I never thought I’d wonder how to lose weight with hypothyroidism.
But there I was. Sitting on my bed in my pajamas and fuzzy socks, cuddled up and shivering, I’d just ended the phone call with my doctor.
My TSH levels were 13.4. Normal range for TSH levels is 0.35-5.5. Needless to say, I had a health problem. The news didn’t come as a surprise—all the signs were there.
I’d been losing hair for months. My energy was low all the time. I cried on the phone to my boyfriend at least once per week.
How was I going to solve my problem?
The doctor prescribed me medication for my thyroid over the phone. I didn’t even have to visit his office. Part of that alarmed me… how eager the doctor was to start me on medication. He didn’t even explain my other options to me. The only option in his medical mind was to pop a pill.
I knew I had other options. My husband (then boyfriend), Rob, had prodded me to supplement my diet with iodine for months. Rob knew all about my problems. And I kept denying them… waiting for them to disappear.
I had a choice: either take the medication or supplement with the nutrients themselves. I weighed my options and decided to opt for supplementation—the holistic approach.
I bought Iodine Solution that morning. I quickly completed my morning routine so I could leave home early. I was going to buy Brazil nuts from my local grocery store.
Losing weight with hypothyroidism is possible
I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in December 2013. Since then I’ve been able to lose 30 pounds. Though it might not seem like much, at the time I was on the higher end of a healthy weight at 160 pounds. I’m 5 feet, 8 inches tall.
The transformation has been life-changing. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. I’m relieved my hair isn’t falling out and I don’t feel cold all the time. I have energy to live my life. I’m exponentially happier.
And now I have control over my life.
Getting diagnosed with hypothyroidism was uncomfortable. It made me feel as if I didn’t have control over my weight or my hormones. As if I didn’t have control over myself anymore.
It would’ve been simple to forget my health weight loss goals. I could’ve used the diagnosis as a reason (i.e., excuse) to give up on losing weight. But I didn’t.
In fact, I was inspired. The diagnosis empowered me to take control over my body, my weight and my life.
I lost weight after I was diagnosed. Learn how to lose weight when you have hypothyroidism by following the tips and tricks I learned.
1. Eat foods with low caloric density
When I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, I was trying to eat a raw food diet. I enjoyed lots of fruits and vegetables, but also ate loads of nuts, seeds and oil.
There’s nothing wrong with nuts and seeds. As you can see in my dietary guidelines, I recommend a serving of nuts or seeds per day.
Yet I was eating more than a serving of nuts or seeds per day. I was eating several.
In addition to the nuts and seeds, I added a lot of oil to my meals. Oil has a reputation for being healthy, especially olive oil and coconut oil. But in reality, oils are empty calories.
The nuts, seeds and oil prevented me from losing weight when I was eating buckets of fruits and vegetables. In fact, I even gained weight during my raw food period.
My first piece of advice is this: eat foods with low caloric density.
What’s caloric density? It’s the concentration of calories in your food. Foods with low caloric density spread out the calories over a large volume.
Consider a salad. A giant bowl of salad might have only 200 calories. A salad is a textbook example of a dish with low caloric density.
Now picture a tablespoon of olive oil. In that tablespoon of olive oil, there are 120 calories. Oils are foods that have high caloric density.
Foods with low caloric density fill you up without stuffing you with calories. Weight loss isn’t as simple as calories-in-calories-out, but eating fewer calories always helps.
2. Eat foods that digest slowly
I recommend eating foods with low caloric densities. That still leaves you with many foods to choose from. Should you eat beans or grains? Fruit or vegetables?
I’d normally recommend eating whatever you enjoy most. But hypothyroidism changes the circumstances.
When you want to lose weight with hypothyroidism, it’s best to eat foods that digest slowly. This means eating starches instead of sugar and foods that are slightly higher in protein.
Starch and sugar are two types of carbohydrates. I suggest eating starch over sugar because starch digests slower than sugar. The body has to work harder when digesting starch.
Regardless of the type of carbohydrate, your body breaks them down into glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar that the brain and body use for energy.
Glucose is a simple sugar that the brain and body use for energy.
