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Can Crash Dieting Cause Hypothyroidism?

Find out why restricting calories may not be good for your thyroid.
Can Crash Dieting Cause Hypothyroidism?
Medically Reviewed by:
Kimberly Langdon M.D.
Medically Reviewed by:

Crash dieting is a way of quickly losing weight by limiting how much you eat. Sometimes referred to as yo-yo dieting, a crash diet is any form of eating that restricts, eliminates, or “cleanses” the body of essential calories and nutrients.


Your metabolism is the chemical process that occurs in the body that determines how much energy you use each day from the food you eat. Weight loss results in a slowdown of your resting metabolic rate (RMR). Dropping your calorie count too low puts your body under stress - called ‘metabolic adaptation,’ as your body has to adapt to the perceived threat of starvation.


Your body slows down to the rate at which it is burning calories to conserve energy. So, a slower metabolism means you burn through fewer calories per day.


Effects of low-calorie diet on thyroid


A study published in the International Journal of Obesity studies a group of obese women over 18 weeks. For the first four weeks, all the women eat a 1200 calorie per day diet. Then, participants split into two groups. Half of the participants eat a very low-calorie diet of 400 calories per day for eight weeks before returning to the 1200 calories/day diet. The remaining half stayed on the balanced deficit diet of 1200 calories for the entire 18 weeks. 


Both groups experienced a change in the active thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3). Those participants eating a very low-calorie diet saw a more significant decrease in (T3) of up to sixty-six percent. And those participants eating a balanced deficit diet saw a decrease in T3 of up to forty percent. Then, when these participants reintroduced more calories into their daily diet, they saw an increase in T3. 


Substantially, restrictive dieting reduces T3, causing the metabolism to slow down and weight loss to become more challenging.


Restrictive dieting or dropping entire food groups from your diet may deprive your body of critical nutrients, which can put stress on your immune system. The more dietary pressure you put on yourself, the more likely you are to experience inflammation. This inflammation can worsen your autoimmune reactions or interfere with your thyroid function.

The thyroid gland is highly nutrient-dependent, and poor nutritional status is one of the root causes of thyroid dysfunction. 


Weight loss tips for people with hypothyroidism


One of the most frustrating symptoms of hypothyroidism is weight gain or increased difficulty in weight loss. The best type of thyroid diet takes your individuality into account and is sustainable in the long run.


Ahead, find some of our tips for healthy weight loss with hypothyroidism. 


Get tested for hypothyroidism

The first step to treat hypothyroidism is proper diagnosis. Many labs look only at thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to assess thyroid health. We believe it’s critical to also measure free triiodothyronine (fT3), free thyroxine (fT4), and TPO antibodies. Understanding what’s happening with your thyroid function is the first step to know how to improve. 


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Work with a trustworthy doctor to optimize your thyroid hormone replacement treatment to support healthy weight loss. 


Replace low-calorie with nutrient-rich

Generally, we think about a diet as removing foods. However, it may be even more important to consider what foods we add. We recommend that you follow a sustainable diet that doesn’t deprive or starve your body of essential nutrients. 


With a lot of talk of elimination diets, it’s easy to get caught up in removing triggering foods without correcting nutrient deficiencies. These nutrient deficiencies that may worsen symptoms or prevent thyroid medication from doing its job. Your body needs minerals like selenium, iron, and zinc to convert T4 into T3. This conversion is critical to thyroid function and has a positive effect on metabolic function. 


Work with a thyroid nutritionist to determine nutritional status and develop a thyroid diet plan that focuses on removing dietary triggers and replacing with healing, nutrient-dense foods.



Manage your stress

Aside from the stress of crash dieting on your body, it’s essential also to manage the stress related to work, family, and life. Too much stress can throw our endocrine system out of balance by disrupting the regular production of thyroid hormones to convert energy. Remember to prioritize the basics like sufficient sleep and daily movement. Both of these things are proven to alleviate stress and support successful weight loss efforts.


If you feel frustrated by the scale, despite your best efforts to do everything right, it might be time to call in reinforcements. Schedule a free call with one of our care advisors to decide if Paloma Health is right for you.


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Katie Wilkinson

Katie Wilkinson is the Head of Content and Community at Paloma Health. She is passionate about the intersection of healthcare and technology. Living with an autoimmune condition and having been let down by the traditional healthcare system, Katie has a personal and professional interest in improving patient access to better care.

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