At Hypothyroid Mom I hear all types of thyroid stories. This one may very well be the story of your thyroid life too. It’s the story of a woman who finally got healthy and lost the stubborn weight that just wouldn’t budge by taking a good look beyond her thyroid.
Written by Sophie Anson
For ten years I was under the care of various doctors for hypothyroidism. It all began in my late 30’s when, after having been treated for Lyme disease, I suddenly found I was unable to walk the two blocks to my daughter’s school to pick her up. A couple of the doctors I saw were convinced I had thyroid resistance – and as a result I was on such a high dose of thyroid replacement hormone, that they also wanted me on beta blockers. I became a slave to medicine three times a day and as a result became afraid to travel, for fear I’d forget my medicine. Even the most mundane outing would be interrupted by watch alarms and pill taking. I spent far, far too much time surfing the internet looking for people like me, to justify things to myself. I was exhausted and fearful that if I missed even a single dose, something terrible would happen. I’m not alone.
It was under these circumstances that I sought out my current endocrinologist who spent over an hour examining all the paths I’d taken leading me to where I was when I walked in her door. She explained that although my symptoms presented as hypothyroidism (exhaustion, low energy, heart palpitations) it was highly likely there were other things going on: insomnia, anxiety, hormone imbalance. Out of desperation and having exhausted all other options, I decided to trust her judgment, and my life changed dramatically for the better. Fast forward a year, I am on the lowest possible dose of thyroid medication (20 times less than I was taking!) and am sleeping a solid eight hours a night, with greater energy, more lean muscle mass, and importantly, just one pill.
Thyroid Medication & Body Fat
I am not a doctor so I will explain to the best of my ability. Bear in mind it is essential to consult the kind of doctor who will take the time to explain your particular situation.
So often it seems, when you gain weight, feel tired and depressed or anxious, lose your hair or have heavy periods, doctors leap to blame your thyroid. But, if you start to overmedicate a thyroid that doesn’t need so much support, you can end up in a catabolic state: cannibalizing your own lean mass and getting fatter and fatter in terms of body fat percentage even though your overall weight may stay the same or indeed even drop. Make no mistake, however, in the long term, if your thyroid is not the issue, over medication will make things worse. Of course the opposite is also true: if you are under-medicated, as is so often the case, you will never feel like yourself again either.
Thyroid hormones are a “Goldilocks” family of hormones: we need just the right amount – not too little and not too much!
If you and your doctor have ruled out low-grade depression, a sedentary lifestyle, overeating (even healthy foods can be overeaten) and suspect it’s NOT just your thyroid, consider the possibility you may have subclinical insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome. These conditions are not at all uncommon among peri/post-menopausal women as well as men over 40.
Metabolic Syndrome & Weight Gain
Metabolic syndrome is closely linked to obesity or inactivity. Of course this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if overweight due to the belief you are hypothyroid. One starts to think, “I can’t control this, so why bother. It isn’t my fault, there’s nothing I can do.” And the condition begins to feed on itself.
Metabolic syndrome is also linked to a condition called insulin resistance. Under normal circumstances, your digestive system breaks down many of the foods you eat into sugar. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that enables sugar (glucose) to enter your cells to be used as fuel.
Those with clinical or subclinical insulin resistance don’t respond normally to insulin so glucose can’t enter the cells as easily. Consequently, your body churns out more and more insulin, but your blood sugar levels continue to rise, leading to weight gain over time (and sluggishness, lethargy, carb cravings and increased inactivity, which lead to further weight gain).
Although the cause of metabolic syndrome isn’t fully understood, it is indisputably linked to insulin resistance and certain lifestyle factors: dietary habits, insufficient exercise and interrupted sleep patterns are most likely at fault.
