If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) then you know first-hand the difficulties you can have getting your weight under control. As us busy, multi-tasking ladies move into our 40s and beyond our thyroid has a lot more to deal with; swinging hormones, chronic stress and often lack of sleep.
So why is our thyroid such an important player when it comes to managing our weight? Let's take a closer look at this fascinating part of our body....
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that releases hormones. Thyroid hormones are responsible for regulating a number of very important body processes; our sleep pattern, our internal temperature and our metabolism just to name a few. And we KNOW that in order to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and live a life full of abundant energy, our metabolism must be in tip-top shape!
So yes, if you didn't know it before, the health of your thyroid IS a big deal!
It’s estimated that at least 3.7% of US adults have an under-active thyroid. And these are just the cases that have actually been diagnosed. The rising concern is that there are significantly more women whose thyroid may be performing sub-optimally but doesn't quite register on the medical scale to receive an official diagnosis. That doesn't mean, however, that the consequences of a sub-optimal, un-diagnosed thyroid condition are any less troublesome.
When you thyroid is unable to manufacture sufficient levels of thyroid hormone, this can result in the slowing down of your metabolism which in turn will make it difficult to lose weight and potentially even gain more weight. Some of the other symptoms of an underactive thyroid can include fatigue, forgetfulness, dry hair and skin, constipation, muscle cramping, and feeling cold. Not a pleasant array of symptoms right?
So how does the thyroid become under-active?
Well there are many reasons why your thyroid may become under-active. The most common is due to an autoimmune condition. An autoimmune condition is where the immune cells attack other cells in the body. In this case, the cells of the thyroid gland.
It can also be the result of low levels of iodine, which is an essential mineral necessary for the thyroid to manufacture thyroid hormone. Combining that with high levels of goitrogens (food substances that inhibit iodine from getting into the thyroid) and you could be at risk of an iodine deficiency.
Now before you run out to buy an iodine supplement, it is important to note that significant iodine-deficiency is not very common in the developed world, so supplements are likely not necessary, and may actually make matters worse if it is not required. So always check with your healthcare professional before taking supplements, and always read the label.
No ideally, you should be able to get enough iodine from your diet. Iodine is naturally found in fish and seafood as well as navy beans, potatoes, and eggs. Iodine is also naturally present in soil therefore can be found in a lot of root vegetables, however, it is worth nothing that due to the increase in fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals used in farming over recent decades, the level of iodine in our soil may be sub-optimal compared to what it would be in naturally organic, soil that has not been tampered with. You may also notice on the packaging of some foods that they have been "fortified" with iodine which simply means, iodine has been added to the food.
ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are planning to get pregnant or already are pregnant or breastfeeding, your body will require more iodine by an increase of as much as 60%. So make sure you are eating plenty of iodine-rich foods!
Another important mineral for thyroid function is thought to be selenium. However, evidence is not strong enough to warrant taking a supplement if you have an under-active thyroid, but it certainly would not be a bad idea to make sure you are eating plenty of selenium-rich foods like Brazil nuts, mushrooms, meat, and fish.
Now just as important as getting plenty of the right foods into your diet to support thyroid function, is making sure you are limiting foods that may hinder thyroid function. A category of foods that you may need to be careful with are those that have what's called "goitrogenic" properties.
Goitrogens are plant-estrogens that prevent the iodine in your blood from getting into your thyroid where it's needed to make thyroid hormones. Goitrogens themselves are not that powerful, unless they're eaten excessively, or are combined with a diet already low in iodine. They are found in "cruciferous" foods such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale. Goitrogens can be deactivated by cooking the foods they're found in. Therefore you are best to choose to cook them and make sure you are getting plenty of iodine-rich foods, instead of eliminating cruciferous vegetables altogether. Cruciferous vegetables have far too many important nutritional benefits for you to want to eliminate these from your diet!
Now getting back to the main topic of this post - weight loss!
