The Weight Loss Key You May Be Missing


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  74 comments   :  189,305 Views

In my younger days as a high school and college athlete, eating right and being active allowed me to maintain a consistently healthy weight. Working as a Registered Dietitian and maintaining an active lifestyle allowed me to maintain that healthy weight well into my thirties. However, when autoimmune disease was detected in 2002 that ultimately required the removal of two-thirds of my thyroid gland, I entered an unfamiliar battle with weight like millions of other people with thyroid disease.  

Over the last nine years, exploring and learning why I make the choices I do and why I struggle with certain things has been helpful as I continue living a healthy life and learn to accept what I cannot fully control. Likewise, connecting with others living with thyroid disease has allowed me to take control of my health like never before.  I have found that weight management is success and weight loss is a blessing that many times is influenced by things I never realized. Perhaps my newly discovered key to weight management success will be yours as well.

Over the last few years, I have experienced issues with iron deficiency anemia for the first time in my life. I have been about as consistent with my daily iron supplement as I have been with my flossing. I am good about taking it when I am getting ready to get my blood drawn. A few weeks after they confirm that my hematocrit is low again, I resume taking it but very soon begin to forget and then eventually stop. This is mostly an issue because of the necessity to space it correctly with my thyroid medicine. I have repeated this cycle for a couple of years. At a recent visit, my endocrinologist once again reminded me that my hematocrit was on the low side and asked how I was about taking my iron. She confessed that she had the same habit and laughed at the comparison to my flossing habits. As we talked, a light bulb went off about the role of iron and many things I was experiencing and I made a commitment to stick with my daily iron supplement in addition to continuing with my iron rich diet.

I know that iron is essential for the blood to carry oxygen. I should have realized that feeling weak and tired or not having any stamina during exercise or being winded easily could indicate continued anemia but as usual, I chalked it up to my thyroid disease. What I missed was that while the hematocrit returns to normal after a few months of iron therapy, it can take six months to a year to replace iron stores in the bone marrow. My pattern of starting and stopping iron supplementation was in no way supporting the replenishment of the marrow stores and was barely keeping blood levels normal. Of course, the battle with being tired and lacking energy was affecting the intensity of my workouts and the energy burned which ultimately influenced my weight. So of course, once my hematocrit returned to normal this time around and I remained on my iron supplementation (with a goal to remain consistent for the next six months) I was able to work out harder and see benefits with body weight and shape changes. For me, iron has been my hidden key to weight management success that I previously ignored and may be for you as well.

Here are some important things to keep in mind as you determine if iron is a missing link for you. One of the biggest causes of iron loss is due to bleeding and many times that is from long, heavy, and frequent menstrual periods. However, for people that have celiac disease, Crohn's disease, have had gastric bypass surgery or who take many calcium-containing antacids, iron absorption can be the issue. Today with more and more people following strict vegetarian eating plans, getting enough iron can also be the problem. Many forget that forty percent of the iron found in meat, poultry and fish is heme, with the other 60 percent non-heme. All plant-based sources of iron are non-heme, which is why the RDA for iron is higher for vegetarians than it is for meat eaters. According to the Institutes of Medicine, vegetarian men and post-menopausal women need 14 mg daily and pre-menopause vegetarian women should aim for 33 mg each day. Add to that the fact that non-heme iron isn't as readily absorbed as heme iron and sources such as spinach, beet greens, rhubarb, and Swiss chard contain an oxalate acid that binds with iron that makes it unavailable for the body and you see why getting and absorbing adequate plant based iron sources is a challenge. This makes following steps that influence the absorption of iron highly important for vegetarians.

If you are in doubt about your iron intake, find yourself winded, tired, unable to tackle your workouts or fit into one of those risk groups listed above, be sure to talk to your doctor. A simple test can determine your iron level. You may also be surprised to find it is a missing piece to your weight management success like I did.

Does any of this sound like you?