Sugars are simple carbohydrates, so they need less time and effort to break down. Starches are complex carbohydrates. They first need to be transformed into simple carbs, which then need to be converted into glucose.
All in all, complex carbs keep your stomach working for longer. The food takes longer to digest, which takes you longer to feel hungry.
This is the same reason I suggest to eat foods that are slightly higher in protein. Protein digests slower than carbohydrates.
A stomach that works longer keeps your warm. I’ll talk about why keeping yourself warm is essential later.
Let’s put these abstract ideas into real foods. This advice translates into eating legumes (chickpeas, beans, peas, lentils, etc.) and colorful vegetables (carrots, spinach, beets, etc.). These foods have low caloric density and have more protein than fruits and grains.
Here’s what a day might look like for you:
- Breakfast: Black bean, banana and cocoa smoothie (don’t knock it before you try it!)
- Lunch: Hummus, beet and spinach sandwich on whole grain bread with a side salad
- Dinner: Mixed bean chili with sweet potato
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3. Drink plenty of water or tea
Drinking enough water is essential if you want to be healthy. It’s even more important when you want to lose weight.
I wish I’d known the importance of water when I first tried to lose weight. Often, you believe you’re hungry when you’re actually thirsty. Then you eat when you don’t need to. This results in eating too many calories.
Eating too many calories slows or stops your weight loss. It could even cause you to gain weight.
Keeping yourself hydrated prevents you from eating when you’re thirsty.
4. Keep yourself warm
The last two tips both play into keeping yourself warm.
I remember how cold I was when I wasn’t managing my hypothyroidism. I wore long-sleeved shirts all the time. I kept my hat and scarf on when I was inside. I used three blankets on my bed to keep me warm at night. I even brought a space heater into my room.
I ate a lot during this period. At the time, I didn’t realize I wasn’t eating because I was hungry. I was eating because I was cold. My body was using food to heat itself up.
To lose weight with hypothyroidism, you need to keep yourself warm. Eating foods that digest slowly keep your metabolism humming. And drink liquids that are room temperature or warm rather than cold.
Since warm water isn’t particularly appealing, I recommend warm lemon water or tea. Pick one and lug around a thermos of your favorite liquid wherever you go. It keeps you hydrated and warm.
5. Increase your physical activity
Working out might be the last thing you want to do with hypothyroidism. You’re exhausted, freezing and depressed. How could you ever motivate yourself to work out?
Though motivation can be a challenge, working out is worth it for three reasons.
- It’ll keep you warm
- It’ll burn extra calories
- It’ll boost your mood
It’s obvious that working out warms you up when you’re doing it. Your muscles work, you become hot, you sweat. You expect your body temperature to increase when you work out.
The warmth you feel when you work out isn’t the only way exercising keeps you warm. Having more muscle burns more calories while you’re not active.
The way working out keeps you warm relates to the extra calories. To keep warm, you must burn calories. You don’t only burn calories when you’re moving. You burn more calories when you’re at rest if you increase your muscle mass.
The third reason to work out is that it’ll make you happy. Exercise releases pleasure hormones in your brain. You’ll feel happy afterwards, even though you might not want to work out initially.
It’s not just the short-term hormones that will lift your mood. The positive feelings will stick around when you notice how exercise boosts your weight loss and body image. Though you won’t look different after one workout, you’ll see and feel a difference after a month. I did.
Working out doesn’t mean driving to the gym or exercising for hours every day. You can do a 30-minute workout 3-4 days a week from your own home. Do simple body weight exercises like:
I recently found an app called 8fit. The free version comes with an extensive library of body weight exercises. There are ideas all over the internet, too.
Experiment with what you prefer and what works for you. From experience, I know you’ll be glad you put in the effort.
How to manage your hypothyroidism without drugs
You don’t need to accept your hypothyroidism. I mentioned in the beginning that I had a choice: take medication or supplements.
Here’s how I manage my hypothyroidism without drugs.
1. Take iodine every day
The iodine was sharp and bitter on my tongue. But I was determined to take and get better.
I mentioned iodine earlier. I supplement with iodine because it’s essential for thyroid function.
Iodine and fluoride work against each other in the body. Fluoride is found in most things we eat, drink and use. The top sources of fluoride are water and toothpaste.
