How to deal with weight gain when suffering from thyroid?

Decreased metabolism rate due to low thyroid hormones lead to weight gain. Read on to find out how you can overcome this

By Dr Parul R Sheth

Rita Suri, a 40-year old housewife often complained of fatigue, weight gain and constipation, “I feel very sluggish these days and look all puffed up”. She took blood tests to check on her thyroid function on her doctor’s advice. Rita was diagnosed with hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid gland. Treatment with thyroid hormones resolved Rita’s constipation and most importantly, made her lose weight.

Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones. Low thyroid hormone levels can occur naturally or when the thyroid gland is injured by radiation, medications or removed by surgery. Adequate levels of thyroid hormones in blood are required to maintain normal mental and physical activity. These hormones are also responsible for maintaining the metabolism (the process that breaks down food and converts it into energy) rate of your body.  Decreased metabolism rate due to low thyroid hormones lead to weight gain. 

Weight gain woes
Over time, weight gain due to hypothyroidism can cause obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease. Losing weight with hypothyroidism is indeed a tough task. This is because increased intake of calories can increase your weight in a short period of time. At the same time, low calorie intake or dieting can result in health problems because of further decrease in metabolic rate.  At times it can be difficult for you to get back to your normal weight even after taking hypothyroidism treatment.  

Steps to deal with weight gain

  1. Diet
    The goal is to raise your metabolism and slow down the weight gain because of hypothyroidism. A healthy diet plan, which balances your protein to carbohydrate ratio, is recommended to reverse the effects of your hypothyroidism weight gain.

    It is important to include the recommended daily amount of vitamins, minerals, calcium and iron. Your diet should include healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and foods rich in protein. The best examples are sunflower seeds, whole grain products, oily fish, olive oil, fruits such as bananas, vegetables such as carrots, avocado and dry fruits like apricots.

    Experts advice on cutting back certain foods that can affect the iodine uptake; an overconsumption or shortage of iodine in the diet can trigger thyroid problems. Limited consumption of cabbage, broccoli, kale, lima beans, mustard, linseed, sweet potato, soy products, and peanuts is advised. It is best to cut down on cola and coffee and avoid drinking alcohol and refrain from smoking.
  2. Exercise
    Regular daily exercises such as walking, jogging, running etc would help maintain weight. Keep a check on the amount of calories you consume and the amount of calories you burn through exercise.
  3. Stress reduction
    Stress is a risk factor for weight gain. Exercise helps lower your stress. You can try other stress relieving techniques such as Yoga, meditation, vipassana etc. Quality sleep and rest help in clearing your stress.

Medical treatment
Medical treatment of hypothyroidism involves a daily dose of oral medication levothyroxine that restores adequate hormone levels. According to Prof Padma Menon, head, endocrinology, KEM Hospital, Mumbai, 80 per cent of thyroid patients require 100g/day of medications. The Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) returns to normal in 8 to 12 weeks, hence the ideal time for monitoring after the start of therapy is three months.

The medication helps remove your fatigue, lowers cholesterol and reverses weight gain that has occurred because of an underactive thyroid gland. You need to take this medicine on an empty stomach, preferably before breakfast every day lifelong. TSH hormone monitoring is required every year. Your doctor can change or adjust your dose accordingly.

Picture credit: BCCL

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