings your hormone levels back to normal, hypothyroidism probably isn't directly to blame for it.

"People with hypothyroidism often have gained quite a bit of weight before their diagnosis," says nutrition coach Cheryl Harris, RD. "They may experience fatigue, and that makes it harder to have the energy to eat well and exercise regularly."

Weight Management Tips

If you have hypothyroidism and the start of treatment gets your weight where it should be, you may still find a challenge ahead. Even after your thyroid levels go back to the normal range, Harris says, many people still find it hard to stay at a healthy weight.

The best plan for reaching your weight goal is to focus on the things you can control:

Exercise regularly: "Exercise is a great way to boost metabolism, strengthen bones, build muscle, manage stress, and improve [heart] health," Harris says.

If you're a beginner, she suggests that you start with a daily walk (using a pedometer to track your progress) and gentle yoga.

Curb your stress: Regular stress can lead to a cycle of poor eating choices, fatigue, and depression.

When you’re under stress, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Too much of this can interfere with the production of your thyroid hormone. Pay attention to the things that cause you stress and try to avoid them.

Get enough sleep. Getting shut-eye can pack a big health punch.

"Sleep is the body's time to take care of repair and maintenance in the body, and it's essential for weight loss and overall health," Harris says.

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Balanced Diet

Healthy eating is an important part of your weight management plan.

"Getting proper nutrition supports weight loss and also helps with heart health, blood sugar concerns, and cholesterol problems that often are part of hypothyroidism," Harris says.

Eat lean proteins: Stick to one serving of fish, poultry, eggs, or beans for each meal.

Have more vegetables: "Veggies stabilize blood sugar and are low in calories," Harris says. Think salads, raw veggies, and veggie soups.

Plan healthy snacks. Set yourself up to succeed by planning ahead. Stock up on fruit, nuts, and yogurt.

Avoid high-dose iodine supplements: "There's lots of hype about high-dose iodine supplements like kelp curing hypothyroidism, but this can actually trigger more acute thyroid problems," Harris says.

Above all, remember this: Slow, smart, and steady wins the race when it comes to weight loss.

"Sometimes in an effort to lose weight, people cut their calories too far, and this often causes plateaus and yo-yoing between undereating and overeating," Harris says. "Thyroid levels can take 3 to 6 months to return to a normal level. Generally, weight loss of a pound a week is achievable and sustainable."

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on December 29, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

The National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service: "Hypothyroidism."

University of Michigan Health System: "Hypothyroidism."

Kenneth D. Burman, MD, chief of endocrinology and metabolism, Georgetown University, Washington, DC.

American Thyroid Association: "Hypothyroidism," "Thyroid and Weight."

Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD, Fairfax, VA.

National Academy of Hypothyroidism: "Deiodinases."

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