HOW TO RECOGNIZE ISSUES, TREAT AND STAY ON THE WEIGHT LOSS TRACK
Having an issue with your thyroid is one of those things that you just assume will never happen to you. I never thought I would have issues after years of fantastic lab results. But according to the American Thyroid Association (ATA) around 12% of the US population will get some sort of thyroid condition during their lifetime and an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid issues and up to 60% of them has no idea they have a problem. I think this deserves a discussion, so let's talk thyroid.
Having a working thyroid is particularly important for people pursuing fitness goals as it has strong links to weight management. In fact, the purpose of the thyroid hormone is to control and regulate our metabolic rate. Recent research results suggest that having an under active thyroid (hypothyroidism) may be linked to obesity, however more studies are needed to confirm causation.
Until we have more scientific evidence understanding the symptoms of thyroid related diseases and how they may affect your weight loss goals can give you the peace of mind you need to stay patient and stick to your plan. Leaving thyroid issues undiagnosed can lead to severe symptoms and a wide range of problems you take for being stressed out when you may need medical help.
Here are some signs to look out for, and believe me, having gone through my own hormonal rollercoaster I can confirm that knowing the background story takes away that extra stress of not understanding what's going on. Let's dig in.
Signs Of Thyroid Dysfunction
There are many symptoms that may indicate that you’ve got a dysfunctional thyroid gland. A very common one is that you start to feel more fatigued than usual, and very often have muscle aches and pains. You may also start feeling depressed and anxious, with unexplained weight gain or weight loss. Mood swings become a daily companion and you become sensitive to cold or hot weather. Libido problems could also be a consequence of hormonal problems.
There are two main problems that can occur with your thyroid. It can be either be overactive (hyper) or under active (hypo). Hyperthyroidism can also cause a sensation of restlessness and several physiological symptoms like loss of hair, loose nails or a swelling in your neck.
Experiencing only one or two of the above symptoms can distract from a normal life but if you have a few of these, I recommend you pay a visit to your doc to get a blood test done.
Hypo vs Hyper
While both of these conditions indicate an issue with your thyroid, they’re significantly different in the way they affect your metabolism. When you have hypothyroidism, it means your metabolic rate slows down. This is why you gain weight - or struggle to lose it - because your metabolism just can’t speed up to a normal rate.
On the contrary, hyperthyroidism sends your metabolism into overdrive which results in excessive and unhealthy weight loss.
The easiest way to test if you have either of these problems is to get some blood tests done. While most doctors will only look at your TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), I would encourage you to get a full thyroid panel completed that includes TSH, free T3, free T4, and thyroid antibodies. Then ask for the results, including the exact numbers and take that to an endocrinologist or integrative physician specialized in thyroid problems to review.
Treating Thyroid Dysfunction
It’s worth noting that hypothyroidism is the more common of the two, and usually affects a lot of women. Thankfully, treating issues with your thyroid isn’t that complex and technical. Your best option is to see a hormone specialist, as they’re the ones that spend all their time looking at things like the thyroid gland and how to regulate hormones in your body.
Be prepared that it’s not going to be a quick fix; there are no magic pills that will automatically sort your problem out. Instead, it’s going to require a lot of testing and trying out different things. Trust me on this. You may supplement certain foods into your diet, or get rid of others. Your hormone specialist will sort it all out for you and eventually you’ll reach a point where you know exactly what helps your body produce more thyroid hormone - if yours is under active - or less if yours is overactive.
Needless to say that discovering you have a thyroid problem can be a real bummer. However, the best advice I can give is to avoid any delay and see a specialist right away. Diagnose your issue, then work on improving your hormonal imbalance!
Weight Loss with Hypo
I am not going to lie, it may be a real challenge. What's even worse is that the more extra weight you carry, the worse effect it has on your hormones and the more imbalanced they may become.
In short, it's a vicious cycle. You need to lose weight to help your body to get the balance back, but without balanced hormones losing the excess weight is much harder.
Let's make something clear though. Yes, you may have slower metabolism due to your hypo, but if you are able to consistently stay in a calorie deficit, you will lose weight. It may be slower than you expect, but you will. The bigger problem is when your hypo is not managed or you don't even know about it. All that stress, fatigue and mood swings will make it so much harder to stick to a plan long-term, even if it's not a very strict one. That's when you end up yo-yo dieting and program hopping.
I totally get it, I have been there and I am here to tell you there is a way out. You just need to persevere and cling onto the smallest win to plough through. You will win.
I am a wife, mom, grandma & former professional “diet and exercise hopper" who understands the challenges of being 40lb overweight after having children & the damage repeated sense of failure can cause to your confidence and self-esteem.