People are Gaining Weight at an Alarming Rate
And alarming is kind of an understatement.
I've heard all sorts of reports including:
- 50% of women report gaining weight during quarantine
- 91% of people are staying home more than before COVID-19
- At least 22% of people (1) report gaining 5-10 pounds
- 59% of people blame their weight gain on a lack of exercise
- 21% blame weight gain on an increase in alcohol consumption
No one knows for sure how much weight has been added to the population during this time but we know for sure that it's not a small number.
I'm not as concerned with the exact figure so much as I am concerned with the trend.
And, more specifically, how this trend of weight gain impacts thyroid patients as a whole.
My focus has always been in helping thyroid patients navigate their condition and this weight gain, coined the quarantine 15, poses a special problem for thyroid patients.
And that's exactly what we are going to talk about today. We will discuss:
- Why the quarantine 15 is terrible for thyroid patients (more so than other people)
- Why you need to pay attention to your weight gain and take care of it ASAP
- Why thyroid patients are more susceptible to weight gain
- The nonlinear scaling problem of fat loss that thyroid patients will face in the future
- The short term and long term consequences of the quarantine 15 on thyroid patients
- And more...
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The Quarantine 15 is Bad for Thyroid Patients
While weight gain is obviously a problem for everyone, I want to pay special attention to thyroid patients.
Thyroid patients are unique in that they already suffer from issues that make losing weight more difficult than the regular person.
Because of this, they are also much more susceptible to weight gain from causes that would only pose minor problems for healthy individuals.
The current climate has set up a terrible situation in which weight gain is not only rampant among everyone but also common.
But thyroid patients are most affected due to their thyroid condition.
Many thyroid patients live in a state in which their weight hangs in a tenuous balance.
Minor disturbances, such as changes in stress levels, have always caused problems for thyroid patients.
But, until now, these stressors were mostly limited to individuals and not seen on the scale that we are currently experiencing.
Not only are thyroid patients much more likely to gain weight from minor disturbances, it's also much more difficult for them to lose weight once they gain it.
3 Reasons you Need to Get your Weight Off ASAP (or Prevent it From Happening)
If I could give you one piece of advice it would be to take your weight seriously.
I know you probably think of it as a problem and something that you want to get rid of, but are you taking it seriously enough that you will be aggressive in getting it off?
The longer extra weight sits on your body the more difficult it becomes to lose.
The more weight that you gain the more difficult it becomes to lose even a few pounds.
And having a thyroid issue exacerbates both problems...
#1. Weight loss is always more difficult when you have thyroid problems.
As a thyroid patient, you are probably well aware that it is already difficult to lose weight.
But, unsurprisingly, this fact is lost on some thyroid patients and even many doctors.
Thyroid patients are often told that their thyroid can't possibly be the cause of their weight gain if their TSH is normal.
I call this the thyroid weight gain paradox and have debunked this claim in previous articles.
What you need to know here is that your thyroid absolutely plays an important role in regulating your weight.
It almost single-handedly controls your metabolism (2) and is responsible for sending signals to your brain which impact fat-storing hormones and appetite.
And because so many thyroid patients are undertreated (this is especially true if you are basing your management on simple tests such as the TSH), this important regulatory system is not functioning at 100%.
And managing your weight will ALWAYS be a problem if your thyroid is not optimized.
This problem is two-fold:
The first is that you will more easily pack on weight compared to people without thyroid problems.
And second that your weight loss will be more difficult compared to people without thyroid problems.
#2. Stress affects your thyroid negatively.
The reasons for gaining weight right now are not limited to stress, but stress is certainly playing a big role as you will see below.
It's well known that stress impacts certain people more than others and thyroid patients are among the people that feel the impact quite strongly.
Stress, in all its forms, is important to thyroid patients because of the impact that it also has on thyroid function (3).
It limits your ability to activate thyroid hormone, negatively impacts free thyroid hormone levels as well as the TSH, and causes direct problems with cortisol.
The culmination of these effects is an excess of weight gain which is mediated through the stress response.
Simply put the more stress you are under as a thyroid patient the more weight you will gain.
#3. The more weight you gain the more difficult it is to get off
One of the most concerning aspects of weight gain, for anyone but this is especially true for thyroid patients, is that the difficulty in getting the weight off scales with your weight gain.
Let me explain what I mean:
Imagine that you are someone who only gained 5 pounds during quarantine.
No big deal, right?
All you have to do is clean up your diet and up your activity level and you should be good to go right?
Yes, generally this is true.
But what about the person who gains 15 pounds?
Is it as easy as just cleaning up your diet and increasing your activity level?