As I mentioned earlier, one of the more common symptoms of an under-active thyroid is the inability to lose weight. If this is the case, one thing you can eat more of to help is protein.
Protein has a "thermogenic effect" because your body has to spend energy metabolizing protein; this means that calorie-for-calorie, carbs will promote weight gain more than protein will.
Another strategy you might want to consider to support your thyroid function is to go gluten-free.
There is evidence of a link between an under-active thyroid and sensitivity to gluten. There may be a "cross-reactivity" where the immune cells that are sensitized to gluten can attack the thyroid cells by mistake; this is essentially how autoimmunity works and can affect more than just your thyroid. You might want to consider getting tested for celiac disease if you are experiencing thyroid issues. However important to note, you don't necessarily have to be diagnosed with celiac disease to still struggle to digest gluten. So I recommend removing gluten from your diet for a period of time to see if your under-active thyroid symptoms improve.
Now although nutrition is the cornerstone of your health, it is not the only area of your life that might need an overhaul. Your level of stress, level of exercise and quality of sleep are also key players if you are looking to lose weight and keep it off long-term.
When we are constantly stressed and not sleeping well, our adrenal glands over-secrete the stress hormone cortisol. Unfortunately when our cortisol levels are constantly high this lowers the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in our bloodstream. Picture it like a see-saw. As one goes up, the other must come down.
Also, when cortisol levels go up, so does our insulin and estrogen levels! These are two very important hormones that need to be kept in check if we are looking to lose weight and keep it off long-term.
A delicate balance between all hormones (sex hormones, metabolic hormones and stress hormones) is ESSENTIAL to support proper thyroid function as well as blood-sugar levels in order to reduce cravings and burn fat rather than store fat! If this delicate balance changes, your thyroid symptoms may increase and weight loss will become even more challenging.
In conclusion, if you have concerns about your thyroid, then ask your health professional for a blood test. And while you are there, ask to be tested for celiac disease as well (just to be on the safe side :)
But remember, even if your blood test results come back negative for "hypothyroidism" that doesn't mean your thyroid isn't still sluggish and could do with some support. An excellent way to test your own thyroid function is using the Basal Body Temperature Test which is simple to do at home.
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A COPY OF THE TEST
Foods to support your thyroid include iodine- and selenium-containing foods, cooked cruciferous foods, and gluten-free foods. Don't forget to eat enough protein to help boost your metabolism. Also, consider reducing the amount of raw cruciferous foods you eat.
Supplementing with iodine or selenium should be done with a health professional’s advice only!
And regular exercise, quality sleep, and stress-reduction are all part of the holistic approach to supporting your thyroid so it doesn't hinder your weight loss efforts.
If you are a busy, woman over 40 struggling with chronic stress and hormonal imbalance, you are like many other women I have helped over the 12 years I have been in practice. And the good news is most of them are now living a life with better physical and mental health than they had for years.
I would love the opportunity to help you get life-long positive results too. If you are interested in having an informal chat so I can help give you some guidance on the next best steps for you, CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR FREE 45 MINUTE STRATEGY SESSION TODAY.
In the meantime, fancy trying one of my favourite yummy dinner recipes that your thyroid will ABSOLUTELY love??
Here you go.....An iodine-rich shrim and veggie stir-fry!
Recipe: Shrimp and Veggie Stir-Fry
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb fresh Brussels sprouts, halved or broccoli
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1/4 tsp sea salt
½ pound shrimp, fresh or defrosted
1 tsp honey
2 tbsp coconut aminos or tamari (gluten-free soy sauce alternative)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 dashes cayenne pepper, optional
Heat wok or large skillet with oil.
Add Brussels sprouts and fry until they're golden (4-5 minutes).
In a bowl, make the sauce by combining the honey, aminos/tamari, garlic, and cayenne, if using.
Add mushrooms and salt and fry for 1-2 minutes.
Add shrimp and fry until they're cooked and turn pink.
Add sauce to skillet. Toss and cook until heated through.
rice or quinoa.