Thyroid and Weight Gain

As of the beginning of 2001, the Center For Disease Control reports that over 1/3 of our population is obese.  Throughout this site I've shared the many reasons people accumulate and carry more fat than they'd like.   The diets, the supplements, the pills, and the "experts" often contribute more to the "disease" than the cure.

Many people, in their 30's or 40's, are suddenly "diagnosed" with thyroid issues.  Often "hypothyroidism," which is commonly "treated" with synthetic thyroid hormones such as Synthroid.  Before I continue, I feel it important to point out that I am not a doctor.  My opinions are formed by the qualified application of sound principles of nutrition and exercise and over two decades of experience.

Just as individuals with blood sugar irregularities fall into two categories, those in which the ailment was self-imposed and those who are victim of a genetic malfunction, so it goes with hypothyroidism.  In some cases, people are born with disease of the thyroid gland, or malfunction of the hormonal interplay that governs thyroid hormone production and regulation.  That doesn't mean their metabolisms can not be improved by taking control of what they eat and what they do.  There are others who, by repetitive dieting, and often unintentional consistent alteration in thyroid hormone production, have put themselves in a condition where the thyroid gland appears "sluggish."  In these cases, the response to supportive eating and exercise can be dramatic.

I am careful not to present my programs as a "cure" for anything medical in nature.  I will share two "Q&A" e-mails I've received specific to this topic.

QUESTION: I am a 37-year-old woman who is 60 pounds overweight. Many people and medical professionals have advised me to try the "protein" diets for over 20 years. Given a strong background in chemistry, I immediately find this type of diet to be hogwash and detrimental to health. I have always been an athletic person, both aerobically and anaerobically, but never been a "thin" person. I'm a large girl with large muscle mass and alot of strength. My parents introduced me to calorie counting when I was in 7th grade. I made a game out of it-- try to see if I could consume fewer calories each week I was dieting. Of course, that started the dieter's yo-yo and permanently changed my metabolism. Even at a young age, my brother would say to me, "Diane, you have the better body. Your body is designed to live in times of famine. Because your body can adjust to minimal intake, you'd survive a natural disaster long after me." My brother was always bright and saw that my body could slow itself down to "conserve" while his could not.

Battling my weight was always a problem (that also runs in my father's family). Things got really bad after having my second child. I developed just about every symptom of hypothyroidism and was depressed for many years. Exercise helps with the depression. I can live without Prozac as long as I do aerobic exercise at least three times a week for at least an hour and a half each session. During the winter, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder so I try to maintain the exercise routine and I try to introduce artificial light and color into my house. I also do a lot of self-talk at this time to remind myself that I am not crazy and that this is a temporary thing. Anyway, I saw an endocrinologist six months ago. Her immediate diagnosis was that I eat too much and that I try the Atkin's diet. (Negative points for her.) I had her draw the blood anyway and the results showed that my TSH was fine. It was solidly in the middle of the range. Therefore, she said I was OK. I asked her about my T3 and T4. T3 was fine... somewhat solid in the range, but the T4 was 0.4 points from the bottom of the scale, a scale that spaned 6 total points with a precision in the tenths. I asked her if she thought that was odd. How could that hormone be so much lower than the others? Then I got a second opinion and that doctor was worse than her. No one could tell me why that one hormone was so low. Interestingly, my liver function was normal, but low. I also had my gall bladder tested after my second child. They said it is not diseased, but it is a sluggish organ. In the late 1980's I was tested for hypoglycemia and again, I was borderline. My body "absorbed" almost all of the glucose in the first hour. I had a huge spike on the chart, initially, and then it flatlined for the next 5 hours. I was not clinically hypoglycemic, but it was an odd thing to happen. In this recent blood test, I had almost no sodium and minimal potassium in my blood so she told me to start salting my foods and eat more bananas. I asked her how my vitamins and minerals were in the blood test and she said that the B's were OK. (I know that a shortage of B vitamins can fatigue people.) My blood pressure is 117 over 70, my pulse is in the high 60's, but I have elevated triglycides, elevated cholesterol (both LDL and HDL), and 60 extra pounds of weight.

