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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jeni St. Onge

Weight Loss and the Thyroid

So, This is a big enough topic that I could write a book (and I might!), but for now I wanted to write a blog article on this because it's a HUGE DEAL for so many people that I talk to. About half of the people I see have been diagnosed with a thryoid problem like hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's. The other half have not been diagnosed (many go on to find out that they actually do have an issue despite being told their thyroid looked "fine"). You can read more about that in this blog article. The one thing all of these people have in common is that they are struggling to lose weight.

I think we need to start with the obvious. If you don't move your body and eat an unhealthy, high calorie diet, you will gain weight. That is normal, healthy physiology. That's the old "Calories in, calories out" theory. That holds true when hormones are happy. If we have hormones that are out of balance, that falls apart. I see people all the time who are exercising, who eat very few calories and simply can not lose weight. That's what I want to talk about today. If your physiology and hormones are happy, then if you need to lose weight, you can simply cut back on calories and move more and you will get there. It's those who are doing those things and not getting anywhere that I'm talking to. Those people are FRUSTRATED. They keep being told to "eat less and exercise more". That simply won't work in some cases. They feel "broken".

When the thryoid gets involved, we know that low levels of thyroid hormone slow everything down. The metabolism for example. This makes it hard to lose weight. So, it's super important to have optimal thyroid hormone levels. Optimal levels are different from the reference ranges the labs give us that most doctors use. It's also important to look at all the thyroid hormone markers, which is not being done in the vast majority of cases either. So, that's a huge piece of the puzzle. Having a good analysis.

There are also many other hormones that get involved. The two that I want to discuss when it comes to weight loss are insulin and leptin. Insulin is nicknamed the "fat storage hormone". So, guess what it does? You got it... Stores fat. The less sensitive you are to insulin the more weight and fat you will gain. That is the mechanics behind Type II Diabetes. That could also be a book :) But, the short story here is that insulin is a huge player is weight. I look at insulin and some other blood sugar markers in a very specific way when I run labs so that I know how sensitive a person is to insulin. That helps us create a plan to address root causes. That plan includes a tailored diet focused on maintaining blood sugar levels in an ideal range and supplements if needed.

The other hormone that is important here is leptin. You may have not heard of this one. This is the hormone that signals that you are full or satisfied. It keeps us from overeating. One thing to note is that the right amount of healthy fat in the diet helps our bodies feel full and keep leptin regulated. This is why a super low fat diet usually backfires on people because they never feel full or satisfied without that healthy fat. You usually don't have too little leptin, but you become desensitized to it the same way you do that the insulin. There are things like eating a healthy balanced diet, and some supplements that can help with this.

Here is the thing with hypothyroidism, it can cause a disruption on both of those hormones I mentioned above... Insulin and leptin. It can even happen if the thyroid is removed. Most of the time the thryoid is removed because it has been badly destroyed by the immune system. That autoimmune issue was never resolved. You simply removed the target, but the underlying problem is still rampant, and often the body picks a new target and new autoimmune diagnosis shows up.

Another big disruptor of hormones is inflammation, which is very common in almost everyone. Inflammation "gunks up" (that's a technical term :) the receptors so that hormones are less efficient.

Of course, we have the hormones that are familiar to use like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, etc. that play a role in our health and specifically weight loss. I look at those as well when I begin working with someone and we address the issues we find there.

I just wanted to take a few minutes and outline this issue from a hormone perspective vs. a "calories in, calories out" viewpoint. For so many people, it is hormonal. It may be one hormone or all of the hormones I mentioned that need to be addressed, but simply cutting calories and exercising more might not solve the issue. A clean, healthy diet and regular movement and exercise ARE part of the solution, it just may involve more. If it were as easy as eating less and exercising more, I wouldn't have a job!

I hope you found this helpful!

If you have questions or suspect some of these issues may apply to you and would like to chat with me about it, please use the link below to schedule a time for me to give you a call.

To your health!

Dr. Jeni

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