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  • 74
    This article is so interesting and so full of valuable information. Thank you!! - 2/23/2016   6:40:10 PM
  • 73
    I've struggled for the last year and a half to raise my iron levels. Each time I get tested they have only risen a small amount. At the same time I started showing signs of iron deficiency I stopped losing weight. I didn't know it at the time but now see the correlation. As my iron becomes regulated I hope to see progress with my weight loss as well. Thank you for sharing this!
    - 10/14/2015   6:52:44 PM
    I was diagnosed with hypothyroid in Feb. this year and started taking meds. I thought for sure that I would start losing weight and start feeling better but that was not the case. Then I asked my doctor to check my iron and sure enough I showed up being anemic. Once I started taking iron supplements my energy started to slowly increase. I had also dropped a couple pounds suddenly. Along with my supplements and meds I recently adopted a good eating technique that proved to be effective even more. So apparently the iron truly was a factor in me not losing weight. I am so thankful to be taking these pills. The med and supplement. Now I have control! - 9/17/2015   4:45:07 PM
  • 71
    I have had anemia all my life and just started taking iron supplements that will be monitored. Also had issues absorbing enough iron to bring my count into normal ranges during my pregnancies. That was the only time the doctors asked me to supplement and kept an eye on how i was doing, until recently. Sooo appreciate this article. Thank you. - 2/18/2014   7:06:43 PM
  • 70
    RA patients are at a higher risk for anemia--I'm not sure if it is the disease itself or the medications used to treat it. If you are an RA patient and your doctor isn't regularly testing your hemoglobin, he should be. You can also check yourself by checking the color of the inside lining of your lower eyelid--unusually pale, need to get a blood test. - 9/2/2013   10:38:14 AM
  • 69
    I also suffer with low thyroid and anemia, but my Dr never suggested iron. I am tired all the time. Really freaking tired and it is very frustrating. I am going to try adding the iron. How far does the timing need to be from taking the thyroid medication? - 8/31/2013   8:33:48 AM
    i have exactly this problem!!! ive had an underactive thyroid for 10 years and been treated with ferrous sulphate for anaemia since i was 15.i was piling on weight, the gp didnt help, then my diabetologist slipped into a conversation that the 2 medications should not be taken together as the thyroxine wont be absorbed.fab!! im now trying to get the 3 stone back off me!! however i continue to forget to take my iron.ive always struggled with weight loss so maybe this iron prob could be the answer??????sarah - 2/19/2013   4:00:34 PM
  • 67
    I know that I stay totally tired -exhausted - all of the time. The thing to do would be to get to the doctor to have some tests run but I have not done that yet. I really feel that there is some reason that there is no energy in my body at all - 2/15/2013   8:50:11 PM
  • 66
    I take iron supplements a few times a week. I have my thyroid checked every six months. I take extra B-12 (pernicious anemia) and D3. Everything comes back normal. Then why do I feel like I have one foot in the grave?

    I don't think my squad of doctors will ever find out what's wrong with me.

