Diet and Weight Loss Tips for Thyroid Patients


What Can Help You Lose Weight?

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Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell 

If you are a thyroid patient trying to lose weight, you may have noticed that it can be a challenge. Here are several diet and weight loss secrets to help you win the battle against excess pounds.

Change Your Diet

It can be difficult or feel nearly impossible to lose weight when you are hypothyroid. But it is possible.

Making a significant change to your diet is usually necessary in order to successfully lose weight with a thyroid condition. What type of diet to follow, however, depends on your unique physiology, food sensitivities, ability to absorb nutrients, and effectiveness at metabolizing, storing, and burning carbohydrates, among other factors. 

Some approaches to consider include:

  • Overall calorie restriction
  • Avoiding overconsumption of thyroid-slowing raw goitrogenic foods and vegetables like kale, spinach, and broccoli. (Watch out raw juice diets in particular!)
  • Limiting simple carbohydrates and sugar by following a low-glycemic diet.
  • Following an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Autoimmune Protocol/Anti-Inflammatory/AIP Diet.
  • Follow an unprocessed, low-sugar, whole foods diet such as the Paleo Diet. 
  • Follow a low-carbohydrate diet or very low-carbohydrate diet such as the ketogenic diet. 
  • Changing the timing of your meals, such as following the intermittent fasting diet.
  • Being tested for and then eliminating any food allergens. Common allergens include dairy, wheat, soy, and certain fruits and nuts. 

Some people have also claimed that a gluten-free diet has helped them to lose weight.

Optimize Your Treatment

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For many thyroid patients, if your thyroid is underactive and you are hypothyroid, a lack of treatment—or insufficient treatment—may make weight loss almost impossible, despite diet and exercise.

First, it is important that your hypothyroidism is diagnosed as quickly as possible. The longer it takes you to get diagnosed with hypothyroidism, the more weight you could gain. While you're becoming hypothyroid, even before your TSH is elevated enough to warrant treatment, your metabolism can slow down significantly, burning fewer calories each day. Hypothyroidism can also make you tired, achy, and less likely to exercise, which also reduces your metabolism. And, when you’re tired, you may eat more sugary foods and carbohydrates for energy. If you have thyroid symptoms, see a physician right away, and be knowledgeable and informed about the diagnosis and treatment process.

Second, keep in mind that most patients who have had surgical removal of the thyroid or radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment end up hypothyroid. But there can be a delay between your treatment and the start of thyroid hormone replacement medication, leaving you hypothyroid for an extended period. Have a plan in place with your physician for regular thyroid testing after surgery or RAI so that your treatment can start as soon as there is evidence that you are hypothyroid. 

You may also want to consider whether to have RAI versus other hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease treatments. Some studies have found that from 50 to 85 percent of patients gained weight after RAI and there is a dramatic increase in obesity among previously hyperthyroid patients who have had RAI therapy. Talk to your practitioner about your Graves’/hyperthyroidism treatment options

Third, don’t assume that simply getting on thyroid medication will make you lose weight. For many patients, the treatment needs to be optimized, which can include keeping TSH in the lower end of the range, resolving low Free T3 levels with T3 and natural thyroid drugs, or lowering Reverse T3 levels. Find out what some of the nation's top integrative thyroid experts have to say about the steps in optimal hypothyroidism treatment.

Finally, some practitioners also believe that hormone resistance problems—including leptin resistance and insulin resistance—contribute to the difficulties many thyroid patients face in losing weight. This means you should consider having your fasting glucose and leptin levels tested, evaluated, and treated.

Try Metabolism-Boosting Exercise

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For many thyroid patients, calorie restriction or even a diet overhaul isn't enough to allow for weight loss. Hypothyroidism can lower your metabolism, which means you need fewer calories, making it more difficult to cut enough calories to generate significant weight loss. One of the most important things you can do to raise your metabolism is exercise. Exercise helps make your metabolism more efficient by helping burn calories and fat, reducing blood sugar levels, and balancing weight-loss promoting hormones such as leptin.

If you want to lose weight, you're going to need to do more exercise than you might expect. According to experts, healthy people of normal weight need 60 minutes of physical activity each day to maintain weight and avoid excess gain. If you are hypothyroid and want to lose weight, you will likely need to do more than an hour a day of exercise.

Some thyroid patients highly recommend a muscle activation and muscle-building DVD workout program called T-Tapp. Other patients have found walking, Pilates, lifting weights, and other forms of exercise effective. If you have to prioritize which type of exercise, consider strength training and exercise that builds muscle for the maximum metabolic benefits.​

Understand Your Medications

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Some of the drugs doctors prescribe for your thyroid-related symptoms and problems can cause weight gain. For example, the following drugs are associated with weight gain:

  • Antithyroid drugs such as methimazole and PTU used to treat Graves’ disease and hyperthyroidism
  • Beta blockers (often used to treat hyperthyroidism)
  • Steroid anti-inflammatories (i.e. prednisone)
  • Estrogen and progesterone independently, or together as the "pill" or in hormone replacement therapy
  • Certain antidepressants, especially Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft
  • Mood-stabilizing and anticonvulsant drugs such as those given for bipolar disorder, including lithium, valproate (Depakote) and carbamazepine (Tegretol)

If you're on one of these drugs and gaining weight, talk to your doctor about your concerns.

There are also hundreds of over-the-counter diet and weight loss supplements on the market. Very few of them are tested or proven to be effective. Several of them have shown some limited benefits in terms of suppressing your appetite or helping to encourage fat burning. They include:

Get Enough Water and Fiber

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If you are trying the lose weight, it's very likely that you're not getting enough water. Water helps your metabolism work more efficiently. It can also help reduce appetite, eliminate water retention and bloating, and improve elimination and digestion. You may know about the common recommendation to drink eight 8-ounce glasses a day, but some experts suggest that you drink another 8-ounce glasses for every 25 pounds of weight you need to lose.

Philip Goglia, author of Turn Up the Heat: Unlock the Fat-Burning Power of Your Metabolism, recommends you drink one ounce of water per pound of scale weight. For most people, this ends up being a great deal more than the standard 64 ounces a day. If you're at a plateau, or weight loss is very slow, it's worth trying.

You're also probably not getting enough fiber. Getting a good amount of fiber is one of the basic tactics things you can do as a thyroid patient if you want to lose weight. Fiber has so many benefits for people with hypothyroidism who are trying to lose weight, and it can come from food, supplements, or both. Read about high-fiber food options and how to incorporate more fiber into your diet.

Get Enough Sleep

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A crucial factor for weight loss is getting enough sleep. Numerous studies link sleep deprivation to a slowed metabolism and weight gain. One 16-year study found that women who sleep five hours per night were 32 percent more likely to experience major weight gain—as much as 33 pounds or more—and were 15 percent more likely to become obese over the course of the study, compared to those who slept seven hours a night. Some practitioners have recommended that you even skip a morning workout and use the time to get more sleep.

A Word From Verywell

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If you feel like you have been doing everything right and are frustrated by the scale refusing to budge, there's one last diet tip: Don't give up! Regroup, and start troubleshooting your diet and weight loss program by finding out more about how to bust through a weight loss plateau, and exploring more tips for thyroid patients on making your diet work for effective weight loss.

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View Article Sources
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