Something that I hear commonly both when people are newly diagnosed with hypothyroidism and when they’ve had it for a few years is ‘I’m putting on weight, so I’m going to restrict my calorie intake’.
This is the BIGGEST red flag to me. Let me tell you why.
The thyroid is responsible for our metabolic rate – that which determines the rate at which energy is burnt in our bodies. Hence when the production of thyroid hormones is low (hypothyroidism), weight tends to increase. And inversely, when the production of thyroid hormones is high (hyperthyroidism), rapid weight loss becomes an issue.
When calorie intake is dramatically decreased, this can cause thyroid function to further falter, hence decreasing metabolic rate & increasing weight gain.
There is a fine balance when it comes to calorie intake, which is important to establish before I make any grand statements about what you should or should not do with your current diet. Many people in the Western world are overweight due to eating processed foods, having diets high in meat, sugar, bread, pasta & low in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds (and all your other minimally processed foods). While these people likely do consume too many calories, simply reducing calories while continuing to eat high amounts of take away and highly processed foods isn’t going to be beneficial for their weight (or more importantly, their overall health as nutrient deficiencies may also develop).
If instead processed foods & takeaway where switched for fresh fruit & veg, quinoa, brown rice, legumes, fresh deep ocean fish & good quality eggs & meat – they’d likely be feeling a whole lot better & notice significant weight loss. They wouldn’t even have to look at the calories, because when you’re eating all that natural fibre your body knows when you’re full. However, it is likely that their caloric intake would decrease because the quality of the food has increased and hence, the body needs less to feel satisfied.
This is the type of ‘diet’ that I like to recommend, for those with thyroid issues, and for anybody who is wanting to feel their energy increase, their weight decrease, and overall feel well.
When I have a client with hypothyroidism ask me if they should reduce their calories, the answer is no. I want them to instead look into changing where their calories come from. What is the nutrient density of their food? How can we better support their metabolic rate? (This is a question much better answered in the clinic, as it’s highly individual and depends on where the client is at in their journey, as well as what their individual drivers of hypothyroidism are). It’s important to look specifically at which foods a person with hypothyroidism are choosing, and how their body is reacting to these. While calorie intake may decrease, this is not the focus of the changes that we are making.
Other areas important to look into are if there are any nutrient deficiencies or other underlying pathology that might be causing weight gain, potentially prescribing herbal medicine to support homeostasis, and thoroughly looking into lifestyle & exercise habits.
If you’re struggling with your weight and hypothyroidism, you can book in for a consultation here.