And the answer is no.
The more weight that you gain the more difficult it is to get that weight off.
And I don't mean in a simple linear way.
You might think that you only have to work 3x as hard to get the 15 pounds off as you would the extra 5 pounds.
After all, 15 is just 3x more than 5.
But it doesn't scale that way.
Instead, the difficulty in losing weight is nonlinear.
Losing that 15 pounds are not 3x as hard as losing 5 pounds, it's more like 5x or 6x as difficult.
And this only scales in the wrong direction the more weight you gain.
Why does this occur?
Because of the impact that weight gain has on inflammatory levels, leptin levels, other hormone levels, and even your thyroid.
The body can easily handle a few extra pounds of weight. But once that weight gets up to the 10-15 pound range, it starts to cause extra problems that are more difficult to treat.
This phenomenon is responsible for the perpetual weight gain that so many women (and men) suffer from, especially thyroid patients.
Thyroid patients have the added problem of thyroid problems which complicates the picture even further.
What I want you to take away from this is that you should be aggressive in your desire and effort to lose weight.
The last thing that you want to do is to become complacent with your current weight and think that you can tackle it at a later time.
If you are overweight then you need to spend time and energy RIGHT NOW to solve the problem.
It will only become more difficult the longer you wait and that difficultly doesn't scale in your favor.
What is Causing This Weight Gain?
The cause of weight gain is often not as clear cut as people may think.
Depending on who you ask, you'll probably hear something like:
People are gaining weight because they aren't moving as much and they are eating more.
And while both of these things are true, there are more factors at play.
And these factors may be more important than diet and exercise.
We know, for instance, that the quarantine 15 is triggered by these problems:
- An increased level of stress - Stress triggers changes in eating habits and causes weight gain by itself.
- Inadequate sleep (4) - Lack of sleep results in increased snacking, increased cortisol, reduced thyroid hormone, and insulin resistance.
- Changes in eating behavior (due to stress, hormones, and boredom)
- Changes in exercise activity - Obviously, people aren't able to be as active as they once were
- Existing risk factors - Such as already being overweight and having thyroid problems before quarantine started
You will notice that diet and exercise definitely are playing a role in this weight gain but I wouldn't put them front and center.
More important, at least for thyroid patients, is the impact that stress and lack of sleep have on thyroid function.
These two areas trigger a cascade of reactions which ultimately lead to further thyroid problems and weight gain through damage to the thyroid system.
Unfortunately, a lack of sleep and the impact of stress are not given the same weight as diet and exercise.
But I would recommend that all thyroid patients pay very close attention to these areas if their goal is to lose weight.
Short Term vs Long Term Consequences of the Quarantine 15
What does this extra weight gain mean for thyroid patients in the short-term?
The short term consequences will be relatively mild.
Your body will be able to handle a small amount of weight gain as long as you are able to take care of it relatively quickly.
You may require some small changes in your thyroid dosing but this may not be necessary if you catch it early enough.
Managing the triggers of the quarantine 15 to manage your weight will be most important.
The long-term consequences are going to be a little different.
For those who do not take the weight gain seriously, and who are not taking steps to prevent extra weight gain, they will have big problems down the line.
The extra weight gain in a thyroid patient will require changes to their thyroid medication.
The more weight you have on your body, the more thyroid hormone you need (generally).
And because many thyroid patients are not able to get into their doctor for adjustments to their medication, this will probably lead to further weight gain as they are slow to get the medication changes that they need.
Weight gain, in the long-term, is associated with higher rates of depression, a higher risk of developing infections (including COVID), and other complications.
In addition, we will probably also see a big rush into various types of diets and other weight loss therapies.
My recommendation if you have gained the quarantine 15 is to find out exactly what is triggering your weight gain and solve that problem as soon as possible.
Once managed, you should take steps to lose weight in a healthy way that will result in sustained long-term weight loss.
You can do this by optimizing your thyroid, treating additional hormone imbalances (if you have any), finding the right type of diet for your body, and ensuring that you exercise in a way that doesn't damage your thyroid.
Thyroid patients are in a tough situation right now.
They are more susceptible to weight gain and any extra weight that they gain will be more difficult to lose.
Just understanding why this happens is of benefit to you, however, as it may help you prevent further weight gain and problems down the line.
Now I want to hear from you:
Have you gained weight during quarantine?
Have you noticed any changes in your thyroid symptoms?
Have you been able to get into your doctor to get your labs tested or thyroid medication adjusted?
Have you been successful in losing weight? If so, what has worked for you?
Leave your questions or comments below!
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