How to Boost Your Metabolism When You Have Thyroid Disease

4 Steps That'll Help You Optimize Metabolism and Lose Weight

An underactive thyroid can slow your metabolism, and cause weight gain. If you are trying to lose weight, with the extra impediment of a sub-par metabolism, what should you do? 

Will efforts to boost a slow metabolism help you lose weight and gain energy? Do you need to speed up your metabolism in order to lose weight or break through a weight loss plateau? These are important questions for anyone trying to lose weight, but particularly for people with thyroid disease.

A beautiful fit young woman does sit ups in a gym; another woman does the same in the background.
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Understanding Metabolism

When you eat, food is converted into energy. The term "metabolism" refers to the way—not the speed—that your body processes and uses the food you eat. Rather than having a "faster" or "slower" metabolism, it's most accurate to describe your metabolism as efficient or functional versus inefficient or dysfunctional.

Metabolism is made up of several components.

  • Your basal metabolism: From 60 to 65 percent of the calories you eat each day is spent just keeping you alive and providing the basic energy you need to live. Even if you were to lay in bed all day, you would still need these calories to support your basic body functions.
  • Physical activity: About 25 percent of your calories go to movement and physical activity. Naturally, the more active you are, the more of your calories are expended each day. 
  • Thermic effect of food: About 10 percent of calories are spent processing the food you eat. For example, if you eat 2,000 calories a day, you would typically be burning 200 calories a day simply eating and digesting your food.

The Metabolism Formula

The winning formula for maintaining your weight is that what you take in in terms of calories should equal the calories you expend on a daily basis. The following illustrates the calculation.

Calories Taken In From Food = Calories Expended From Basal Metabolism + Calories Expended By Activity + Calories Expended Digesting Food (Thermic Effect).

To lose weight, you have to reduce the number of calories taken in from food, increase the number of calories expended, or both.

Surprisingly, many overweight people and people with thyroid disease, in particular, do not take in any more calories than people of average weight and can sustain or even gain weight at far lower daily calorie levels. If you fit into this category, this means that you are likely starting with a reduced basal metabolism, or resting metabolic rate, known as RMR. You may also be expending fewer calories from physical activity, and in some cases, the thermic effect of the food you eat may be blunted.

The end result: You aren't burning as many calories as someone of a similar weight with a more functional metabolism.

For you, losing weight requires the following four steps:

  • Optimize your thyroid treatment
  • Increase your RMR/basal metabolism
  • Increase the calories you expend by activity 
  • Increase the calories you expend digesting food

Optimizing Your Thyroid

If you have undiagnosed hypothyroidism, or your condition is not adequately treated by your healthcare provider, almost anything you do to raise your metabolism on the output side may fail. So the first essential step is to get a thyroid test. And if you have been tested and are being treated, you need to make sure your thyroid treatment is optimized, and that you are taking the proper drug and dosage.

Increase Your RMR

Metabolism is somewhat a function of genetics, but you can increase basal metabolism by building muscle. Muscle cells are up to eight times more metabolically active than fat cells, and muscle burns more calories than fat. Adding weight-bearing or resistance exercise, such as weightlifting, T-Tapp, or exercise bands, can help increase your basal metabolism.

Dehydration can also contribute to an inefficient metabolism by affecting body temperature. When you are dehydrated, your body temperature drops slightly and causes your body to store fat as a way to help raise or maintain the temperature. Making sure you drink enough liquids, preferably at least 64 ounces (eight glasses) of water per day, to avoid this metabolic pitfall. Making the water cold can also add an additional metabolic boost. 

Increase Your Physical Activity

Aerobic exercise that increases the heart rate can raise metabolism while you're exercising. Some experts believe that aerobic exercise also boosts resting metabolism for several hours, as muscles burn calories to recover and repair themselves.

Increase the Thermic Effect of Food

Resting metabolic rate typically increases as much as two to three times more after eating proteins versus carbohydrates and fats. Digesting complex, high-fiber carbohydrates like high-fiber vegetables and cereals burn more calories than simple carbohydrates. You can increase the thermic effect of the foods you eat by focusing on quality protein, high-fiber fruits and vegetables, and an occasional high-fiber grain to meet your caloric needs.

A Word From Verywell

If your metabolism is more of a challenge than you expected, you may want to explore measuring it precisely. RMR testing using devices such as DexaFit or BodySpec can evaluate your actual RMR, and the results can help you carefully determine the best way forward in crafting a successful weight loss plan.

Be sure to meet with your healthcare provider, as well—this way, you can formulate a unique, healthy "metabolic boosting," plan that is safe and right for you.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  • Tremblay A, Chaput JP. Adaptive reduction in thermogenesis and resistance tolosefat in obese men. Br J Nutr. 2009 Aug;102(4):488-92. DOI: 10.1017/S0007114508207245.

By Mary Shomon
Mary Shomon is a writer and hormonal health and thyroid advocate. She is the author of "The Thyroid Diet Revolution."