    Frances, I take 60 mg of Armour Thyroid daily. I buy it from a drug store in Canada because it's usually in cheap supply in the USA. It keeps me from feeling like I'm falling into a coma, but that's it. I do like it much better than Synthroid, which I was on for years. - 7/26/2011   5:13:48 PM
  • 65
    I didn't know about calcium causing iron not to be absorbed. I know now not to take my iron and calcium pills together. - 7/22/2011   1:53:34 AM
  • 64
    I didn't know about calcium causing iron not to be absorbed. I know now not to take my iron and calcium pills together. - 7/22/2011   1:53:19 AM
  • 63
    Thank-you, this is an eye opener and like so many, I've had trouble with this before and am feeling amazingly low energy. I'll get blood work done asap. - 7/21/2011   2:09:54 PM
    I have given a pint of blood 4 - 5 x per year until recently, when my hemoglobin didn't meet the blood banks minimum. They gave me a paper showing foods that actually block iron absorption. They include: high-bran and un-milled cereals, tea, coffee, red wine, cranberries, rhubarb, soda, spinach, broccoli, and calcium. So sometimes it important to make sure we have enough iron-rich foods in our diet as well as minimizing foods that inhibit iron absorption. - 7/20/2011   8:43:42 PM
    Good info! I could only give blood once because I became borderline anemic. I eat extra broccoli and raisins because I don't want to become constipated from supplements. - 7/20/2011   12:16:20 PM
    This was such an interesting and most helpful blog, i just loved it. i too work out maybe 4 or 6 days per week. but i am still extremely tired and exhausted and i know that's due to the thyroid issue. unfortunately, i also have ibs and therefore it is so hard for me to take iron supplements because they cause constipation out this world for me. i don't know what to do at this point, most people say i'm the healthiest eating person they know, but with my workouts and eating right, it just seems as though weight is not going anywhere and at times i'm so frustrated i could scream. i'm at my wits end right now, because i don't know what else to do, everything fights the other, extreme anemia which needs iron supplements which causes more ibs symptoms to flare up which causes more constipation verses thyroid issues which causes exhaustion. boy do i need help and how! thanx for the blog though, was really helpful. - 7/20/2011   11:53:07 AM
  • 59
    I don't have a thyroid problem but do have anemia. 3 1/2 years ago I developed Sweet's Syndrome and one of the many things that developed was severe anemia. I am in remission of that for now and off steriods. I was thinking about quitting my iron when I finish this bottle of iron pills. A year ago Ifinally had a normal hemecrit reading. I went off the iron and my hemacrit level went back down some. I am not a big meat eater so don't get much iron from that source. I am 67. At times I was slightly anemic before the Sweet's Syndrome but my doctor didn't think iron pills would help with the type anemia I had. - 7/20/2011   9:20:29 AM
  • JANET8249
    My mom went to her usual checkup as she's on Synthroid and was on aspirin therapy. The doctor took her iron right there and sent her immediately to the ER. Her iron was so low she required two units of blood. She didn't even know she was anemic. It turned out the aspirin therapy caused her to have internal bleeding and she was losing blood. As soon as she stopped the aspirin therapy, she was fine. Still has low iron but controlable. Scary! What don't we have to worry about these days. - 7/19/2011   11:46:59 PM
  • 57
    Gee if it was that wasy for me I should be the same weight I was in high school as I dont think I have ever had trouble with low iron. - 7/19/2011   9:49:12 PM
    I'm in a constant fight with my iron content. Five years ago I was diagnosed with THYMOMA (not Thyroid) cancer. At age 73 I still had my thymoma ( sposed to disolve after puberty...(Peter Pan?? I won't grow up!) and the resulting Chemo and radiation saved my live --if they had not found this enlarged Thymoma, I would have checked out within 60 days the surgeon said--it was found by a really "heads-up" radiologist checking my exit xrays from a hospital after having my hip replaced ( yeah, there were a few months in those two year back than that I rally kept the hospitl in the profit margin.) Now, I take immune system supliment, eat a lot of raisens, etc and exercise. At 78 now I can pretty well understand when I am getting tired or winded what is causing it. As with others, I am quite amazed that weight control is a possible result of iron def. - 7/19/2011   9:47:20 PM
  • 55
