Losing weight can be a challenge for anyone, but with a thyroid condition, reaching your goal weight may feel impossible. That’s because your thyroid gland plays important roles in regulating your metabolism, energy levels, and how many calories your body burns. When this gland can’t perform optimally, your metabolism comes to a grinding halt.
Your Thyroid Gland: A Tiny Organ With Big Responsibilities
The butterfly-shaped thyroid gland weighs only about 1-2 oz, yet it has a significant impact throughout your body. It produces two hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).
Among their many duties, these thyroid hormones:
- Control how efficiently your body uses calories for daily functions and physical activity
- Increase the metabolic rate of cells, supporting energy production
- Help metabolize carbohydrates, proteins, and fats
- Regulate your body temperature
- Support other hormones, including your stress-managing adrenal glands
The most common thyroid-related cause of weight-loss struggles is hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid. With hypothyroidism, your thyroid might not produce enough of these hormones, and your body might struggle to convert T4, the storage form, to T3, its active form. Hypothyroidism hinders the enzymes that perform this conversion, slowing the process and thereby your metabolism.
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto's thyroiditis, more simply called Hashimoto's. In fact, between 90-97% of people with hypothyroidism in the U.S. have Hashimoto's.1
With this autoimmune disorder, your immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland, leading to chronic inflammation and gradually destroying thyroid tissue. Consequently, the thyroid gland becomes less efficient at producing hormones that regulate metabolism, which can influence your weight.
How Thyroid Issues Impact Weight Loss
As the center of your metabolism, the thyroid gland regulates energy production, how many calories you burn, and other processes that impact your weight. When it isn't functioning to produce sufficient thyroid hormones, you may gain weight or have difficulty losing weight.
This happens for several reasons, including:
- Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) has slowed down. BMR refers to the calories your body needs to maintain basic functions, including breathing, heart rate, and maintaining body temperature while at rest. Your thyroid hormones influence the metabolic rate of cells throughout your body. Insufficient production of thyroid hormones contributes to a decrease in BMR. As a result, your body burns fewer calories at rest.
- You’re not metabolizing fat well. Thyroid hormones help break down dietary fat for energy by stimulating the enzymes that break down fats and help transport them in your bloodstream. Hypothyroidism can compromise your body’s ability to perform this process, leading to fat accumulation.
- You’re retaining fluid. Thyroid hormones help maintain blood-vessel integrity and the proper function of your lymphatic system (which maintains fluid levels). Reduced levels of thyroid hormones can lead to decreased blood flow and lymphatic drainage. Fluid can then accumulate in tissues and create water retention.
- Fatigue is crushing your motivation. Thyroid hormones help maintain your metabolic rate and energy balance. Insufficient thyroid hormones can't maintain these processes, leading to fatigue and low energy that can make Netflix marathons more tempting than working out.
- You struggle with hunger and cravings. With hypothyroidism, you’re burning fewer calories and you're often hungry. That’s because your hunger-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin fall out of balance due to altered body fat levels and digestive function, leading to increased appetite and irregular hunger cues. Hello, cravings and all-day snacking!
- Other hormones fall out of balance. It’s not just insulin, leptin, and ghrelin that become dysregulated with hypothyroidism. Others include your stress hormone cortisol, a hunger-regulating hormone called cholecystokinin or CCK, and your mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin. These and other hormonal imbalances create the perfect storm for hunger, cravings, and weight gain.
- You’ve become insulin-resistant. Your thyroid hormones support insulin's ability to work efficiently and promote glucose uptake into your cells for energy. Hypothyroidism can hinder insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, leading to an increased risk of insulin resistance, where your cells resist this hormone’s signal. As a result, your body has a harder time using carbohydrates for energy.
- You have PCOS. Hypothyroidism doesn’t always exist in a vacuum. It can be accompanied by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that primarily impacts women of reproductive age. Both hypothyroidism and PCOS have been linked to insulin resistance, which complicates weight management and impacts blood-sugar control. When these conditions coexist, they can mutually intensify challenges related to metabolism and weight.
