It’s Hard but Not Impossible to Lose Weight If You Have Thyroid Problems
Why is it that so many thyroid patients struggle to lose weight?
One of the biggest reasons is that just about all of the standard weight loss advice doesn’t work if you have a thyroid problem.
If you spend your time restricting your calories and trying to out-exercise a bad diet, you’re going to end up causing more harm to your body and your thyroid.
So what should you do?
Are you destined to be overweight forever?
I’ve spent the last 7 years helping thyroid patients in just about every area you can think of and one of those areas is weight loss.
Below you will find some tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way.
Today you will learn:
- Why it’s so difficult for thyroid patients to lose weight
- Why the standard weight loss advice doesn’t work very well for thyroid patients
- The difference between the calorie-in-calorie-out model of weight loss and the hormone model of obesity and which one matters more if you have a thyroid problem
- How exercise impacts your thyroid
- The importance of time-restricted eating
- How supplements help you lose weight and which ones work best
- And much more…
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Foods to Avoid if you Have Thyroid Problems:
I’ve found that these 10 foods cause the most problems for thyroid patients. Learn which foods you should avoid if you have thyroid disease of any type.
The Complete List of Thyroid Lab tests:
The list includes optimal ranges, normal ranges, and the complete list of tests you need to diagnose and manage thyroid disease correctly!
9 Weight Loss Tips To Help You Lose Weight & Keep it Off
#1. Focus Less on Calories and More on Food Quality
The first thing you want to do is remove the need to focus and obsess over calories.
Most women have been taught that the key to losing weight is all about counting calories.
If the calories you consume are less than the amount you burn then you will lose weight, right?
In fact, this method of weight loss has about a 99% failure rate (1) even when done correctly.
And the failure rate is even higher for thyroid patients.
To make matters worse, calorie restriction makes thyroid function worse.
Sustained caloric restriction lowers T3 (2), raises reverse T3 (3), and lowers metabolism (4).
Put into perspective, one study (5) found that just 4 weeks of a very low-calorie diet (400 calories per day) dropped T3 levels by as much as 66%.
The same study showed that lower-calorie diets impact T3 levels as well with diets in the range of 1,000 calories per day reducing T3 levels by as much as 22%.
This might not be a huge issue if your thyroid rebounds rather quickly once you stop dieting but that’s not the case.
Damage to your thyroid sticks around for a long time even after you return to normal eating.
If you are someone without a thyroid problem then some of this damage can be absorbed and may not cause major issues (though it is enough to throw some people into hypothyroidism).
But guess what happens if your thyroid is already sluggish?
It makes your thyroid even more sluggish which makes your metabolism even worse.
The more you restrict your calories the worse your thyroid gets.
For this reason, I never recommend sustained calorie-restricted diets for weight loss if you have a thyroid problem.
So what can you do instead?
Focus less on your calories and more on the quality of your food.
So many people are looking for an easy path to weight loss and try to get there by buying processed foods that are low in calories.
This concept is so popular that entire weight loss brands are built around it.
There are plenty of businesses that provide you with low-calorie foods which are meant to keep you in a calorie deficit over a period of time.
And, unfortunately, many people fall for it.
I’m telling you right now, avoid these types of diets.
They will only make your thyroid worse and even though you may lose some weight initially, that weight will always come back and it will come back with a vengeance (6).
The tips that we are about to talk about should serve as a substitute for calorie restriction.
#2. Learn to Cook
If you don’t learn to cook then you will probably never lose weight.
It’s that simple.
Learning to cook is the skill that allows you to transform healthy foods into something that tastes delicious.
If something tastes delicious then you are more likely to eat it on a consistent basis and get the results you are looking for.
But you won’t get there if you can’t even stomach the foods you are trying to eat.
And let’s face it, if you are transitioning from a diet full of processed foods you are fighting an uphill battle trying to transition to whole foods.
Processed foods have been engineered to be irresistible.
From things like mouth feel (7) to added salt and sugar (8), they have been specifically created to be hyper-palatable (9).
Switching to healthy whole foods can feel dull or bland when you first make the transition.
But it doesn’t stay this way forever.
After a few weeks, your taste buds readjust (10) and you will find that whole foods have much more flavor than you originally thought.
But getting to the 2-4 week part can be difficult if you don’t even like the food that you are making.
Healthy foods do not have to be disgusting but part of making them taste good includes learning some basic cooking skills.