    I'm like the writer; Thyroid issues. Diagnosed with Grave's Diseases three years ago. Lost 50 poounds in 2 months due to hyperthyroid. Went throught the whole anti-thyroid drug phase only to have Radioactive Thyroid Therapy 9 months later. Gained all the weight back without trying! I'd become hypothyroid. Once I got regulated on synthetic thyroid I had a very tough time staying the same weight. In fact; last December I hit an all time high. I stated my healthy eating and exercise plan on December 29, 2010. I have managed to lose 53 pounds through watching calories, healthful eating, low sugar, and exercising daily for 40 minutes on my exercise bike. It's been like pulling teeth to get my scale to budge. I attribute this to my age of 55, hormone levels, post-menopause, and my thyroid. I kick myself for not having taking care of myself 10 or 20 years ago when I could lose 3 pounds a week doing just what I'm doing now. After the initial blast of weight loss I'm now lucky if I can lose 1 pound a week and sometimes it's not even that! I do take iron faithfully every day around 5pm. I take my thyoid pill every morning between 4:30 and 5:30am - a few hours before food or coffee come into play. Yes; thyroid problems really do hamper a person's weight loss goals. It'd seem my body has a mind of it's own now and just won't join the program! I work daily on keeping my motivation going and against a natural inclination to become discouraged. Lucky me; I'm half way to goal weight AND I feel real good. - 7/19/2011   9:31:28 PM
  • 54
    A very informative, well-written article. I also have thyroid disease and used to deal with iron deficiency anemia which is no longer an issue after having a hysterectomy. (But I never had heavy or frequent periods.) I also suffered severe migraines which we thought were triggered by the anemia. They also subsided after the hysterectomy. Our bodies are complex! - 7/19/2011   9:28:46 PM
  • 53
    Thank you for this blog; it just may have been a key needed to help me with some frustrations.
    In answer to your question:
    Yes, it does sound like me.
    I've had iron deficiency for several years now. Never linked it to weight issues though. Frankly, I thought my fibromyalgia was the main culprit in my diligence-without-results issues... In a few weeks I'll be seeing my RD and will discuss this with her. - 7/19/2011   7:22:45 PM
  • 52
    Don't calcium and iron effect the absorption of the other also? - 7/19/2011   6:06:19 PM
  • 51
    If you get your ferritin levels checked, ask for the number, not just if it's normal or not. Normal range is anything from 8 to 300. If you exercise regularly, you probably don't want to be at the low end of the scale. Let the doctor know how active you are and if your level is ok for you. - 7/19/2011   5:18:42 PM
  • LARSEN_84
    This article was very interesting to me. I have had some trouble with my iron levels in the past. I haven't had it checked in a long time. I do feel tired alot and just related it to keeping up with the kids and work. I will be looking into get my iron level checked. - 7/19/2011   3:07:26 PM
  • 49
    After coming off my most fit year ever in 2000, I found myself stuggling with exerting myself in my typical athletic endeavors. It was such a strange feeling--it wasn't like I was short of breath, it was more like I just didn't have any gas in my tank. It went on for months, and it was only after a blood test showed I was anemic that I understood what was compromising my athletic performance. I've had recurrences along the way and need to be more vigilant than I am about supplementing my iron intake. - 7/19/2011   2:12:02 PM
    Boy was I glad to read this Blog and posts. I do suffer from a minor thyroid condition. But I do eat meat but am fish trying tro stick to chicken. I also suffer from Celiac's disease. I am making an appt with my dr. asap tahnks all - 7/19/2011   1:23:00 PM
  • 47
    Not only does this sound like me, but it sounds like my mother, my older sister and my teenage daughter (who was recently diagnosed as severely anemic)! Thanks for the information. I had been slacking on my iron supplementation, but I'm going back on Floradix. If you don't know what it is--Google it. You won't be constipated. - 7/19/2011   12:53:34 PM
  • 46
    I tried to go vegetarian in college and ended up severely anemic. My ferritin was at a 7 and at the elevation I was living in, my doctor wanted me around 115. I started taking iron which made me sicker. The supplements made me vomit daily. I took it with orange juice, I tried eating a ton of spinach and vegetarian sources of iron, but ultimately my body decided that I had to give up the idea of being a vegetarian. I not only craved meat, but my body required it.

