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March 02, 2023 10 min read

Thyroid and weight often go hand in hand. If you've gained weight suddenly, an underactive thyroid, more popularly known as hypothyroidism, could be to blame for massive weight gain. But don't worry, there are diet and weight loss tricks you can try to help manage your thyroid condition and achieve your weight goals.

How does hypothyroidism cause weight gain?

First and foremost, it's important to understand the role of your thyroid gland in weight management. Your thyroid is responsible for producing thyroid hormones, mainly thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The thyroid hormone regulates metabolism or how efficiently your body burns calories.

When you have hypothyroidism, a thyroid disorder where you don't have enough thyroid hormone in your body, your metabolism slows down. This means that you won't burn off calories as quickly as you should, which in turn causes you to gain weight.

In some people, the increase in body weight might not be extreme, usually around 5 to 10 pounds. But others may experience significant weight gain. The more severe your hypothyroidism is, the more weight you'll gain. It's worth noting that much of the extra weight you gain associated with hypothyroidism is due to fluid buildup resulting from the effect of low thyroid hormone levels on kidney function rather than fat accumulation.

Since weight gain is a common symptom of hypothyroidism, it's highly recommended to evaluate your thyroid function if you have recently experienced unexplainable weight gain. However, it's also important to consider other potential causes of weight gain beyond thyroid function. Factors like stress, nutrition, sleep routine, and exercise habits should also be taken into account when determining the underlying cause of weight gain.

Can a healthy diet help you lose weight due to hypothyroidism?

It can be frustrating and demotivating to see the number on the scale steadily increase despite your best efforts. But adopting a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet can be a game-changer when it comes to successful weight loss. Here are some dietary changes you can make to help combat weight gain caused by a thyroid disease like hypothyroidism:

1. Add sweet, ripe fruits to your diet

Not only are sweet ripe fruits delicious, but they're also easy to digest, add volume to your meals, are low in calories, and are rich in health-promoting compounds.

2. Avoid strict low-carb diets

Reducing carbohydrate intake is a popular method for shedding excess weight as it promotes the burning of stored fat. While this approach may yield rapid results, the long-term implications can be detrimental to overall health. Low carbohydrate intake can lead to decreased blood sugar levels, prompting the release of adrenal hormones, which can impede resting metabolism and trigger tissue breakdown. Furthermore, the liver may become overburdened, and cells may become stressed. Ultimately, this may lead to weight gain rather than loss.

If you want to achieve sustainable weight loss, it's important to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Thus, the type of carbohydrates you eat matters a lot more than the amount. Make sure to add more "good" carbohydrates into your diet, such as oats, legumes, and whole grains like brown rice. And avoid "bad" carbohydrates like bread, pasta, and potatoes.

3. Increase Anti-Inflammatory Foods

If you're dealing with joint pain, depression, or other symptoms of hypothyroidism, adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet could help ease your discomfort. By reducing inflammation and alleviating joint pain, you may find increased motivation to engage in physical activity.

Anti-inflammatory foods can also help reduce the strain on the immune system, which is often overactive in those with hypothyroidism.

Additionally, a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods provides essential nutrients like magnesium, B vitamins, zinc, selenium, iron, and vitamin C that support healthy thyroid function. By incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, you can help soothe inflammation, support your immune system, and keep your liver functioning optimally. Some anti-inflammatory foods you can consider include fishes like salmon and herring, eggs, and berries.

4. Eat more naturally nutritious foods

Maintaining adequate levels of essential vitamins and minerals is crucial for promoting thyroid health and preventing hypothyroidism. Specifically, low levels of iodine have been linked to an increased risk of hypothyroidism. Therefore, it is recommended to consume iodine-rich foods such as cod and yogurt or use iodine-enriched salt, commonly found in most table salts.

In addition, studies have demonstrated that zinc and selenium can improve thyroid function and help manage hypothyroidism. By enhancing thyroid function, metabolism can be restored, which may aid in achieving a healthy weight. Ensuring a balanced and nutrient-dense diet can provide the body with the necessary vitamins and minerals to support optimal thyroid function.

That said, people whose hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease, may react negatively to foods that contain large amounts of iodine.

5. Try to avoid gluten

If you have Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid gland, you might also have an increased risk of celiac disease. This is another autoimmune disease that causes an abnormal immune response to gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains. A gluten-free diet may help improve hypothyroid symptoms in some women, especially those with Hashimoto's disease. It may also aid in weight loss.

