Women reach out almost daily asking how to lose weight with thyroid disease. They have tried all of the “usual methods” – calorie restriction, low fat diet, excessive working out, etc. – with no success.
I totally understand that it can be really frustrating!
First, this is very important to understand – If the body can’t lose weight, there is always a root cause.
Losing weight while having thyroid disease is not just about eating less and exercising more. The key is to understand what is actually behind the weight gain and the root causes of your thyroid disease.
When I work with clients who would like to lose weight, I always take a holistic approach. This kind of approach has had incredible outcomes, and it leaves my clients feeling lighter and clear-headed versus hungry and moody.
If you are a woman, here are two key things to understand that might help you hone in on steps you need to take for your body:
- If you tend to gain weight around the midsection, this is often rooted in adrenal imbalance. While all of the steps below are helpful, really pay attention to #2 and #3 below.
- If you tend to gain more in the hips and thighs, this is often rooted in liver congestion. While all of the steps below are helpful, pay special attention to #4 and #6 below.
Let’s walk you through six foundational steps to lose weight with thyroid disease (Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism):
1. Make Sleep a Priority.
Sleep is first for a reason. It is absolutely foundational for optimal health.
- Your body does its deepest detoxification
- Hormones are released that help restore and repair at the cellular level
- The nervous system organizes and resets to promote brain/mental health
- Heart rate and blood pressure are regulated for cardiovascular health
- Thoughts are stored and organized
- Toxins (both physical toxins and mental/emotional toxins) are “caught” and prepared to be taken away as waste
- Hormones, including cortisol, are regulated
- Appetite (and appetite hormones) is regulated
- Your body moves fully into the parasympathetic, or its most relaxed state
- Your immune system releases inflammation fighting cytokines
As you can see, quality and adequate sleep is a catalyst for improvements in health (including excess weight loss!) across many areas.
Here are a few tips on how to improve your sleep:
- Get natural sunlight to your eyes during sunrise and sunset hours
- No screens 1-2 hours before bed
- Wear blue light blocking glasses in the evening
- Aim to go to bed and wake up around the same time each night/morning
- Craft a pre-bedtime ritual of deep breathing, gratitude, prayer, journaling, gratitude and/or stretching
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom around 65 degrees Fahrenheit
For additional tips on how to get a good night’s sleep (and reverse insomnia naturally), read this article.
2. Take Steps to Balance your adrenals
The adrenals are an important part of the endocrine system. They work together with other endocrine glands, particularly the hypothalamus and pituitary. Together, these three glands make up the HPA-axis.
The adrenals communicate along the HPA-axis to produce the hormone cortisol, among others. Cortisol is important for blood sugar regulation, inflammation regulation, metabolization of proteins/fats/carbs and energy regulation.
The adrenals are an important player when it comes to both hormonal and metabolic health. Balancing the adrenals so that cortisol levels are rise and fall at the appropriate times can massively help when it comes to losing weight.
Adrenal imbalance can contribute to weight gain because it causes low energy, making it difficult to exercise appropriately. Additionally, adrenal imbalance leads to imbalanced cortisol, which has been shown to positively correlate with higher BMI.
Here are eight steps to get you started to balance your adrenals:
- Eat breakfast within one hour of waking.
- Eat well-balanced meals that contain healthy fats, clean proteins and complex carbs (don’t cut the healthy carbs!).
- Only do low impact exercising and be careful not to over-exert yourself.
- Eat slowly. Sit down for your meals. Focus on chewing.
- Spend time outdoors daily.
- Develop stabilizing, grounding practices such as deep breathing, stretching, keeping a gratitude journal, connecting with friends and taking time away from screens.
- Eliminate caffeine.
- Focus on rhythms of sleep and rest.
I encourage you to take it slow and be patient! Balancing the adrenals has incredibly beneficial downstream effects on health, but it takes time and consistency. Improvement is gradual, but know that the impact of your efforts can be profound.
3. Balance your blood sugar
Balanced blood sugar is so important when it comes to allowing the body to move from a fat storage state to a fat burning state.
When blood sugar continually spikes, the pancreas must keep producing insulin. Insulin is a hormone that works to shuttle blood sugar into the cells.
But when there is excess insulin and blood sugar in the blood stream, it signals to the body to store that excess sugar in the liver and muscles. When the liver and muscles’ storage capacity becomes full, the extra sugar is stored as fat. Over time, this causes weight gain.
Here are three tips to begin to balance your blood sugar:
- Cut out processed carbs and added sugars from the diet.
- Eat complex carbs along with healthy fats and clean proteins.
- Work on positive stress management along with prioritizing optimal sleep.
For more information on how to balance blood sugar naturally, read this article, which will give you tips, tricks and ways to keep your glucose levels more balanced throughout the day.