    I would not wish the lethargy and depression I felt during the worst of my anemia on (most of) my worst enemies. And I wasn't even trying to be active then. I could barely walk from my dorm to my classes, let alone exercise. Anemia is dangerous and it sucks but it can be treated! My iron levels (and the rest of my bloodwork) come back perfect every time now that I am eating well and exercising. I was lucky I didn't have to do more to make myself better and I know there are lots of people who do need more intervention, but iron is KEY to living well! - 7/19/2011   12:43:35 PM
    Go figure; I should have anemia. I'm a hypothyroid, premenopausal (w/ heavy periods), celiac. But since I cook in cast iron pans most every day I'm not. I even had to cut back on my red meat consumption 'cause the hematocrit was elevated. - 7/19/2011   11:18:05 AM
    Great artical and timely for me. I have had my annual blood work and it came back anemic, low red and white blood cells, low heme and low ferritin. My workouts were less than energetic and would become breathless at the top of our second story stair case. My doc did an EKG on me and it seems that I've had a mild heart attack. SHOCKER. This all makes sense now as I have no prior family history, am 45 years old and have been a pureist vegetarian for 25 years now. My guess is that I didn't have the oxygen in my blood that my heart needed to sustain my workouts. See, one of the ways to build back red and white blood cells is exercise. So, I continued to push myself in my workouts thinking that I was doing the right thing. WOW. Well, more tests tomorrow, ECHO and stress test to see the damage that was caused.
    TAKE your Iron!!!
    I just bought an iron skillet yesterday. - 7/19/2011   11:05:37 AM
    So, my mother cooks on cast iron skillets. nobody does anymore! My little sister's pediatrician told my mother that before non-stick skillets and pans came out, they never saw iron deficiencies in children like they do now. how many of you cook on non stick skillets? - 7/19/2011   10:55:20 AM
    I too had to start taking iron supplements but has anyone experienced extreme constipation and if so what did you do about it?
    Ana - 7/19/2011   10:41:16 AM
  • 41
    My GI doctor recommended that iron supplements be taken with a glass of orange juice or a vitamin C tablet for better body absorption. Also that the iron be taken as a stand alone tablet and not with other meds. - 7/19/2011   10:15:11 AM
  • ROBIN150
    I had no idea that it took six months to a year to replace iron stores in bone marrow. Had I known earlier I may have been more diligent in taking my daily iron pill. Thanks for the great info. - 7/19/2011   9:45:49 AM
    When I think of anemia, I think of a pale, thin, sickly looking woman and I am nothing of the sort. I didn't even know I was anemic until I got a new family doctor who insisted on doing blood work. Surprisingly, although I did/do feel like I am "wiped", tired and have legs of lead a lot of the time, I somehow just ignored it the best I can. I push through feeling tired to get through my day. This is probably how I never suspected being anemic, (that and the fact that I am not thin or sickly looking as I would have suspected). But it IS a push! I feel like I am dragging around this very old, worn-out body and I'm only 34. I have iron supplements but like everyone on here, I don't think to take them so often. Now reading though that it takes a year to raise the iron in your bone marrow, I will be more diligent in taking them. And by the way, I do not have heavy periods and I'm not a vegetarian. The doctor did other tests to see if I was losing iron in other ways but we came up blank. - 7/19/2011   9:43:25 AM
  • 38
    Thank you so much for your blog....I am anemic and have been for quite a while...Since the iron supplement is the only prescribed medication I have...and I don't like taking medicine...I'm really lackluster and lackadaisical about taking it...Like you...I've gone great periods of time without taking it...but even now...I'm tired...I'm winded easily...and wondering how to get the stamina to even go to the gym...Your blog was my eyeopener....The light bulb went off...It's a wonderful reminder and my resolve to be more diligent about taking my iron has shot through the roof! Thank you so much for sharing!! - 7/19/2011   9:36:17 AM
    I have iron deficiency anemia as well and have struggled with it my entire life. The only way for me to "feel good" is to watch my diet and make sure I'm eating a lot of iron rich foods (unfortunately I haven't found a supplement that doesn't make me sick). I think many people forget to check for anemia as a cause of fatigue - what a great blog to remind us! - 7/19/2011   8:49:09 AM
    I have an underactive thyroid and I have been vegetarian for 17 years. I have never had an issue with low iron. And, I have had 2 Red Cross volunteers tell me that they never see low iron in vegetarians. I am not so sure that I would make a blanket statement about vegetarianism and low/poor absorption of iron. I would agree with the statement that a poor diet whether vegetarian or not (one filled with chips, junk food, etc.) could cause these issues. Don't get me wrong, it is a good article overall. I'm just not sure that singling out vegetarianism is fair. Singling out an iron-poor diet seems more reasonable. - 7/19/2011   8:39:19 AM
  • 35
    Was wondering if low iron would be a consideration for a male with Hypothyroidism?
    Love the article - 7/19/2011   8:15:04 AM
