Maintaining a healthy weight can be a struggle when you’re living with hypothyroidism. These tips can help you shed unwanted pounds — and keep them off.
Healthy foods, controlled portion sizes, and regular exercise — these are key components to losing weight. But if you have hypothyroidism, your underactive thyroid gland may also play a role.
If hypothyroidism is inadequately treated it can be harder to lose weight, since the thyroid is a large regulator of metabolic function. (Weight gain is often the first noticeable symptom of low thyroid.) The most important thing you can do — for weight loss and for your overall health — is to get proper treatment for your hypothyroidism. However, making a few dietary changes may help boost weight loss success. Losing weight is never easy, but people who have well-controlled hypothyroidism shouldn’t struggle to lose weight more than anyone else, says Leonor Corsino, MD, an endocrinologist at the Duke Center for Metabolic and Weight Loss Surgery in Durham, North Carolina.
Use these six strategies to jump-start weight loss with hypothyroidism.
1. Cut Out Simple Carbs and Sugars
Kelly Austin, ND, a naturopathic doctor specializing in hormone disorders and the director of the Prime Wellness Clinic in San Diego, recommends a moderate- to low-carbohydrate diet that focuses on complex carbohydrates (think starchy vegetables and legumes) and avoids simple sugars (pass on the candy and soda). According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, foods with a high a glycemic load (like refined grain products and sugary drinks) may increase inflammation in the body. But Dr. Austin stresses the importance of eating enough calories because "low calories can cause a stress response and result in decreased T3 [the active thyroid hormone triiodothyronine] production,” she says.
2. Eat More Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Anti-inflammatory foods can help ease joint aches and pains as well as depression, all of which can result from hypothyroidism, Austin says. And anti-inflammatory foods can help soothe the immune system, which is often in overdrive in people with hypothyroidism, says Tina Beaudoin, ND, the president of the New Hampshire Association of Naturopathic Doctors and medical director of HealthStrong Integrative Medicine in Manchester, New Hampshire. “An anti-inflammatory diet can help calm the immune system and excessive inflammation, and support adequate intake of the essential nutrients needed for healthy thyroid function, including magnesium, B vitamins, zinc, selenium, iron, and vitamin C,” Dr. Beaudoin says. Leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, fatty fish, nuts, fruit, and olive oil are all good foods to battle inflammation. And this diet decreases the burden on the liver to metabolize highly processed foods, she notes. “Healthy liver function is essential because the liver is responsible for converting 60 percent of T4 [the thyroid hormone thyroxine] to T3,” Beaudoin explains.
3. Stick to Small, Frequent Meals
Hypothyroidism slows digestive function, notes Beaudoin. “Eating smaller, more frequent meals with balanced macronutrients — quality proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats — supports balanced blood sugar and helps avoid the highs and lows of oversized, highly processed meals," she says.
4. Keep a Food Diary
Your daily caloric intake can quickly skyrocket unless you log everything you eat and drink, Dr. Corsino says. It can also help ensure that you’re eating a balanced diet. “Keeping a food journal is important for someone with hypothyroidism to track their macronutrient intake,” Austin says. “A diet high in healthy fats, moderate proteins, and moderate to low carbohydrates is best for thyroid function.”
5. Move Your Body
Exercise is an important complement to a healthy diet in order to help burn calories, Corsino says. But consider the individual case, Austin says. “If a person is terribly fatigued, exercise can further suppress hypothyroidism," Austin says. "If a person has properly managed their hypothyroid and has the energy, exercise is encouraged.”
6. Take Thyroid Medication as Directed
Thyroid hormone should be taken on an empty stomach first thing in the morning with plenty of water, Corsino says. Don’t take it with any other medications and wait at least 30 to 60 minutes before eating breakfast. If your thyroid level still isn't where it should be when you take your medication properly, it could be affecting your ability to lose weight. Talk with your doctor about treatment adjustments that might be right for you.