But going gluten-free can be challenging, as gluten is found in many common foods, such as bread products like bagels and English muffins, as well as traditional pasta, doughs, and crusts. It's important to read food labels carefully and choose gluten-free alternatives. Some good gluten-free options include rice, quinoa, and gluten-free oats.

6. Reduce your alcohol consumption.

Bear in mind that alcoholic beverages are high-calorie foods. Some people may put on weight if they drink alcohol to their excess weight. One standard method for slimming down is cutting back on booze. You'll feel more energized during the day and sleep better at night.

7. Keep a food diary

Keeping a food diary can be a powerful tool to help you stick to a healthy diet. Writing down what you eat can help you resist the temptation to indulge in forbidden foods that could trigger an autoimmune flare.

But that's not all. A food diary is also a great way to track your progress and celebrate your successes. Keeping track of when and where you eat, as well as your emotional state, can also help you identify any patterns that may be leading you astray.

8. Eat small but frequent meals full of macronutrients

If you're looking to lose weight, it's important to know that hypothyroidism can slow down your digestive function. This means that eating smaller, more frequent meals with balanced macronutrients is key. Quality proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats can help keep your blood sugar balanced and prevent the highs and lows that come with oversized, highly processed meals. By making these changes to your diet, you can support healthy digestion and achieve your weight loss goals.

Other lifestyle changes that might aid in weight loss

Two women exercising in a garden to lose weight they've gained due to hypothyroidisim

1. Hydrate your body

Drinking enough water is important for overall health and can be particularly beneficial for those with hypothyroidism. Proper hydration can improve the function of your organs and muscles, including the heart, brain, kidneys, bladder, liver, digestive system, and muscles. In fact, the human body can survive for only three days without water.

Staying hydrated can also help alleviate several common thyroid problems and is even a potent weight loss aid. Increasing your water intake can boost your metabolism, make fat-burning more efficient, and facilitate the elimination of excess water weight.

While there is no set guideline for the amount of plain water one should drink daily, healthy adults should aim for a total fluid intake of 11.5 cups for women and 15.5 cups for men. Keep in mind that approximately 20% of our daily fluid intake comes from the foods we eat. As a result, women should aim for around 9 cups of fluids per day, and men should aim for approximately 13 cups to fulfill their daily fluid needs. Other fluids, such as tea, coffee, and juice, can also contribute to overall fluid intake, but it's best to limit sugary drinks and consume mostly water for optimal hydration.

2. Get moving

If you're looking to lose weight, incorporating regular physical activity is a must. Exercise can transform your body into a leaner, meaner fat-burning machine by increasing your calorie expenditure both during and after the workout.

To achieve weight loss goals, aim to exercise for at least 300 minutes per week, which can add up to around an hour per day for five days a week. Even if you can't dedicate an entire hour to exercise at once, shorter bouts of 10 or 20 minutes can still be effective. Not only can exercise help you lose body weight, but it can also improve overall fitness and health.

The best exercise routine

Incorporating regular physical activity is a must in any weight loss program, and choosing an exercise that you enjoy and can fit into your schedule increases the likelihood of maintaining your fitness routine. Whether it's morning walks, workout videos on YouTube, or spin classes at the gym, anything that elevates your heart and breathing rate is beneficial. Regular exercise not only helps you feel better overall but can also combat the weight gain often associated with hypothyroidism.

Since hypothyroidism can cause a decrease in heart rate, it's crucial to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts as you feel ready. Consult with your doctor before beginning any new workout program to ensure it's safe for you.

3. Try to reduce your stress

According to a 2018 study, stress can be a factor in weight gain and obesity. While the connection between stress and hypothyroidism is not definitive, managing stress can help with weight loss and weight maintenance.

Different individuals may have varying responses to stress-reducing interventions. Some ways to manage stress and potentially promote weight loss include psychotherapy or other forms of therapy, regular exercise, breathing techniques, yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and journaling. Additionally, avoiding stressors as much as possible can also be helpful.

4. Get enough sleep

Getting enough ZZZs and breaking a sweat can do wonders for your waistline, especially if you're dealing with thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism.

If you want to shed some pounds, make sure you're getting at least 7 hours of restful sleep every night. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule, too – your body will thank you.

