Nutrition Articles

Eating with Hypothyroidism

Manage Symptoms with Diet and Exercise

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Hypothyroidism, the chronic condition of an under-active thyroid, affects millions of Americans. It's most commonly caused by chronic autoimmune thyroiditis or Hashimoto's disease, and can result in a variety of symptoms, including: weight gain (caused by a reduction in metabolism), water retention, depression, muscle pain, increased cholesterol, fatigue, mental "fog" and more. Not only does hypothyroidism typically result in weight gain, but its symptoms and complexities make losing weight even more difficult.

Individuals with autoimmune thyroiditis have a harder time losing weight after their hormone levels are normalized. Experts aren't sure why this is the case, but there are several theories including a change in the metabolic “set point”, insulin resistance, and changes in brain chemistry.

Managing symptoms will help you feel your best when living with hypothyroidism. In conjunction with the treatment plan outlined by your doctor, a healthy diet and regular exercise can also help.

You CAN lose weight with hypothyroidism, but:
  • You may not lose weight at the same rate you did before.
  • You may not lose weight at the same rate as someone else.
  • You may not get back to the size you were.
Be realistic about your goals and objectives and realize that being a certain weight or size is not always the best goal when living with hypothyroidism. Having more energy and reducing feelings of fatigue and depression are usually more important to your quality of life.

When you are setting your goals, keep these things in mind:
  • Make lifestyle changes. Hypothyroidism will be with you for the rest of your life, so healthy eating, exercising and taking care of yourself must be priorities. Your SparkPeople plan will start you in the right direction, but you have to be committed to a new way of life.
     
  • Make time for healthy eating and regular exercise. Commit to prepare food, exercise and take care of you. Put yourself on your to-do list each day.
     
  • Be optimistic and acknowledge the positive changes you have made—no matter how small. Journal about the highs and lows of the journey as an outlet for frustration and as a way to look back at your progress when the going gets tough.
     
  • Change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes small steps to get from where you are to where you want to be. The Aesop fable of the tortoise and the hare is a good illustration and reference. You can win the race if you stay focused and take slow, steady steps to get there. Do the best you can. Take a step further each day, pick yourself up when you stumble, and keep your eyes on the goal.
     
  • Few worthwhile outcomes are easy or quick. Be wary of the latest fad in weight loss or ploys for people with hypothyroidism. You have the tools for effective, long-term weight loss here at SparkPeople, so stay the course and leave the too-good-to-be-true trends on the shelf.

Dietary Tips to Lose Weight with Hypothyroidism
  • Reduce your use of stimulants. When trying to fight fatigue, stimulants like caffeine may be a way of life. Hypothyroidism makes the adrenal glands susceptible to overwork and burnout. The adrenal glands can only take so much stimulation before they begin to under-function. Weaning off of stimulants, including coffee, soda and tea, can help the adrenal system heal and recharge.
     
  • Decrease the amount of carbohydrates you eat. The SparkPeople plan recommends a range of 45-60% carbohydrates for its members. However, research shows that individuals with hypothyroidism are more successful when eating slightly less—about 45-50% of total calories coming from carbs. Limiting your intake to the low end of your SparkPeople range (about 50% carbs) will help you accomplish this. At 50% carbs, your diet will probably result in about 30% protein and 20% fat.
     
  • Choose more complex carbs. Enjoy plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, wheat germ). These foods are nutritionally superior to their refined counterparts. (Read The Truth about Carbohydrates to learn about the differences between complex and simple carbs.)
     
  • Limit sugary (simple carbohydrate) foods such as pies, cakes, cookies, candy, soda, ice cream and chips. These foods stimulate high insulin production.
     
  • Avoid eating carbohydrates by themselves for meals or snacks. Be sure to include a protein source at the same time. Protein is digested more slowly, helping slow down the release of insulin.
     
  • Increase your fiber intake to 30-40 grams per day. People with hypothyroidism often experience sluggish digestion and constipation. A high-fiber diet can help move things along so to speak, while increasing satiety so that you never feel hungry. Be sure to slowly increase your fiber over time. To meet this goal, you may also need a fiber supplement such as Metamucil.
     
  • Drink 8-12 cups of water every day. Metabolism requires water, so not drinking enough will hurt your weight loss potential as well. When increasing your fiber intake 30-40 grams, water is even more important. Drink additional water to compensate for perspiration from exercise and hot weather.

Exercise & Other Considerations
Hypothyroidism does cause weight gain—typically 10-20 pounds. Gaining more than 20 pounds can usually be attributed to fatigue that limits your activity, not to the disorder itself. When you feel fatigued, you don’t feel like exercising. This can lead to a vicious cycle since not exercising can result in greater fatigue and so on and so on. Physical activity and exercise are keys to weight control and to decreasing the affects of fatigue.
  • Get regular aerobic exercise. Individuals with hypothyroidism can have low levels of serotonin, the brain chemical involved in appetite control, depression, and sleep regulation. Just thirty minutes of aerobic (cardio) exercise, five times per week can help increase serotonin levels to decrease these symptoms.
     
  • Likewise, strength training helps increase metabolism, which is also suppressed in those that are hypothyroid. The SparkPeople plan will help you establish a program and motivate you to stick with it. Although you may not have much energy initially, get moving! The more you move the more energy you will have to exercise each day.
     
  • Reduce the stress in your life. Stress causes many people to make unwise food choices and overeat. Reactions to stress are controlled by the adrenal glands, which are overworked and under-functioning in hypothyroid patients. Stress also increases cortisol levels, increasing hunger and affecting insulin levels. Reducing stress is an often overlooked factor in weight loss.
     
  • Practice deep breathing. Many times the increased weight and lack of physical fitness causes those with hypothyroidism to pant for air, taking shallow, short breaths. Deep breathing exercises can help you take in more oxygen and release more carbon dioxide with each breath and can help with weight loss, stress reduction, and relaxation. 
Hypothyroidism is a life-long condition. With careful management, people with thyroid disease can live healthy, normal lives. The best way to take control of your thyroid health is to work with your medical provider to develop a treatment plan that includes nutrition, exercise, and stress relief.
To connect with other individuals dealing with thyroid disease, visit the message board thread "Hypothyroid? Join the Club", located in the SparkPeople Café or join the SparkTeam "Hypothyroids Join Together".

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Member Comments

  • Great information. I do many of these things but it is hard to manage stress.
  • Great article to read, Thanks!
  • LITENLIVELY135
    If you have a thyroid issue, please see an endocrinologist. I was diagnosed with low thyroid by my GP, prescribed synthroid, and felt better shortly thereafter. HOWEVER, about three months into treatment weight started coming back on and I started feeling lousy. I knew something was not right, but my GP just kept telling me my T4 was fine and I needed to exercise more and eat less.I finally went to a specialist, and yes - my T4 level was fine, but my T3 level was way out of whack. Added another med called cytomel, and the relief was fantastic. There are two hormones that work together to regulate everything T4 and T3. Many drs don't test for T3, so PLEASE see a specialist.
  • Great article. Love the comments.
  • Thanks for this article, glad I found it it does explain a lot of what I'm experiencing-gues
    s I'll have to slow down on the coffee. Don't drink sodas much, rarely have tea so cut my morning coffee by 25% starting tomorrow morning.
  • RONRONRONRON
    when it comes to thyroid , one should try with ashwagandha .. and you read the reviews
    from http://www.ashwag
    andhathyroidr
    eviews.com/
  • OMG - this article has facts that I have not heard. 2 1/2 years ago I was treated for hyperthyroid and was allergic to the medicine. I was then told I did not have hyperthyroid (even though I experienced every syptom of a thryroid storm) but had an iodine overdose. While on the medicine, I put on 30 lbs in 5 weeks and had severe pain in lower extremity. I am very slowly taking off the weight, but it is the residual pain and fatigue that often prevent the physical activity I need. This article says that after numbers reaching normal levels - you still can have these issues. I am sure my new doctor thinks I am crazy when I ask her to check by thyroid numbers - which are normal. I have printed this article to share wih her.
  • JODIKELLUM
    I had a Near-total thyroidectomy 10 years ago. For a long time the wieght I had lost due to my hyperthyroid condition stayed off, but now it is coming back, not all yet but a lot of it. I am finding it very difficult to lose the weight, but determined to do so!
  • Thanks for the reminders!! I have had hypothyroidism for 21 years, and even though I live with it everyday, it's easy to forget all the thyroid does for us. For others posting and reading comments, there are hypothyroid groups on here, and i have learned ALOT from them! Things like SOY and RAW SPINACH can affect how your medicine is absorbed and works.

    Again, thanks for the article!!
  • NELMSC
    I appreciate your focus on diet and emphasizing how important it is. I initially received a focus on medication with very little diet help. So thank you for this information. http://www.dietth
    yroid.com/die
    t-hypothyroid
    ism.html
  • i continue to struggle with fatigue and muscle aches. the article included lots of info i didn't know. especially about tea ;-( makes me sad, but explains many things. thanks SparkPeople
  • DONTGOAWAYMAD
    Good info. Fortunately, my hypothyroidism is fairly minor, and I feel better taking the Synthroid my Dr. prescribed me--I will get re-tested in November.
  • thank you for this great article. please write more articles about this , millions of people will be so grateful (myself included). I have been suffering fro hypo for many years, always the same results from the tests,
  • thank you for this great article. please write more articles about this , millions of people will be so grateful (myself included). I have been suffering fro hypo for many years, always the same results from the tests,

About The Author

Tanya Jolliffe Tanya Jolliffe
Tanya earned a bachelor's degree in dietetics and nutrition and has more than 20 years of experience in nutrition counseling and education. She is a member of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. See all of Tanya's articles.