9 Ways to Lose Weight With a Thyroid Condition
A sluggish metabolism and hormonal imbalances can make weight loss a slow process for people with thyroid conditions. The solution: instead of focusing on weight loss, make your goal to get healthy. When you focus on your thyroid and overall health, weight loss is one significant side effect.
These nine strategies can help restore thyroid function and help you lose weight.
1. Take a Protein-First Approach to Every Meal
Protein is fundamental for various physiological processes, and its significance extends to supporting thyroid health and aiding weight loss. One of its primary roles in relation to thyroid function is providing the amino acid tyrosine, which is key for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Protein is also essential for the function of enzymes that are responsible for converting the inactive thyroid hormone (T4) into its active counterpart, T3.
In addition to supporting thyroid function, adequate protein intake is crucial for maintaining muscle mass. Muscle plays a vital role in metabolic activity, which in turn helps with weight loss and managing cravings.
The amino acids you get from protein also serve as the building blocks for antibodies, enzymes, and other components of the immune system. This is particularly important if you have hypothyroidism, as you might be more vulnerable to infections, making a strong immune system critical.
2. Incorporate Strength Training
Hypothyroidism often leads to a slower metabolic rate, which can make weight loss feel impossible. The answer is strength training, which can:
- Help your body burn more calories
- Increase muscle mass to boost your metabolism
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Support energy levels and combat feelings of lethargy and fatigue
- Positively impact your mood, helping reduce stress and anxiety
- Regulate various hormones in the body, including thyroid hormones
You don't need a gym to strength train. Body-weight exercises, resistance bands, or TRX can be very effective. Be sure to get adequate rest and recovery, too.
My Resistance Training Cheat Sheet provides everything you need for your fitness journey, including home gym essentials, an 8-week workout plan, and a progress tracker to track your sets, reps, and weights with each workout. It’s FREE, so grab yours here.
3. Manage Inflammation
Chronic inflammation locks the doors on your fat cells. Among its damage, this inflammation can decrease your BMR (so you’re burning fewer calories), increases the risk of insulin resistance, and impairs hunger-regulating hormones like leptin. The end result: weight loss feels impossible.
This damaging inflammation takes its toll on your thyroid, too. Chronic inflammation can decrease circulating levels of T3 and T4, even when your thyroid gland is functioning normally. Chronic inflammation can even increase how well your body “hears” and responds to your thyroid hormones, making them less effective at doing their job.
Hashimoto's, an autoimmune condition, can make inflammation even worse, directly impacting your thyroid gland's ability to produce and release thyroid hormones. Foods rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids are an excellent way to manage chronic inflammation. These and other healthy fats support a healthy thyroid, including:
- Converting T4 to T3
- Keeping cell walls healthy, so hormones and cells can communicate properly
- Helping your body use important nutrients, like vitamin D
Omega Plus softgels provide anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, sourced from certified sustainable U.S.-caught wild Alaskan Pollock, in their natural triglyceride (TG) form—the same way they naturally occur in fish.* Just one easy-to-take softgel provides 1 gram of omega-3s.
4. Balance Your Blood Sugar
Blood-sugar imbalances can cause fatigue, mood swings, and energy fluctuations, and they can also stall weight loss. Hypothyroidism can worsen these symptoms.
Reduced production of thyroid hormones can lead to insulin resistance, making your cells become less responsive to this hormone and resulting in higher blood-sugar levels. Some people with hypothyroidism also have impaired glucose tolerance, which means their body has difficulty maintaining stable blood-sugar levels that can create post-meal blood-sugar spikes.
What you track and monitor, you can improve. As you focus on protein-first meals and incorporate strength training, you’re going to see big improvements in blood sugar balance. A continuous glucose monitor is a great way to track those changes.