5. Know your medications

It's important to be aware that certain medications prescribed by healthcare providers can cause weight gain. This can be especially frustrating if you're already struggling with weight issues due to a thyroid disorder like hypothyroidism.

Antithyroid drugs such as Tapazole (methimazole) and PTU (propylthiouracil), beta-blockers like Sectral (acebutolol), Tenormin (atenolol), and Corgard (nadolol), and steroid anti-inflammatories like Prednisone are some medications that have been associated with weight gain. Hormonal birth control containing estrogen and progesterone can also lead to weight gain. In addition, certain antidepressants like Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline), and mood-stabilizing and anticonvulsant drugs like Lithium, Depakote (valproate), and Tegretol (carbamazepine) have also been linked to weight gain.

If you're experiencing weight gain while taking any of these medications, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider. They can help determine if the medication is causing the weight gain or if it's due to other factors. Never stop taking a medication without consulting with your healthcare provider first, as abruptly stopping certain medications can be dangerous. Your healthcare provider may be able to adjust your medication or suggest alternative treatments to help manage your symptoms while minimizing weight gain.

Find the best treatment for your hypothyroidism

If you have hypothyroidism, it's important to work closely with your doctor to find the best treatment plan for you. While lifestyle and dietary adjustments can be beneficial, losing weight may still be challenging if your hypothyroidism is not managed effectively and your thyroid hormone levels are not optimal.

There are two common thyroid hormone replacement medications you can consider: levothyroxine and natural desiccated thyroid (NDT).


Levothyroxine, also known under the brand names Synthroid, Levoxyl, Unithroid, and Tirosint, is a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4). It's the standard treatment of hypothyroidism, so you'll likely be prescribed this medication when you're just diagnosed with the condition.

National desiccated thyroid (NDT)

Natural desiccated thyroid (NDT), also known as desiccated thyroid extract (DTE), is a thyroid replacement medication made of dried pig thyroid glands. Unlike levothyroxine, which only contains T4, NDT contains both types of thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).

If you've been struggling with hypothyroidism and have been taking levothyroxine without seeing any improvement, it might be time to consider trying natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) as an alternative. In fact, a study has shown that many thyroid patients actually prefer NDT over levothyroxine and that NDT can also promote more weight loss than its synthetic counterpart.

While some popular NDT brands like Armour Thyroid, NP Thyroid, and WP Thyroid can be hard to find, there are other options available. One such option is VitaliThy, a natural desiccated thyroid you can buy online. Although it's an NDT supplement, it contains Thyroid USP, just like Armour Thyroid. This is possible due to the difference in law between the US and Vietnam. VitaliThy is also a great alternative for those who may have allergies, as it does not contain shellfish, fish, eggs, lactose, or gluten, making it safe for those with sensitivities.

Taking thyroid medication the right way is also important

Taking thyroid medication in the right way is crucial for managing hypothyroidism effectively. The American Thyroid Association advises that thyroid hormone should be taken once a day, ideally in the morning, on an empty stomach. This helps to ensure stable levels of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream, which is important for keeping thyroid function within the normal range.

Taking thyroid hormone with food can affect its absorption, so it's best to wait at least 30 minutes after taking your medication before eating. If you are taking other medications, it's important to discuss the timing of your thyroid hormone dose with your doctor to avoid any potential interactions. Alternatively, taking your thyroid hormone at bedtime can be a good option to prevent interactions with food or other medications.

Consistency is key when it comes to taking thyroid medication. It's important to take your medication in the same way, at the same time every day, to ensure optimal absorption and effectiveness.

Thyroid medications are not a weight-loss tool

While it's true that excess thyroid hormone treatment may result in weight loss for those with hypothyroidism, it's important to note that thyroid medication is not intended as a weight loss tool. It is a treatment for a medical condition, and taking thyroid medication when it is not needed can actually be harmful to your health.

In fact, taking thyroid medication without a medical need can cause hyperthyroidism, which is a condition where your thyroid hormone levels are too high. This can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, rapid heartbeat, weight loss, and other serious health problems.

If you are concerned about your weight, it's important to speak with a healthcare provider who can help you develop a safe and effective weight loss plan. This may include dietary changes, increased physical activity, and other healthy lifestyle habits. Remember, there are no shortcuts when it comes to weight loss, and maintaining a healthy weight requires a long-term commitment to making positive changes in your life.

Wojciech Majda
Wojciech Majda

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