    What a great article. I, too, have a thyroid problem. I was hyper active and after radioactive iodine therapy I am now hypoactive. I battle with my weight constantly and even with meds, I always reach a plateau and don't seem to move. The next time I go to the Dr. I'm going to ask about my iron levels. Thanks. - 7/19/2011   8:03:38 AM
  • 33
    Wow! Talk about coincidence! I just happened to be logging on this morning to look for thyroid related issues with weight loss and how to overcome those issues. I have been exceptionally bad about taking any supplements since being put on thyroid medication a few months ago. I have since gained 3 pounds even though I work out almost daily and watch what I eat (although I am far from great at counting calories). I am so discouraged by the lack of progress, but keep telling myself that eventually the weight will start dropping sooner or later. Maybe this is what I need. I do work out hard, but I shouldn't be exhausted after my workouts. I'm definitely going to put out a reminder for myself to take that supplement each night and see if that helps. Perhaps that would also help with my cravings for meat/protein based foods! Thanks for posting! - 7/19/2011   8:01:29 AM
    Position statement of ADA (American Dietietic Association)The iron in plant foods is nonheme iron, which is sensitive to both inhibitors and enhancers of iron absorption. Inhibitors of iron absorption include phytates, calcium, and the polyphenolics in tea, coffee, herb teas, and cocoa. Fiber only slightly inhibits iron absorption
    Soaking and sprouting
    beans, grains, and seeds, and the leavening
    of bread, can diminish phytate
    levels and thereby enhance iron
    absorption. Other fermentation
    processes, such as those used to make
    miso and tempeh, may also improve iron bioavailability. Vitamin C and other organic acids found in fruits and vegetables can substantially enhance iron absorption and reduce the inhibitory effects of phytate and thereby improve iron
    status. Whereas many studies of iron absorption have been short term, there
    is evidence that adaptation to low intakes takes place over the long term,
    and involves both increased absorption and decreased losses. Incidence
    of iron-deficiency anemia among vegetarians is similar to that of nonvegetarians. Although vegetarian adults have lower iron stores than nonvegetarians, their serum ferritin levels are usually within the normal range (29,30). - 7/19/2011   7:51:28 AM
  • 31
    Very interesting blog. And, thank you for all the additional information along the way. I have iron deficiency anemia and well identify with the tired feeling that it brings. At one point this year, my iron level was so low that my doctor sent me for an iron infusion. I usually cannot give blood due to this condition. I try to pay attention to iron rich foods but am not always good about making sure they are in the house. - 7/19/2011   7:48:47 AM
  • 30
    This sounds a lot like me, but I'm on thyroid medication and my doctor says my iron levels are normal. Still, I'm tired so much of the time. I'm still searching for my key. The good news is when I do work out I feel more energetic, but it's hard to force myself to go after work and there's no time before work. It's a vicious cycle, but I'm not giving up. - 7/19/2011   7:46:44 AM
  • 29
    I cant believe that there's so many people that's suffering with their thyroid like I am. I've been diagnosed with an under active thyroid and ever since my 26th bday i've just picked up weight no matter what i did , even when i joined weighless instead of loosing on their programme i picked up and that made me very depressed. I asked my doc to check my blood and she said my iron levels were fine but yet im still tired and stuggle to finish a 30 min workout , I'm definitely going to look into this. Thanx for a great article. - 7/19/2011   6:16:59 AM
    I went to give blood a few years ago and my iron was low , not too much but enough for them to not want my blood !
    i was told that there was no reason for concern because it wasn't THAT low , just too low for them. i was asked about my diet , which seemed satisfactory , but then i was asked how much TEA i drank a day. i drink a lot of tea , it fills the gap between meals !
    the nurse told me that too much tea stops the body absorbing iron from the foods we eat ! we learn something every day ! - 7/19/2011   5:18:53 AM
  • JULIA1154
    It cannot be stressed strongly enough - talk with your physician and have your levels checked before self-treating with iron!!!! If your health care provider won't check, find a new one. Having been severely anemic I know that there can be many reasons for anemia - it's a symptom, NOT a diagnosis. Not to get to the root of the problem is to risk serious illness. Similarly, too much iron can cause serious problems. Never guess - have it checked! - 7/14/2011   4:20:26 PM
    Hello! Well, this was timely. I just had blood work done and the nurse called me to say the doc wants me on 325mg iron 2x a day and he want to review my thyroid I go in early next week. The symptoms are all me. I've not had bypass, or the other diseases noted and I'm not, I'm going to dig into all of this new info. I do have to say that this Spark People site is amazing! BTW, the nurse said all my other levels are good! Yeah!
    - 7/13/2011   11:07:23 PM
  • 25
    If you're vegetarian, that could directly be contributing to low energy, too. I had that problem during my short bout with veganism. My cholesterol went too low, enough that my doctor was concerned. Cholesterol is important to nerve health and mood. I ended up having to eat meat again to regain my health. - 7/13/2011   3:17:36 PM

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