No Weight Loss? Have You Had Your Thyroid Checked Lately?

This is a cautionary tale. It’s about the thyroid, a gland that controls your metabolism and can cause your weight-loss program to seemingly self-destruct.

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

  1. Weight gain, even though you are not eating more food
  2. Increased sensitivity to cold
  3. Constipation
  4. Muscle weakness
  5. Joint or muscle pain
  6. Depression
  7. Fatigue (feeling very tired)
  8. Pale dry skin
  9. A puffy face
  10. A hoarse voice
  11. If female, excessive menstrual bleeding
  12. 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.

10 thoughts on “No Weight Loss? Have You Had Your Thyroid Checked Lately?

  1. I have been on this roller coaster ride for the past 3 years! ugh. I had a mass removed from the left side of my neck and ever since then my thyroids are whack. I have always been overweight, but what really affects me is the skin, hair and nails, sensitivity to cold and the depression! This really is horrible

  2. I am going to a specialist next month. It took forever to get an appointment once my general physician realized he could not handle it.

  3. As someone who is hypothyroid it’s amazing how badly the body functions when your levels are off and how quickly one can gain weight. I was the type that could eat a salad everyday and still gain 5lbs in a week if my levels were off which they are still trying to regulate. It’s a pain.

    • You’re so right…the thyroid seems to be involved in every bodily system from digestion to sleep…not to mention how much fatigue can affect your mental capacities. I’m sorry to hear that your thyroid levels are still not right. Hope the docs can figure it out.

  4. I’ve been on meds for hypothyroidism for almost three years. I recently switched from Levothyroxine to Nature-Throid…I’m still experiencing a lot of fatigue but I’m hoping I’ll regulate soon and start feeling more energy.

    Your recipes look great!

    • Thanks so much for visiting, and I hope you’re feeling better. I think my dr. and I have finally hit on a correct thyroid dosage for me, but it’s taken several months to get there.

  5. Yes, yes and yes. As I read your opening to this blog, food-ref, I got tears in my eyes as I nodded my head. I have nearly all of the symptoms, and even though I too followed Weight Watchers, either roughly or diligently, for a year after my big loss, I went up and down on that darn 10 lbs. I Just got diagnosed with thyroid at the bottom of the range and am on supplementary thyroid meds. so I’m hoping to see improvement.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your thyroid problems. I’ve had a rough 2 years but I now seem to be at a place where I have energy and am not gaining weight…maybe even losing a little. I also got a new doctor who seems more sympathetic. Fingers crossed for you and me!

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