Let’s take an egg as an example:
You can poach, fry, hard boil, scramble, and soft boil an egg.
A skilled chef can cook an egg in at least 5 different ways and make them all taste amazing.
Each variation has a different texture, a different flavor profile, and brings variety to the same food making it easier to consume consistently.
I picked eggs here because I consider them to be one of nature’s multivitamins but you can apply this same principle to just about any real whole food.
You don’t have to memorize 100 different recipes as long as you master a few principles of cooking.
Doing this will allow you to stay on track and transform real whole foods into dishes that you can eat over and over again.
Spend some time learning about the basics of cooking!
Most of this can be done for free directly on youtube or pretty much any cooking channel or website.
#3. Get Healthy to Lose Weight (Not Lose Weight to Get Healthy)
This concept is confusing for a lot of people who have been told that in order to be healthy they must lose weight.
And while it is true that being overweight is an unhealthy state (11), losing weight doesn’t automatically make you healthy.
In fact, losing weight the wrong way can actually make you more unhealthy and lead to more weight gain down the line.
I’ve lost count of the number of women that I’ve seen who have told me that their crash diet or weight loss routine resulted in symptoms such as fatigue, hair loss (12), menstrual irregularities, hormone imbalances, thyroid problems, and so on.
Do these symptoms sound like someone that is healthy?
Not by a long shot.
Even though they are losing weight, they are causing more problems along the way.
Yes, technically they are losing weight as far as the scale is concerned but where that weight is coming from matters quite a bit.
If you lose a combination of both fat mass and muscle mass then your weight loss efforts are mostly in vain.
Your goal should be to lose fat mass while protecting and preserving lean muscle mass (13).
If you really want to lose weight, you need to get healthy first.
If you follow the tips outlined here, you can do just that.
Eating real whole foods, replacing nutrient deficiencies, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and practicing fasting can all help you get back to a healthy state.
As you get healthy you will find that your metabolism improves and that the weight comes off without giving it much effort.
Counterintuitively, if you want to lose weight you should focus less on losing weight and more on bringing balance to your lifestyle and body.
Avoid shortcuts and stick to a slow and steady plan that helps you remain consistent over months and years.
The only downside to healthy weight loss is that it’s not as fast or as sexy as crash diets.
A slow and steady 5-10 pounds of weight loss every month should be your goal.
If you do it the right way, the weight will stay off forever and won’t creep back up over time (this assumes that you change your lifestyle which we will discuss more below).
#4. Look at Other Hormones (Not Just Your Thyroid)
When it comes to weight loss there are 2 major theories:
The first is that weight loss all comes down to calories.
In this model (14), it doesn’t matter what type of food you eat so long as the number of calories you consume is less than the amount that you burn.
If that’s the case then you will lose weight.
The second is that weight loss is more about your hormones.
This model states that your hormones control and regulate the use of your calories, how much energy you are producing, and how your body stores or uses fat as an energy source.
In the hormone model of weight loss, calories are important but only insofar as they influence your hormones.
Healthy whole foods, for instance, can positively impact gut function, reduce inflammation, and balance hormones such as insulin and leptin.
People who believe in the hormone model of obesity are more likely to recommend diets such as the ketogenic diet (which is designed to impact insulin levels (15)) and those who believe in the calorie-in-calorie-out model are more likely to recommend calorie-restricted diets in the range of 500 calories to 1200 calories.
As a thyroid patient, it should be obvious which model is more important to you…
The one that focuses on your hormones!
Because thyroid hormone is responsible for regulating a huge portion of your metabolism.
It makes no sense to focus solely on calories when your major problem is a hormone imbalance.
In fact, as I’ve already mentioned, focusing on calories is a surefire way to make your thyroid worse which will only make losing weight more difficult.
In addition to focusing on your thyroid, you should also focus on other hormones that impact your ability to lose weight.
Among the most important include insulin and leptin.
Insulin resistance and leptin resistance both impair how well your body processes and utilizes fat, your appetite, and your ability to lose weight.
And because these hormones are often impacted by thyroid problems, there’s a good chance that they are contributing to your weight whether you realize it or not.
Learn more about leptin resistance here and insulin resistance here and their connection to your thyroid.
#5. Don’t Go on a Diet (Change your Lifestyle Instead)
If you want to lose weight and keep it off then you need to start thinking about your weight loss journey as more of a lifestyle change than something that you can just manage temporarily.