In 1988, I was put on a diet to help the gall bladder. I ate less than 15 mg of fat a day, which was very difficult-- and I lost weight, temporarily. I also tried Jenny Craig after my first daughter. I was miserable, ate less than they told me to eat and I lost 25 pounds, temporarily. Then, after the second daughter, I went back to the gym and "burned out" my knees and needed physical therapy for a few months.  Actually, my kneecaps were tracking improperly after the pregnancy and I needed to tape them and restrenghten the connective tissue. I also hired a personal trainer to torture me once a week after the physical therapists tortured me!! I lost some weight, about 20 pounds, but that was it and it too was temporary. I told my husband that there is not enough time in the day for me to burn the calories I need to burn in order to lose weight. His opinion is that an activity that burns 100 calories for a normal person may only burn 60 for me. Can that be true?  Does riding a stationary bike at a heartrate of 145 for 30 minutes burn the same calories for everyone? Most doctors say "yes" all calories burn the same way. They say the problem is my intake of calories. Yet, I have to eat a lot fewer calories than other people just to lose a pound.

Basically, my body must be stuck in "famine" mode or something. I weigh 214 pounds and I'm 5'6". I'm always cold with purple fingernails, except when I exercise. Doctors told me I have poor circulation which I do not believe. It seems that I just can't keep this body motor running. I abuse caffeine (in the form of coffee) to get myself "going" and going to the bathroom!!

What kind of information can you share about the metabolism and T3/T4? I have a half-sister who had failure of TSH and T4 and is currently medicated. She too is overweight and depressed. Since I am technically not "hypothyroid", I continue to hang on the borderline with this sluggish body and sluggish digestive system. Yet, I  have great muscles and decent connective tissue, even with all of this weight. I find the depression, heavy periods, and mood swings to be the most debilitating.

Any accurate information you can share would be greatly appreciated. By the way, I do solicit the opinion of many trainers and nutritionists on-line. I'd love to hear your theories about the metabolism and body chemistry. (Sorry this was so long.)

ANSWER:  Firstly, in response to your touching e-mail, I want you to know that I've met you before.  Many times. No, I don't mean in person, but it feels as if I meet the same fourteen people over and over and over.  Sure, the names and faces are different, but the stories are very much the same.  I am not surprised by anything you've shared.  Firstly, anyone who is "introduced" to calorie counting at an early age begins to create chemical alterations in the body that will, over time, shut down and destroy metabolism.  If you go through sporadic periods of dieting, firstly your body will learn to conserve fat (as you've expressed quite succinctly) by increasing output of an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase.  This is your body's built in self-preserving method of building up fuel reserves.  While your body is genius at keeping you alive, it's not always very good at understanding what you're trying to do.  It perceives calorie deprivation as starvation and chemical changes take place.  The body will also, even at 7 years old, increase its production of a hormone called cortisol.  Cortisol breaks down muscle.  Since muscle burns calories, an increase in cortisol will further slow metabolism.  (while you say you have a good amount of muscle, cortisol can work to keep body composition at bay . . . if your weight goes up, your muscle weight may in fact be significant, but if it remains proportionately low when compared to body mass or fat weight, metabolism is negatively impacted)  You can see how this is "programming" the body to become very adept at storing fat.

 I meet many people (primarily but not only women) diagnosed with "hypothyroidism."  The great majority of these people began repetitive dieting in their formative years.  As a result, while the thyroid gland and liver may remain healthy and functional, and TSH and T4 may be consistently produced in efficacious amounts, the conversion of T4 into T3 is reduced.  This is another protective mechanism contributing to the self preserving act of metabolism slowing.

 If that were all that took place, increases in lipoprotein lipase, increases in cortisol, and reduction in conversion of T4 to T3, you can be quite certain fat accumulation would be continual and excessive.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there . . . but I hope even by now you’re identifying why you’ve had some of the frustrating experiences you’ve expressed.