Insulin Resistance & Thyroid
In 1947 Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Bernardo Alberto Houssay, acknowledged the effects of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 on glucose homeostasis – so this isn’t new news. Thyroid hormones exert both insulin agonistic and antagonistic actions in different organs. For normal glucose metabolism this necessarily occurs in a fine balance. Excessive or deficient thyroid hormones upset this delicate equilibrium and alter carbohydrate metabolism. Interestingly, hyperthyroidism has been related to glucose intolerance, and cases of hypoglycemia have been reported in hypothyroid patients despite the fact that peripheral insulin resistance may be present.
The association of insulin resistance with overt hypothyroidism is well recognized. Recent studies have also associated subclinical hypothyroidism (SCH) with insulin resistance. Without any doubt, the presence of SCH increases the risk of disorders associated with insulin resistance, including metabolic syndrome. In particular, one study found SCH is associated with higher insulin levels and insulin resistance, which correlates positively with TSH levels and negatively with Free T3 (FT3) and Free T4 (FT4)
How To Ward Off Insulin Resistance
- Reduce sugar/simple carbs. This is somewhat more complex than just avoiding pasta and bread. Added sugar is hidden in all sorts of foods from pasta sauces, yogurt, and even condiments such as mustard. Learn to read labels and look for sugar (and all its derivatives) in the ingredient list. The more you avoid added sugar the LESS you will crave it.
- Increase NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). The calories we burn being active far far outweigh those we can ever burn in a gym or working out. Aim for movement over exercise. Take the stairs, stand, walk often and view every chore or errand as an opportunity to get steps in. If you wear a fitness tracker and compare a day you went to the gym but were otherwise sedentary with a day you were active all day but didn’t formally exercise, you’ll be shocked to note you burn more simply being active. NEAT beats EAT!
- Increase lean mass/metabolism with resistance training. You needn’t go to the gym to include resistance training. And just 15 minutes twice a week has a tremendous impact. Do not think it has to be more complicated or arduous than this. Use your body weight, and choose one upper body, one lower body and one core exercise and cycle through three sets of ten repetitions of each. Then pick another upper, lower and core exercise and cycle through 3 sets of ten reps of those. And you’re done! You can google body weight exercises for free – there are dozens to choose from such as wall sit, push up on your knees, planks, lunges and shoulder presses with gallon jugs of water!
- Consider natural supplements to lower insulin such as apple cider vinegar. If you find that apple cider vinegar tastes disgusting consider these Apple Cider Vinegar Chewables before meals. There are numerous benefits to apple cider vinegar related to weight loss including the fact that it lowers insulin, it lowers blood sugar and it boosts an enzyme called AMPK which increases your metabolism. Furthermore, apple cider vinegar is an appetite suppressant, which can be useful when it comes to cravings. Taken in combination with a prebiotic and probiotic containing the bacterial strain lactobacillus rhamnosus which is effective in reducing body fat – you have a powerful weight loss combination strategy.
About Sophie Anson
After 20 years as a professional nutritionist and founder of EatStrong in New York City, Sophie Anson launched a brand of weight loss supplements packed with ingredients to make a real difference called LOSERS’ CHEWS. Sophie is offering Hypothyroid Mom readers 20% off your first-time purchase with coupon code DANACHEWS.
Vyakaranam, S., et al. Study of Insulin Resistance in Subclinical Hypothyroidism. International Journal of Health Sciences & Research. 2014 Sept;4(9):147-153.
Galgani, J.E., et al. Metabolic flexibility and insulin resistance. American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2008 Nov;295(5):E1009-17.
Goodpaster, B.H., Sparks, L.M. Metabolic Flexibility in Health and Disease. Cell Metab. 2017 May 2;25(5):1027-36.
Smith, R.L., et al. Metabolic Flexibility as an Adaptation to Energy Resources and Requirements in Health and Disease. Endocrine Reviews. 2018 Aug;39(4):489-517.
Brenta, G. Why can insulin resistance be a natural consequence of thyroid dysfunction? J Thyroid Res. 2011;2011:152850.
READ MORE: HOW TO LOSE WEIGHT WHEN YOU ARE HYPOTHYROID