Based on my own experience helping thyroid patients lose weight, I can tell you that those who change their lifestyle are the ones who lose weight and keep it off.
If you hop on a fad diet, eat pre-processed foods, and temporarily restrict your calories for a few months, you probably will lose some weight.
But what do you think will happen when you go back to your normal eating habits (which I can almost guarantee WILL happen)?
You are going to regain all of that weight and then some.
If you don’t learn how to make behavioral changes, learn how to cook, take time to figure out what foods your body likes, and make sure you are taking care of other important aspects of your life such as improving your sleep and reducing stress, then what good have you done?
Yo-yo dieting and fluctuations in your weight are NOT ideal for your body.
It sends your hormones into disarray, impairs thyroid function, and will only cause more harm than good in the long run.
Changing your lifestyle is the only way to lose weight and keep it off.
#6. You Can’t Out Exercise a Bad Diet but Exercise Does Help
Another common weight loss tactic that people try to use to lose weight quickly is that of overexercising.
This idea is really an offshoot of the calories-in-calories-out model of weight loss and suggests that you can lose weight by not only lowering your calories but also by increasing how many calories your body burns daily.
In theory, it makes sense.
But it can be taken to the extreme when people believe that exercise allows them to eat whatever they want.
Want to eat a piece of cake or a cookie?
No problem, just hop on the treadmill for an hour to burn off an extra 100 calories.
Unfortunately, as you might have already suspected, it doesn’t work that way, especially not for thyroid patients.
This theory misses out on the impact that exercise has on your hormones (both for better and for worse).
Exercise, if done correctly, can actually improve how well your thyroid works.
It can reduce stress, help you sleep, and even reduce cortisol.
But what happens when you take it to the extreme?
It does the exact opposite.
Overexercising damages your thyroid, increases cortisol, and may impair your sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone (think about high-level athletes who may experience menstrual problems (16) due to their exercise routines and diet).
The exercise model of weight loss also fails to take into account the impact that your diet has on your hormones.
If you think you can eat tons of sugary processed carbs and then exercise it off, well then you’ve failed to understand diseases such as insulin resistance.
These diseases, once present, are perpetuated by processed foods and sugary carbs!
The best way to eliminate them (and lose weight long-term) is to use both exercise and a healthy diet simultaneously.
#7. Don’t Obsess Over the Scale, Use Measurements Instead
This has more to do with monitoring your progress but is still important to understand.
Many people who are trying to lose weight have an almost obsessive compulsion to check their weight far more often than they should.
These people will check the scale at least one time per day and sometimes more than once per day.
There’s a big problem with that:
Your weight will naturally fluctuate day to day and even hour to hour!
And most of the factors that influence your weight on a daily basis consist of things like fluid shifts, water intake, stool frequency, and so on.
These aren’t really important to know because they don’t give you a metric on the most important thing that you want to track:
Your fat mass.
When you check the scale you are really hoping to see how much fat you have lost.
But the scale is one of the worst ways to track this measurement.
Instead, the scale tracks everything all at once including important factors such as fat mass and muscle mass but also unimportant factors such as fluid shifts and stool mass.
If you are checking the scale daily then you may get confusing information that may lead you to make wrong decisions about your weight loss routine.
It’s very common for people who are first starting out on a healthy weight loss journey to both lose fat mass and build muscle mass simultaneously (17).
From the perspective of the scale, it may not budge but in reality, you are doing exactly what your body needs.
But if you only focus on the scale, you may give up prematurely and stop something that is actually working for you.
A better way to monitor your progress is by taking measurements of your body.
Taking measurements of your waist, hips, thighs, breast, and arms, will give you much more data than just checking the scale.
It also has the added benefit of forcing you to not constantly obsess over the scale because you really don’t need to check your measurements more than once or twice per month.
You can learn how to take measurements for weight loss here.
If you want to take it a step further then I would recommend combining measurements with a set of pictures every month.
You will be able to more fully appreciate body recomposition (losing fat while building muscle) in picture form as opposed to just pure numbers and measurements.
#8. Time-Restricted Eating (Fasting) Can Help
Time-restricted eating (AKA fasting) is somewhat of a controversial topic among researchers and scientists.
I’ll explain why this controversy is silly in a minute, but for now, let’s talk more about the basics of fasting.
