In this article:
- Why does hypothyroidism cause weight gain
- How to treat hypothyroidism
- Will treatment help me lose weight?
- What does it mean if I still have symptoms with treatment?
- Additional tips for weight loss
It is well-known that thyroid hormones play an essential role in regulating our metabolism. People with hypothyroidism have high levels of TSH and low levels of T3 and T4. This imbalance can cause an increase in weight, which is due in part to an increase in fluid retention.
Weight gain is one of the main reasons people initially request to have their thyroid function tested.
Why does hypothyroidism cause weight gain?
The thyroid is responsible for regulating your metabolism. Thyroid hormones control blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and energy production. People with hypothyroidism have low thyroid hormone levels, which causes your metabolism to slow down.
It is common for people with a slower metabolic rate to gain weight or struggle to maintain a healthy weight. When thyroid hormones are low, your body has a more challenging time using energy from fat stores. Therefore, people notice an increase in body fat. Interestingly, the difficulty with using fat stores for energy is also one reason why people with hypothyroidism struggle with cold intolerance.
Weight gain in hypothyroidism is par for the course for people with hypothyroidism. However, the American Thyroid Association has found that only 5-10 pounds of excess weight can be credited to hypothyroidism. Furthermore, weight gain in hypothyroidism is usually due to an excess of salt and water in the body as opposed to fat accumulation. While there are a few studies that link thyroid deficiency to obesity, weight gain greater than 10 pounds is likely to be caused by another health condition.
How to treat hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism requires medical treatment. The first step in treating hypothyroidism is to have a blood test to determine your thyroid levels. This can be done from the comfort of your home using our at-home blood test kit.
Should your results show that your thyroid is underactive, it is easily treatable in almost everyone. Optimizing your thyroid levels with thyroid hormone replacement medication is usually the first step in minimizing symptoms like weight gain. When choosing thyroid medication and dosage with your doctor, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment.
Will treatment help me lose weight?
The short answer is: sometimes.
Finding the right dose of thyroid hormone replacement medication is a great step to controlling your weight. It may make it easier to lose those extra pounds that are associated with low thyroid hormone levels.
However, significant weight gain can be caused by several factors, so you should consider other factors that may play a role in your weight gain.
Some of the leading causes of weight gain include:
- Genetics may affect your susceptibility to gaining weight
- Junk food is engineered to stimulate the reward centers in your brain
- High insulin levels and insulin resistance may be linked to the development of obesity
- Many pharmaceutical drugs can cause weight gain as a side effect
- Leptin resistance is believed to be a leading factor in the cause of obesity
- Added sugar changes the hormones and biochemistry of your body
- Weight loss strategies based on false information can hold back your progress
Other symptoms of hypothyroidism can also make losing weight more challenging, including:
- Joint pain
- Muscle aches and weakness
- Heavy periods
- Slowed heart rate
Managing these symptoms may make it easier to find motivation and energy to devote towards exercising and cooking healthy meals.
If thyroid hormone replacement medication is the right choice for you, it cannot stand alone. We believe in a whole body approach to long-term health and hypothyroidism, which means assessing and modifying your diet and lifestyle choices, in addition to medication.
What does it mean if I still have symptoms with treatment?
Regaining control of your thyroid is the first step to weight loss. If you have uncontrolled symptoms and you are on thyroid medication, your medication likely needs to be adjusted. Consult a thyroid doctor to make your medication work well for you and to discuss your weight loss goals.
Additional tips for weight loss
We all hear about eating right and exercising and Voila! You will lose weight! But this is not the case for many people with hypothyroidism. It can be downright difficult to lose weight even if your hypothyroidism is well controlled.
Get a complete physical exam
Get a complete physical exam with a medical provider to determine if you have other health conditions contributing to weight gain, like metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes.
Keep a dietary log
Logging your foods helps you to be more conscious of what you're putting in your body. It brings awareness to your eating habits, and you may notice nuances or things that you might've missed until you visually see it in writing. Tracking your food intake and subsequent systems is a great way to identify what might be a dietary trigger that is causing you to feel worse.
Work with a thyroid nutritionist
A thyroid nutritionist can help you to pick out the nuances in your dietary log, identify dietary triggers, and reverse nutritional deficiencies. Working with a nutritionist may help you to take off some of the dietary stress you put on yourself which is likely causing you uncomfortable symptoms or reactions.
Incorporate nutrient-rich foods
Science is learning more and more about how so much of your health starts in the gut, and you improve your health through diet. You need foods rich with nutrients like selenium, iron, and zinc for thyroid synthesis, and probiotics can help to rebalance your gut microbiome, which may reduce leaky gut.
Switch up your workout regime
Your body can get used to a specific physical activity, which can result in less weight loss benefits. Mixing things up throughout the week can reduce your risk of overuse injuries as well.
Increase your quality and quantity of sleep
People with hypothyroidism commonly feel fatigued, yet they struggle to sleep at night. Multiple studies have indicated that poor sleep quality leads to obesity. Poor sleep can also stimulate the appetite by disrupting your gut hormones. Specifically, when you do not get enough sleep, your body releases higher levels of ghrelin, which is your hunger hormone.
Find ways to reduce your stress
Check-in on your mental and emotional health
So often, when we struggle with a physical issue like weight gain or hypothyroidism, we get tunnel vision and treat what we see on our lab results. Yet there are so many mental and emotional ups and downs with a medical diagnosis and weight gain. Talk with someone like a therapist and find a support system to help you overcome the unseen challenges that accompany thyroid disease and struggles with weight control.
If you are female and in perimenopause or menopause, weight gain can also be linked to hormonal fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone. Many women get diagnosed with hypothyroidism during the menopause transition. Therefore, weight gain may be caused by both this natural transition and thyroid dysfunction.
A note from Paloma Health
We are all unique with individual sensitivities, and we believe in a whole body approach to long-term health and hypothyroidism. Our bodies will not all react the same way to a specific medication or treatment. Finding the right thyroid treatment is tricky, but we are here to make the process as easy and efficient as possible. Nothing is more important than your health and happiness.