Is Your Thyroid the Reason Why You Can't Lose Weight?

Getting Your Thyroid Checked Out Is a Reasonable Step

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If you are one of the millions of Americans trying to lose weight, but not succeeding, you may have an underactive thyroid gland—the small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that is crucial to your metabolism.

According to the American Thyroid Association, approximately 20 million Americans have some type of thyroid disease, and up to 60 percent are unaware of their condition. 

In addition, we know that thyroid dysfunction is associated with changes in body weight, with hypothyroidism being associated with a higher body mass index (BMI).

So seeing if your thyroid is a contributing culprit behind your weight problem is a sensible next step. 

Thyroid and Weight

When you are hypothyroid, your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone. This results in your metabolism slowing down along with body processes from digestion to hair growth to thinking.

In addition, hypothyroidism is associated with a decreased resting energy expenditure, meaning you burn less energy at rest. With all of this, it's no wonder that having an underactive thyroid gland is linked to a higher weight. 

Remember, though, a link does not imply that one causes the other—some people are lean and have hypothyroidism.

It's likely that the precise connection between your weight and your thyroid is complex, especially considering that even with treatment of hypothyroidism, there is usually only modest weight loss.

The reason why more significant weight loss is not seen is unclear. It may be that people increase their calorie intake, which offsets the increase in the resting energy expenditure.

Other Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Besides weight gain (or difficulty losing weight despite changes in diet and exercise), there are other symptoms of hypothyroidism including:

  • Extreme exhaustion and fatigue
  • Depression, moodiness, sadness
  • Sensitivity to cold, cold hands, cold feet
  • Dry, tangled, and/or coarse hair
  • Hair loss, especially from the outer part of the eyebrows
  • Fuzzy thinking, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering

Keep in mind, though, that the symptoms of hypothyroidism can be quite subtle and nonspecific (so easily ignored or chalked up to life stresses). Moreover, symptoms are variable from one person to the next, meaning a loved one with hypothyroidism may notice different problems—you may struggle with weight gain while your relative struggles with constipation.

A Word From Verywell

The bottom line is that thyroid disease, especially an underactive thyroid, is a potential reason behind weight problems.

So getting your thyroid checked out is a sensible step if you have been having difficulty losing weight or are gaining weight. The good news, too, is that a simple blood test (a thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH) can give you the answer. 

View Article Sources
  • American Thyroid Association. (n.d.). General Information/Press Room.
  • Müller MJ, Enderle J, Bosy-Westphal A. Changes in Energy Expenditure with Weight Gain and Weight Loss in Humans. Curr Obes Rep. 2016 Dec;5(4):413-423.
  • Sanyal D, Raychaudhuri M. Hypothyroidism and obesity: An intriguing link. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2016 Jul-Aug;20(4):554-57.