Fasting is just going without food for a set period of time.
There are many different ways to do this ranging from intermittent fasting to prolonged fasting to one-meal-a-day (18) to set eating hours in the day and so on.
All of these methods have one thing in common:
You avoid eating food for a set and specific period of time.
So why the controversy?
Well, from the perspective of the calorie-in-calorie-out crowd, they don’t believe that fasting has any benefit (19) over simply reducing your calories.
They claim that fasting is another gimmick that attempts to reduce overall calorie consumption (which is partially true).
On the hormone theory of obesity side, they will claim that there is something uniquely beneficial about fasting because of its impact on hormones in the body, its ability to reduce inflammation, and its impact on cellular health.
In essence, they both agree that it can be beneficial but for different reasons and that’s why it’s a silly controversy.
In addition to these two groups, there are some who state that fasting can be harmful or damaging to the body.
Avoiding food for a set period of time is enough to cause further imbalance in your hormones and may be harmful, especially to women (20).
Again, the truth is somewhere in between.
If taken to the extreme, fasting can certainly be harmful and mimic the effects of a calorie-restricted diet.
If done correctly, fasting allows you to take advantage of the benefits while avoiding any negative consequences.
For this reason, time-restricted eating (or fasting) is something that you should spend some time playing around with.
As you experiment with fasting, you will find some method that works best for your body.
When you do, stick to it and don’t listen to the naysayers.
My personal experience suggests that fasting (when done correctly) is very helpful for reversing conditions such as insulin resistance and leptin resistance and can help thyroid patients lose weight more quickly.
#9. Use Supplements to Help You Stay on Track
Lastly, we have to touch on the topic of supplements and how they can assist with weight loss.
There are a ton of gimmicky weight loss supplements and fat burners that are marketed to people who are trying to lose weight.
Unfortunately, many of these supplements are full of hype, fake promises, and marketing and low on actual results.
I’m sure everyone reading this has tried some weight loss supplement because the promises are sometimes too good to resist.
After all, who doesn’t want to lose weight by taking a pill without putting in the work and effort required to change your lifestyle, exercise regularly, or learn how to cook?
These marketing messages are quite tempting.
Having said that, this way of viewing weight loss supplements is all wrong.
Yes, weight loss supplements can help but only if they are used correctly and only if you understand how they can help you.
Weight loss supplements should be used as a SUPPLEMENT to everything else that you are already doing!
In order to be effective, they should do a few things very well…
- Help you stay on track with your diet!
- Help you have energy levels to maintain your exercise routine (adrenal adaptogens and adrenal glandulars can help here)
- Help you get quality sleep (gentle sleep aid supplements can help if sleep is an issue for you)
- Help you build muscle mass more efficiently (quality protein powder does this very well)
- Help manage food cravings (natural appetite suppressants can help)
- Help improve other systems in your body such as gut health and liver health (glucomannan and propolmannon are great for this)
- Help reverse hormone imbalances (such as leptin resistance and insulin resistance)
When used correctly, they supplement your lifestyle changes but they should never be taken by themselves without any other effort put in on your end.
Want to see a list of the most effective weight loss supplements? Check out this article.
See Examples of Other Thyroid Patients Who Have Lost Weight
If you are new to many of the concepts listed here then a lot of this may sound confusing.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could see some examples of these therapies in action?
If you want to see some case studies of real thyroid patients who have lost weight using these principles you can do so below:
- 20 pounds of weight loss and 3 inches lost over 3 months
- 50 pounds of weight loss
- 42 pounds of weight loss over several months
- 50 pounds lost in a Hashimoto’s patient with half a thyroid
These examples are helpful because they should you real-world examples of thyroid patients who have lost weight and kept it off.
Having a thyroid problem does make losing weight more difficult but it doesn’t have to be impossible.
Following the traditional weight loss recommendations of doctors and nutritionists typically doesn’t work for thyroid patients.
Instead of focusing on calories, spend your time focusing on your hormones.
Spend your time improving your lifestyle, learning to cook, figuring out which exercises work best for your body, and how to time restrict your eating.
These skills are far more beneficial and will help you get down to your target weight.
Now I want to hear from you:
Did you find these tips helpful?
Are there any other tips or tricks that you would include on this list?
Are you someone who has successfully lost weight and kept it off for more than 1 year?
Is there anything you are confused about?
Leave your questions or comments below!