Though both nutrients are necessary, too much of one isn’t healthy. And usually people get too much fluoride and not enough iodine.
To balance the levels of iodine in my body, I needed to severely increase my intake. When I started taking iodine, I started taking 4 drops per day. To put that into perspective, the suggested dose on the bottle was 1 drop per day. But I was deficient and needed to balance out the fluoride and iodine.
I recommend an Iodine Solution. Another option is supplementing your diet with kelp powder. A third solution is to add a teaspoon of iodized salt to your diet each day.
I also recommend cutting out as much fluoride as you can. A water filter would be helpful if you can afford one. Just know that cheap Brita carbon filters don’t work. You need one that filters out fluoride. Since we absorb fluoride through the water we eat, drink and bathe in, an expensive water filter can be worth it.
I don’t brush with fluoridated toothpaste or get the fluoride treatment from the dentist. Non-fluoridated toothpastes are just as effective as ones with fluoride. And as for the fluoride treatments, I value my health more than a pretty smile.
2. A daily dose of selenium
I mentioned above that I bought Brazil nuts. That was for selenium.
I took Brazil nuts because they’re crazy high in selenium. They’re the most concentrated whole-food source of selenium on earth. Just one Brazil nut has 137% of your DV for selenium.
I was aggressive with my hypothyroidism management. I ate five Brazil nuts every morning.
After you have your hypothyroidism under control, you can switch to eating grains and legumes. Grains and legumes are good whole-food sources of selenium. They’re not nearly as high as Brazil nuts, but they don’t need to be. If you eat a couple of servings of whole grains or legumes per day, you’ll get enough selenium.
Considering supplementation over drugs? Make sure to get retested.
My story proves you don’t have to be a slave to medication to keep your hypothyroidism at bay. With a few supplements, you can manage your hypothyroidism without the cost and negative side effects of drugs.
My TSH levels were first tested in early December 2013 and retested at the end of January 2014. Within 2 months my levels were back to normal. It’s possible that you’re only a couple of months away from stopping your thyroid medication.
Talk to a medical professional before you decide. Yet know that your doctor will likely be biased against this decision. Doctors aren’t trained in nutrition. Doctors rely on medication and surgery to fix health problems, not foods and supplements.
Remember that medication isn’t the only way.
The best diet for hypothyroidism + weight loss
Being diagnosed with hypothyroidism doesn’t destine you to be overweight forever. You just need to tweak common weight loss knowledge to fit your situation.
For weight loss with hypothyroidism, I suggest
- Eating foods with low caloric density
- Eating starchy foods
- Eating foods slightly higher in protein
- Drinking lots of warm tea
- Increasing your physical activity
That means filling your plate with colorful vegetables (especially leafy greens) and legumes.
If you’re not sure how to include legumes into your diet, try a hearty recipe such as:
- Easy Mexican Black Beans
- Barley and Baked Beans Recipe
- Mushroom and Pinto Bean Burgers
- Sweet and Spicy Quinoa Chili
- Ooey Gooey Refried Beans
Tired of lackluster salads? Consider one of these veggielicious recipes:
- Kale Pasta in Sweet Tomato Sauce
- Raw Carrot Cake Bites
- Mediterranean Salad
- Loaded Lasagna
- Homemade Fermented Sauerkraut
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Keep your spirits up
I understand how it feels to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I felt like I wasn’t in control of my body or mind. I was reminded of my hypothyroidism every time I brushed my hair, balled on the phone to my boyfriend and fell exhausted into bed.
And despite every battle, I got through it.
The sadness eats away at your spirit and willpower. That’s why it’s essential to control your hypothyroidism rather than accept it.
Be consistent. Eat a black bean, banana and cocoa powder smoothie every day (seriously, you gotta taste it). Commit to doing 50 crunches or squats. Take your iodine and Brazil nuts. I promise, you will see results.
Weight loss isn’t the only result you’ll see. You’ll see yourself becoming happier. You’ll have more energy. You’ll begin to love your body.
Ultimately, the happiness, energy and body image are the most important improvements. Weight loss is nice, but it’s insignificant if you’re depressed, tired and miserable.
Weight loss is a way to achieve the goals that matter: happiness, confidence and control over your life.