The Thyroid: Little Gland Causing Big Weight Problems

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Over the past few months it seems as through a number of my clients are struggling with hormonal and/or thyroid problems. I’ve found myself doing a ton of research on this just to educate myself and to help my clients find some answers. If anyone has encountered the same, I’d love to hear about it.

Would you know if your thyroid gland slowed its production of thyroid hormone? The symptoms of decreased thyroid hormone synthesis, known as hypothyroidism, are hard to spot. About 10 million Americans have thyroid disease and many others are undiagnosed, under-diagnosed, or under-treated.  Many times the symptoms—including weakness and fatigue, weight gain, persistent constipation, or thinning hair—are often mistaken as other illnesses or simply the progression of aging.

Our thyroids stores and produces hormones that affect the function of virtually every organ in our bodies. The hormones produced by the thyroid gland, T3 and T4, regulate the body’s metabolism by providing cells with energy they need to function. When your thyroid does not produce enough of these hormones, the balance of chemical reactions in your body can be upset and many times results in a slowed metabolism.

If levels of thyroid hormones are low, you burn fewer calories per day AKA clients will begin to put on weight and have no idea what’s happening even if they have been consistent with their eating and work out programs.  An underactive thyroid makes every calorie count more, sometimes double. It makes losing weight a slower and more challenging and frustrating process.

When helping your client(s) manage thyroid challenges here are 6 tips.

  1. Check in with their doctors —  If they are experiencing the symptoms of hypothyroidism, it’s essential to they get proper treatment from your physician or naturopath. Diagnosis through a blood test will determine if what is needed to help normalize your thyroid. Your client may also want to ask to have their c-reactive protein and cortisol levels checked out  It’s important to note that doctors may help your clients normalize hormone levels, but they won’t necessarily cause you to lose weight. Diet and lifestyle changes must still be followed to help shed the pounds (more about this below).
  2. Avoid foods that hinder thyroid hormone absorption — When taking thyroid hormones, it’s important to avoid certain foods and nutrients that can interfere with absorption. For example, dietary calcium or iron can inhibit thyroid hormone absorption. For this reason, many doctors recommend taking thyroid medication immediately upon rising and two to three hours apart from consuming calcium- or iron-containing foods. Be sure to do your research as some calcium- and iron-containing foods and supplements may be surprising such as antacids, calcium-fortified orange juice, and multivitamins.It’s also important to avoid foods that can interfere with thyroid function, which are designated as goitrogenic foods. Common goitrogenic foods include non-fermented soy foods, legumes such as lima beans, and raw cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Preparation methods, such as cooking or fermentation, reduce the amount of goitrogens in these foods.
  3. Eat balanced meals with quality protein — The greatest contributor to basal metabolic rate (BMR)—the rate that your body burns calories—is muscle tissue. Even when you are at rest (such as sleeping), muscle requires energy to rebuild and restore. For this reason, it’s beneficial to preserve muscle when you’re trying to lose weight. Meals higher in protein compared to other macronutrients (carbohydrates and fats) have shown to help maintain muscle mass resulting in a higher BMR, faster metabolism, and greater energy expenditure (1;2). The thermogenic effect of food aka  the digestion and absorption of protein—requires more calories than both fat and carbohydrate combined (2).
  4. Choose calories wisely — When trying to lose weight, every calorie counts. This is even more emphasized when dealing with a sluggish metabolism. It’s important to limit “empty” calories such as sugary drinks, white-flour pastas and breads, and other sources of refined carbohydrates that can quickly spike blood sugar and leave you feeling hungry and fatigued.Instead of refined carbohydrates, choose portion-controlled meals that are higher in dietary fiber to help satisfy your appetite and keep you feeling fuller, longer. In addition to curbing cravings, a high-fiber diet can help avoid hypothyroidism-induced constipation as dietary fiber is an important bulking agent for solidifying and softening stools.
  5. Get moving, even if it is only for a short time — The fatigue that often accompanies hypothyroidism can hamper motivation to exercise; however, physical activity—especially resistance training— is a major contributor to metabolic stimulation and muscle growth, which can fuel weight loss. If time and motivation to exercise are challenging for your clients have them give high-intensity interval training (HITT) a try.
  6. Make sure you are getting sufficient vitamins and minerals dailyA diet supplying sufficient amounts of minerals such as iodine and selenium is important for thyroid health. Sources of iodine include iodized salt and sea vegetables such as kelp. It may seem like we should be getting enough iodine from a typical salty Western diet; however, many processed foods do not use iodized salt. Sources of selenium include animal products, seafood, dairy, and Brazil nuts.Evidence has been showing that vitamin D is particularly important for those with thyroid problems and other autoimmune disorders. Those with thyroid disease may be at greater risk for low vitamin D levels (4,5). Because of the many roles vitamin D plays in the body—from  bone health to brain health—it’s important to be sure you are getting enough through your diet, supplementation, or by soaking up the sun’s UVB rays. If you choose the latter, be sure to practice safe sun exposure.
  7. Get enough quality shut-eyeGetting enough quality sleep is important for anyone attempting to lose weight, it’s especially important for those with hypothyroidism. Too often, people who are sleep-deprived try to increase levels of alertness by eating and those foods tend to be high-calorie options. This cycle of fatigue and self-medicating with unhealthy foods can be disastrous for your clients waist line and health.In addition to feeling tired and making bad food choices, sleep deprivation can decrease insulin sensitivity and essentially cause a metabolic meltdown. On average, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

References:

  1. Soenen S, et al. Normal Protein Intake Is Required for Body Weight Loss and Weight Maintenance, and Elevated Protein Intake for Additional Preservation of Resting Energy Expenditure and Fat Free Mass. J Nutr. 2013 Feb 27. doi: 10.3945/jn.112.167593
  2. Westerterp-Plantenga MS, et al. Dietary protein – its role in satiety, energetics, weight loss and health. Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug;108 Suppl 2:S105-12. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512002589.
  3. Shiraev T, Barclay G. Evidence based exercise – clinical benefits of high intensity interval training. Aust Fam Physician. 2012 Dec;41(12):960-2.
  4. Kivity S, Agmon-Levin N, Zisappl M et al. Vitamin D and autoimmune thyroid diseases. Cell Mol Immunol 2011;[8:24]3-7. doi: 10.1038/cmi.2010.73
  5. Bozkurt NC, Karbek B, Ucan B et al. The Association Between Severity of Vitamin D Deficiency and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Endocr Pract 2013;1-14.
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