Blood Sugar Support is a synergistic blend of two blood-sugar-supporting nutrients, berberine and alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). Berberine is a plant-derived compound that helps maintain optimal blood-glucose metabolism and the antioxidant ALA provides additional support for blood-sugar balance and cardiovascular health.*
5. Boost Your Antioxidants
When damaging free radicals overpower your body's ability to neutralize them, a condition called oxidative stress can result. Among its damage, oxidative stress can create cellular damage, including your thyroid cells. This free-radical damage also interferes with the activity of enzymes that convert T4 to T3, leading to reduced T3 levels and contributing to hypothyroidism symptoms.
When your immune system attacks the thyroid gland with Hashimoto’s, chronic inflammation can contribute to this free-radical damage, harming your thyroid cells and impairing their ability to produce and release thyroid hormones.
The solution is to eat plenty of antioxidant-rich plant food
s. Antioxidants are compounds that help your body better neutralize those harmful free radicals that can hurt your thyroid and more. The right nutrient support can also support your body’s antioxidant defense system.
Sparkling C Powder provides therapeutic amounts of Vitamin C combined with three bioflavonoids (quercetin, hesperidin, and rutin) for broad-spectrum antioxidant support. The delicious, orange-flavored effervescent drink tastes delicious, with zero grams of sugar.*
6. Eat More Fiber
Amy Myers, MD, says that until you have a healthy impermeable gut, you can’t heal your thyroid (or, I would add, reach your goal weight).2 Gut health and thyroid health are intricately connected. A healthy gut can optimally absorb the nutrients that your thyroid needs to function, manage chronic inflammation, and reduce the risk of autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s. The trillions of bacteria that inhabit your gut also impact the conversion of T4 to active T3.
One way to support gut health is through eating optimal amounts of fiber. Fiber acts as a prebiotic, the “food” that nourishes your beneficial bacteria. When these bacteria digest fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which have anti-inflammatory and protective effects on your gut lining.
Insufficient fiber intake can compromise your gut lining. Eventually, this leads to leaky gut, where the gut barrier becomes more permeable, allowing bacteria and other things intended to stay in your gut to slip into your bloodstream and create havoc. Inflammation that starts in the gut eventually impacts your entire body. Adequate fiber intake can lower chronic inflammatory diseases, including cardiovascular disease and inflammatory bowel disease.3
Fiber can also help bind and eliminate the toxins that interfere with thyroid hormone production and metabolism. Because it helps regulate your appetite, slows down your digestion, and increases satiety, fiber is my go-to for weight loss.
The 21-Day Breakthrough Food Intolerance Cleanse is a self-paced online program with all the tools and resources you need to help calm inflammation from hidden food sensitivities, lose fat, reclaim your health, and feel energized and better than ever. You’ll learn how to manage long-term inflammation, find the “healthy” foods that are hurting you, heal your gut, and gain the knowledge and tools that stay with you for life.*
7. Get The Right Nutrients
Various vitamins and minerals play essential roles in the synthesis, conversion, and regulation of your thyroid hormones. According to Izabella Wentz, PharmD, the most common nutrient deficiencies with Hashimoto’s include:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B12
- Iron/ferritin (the iron-storage protein)
Let’s look at a few of these more closely.
- Your thyroid needs selenium to convert T4 to T3. This mineral also supports antioxidant enzymes that protect your thyroid gland from free-radical damage. Selenium deficiencies can impair thyroid hormone metabolism and increase thyroid disorders.
- Likewise, the thyroid needs zinc to make thyroid hormones. Deficiencies in this mineral can lead to decreased thyroid-hormone production and potentially lead to Hashimoto’s.
- Ditto with vitamin D: low amounts can impact thyroid-hormone levels and contribute to autoimmune disease.
Even with the healthiest diet, you may not be getting optimal nutrients due to numerous factors, including topsoil erosion and transit time from farm to table. That’s why everyone benefits from a basic supplement plan, including a high-quality multivitamin/ mineral.
Daily Essentials Multi + Omegas is the solution. Every packet combines a high-potency multivitamin/ mineral/ phytonutrients along with therapeutic amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, in one convenient packet to provide the nutrients your body needs to thrive. Ferrochel® Iron Chelate ensures that you meet your iron needs.