4. Gently detox your liver
The liver plays an essential role in the metabolism and breakdown of fats in the body. Toxins are stored primarily in fat cells within the body. This means two things:
First, when you lose weight via burning or breaking down fat, the liver is responsible for packaging up the toxins that were stored in those fat cells and sending them over to the gallbladder to then be taken out of the body.
If the liver doesn’t have the resources to “package-up” the toxins, or if the liver is sluggish and overworked due to an already-heavy toxic load, those toxins will not be properly excreted from the body.
Instead of the toxins leaving the body, they will be recycled and “re-stored” in fat tissue once again. As the body holds onto these toxins and the toxic burden continues to build, the body can have a very difficult time losing weight, and in fact, the body might increase in weight!
The second indication is that when our toxic burden goes up (due to using toxic cleaning products or personal care products, consuming packaged and processed foods, consuming excess sugars, etc.), then the liver needs a place to store these toxins as they pile up.
Because toxins are stored in fat cells, the body will create more fat in order to effectively package and store away all of those excess toxins.
In simple terms, if the body can’t get rid of the toxins, it will increase the size of the container which can lead to increased fat and, thus, weight gain.
Lowering the body’s toxic burden and gently supporting the liver can do wonders when it comes to allowing the body to lose weight.
Here are a few ways to gently support liver detoxification as well as lower your overall toxic burden:
- Switch to glass and stainless steel in the kitchen instead of plastic.
- Swap out conventional personal care products, cleaning products, skincare and makeup for non-toxic alternatives. Here’s my full list of favorites that I personally use.
- Rid the home of candles, air fresheners and other fragrances.
- Eat plenty of cooked, sulfur-rich vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.
- Consume “bitter” greens such as dandelion and mustard greens.
- Drink beet kvass daily.
- Let go of negativity, which is largely toxic to the liver and entire body.
- Cut processed foods, inflammatory vegetable and seed oils and added sugars out of the diet.
For more ways on how to gently and naturally detoxify the liver, read my article here: 8 Ways to Detox Your Liver Gently and Naturally
Most of us believe the only way to get weight loss results is to push harder – to work out harder and longer. This couldn’t be less true.
Surprisingly, when dealing with thyroid dysfunction (hypo, hyper, or thyroid autoimmunity), intense exercise often has the exact opposite effect. It can actually further stress the body and throw it out of balance even more, leading to plateaus, if not weight gain!!
For those who are in a state of exhaustion – which is most people who are struggling with adrenal dysfunction, thyroid disease or other hormonal imbalances – very intense workouts such as HIIT or crossfit or long distance training are not a great choice for the body.
They put the body into a chronic and prolonged state of cortisol production. And a common side effect for chronic cortisol output in women is weight gain around the mid-section.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, the best way to facilitate weight loss is to pull back on the workouts and intensity in order to get the body out of the sympathetic (fight or flight) and into the parasympathetic (relaxed) state.
For this reason, I suggest daily gentle movement as the preferred form of exercise – walking, stretching, pilates, yoga, etc. If you do have higher intensity days of exercise, they should be buffered by lower intensity days.
Do not work out daily for the same length of time and intensity. Do not overexert your body during exercise. Do not skip rest days.
For more information on how to work out in order to facilitate weight loss while having thyroid disease, read my article here: The Best Way to Exercise for Thyroid and Adrenal Health
6. Reduce stressors or find better ways to manage stress.
This one may come as a surprise to you, but unresolved trauma, stress and emotional baggage can be held tightly within the body, making it very difficult to lose weight.
In recent years, it has been discovered that stress negatively impacts levels of liver inflammation. An inflamed and overburdened liver leads to a sluggish metabolism, build up of toxins, and even more fat storage.
Furthermore, stress causes the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol can remain elevated if stress is chronic.
Cortisol happens to be an appetite stimulant, which can lead to the consumption of excess calories and then weight gain, Excess calories consumed in the setting of high cortisol also appear to be most typically stored around the midsection.
Finally, a 2015 study showed metabolism slows down under stress.
In so many ways, unresolved negative emotions – including and especially stress – make it extremely difficult for the body to enter the relaxed parasympathetic state. When this happens, weight loss is extremely difficult.
As you can see, weight loss, particularly for those with thyroid disease, is not at all about trying harder, working out more rigorously, or extreme restriction of calories.
Weight loss is actually the natural byproduct of moving the entire body into a healthier state.
This can be done through foundational practices of balancing hormones and blood sugar, releasing negative emotions, prioritizing sleep and rest, and gently detoxifying both your body and your environment.
I want to encourage you to shoot for consistency over perfection and to be encouraged by making small decisions to prioritize your health and wellbeing. Weight loss doesn’t happen overnight, but I promise if you persist in the foundational practices above, you’ll start to see improvements over time – in weight loss, but more importantly, in your overall health!