Is Thyroid Function Impacting your Weight Loss Efforts
In this article we take a quick look at how thyroid function might be affecting weight loss and how you might be able to determine if you potentially have an underlying thyroid issue.
Here is an interesting but all too common story.
A female client walks in to my clinic. All she wants is to be able to lower her body fat. On first glance her diet looks pretty good, she’s also exercising on a regular basis, but she just can’t seem to shift body fat like she used to be able to.
She presents with a few nagging health symptoms. She has seen the doctor about them, but they are either not interested because symptoms are not severe enough to diagnose a disease and her blood work has come back “normal”.
They might have been offered contraceptive medication to cover up some of the symptoms she experienced relating to their menstrual cycle, or better yet offered some anti-depressants and told to eat less and exercise more.
Before I go any further, it has to be stressed that in most cases simple nutrition and lifestyle modification and awareness around energy balance is enough to move you in the right direction with your weight loss efforts. What I am talking about here is a small percentage of the population that appear to be doing the right things, are experiencing certain health symptoms and the level of exercise or calorie levels they are dropping themselves to are becoming unhealthy and unhelpful.
Why does thyroid effect weight loss?
Think of thyroid hormone as the spark that ignites fuel in your car allowing it to move. You might be adding fuel into your car, but the lack of spark might be causing it to slow down, judder or even stop completely.
If your car is then not burning fuel correctly but you keep filling it up, eventually that fuel is going to overflow.
Whilst this is extremely simplified, this can be the same with low thyroid hormone. We keep adding fuel but the body is not using it correctly and thus you start to gain body fat even though you have not changed how much you eat or change the level of exercise you do, unfortunately your body is just less efficient as using the energy you put in.
Typically testing for thyroid focuses on 1 or 2 potential dysfunctions, whereas there are actually more like 6-8 potential dysfunctions that can occur with the thyroid system.
Irrespective of where the dysfunction actually originates from the end result is the same, a lack of thyroid hormone acting on the cell, preventing it from utilising energy effectively, and thus lowering your metabolism.
Thus what we still have is an energy balance issue, but the energy balance issue comes much more from an underlying physiological imbalance rather than simply stuffing your face with way too many calories.
Thyroid also has other far-reaching effects on the body such as your digestion, mental cognition, and heart and bone maintenance to name a few, hence why their can be a huge variety of symptoms associated with low thyroid on top of weight gain or an inability to lose weight.
How do I know if I have low thyroid function?
Before running off to the doctor and demanding an all-singing and all-dancing thyroid screen, there are certain symptoms that occur in the presence of low thyroid hormone.
Typical low thyroid symptoms include:
- Inability to lower body fat or weight gain
- Hair thinning
- Weak nails
- Dry Skin
- Sluggish bowels
- Failure to ovulate
- Cold extremities
- Mental sluggishness
- Tired and fatigued
- Low mood / depression
- Raised cholesterol
- Low libido
If light bulbs are starting to go off in your head then this may well be an area you want to investigate further. What can trigger low thyroid function?
There are numerous potential triggers to low thyroid and you may never know what one thing it was or whether it was an accumulation of stressors/environmental factors that contributed to your symptoms.
Common triggers to low thyroid function
- Chronic under eating and over training – Low calorie diets, yo-yo dieting and high training volume
- Nutrient insufficiencies such as selenium, tyrosine, iodine, zinc etc
- Autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s
- Poor liver function
- Poor digestive health
- High Stress – physical and emotional
If there is one thing you should do to help support your thyroid and ensure your metabolism is working as effectively as possible, it is working on a well balanced diet plan that is not restrictive on any of the macronutrients (carbs, fats and proteins) and ensure your calorie levels are adequate. If calories are low and have been for some time and you are no longer losing weight you may need to lift them up very gradually to optimise your metabolism yet prevent a sudden increase in body fat.
This can be frustrating for some people because the honest truth is your body is not in the right place for you to be focusing on weight loss. In fact the focus should turn to how you are going to improve your health and perhaps from an exercise perspective a shift towards performance-based goals would be more appropriate.
I’d always recommend working with someone to review your food intake and also have your training program reviewed, to ensure your food intake is meeting the needs of your training.
Once that is done you can then work on other lifestyle areas such as reducing stress and meal timing / frequency. If you are still struggling with thyroid symptoms then getting a decent thyroid test to ascertain if there is an issue and where it originates.
A decent thyroid test should at minimum contain the following markers:
- Thyroid Stimulating Hormone
- Free T4
- Free T3
In addition it would also be great to look at the following markers, especially if the above are not optimal:
- Total T4
- Total T3
- Reverse T3
- Thyroid antibodies (TPO and TG) – Especially if there is a history of autoimmunity in your family)
- T3 Uptake
Do you think thyroid function might be affecting your fat loss results?
To enquire about a 1-2-1 consultation so that we can review your current health history, current symptoms, nutrition and lifestyle habits please complete the enquiry form at the bottom of the page.
Following an initial consultation I am always better placed to make recommendations on appropriate lab testing so that you get a more complete picture about what is going on with your physiology and why it might be contributing to your fat loss resistance.
By addressing underlying physiological imbalances you then begin to experience the results your nutrition and training efforts deserve.