No Weight Loss? Have You Had Your Thyroid Checked Lately?
I tell this story because it happened to me, and I should have known better because I’ve had thyroid disease for almost 20 years.
What does the thyroid have to do with weight?
Your thyroid produces hormones that control metabolism. Your metabolism is the rate of many activities in your body, such as how fast your heart beats and the speed at which you burn calories.
Another way to put it: your thyroid is the “foot” that presses down or eases back on the “gas pedal” to make sure you’re adhering to the speed limit that suits your body. Thus when your thyroid isn’t working properly, you will display symptoms of either
- Hyperthyroidism: your engine is being revved to the point that, among other symptoms, you’re losing weight for no reason.
- Hypothyroidism: the foot has eased off the pedal to the point that, among other symptoms, you’re gaining weight for no reason.
(For those who want a more detailed and scientific discussion of thyroid problems and diseases than I’m going to give here, please go to U.S Government’s Thyroid Disease Fact Sheet.)
Hypothyroidism: The Villain in My Story
It’s bad enough when we have to attribute weight gain to our own, lousy eating habits. But what if it’s being helped along by your thyroid?
I know what you’re going to ask: “But wouldn’t I know if I was hypothyroid?” The answer is: it depends. Why? Because hypothyroidism doesn’t always happen overnight.
According to the Thyroid Fact Sheet, “Symptoms of hypothyroidism tend to develop slowly (my emphasis), often over several years. At first, you may just feel tired and sluggish. Later, you may develop other symptoms of a slowed-down metabolism,” including
- Weight gain, even though you are not eating more food
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Muscle weakness
- Joint or muscle pain
- Fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Pale dry skin
- A puffy face
- A hoarse voice
- If female, excessive menstrual bleeding
- May have high blood levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
The National Institutes of Health estimate that 4.6% of the population over the age of 12 suffers from hypothyroidism. It is a disease more common to women and to people over 60 years of age.
But if you’re neither, don’t think you can ignore the issue. Men do get this disease, and I became hypothyroid in my early 40s (and gained 20 pounds!). In other words, no one is immune.
“I have the metabolism of a slug on valium.”
So there I was. I had lost 30 pounds on the Points program. Then WW introduced the PointsPlus program, and my weight loss stalled. “Too much fruit,” I was told. I ate less fruit and exercised more: aqua fit twice a week, gym twice a week. I felt like a million dollars, but no weight loss!
My WW leaders persevered: “Drink more water.” “Eat more protein.”
“I have the metabolism of a slug on valium,” I told them sadly.
“You’re building muscle,” they told me. “It can take a while for exercise to take effect.”
I gained a pound here and a pound there. I went back to the Points program. It didn’t work. I returned to the PointsPlus program. I lowered my points to 26 a day. Nothing happened. I started to worry that WW was no longer working for me.
And here was the catch: I felt fine so it never occurred to me to see my doctor. But my thyroid, stable on medication for 20 years, was slowly, insidiously, going awry.
The Other Shoe (as They Say) Drops
I didn’t know anything was wrong with me until February of this year. Yes, I was tired (#7 on the list); yes, I had dry skin (#8); and yes to joint pain (#5). But I was getting older day by day. Isn’t that what aging was all about?
Then a strange thing happened. I was in the midst of an aqua fit class, when I suddenly felt like I’d walked into a refrigerator (#2). Being tired was one thing, but freezing in a warm pool was another.
Blood tests, along with those from my last two physicals, told the tale of a gradual lowering of my thyroid hormone and then a sudden drop. It was like my body had been easing up on the gas pedal and then just braked to a screaming halt.
My doctor is now trying to stabilize my thyroid, and I am slowly—very slowly—getting better. This week, three people have commented that my face has a lot more colour (#8).
My overall weight gain from hypothyroidism was 10 pounds. I probably would have gained much more if I hadn’t been sticking, albeit somewhat desperately, to the WW diet.
That’s my story, and there’s really nothing unusual about it.
It could happen to anyone. It could happen to you.