8. Stress Less
Constant high stress is more than just a mental strain—it also strains your thyroid. When stress sends your cortisol levels skyrocketing, it can disrupt the conversion of the inactive thyroid hormone T4 into its active form, T3. This process is crucial for maintaining a balanced metabolism.
Chronic stress can also sway your eating choices, making you gravitate towards sugary, high-calorie comfort foods. These choices not only counteract weight loss efforts but also amplify the negative effects on the thyroid by disrupting hormonal balance.
Meditation, deep breathing, yoga, regular physical activity, and quality sleep can help regulate stress hormones, positively impacting thyroid function and overall hormonal balance. The key is to find something that works for you and do it regularly.
Take Ten Stress Support is a uniquely formulated product that provides gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a key neurotransmitter in the body involved in a normal, calm stress response. This synergistic formula supplies other calming nutrients including glycine, niacinamide, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6.*
9. Sleep Better
Insomnia and other sleep disorders are more common among people with hypothyroidism.5 That can become a problem for your thyroid and weight loss, since sleep helps regulate thyroid hormones.
During deep sleep, your body produces and releases growth hormone, which supports the conversion of T4 to T3. If sleep is interrupted or inadequate, this conversion process can be hampered, affecting overall thyroid function.
Quality sleep also helps reduce stress levels, restore energy levels, and combat the fatigue often associated with hypothyroidism. Plus, it helps regulate hunger hormones and improves metabolic rate, ultimately supporting your weight-loss efforts.
The Optimal Sleep Kit contains three supplements (Sleep Candy™, Magnesium Body Calm, and All-In-One Shake) that help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep through the night, and wake up feeling rested.*
Test, Don’t Guess: Work With a Functional-Medicine Doctor
Supporting a healthy thyroid and reaching your goal weight can be tough challenges to tackle alone. Alan Christianson, NMD, says that over 84% of people with thyroid disease have another condition that contributes to their symptoms. Working with a functional-medicine doctor can help you get properly diagnosed and treated for your condition.6
Most conventional doctors only look at TSH levels and sometimes total or free T4, which hardly provides a comprehensive perspective about your thyroid health. Functional-medicine doctors, on the other hand, conduct a full thyroid panel, which includes various thyroid hormone tests including TSH, free T4, free T3, and sometimes reverse T3. These tests collectively assess the different aspects of thyroid function, allowing a more comprehensive evaluation to help you best determine what customized strategies you need to heal your thyroid and reach your goal weight.
These sources can also support you as you work with your functional practitioner to restore thyroid function:
- Simple Ways to Support Your Thyroid
- How to Lose Weight with Thyroid Disease with Dr. Alan Christianson
- Can't Lose Weight? Your Thyroid Might Be the Problem
- Thyroid Pharmacist: Is it Hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's?
- Myers MD, Amy. The Thyroid Connection (pp. 163-164). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.
- Ma W, Nguyen LH, Song M, Wang DD, Franzosa EA, Cao Y, Joshi A, Drew DA, Mehta R, Ivey KL, Strate LL, Giovannucci EL, Izard J, Garrett W, Rimm EB, Huttenhower C, Chan AT. Dietary fiber intake, the gut microbiome, and chronic systemic inflammation in a cohort of adult men. Genome Med. 2021 Jun 17;13(1):102. doi: 10.1186/s13073-021-00921-y. PMID: 34140026; PMCID: PMC8212460.
- Thyroid Pharmacist: 7 Nutrient Deficiencies in Hashimoto's – Dr. Izabella Wentz
- Green ME, Bernet V, Cheung J. Thyroid Dysfunction and Sleep Disorders. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2021 Aug 24;12:725829. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2021.725829. PMID: 34504473; PMCID: PMC8423342.
- Christianson, Alan. The Thyroid Reset Diet (p. 242). Harmony/Rodale. Kindle Edition.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern.