Can Your Thyroid Make You Gain Weight (Sometimes)
When you want to lose some weight, the solution is typically straightforward: eat less, eat better, and exercise more. But if you are struggling with a health condition that makes you gain weight, you can do everything right and still never be able to drop those pounds.
One such condition has everything to do with your thyroid. And here’s the kicker – most people with a thyroid disorder have no idea they have a thyroid disorder.
So, if you are eating well and getting plenty of exercise, yet find yourself stuck at the same weight (or even still gaining weight), a tiny gland in your neck may be to blame. Luckily, there’s something you can do about it!
Does the Thyroid Affect Your Weight? Yes: Here’s How
The thyroid produces two main hormones: T3 and T4. Their main job is managing the metabolism process of every cell in your body. Since weight gain and weight loss has a lot to do with metabolism, you can see why a thyroid disorder can absolutely affect your weight.
When somebody has hyperthyroidism, they have too much T3 and T4 in their bodies. This means everything is speeding up and going into overdrive – including your basal metabolic rate (AKA: your BMR, the rate in which your body burns energy when you’re resting). Consequently, people with hyperthyroidism tend to have unexplained weight loss. Causes of this condition include:
- Graves’ disease
- Hyper-functioning thyroid nodules
- Too much iodine
When somebody has hypothyroidism, they have too little T3 and T4 in their bodies. This means everything is slowing down and becoming sluggish – including that BMR. Therefore, those with hypothyroidism tend to have unexplained weight gain. Causes of this condition include:
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Thyroid surgery
- Radiation therapy
- Overcorrecting hyperthyroid treatment
- Some medications
That means, to understand the thyroid and weight gain connection, we will be focusing on hypothyroidism in this article.
How and Why Hypothyroidism Makes You Gain Weight
Let’s take a closer look at the ways having not enough of your thyroid hormones can lead you to extra weight gain.
- Fat: Because your metabolism slows down with hypothyroidism, your body is converting fewer calories into fuel. It’s easier to consume excess calories that are then turned into stored fat.
- Water/Salt: Interestingly, the majority of weight gained by those with hypothyroidism is actually related to too much accumulation of water and salt – more than it is excess fat. This is also known as “water weight.”
- Fatigue/Joint pain/Muscle paint: When you are always tired, the last thing you probably want to do is spend an hour at the gym. The constant fatigue associated with hypothyroidism can lead to not only less activity, but also less initiative to make healthy meals for dinner. Similarly, pain in your joints and muscles is a common side effect of hypothyroidism and can lead to a more sedentary life when untreated.
How Much Weight Will I Gain?
Many people believe a thyroid disorder is to blame for being 20, 50, 100 pounds overweight – but there’s no science to support that claim.
While every person’s experience is unique, most cases of hypothyroidism will not lead to more than 5 or 10 pounds of unexpected weight gain. However, the more severe your hypothyroidism, the more that number will start to go up slightly.
If you have had significantly more weight gain, the culprit is probably not your thyroid itself. It may have started with your thyroid or your thyroid may have exacerbated the issue, but those numbers are going beyond hypothyroidism. We’ll talk later how to deal with this type of weight gain!
Getting Diagnosed with a Thyroid Disorder
If you are one of the many who feel like you are doing everything right and still struggling to lose weight, it may be worth visiting your doctor to see if you have a thyroid disorder, especially if you also have any of these other common hypothyroid symptoms.
- Trouble tolerating cold temperatures
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Elevated blood cholesterol levels
- Decreased sweating
- Muscle aches, weakness, tenderness, or stiffness
- Joint pain
- Heavy, irregular, or missed periods
- Dry or thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
- Goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland)
(Note: even if none of these symptoms sound familiar and stubborn weight gain is your only issue, it still a good idea to get your thyroid checked. A case of hypothyroidism may not display negative side effects for years.)
The hypothyroidism testing is easy: a simple blood test. Your doctor will check your levels of T3, T4, and Thyroid Stimulating Hormone or TSH. TSH is a hormone released by your pituitary gland that tells your thyroid to produce its hormones.
Does Thyroid Treatment Help You Lose the Weight?
