It is funny how we judge others so easily, how on seeing an overweight person, we say to ourselves- here goes another of those overweight and lazy individuals. We are so very sure that the extra weight is that person’s own doing, that our attitude towards the person becomes condescending.
This attitude towards all overweight people is not only unfair but also immature. For all you know the person you have tagged as lazy may be exercising twice as much as you are, he may even be eating less than you and may be trying very hard to shake those extra pounds off! He may very well be a suffering from Hypothyroidism and gaining weight without eating much.
What is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a condition when the thyroid glands produce too little of the thyroid hormone which in turns affects our health and metabolism. The Thyroid hormone is involved in complex functions like growth, maintaining the body temperature and is primarily responsible for regulating the metabolism - the rate at which the body burns calories. Too little secretion of the thyroid hormone causes the metabolism of the body to slow down which means the person burns less number of calories and as a result, gains weight.
The common causes of hypothyroidism are iodine deficiency (iodine is important for normal functioning of thyroid gland), family history, autoimmune disease called as ‘Hashimoto's disease’ (body starts fighting the thyroid hormone cells) and stress.
Though Hypothyroidism is easy to detect (it can be detected with a simple Thyroid Stimulating Hormone or TSH test), hypothyroidism often goes undiagnosed, because its symptoms are often mistaken for something else or are assumed to a normal part of ageing.
Look out for these symptoms-
- Unexplained Fatigue
- Weight gain
- Hoarse Voice
- Mood swings
- Hair loss
- Loss of libido
Especially if, you are-
- A female, as hypothyroidism is 8 times more likely to affect females than males.
- A woman in her 40s, as premenopausal women are at risk
Especially if, you have -
- Delivered your child as 10 percent women suffer from hypothyroidism after child birth.
- Family history of thyroid disorders.
- High levels of cholesterol.
Thyroid and weight Gain
The Thyroid hormone is primarily responsible for conversion of food into energy. It is also responsible for the proper development of bones, regulating the body’s temperature and heart rate, hence any malfunction in the thyroid gland will affect the entire body.
But the relation between weight gain and thyroid is not very simple. Even though low levels of thyroid hormone, slow down the metabolism, it is not the sole reason for weight gain, there may be other reasons like inactive lifestyle, poor diet for excessive weight. In fact, doctors believe that thyroid is only responsible for 5-10% of the weight gain. They also feel that other than an underactive thyroid gland there are complex causes for weight gain and treating thyroid will not result in a considerable weight loss.
It is seen that low levels of thyroid change the body’s ability to handle exercise and burn calories. With exercise and medication, however you can speed up your metabolism and attempt to normalize your thyroid levels.
Tips for those suffering from Hypothyroidism:
Consult a physician
If you still haven’t confirmed whether you are suffering from low levels of thyroid, you need to undergo blood test. If you are suffering from hypothyroidism, your doctor will prescribe medications to regulate thyroid levels. Also consult a nutritionist for proper guidance on what foods to eat and which to avoid.
Those suffering from Hypothyroidism should exercise daily to keep their metabolism active. Experts recommend a 30 minute rigorous exercise workout daily.
But you need not get on the treadmill for an 8 minute mile right now! You can start out slow and gradually increase the workout by 10 minutes, to bring it up to the 30 minute mark.
Iodine rich foods
The Thyroid gland absorbs the iodine in foods and converts it into thyroid hormones- T3 and T4; hence a deficiency of iodine can cause hypothyroidism. To avoid this, foods that are high in iodine should be consumed like sea foods especially fishes like haddock and cod, sea weeds, milk, eggs, cheddar cheese etc. One way to ensure that you get enough iodine is by eating these foods three times in a week. However you must not consume iodine supplements, unless recommended by the doctor as too much iodine can be harmful.
Minerals like Zinc and Copper are important in producing thyroid hormone, hence eating foods that are rich in zinc like oat, chicken, seafood, dried beans, spinach and nuts help. Copper rich foods include eggs, legumes and raisins.
Selenium another trace mineral is good for normal thyroid condition. Foods that are rich in selenium like wheat germ, alfalfa, onion, Brazil nut, raisins, walnut, sunflower seed and garlic should be consumed. You can even talk to your doctor about adding a selenium supplement in your diet.
Foods to eat
Those who are suffering from hypothyroidism should consume plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, in fact almost 50% of their diet must be natural. Eating fruits and vegetables helps to improve the metabolism and balances hormonal levels. Foods which should be included in your diet are flaxseeds (alsi seeds), carrots, rice, linseed oil, nuts, chicken, fish.
Foods to avoid
Foods like cabbage, broccoli, sweet potato, sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, soya beans are bad for those with thyroid disorders, as they interfere with the thyroid functioning. You can cook these vegetables which will make them less effective against the thyroid but don’t eat them raw.
Simple carbohydrates like potato, pasta, biscuits, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, processed foods and sugary foods should be avoided as they lead to weight gain.
Caffeinated drinks, coffee, sodas should be avoided by those suffering from hypothyroidism as they stimulate the metabolism worsening the thyroid symptoms. Also avoid alcohol which worsens the symptoms.
Stress induces the body to go in a ‘fight or flight’ response and being under stress, day in and day out overburdens the endocrinal system and causes imbalance in the hormonal levels. In order to help your thyroid gland you need to learn to relax and learn some de-stressing techniques. Deep breathing exercises, daily meditation and any relaxing activity should be incorporated in your day.
Along with eating foods that help your thyroid and exercise, you may also take the benefits of alternative therapies like acupuncture, Ayurveda and homeopathy by going to a reputed practitioner of these faculties.
Being hypothyroid doesn’t mean you need to accept the excess weight that you have put on! If you work hard, exercise and eat the right foods, you can lose weight and keep it off too. So start now!