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Losing weight is much harder when your thyroid isn't functioning properly, if that sounds like you, this article could be a game changer.
When Mila first engaged me as her coach online, she wanted to lose a little weight and tone up. She wanted a drastic diet plan and she wanted results fast. She had used another trainer without success and her partner recommended me.
She was frustrated that she seemed to be doing everything right and was getting nowhere. So I dug a little deeper. She'd had her thyroid and other hormones tested before and her doctor said she was in the low normal range and that she didn't need to worry about it. She told me she felt like that was the thing holding her back and I've heard the same thing from numerous women before - in fact I've had this conversation dozens of times before, almost verbatim with women who have an underactive thyroid, medically known as hypothyroidism.
Mila wanted me to give her a diet which she could follow that would help her lose the initial bit of weight quickly before we worked on building some strength. The first thing I identified very quickly was that I needed to reduce her stress and help her to shut down her negative self talk and appreciate her body for what it can do.
Until I could help her get a handle on this I knew she would struggle with whatever plan I threw at her. This is the difference between someone who writes programs, and someone who coaches people.
Before we finish this 'case study' - let's look at what hypothyroidism is, and how it affects us.
What is hypothyroidism?
There's a small gland in the middle at the base of your neck, your thyroid. It produces hormones that regulate things like your metabolism, heart rate and vitality levels.
When someone has hypothyroidism, it doesn't produce enough triiodothyronine and thyroxine, also known as T3 and T4 respectively. Symptoms can include;
Mila experienced 9 out of 12 of those symptoms. This relates to a huge issue I personally have with medical professionals that treat the number on a pathology report and not the symptoms a patient is experiencing.
Given the fact 9/12 symptoms were experienced on an almost daily basis, I'm not surprised Mils was upset, frustrated and at her wits end.
Hypothyroidism is overwhelmingly more prevalent in women than men. It affects;
Hypothyroidism is also underdiagnosed
I've found it very difficult to find any hard figures for obvious reasons, but both the American Thyroid Association and the Australian Thyroid Foundation estimate as many as 60% of hypothyroidism cases go undiagnosed. The two main factors are that the reference range for blood tests are hotly disputed, and testing can frequently deliver false negatives.
Mila was in medical grey area with her testing, she clearly had an underactive thyroid, but her doctor didn't think it was low 'enough' to necessitate medication, perhaps thinking the risk/reward wasn't appropriate. Of course Mila disagreed, and based on her physical and emotional symptoms, I was on her side.
Do some people blame a slow thyroid, when in fact they've just hit a stubborn plateau?
Yes. A thousand times yes.
I will frequently send people to their doctor with a referral letter requesting some blood work and for what reasons as well as request their informed opinion and feedback. That way the client can find out with a reasonable amount of reliability if they do in fact have a hormonal imbalance.
Other than that, the methods I use to coach someone that thinks they have a slow thyroid vs someone who has a medically confirmed slow thyroid, are largely the same.
In both cases it is critical, to assist my client with moving their circle of influence away from the disease/disorder and focus them on what they can do themselves. Eat better, move, rest, manage stress and get better quality sleep.
There is no negative side effect to eating better, training and taking care of yourself.
Hypothyroidism can have some very, very severe impacts on health.
These can not be overstated, true hypothyroidism can cause serious heart problems, nerve damage (mostly in the legs), infertility, frequent miscarriages and birth defects.
This is why it is of paramount importance that people with hypothyroidism improve their nutrition and lifestyle, even if they don't have a tangible impact on weight loss
Focusing Mils on what was in her control was the first step to getting her in the best shape of her life. We talked about and delved in to;
Here's why it can be so hard for someone with thyroid problems to lose weight
Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the calories your body requires to sustain life. Keeping your heart beating, breathing, repairing and building new cells, managing hormone levels. This accounts for 50-80% of all calories a person burns.
The rest comes from, Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) , exercise, fidgeting, digestion.
How much your BMR varies due to a slow thyroid is unique to every individual but it can be up to 40% for someone with no functioning thyroid at all, or who has had it surgically removed, and around 6% for someone with minor slowdown.
Herein lies the reason that someone with a normal functioning thyroid can consistently lose 0.5-1kg per week and someone with hypothyroidism may see the scales not move at all for several weeks.
Next week I'll go through specifically how I coach people with a slow thyroid, and I'll give you some strategies that you can use yourself. In the mean time let me know if you have any questions