If you doctor does confirm you have hypothyroidism, the first and most important step is to get on thyroid medication. The most common method is to take synthetic T3 and T4 each day. It may take your doctor a little bit of time to figure out the perfect dosage for you, so don’t expect it to fix everything immediately.
Some people choose to avoid the synthetic hormones and take T3 and T4 from animals – called desiccated thyroid extract. Some people choose this as the more “natural” option, but remember just because it’s natural for a pig does not mean it is natural for you. It is important to talk to your doctor and figure out the right medication for your particular needs.
If your weight gain is only associated with the change in your thyroid hormones and if it is a small amount of extra weight, it is likely that proper hypothyroid treatment will help you lose that weight and get back to normal.
However, if your weight gain has anything to do with other factors (like poor diet, lack of exercise, or another health condition), thyroid treatment will typically not help you out.
Here’s the most important thing to realize: once you are on thyroid treatment and have found the right balance of synthetic hormones for your body, you will be at the same playing field as anyone without a thyroid condition when it comes to losing or gaining weight. You will then have to focus on the regular factors of exercise and calorie intake to manage your body weight.
Other Ways to Reverse Thyroid Disorder Weight Gain
If thyroid treatment is not going to solve all your weight problems, you will need to focus on these other steps toward weight reduction as well.
Start by checking out how one fitness junkie lost the weight post-hypothyroidism diagnosis by changing her mindset and her lifestyle and focusing more on ways to boost her natural energy:
Just like anybody else who wants to lose weight, those with thyroid disorders will benefit from working out regularly. However, it’s important to wait to start a more intense workout regimen until your thyroid hormones are balanced. That’s why starting with thyroid medication first is so important.
Until your thyroid hormones are balanced, focus on low-impact movement. One of the symptoms of hypothyroidism is joint pain, so we want to minimize aggravating that discomfort. Choose swimming or an elliptical machine over running.
You will also want to focus on strengthening exercises. More muscle = faster weight loss (and the added benefit of less pressure on your joints!). Weight lifting and yoga are great options.
Once you are feeling great and back to normal on your thyroid medication, you should be able to do whatever type of exercising you’d like – CrossFit, Pilates, anything. Just get the go-ahead from your doctor fist!
You will have to pay attention to your calorie intake. But what’s arguably even more important is choosing the right foods: filling up on foods that heal your body and avoiding foods that cause further issues.
- Veggies (especially spinach)
- Lean meats
- Nuts (full of micronutrients that help support your thyroid)
- Healthy whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, etc.)
- Goitrogens: This class of food can harm the production of thyroid hormones making it even harder for those with hypothyroidism. One of the worst offenders is cruciferous veggies: kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, etc. Limit your intake, and when you do eat them, boil them for at least 30 minutes to greatly reduce the goitrogenic effect.
- Gluten: People with hypothyroidism are far more likely to develop celiac disease than those with healthy thyroid function.
- Trans fats
- Processed foods
Any sort of natural supplement that supports thyroid health is a good idea for treating the symptoms of a thyroid disorder – like that weight gain, fatigue, or muscle/joint pain. Here are some of the top supplements to check out:
- Vitamin D: Low vitamin D can worsen hypothyroidism
- Ashwagandha: Studies have shown that ashwagandha can help balance thyroid hormone production in patients with hypothyroidism
- Iodine: Too little iodine makes it impossible to create enough thyroid hormone
- Selenium: Selenium helps the metabolism process
- B12: Those with hypothyroidism are often too low in B12 – making it even harder to lose weight since low B12 can make you even more weak and tired
Even though these supplements are all-natural and generally considered very safe, it is important to check in with your doctor if you are on any sort of thyroid medication to ensure you won’t have any negative reactions.
Happy Thyroid, Healthy Weight
Getting a handle on your thyroid health may be the key to a weight that makes you feel great. Proper treatment of your thyroid condition along with healthy lifestyle choices should help you lose the weight and then maintain.
If any of this sounded like your situation, make an appointment with your doctor today for a simple thyroid blood test. Not only can thyroid treatment help you maintain a healthy weight, but it can also help you feel much better in other areas of your body as well.