 Dieting also affects the pancreas’ production of two related hormones, insulin and glucagon.  Self induced blood sugar spikes and drops make the insulin/ glucacon balance erratic and irregular.  Since bursts of insulin can lead to elevated triglyceride levels and drops in glucagon can cripple the body’s ability to release fat, the potential for rapid accumulation of fat continues to amplify.

 I suspect you read my Atkins article (at so I won’t explain here how bouts with reduced carb strategies can further add to the problem.

 Is this related to your depression?  I am not a psychiatrist, however, I can clearly see the possibility.  Dieting, use of caffeine, as well as some of the weight loss supplements and/or drugs alter neurotransmission in the brain.  Two neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, are closely related to mood and appetite.  These happen to be the two chemicals that are most affected by the most commonly used diet aids.  Compound changes in neurotransmission with a distinctive focus on self-talk that continues to disappoint you (promising yourself emotionally that this is temporary . . . as you apply flawed technologies and find “temporary” to be long lasting), and mood swings are a given.

 Conventional diets, such as Jenny Craig, maintain a 99% failure rate simply because it is a continuation of the calorie deprivation that you started prior to your teenage years.

 If you are carrying more than 10-20 pounds of additional weight, believe that aerobic exercise is a solution, and begin a program that includes walking, jogging, or climbing, the knees begin taking some serious abuse.  Knee problems are likely.  As far as the trainer torturing you, a part of my business (The PEAK Training division) is dedicated to helping trainers locate and learn to apply an effective technology of change.  Taking a body that has been through what yours has, and beginning an intensive exercise program without a simultaneous application of metabolism boosting nutrition, will result in . . . well . . . short term weight loss followed by an inevitable plateau.  Trainers, while they can be very adept at applying techniques they’ve learned while studying anatomy, kinesiology, and biomechanics, have very few resources for education in the area of permanent weight loss.  Here’s a part of your e-mail I’d also like to respond to:

 “I told my husband that there is not enough time in the day for me to burn the calories I need to burn in order to lose weight. His opinion is that an activity that burns 100 calories for a normal person may only burn 60 for me. Can that be true? Does riding a stationary bike at a heartrate of 145 for 30 minutes burn the same calories for everyone? Most doctors say "yes" all calories burn the same way. They say the problem is my intake of calories. Yet, I have to eat alot fewer calories than other people just to lose a pound.”

 Forget about separating yourself from “normal.”  Recognize that the experiences you’ve had have been primarily the result of continued exposure to misinformation.  This is a perfect example.  It is not only possible, but absolutely certain, that a body with compromises in T4-T3 conversion burns fewer calories than it would if production were increased.  Caloric burn is highly individualized, and while many of the cardiovascular devices provide a ballpark estimate of calories burned, they are taking into account age, height, and weight.  They are not considering rate of oxidation, availability of nutrients, nor enzyme or chemical processes that affect calorie burning.  It’s also important to recognize that food has a “thermic” property (heat producing) and different nutrients facilitate variations in caloric expenditure as they are ingested throughout the day.  Your body burns fewer calories than would be optimal, not because you’re somehow abnormal, but rather because your actions over the years have created an internal environment that is structured to minimize caloric burn.  You don’t have to eat fewer calories, but rather you have to reverse the process and begin to get your body better at burning calories.

 You mention that you solicit many opinions.  I recognize that is in search of information that you can apply to regain control of a body that seems to have run amok.  Your challenge is, sorting through the conflicting information you amass and deciding what bits and pieces of each clump of advice you should cling to as legitimate.  I’d encourage you to do a few things in hope that I can offer clarity.

 Firstly, visit and explore  While there is a great amount of information at my foundational website (, presents information in a very user friendly format.  If the information I cover begins to “make sense” to you, I’d then encourage you to invest $39.99 in my Body Transformation seminar videos.  It’s actually video of a 3-hour long seminar I conducted where I expose a good amount of fitness fraud and conceptually provide a true technology of positive physical change.  The understanding you gain from the videos will prove enlightening and empowering.  You may never need to get anything else from me.  You might, however, once you understand the concepts, consider investing in my TRANSFORM! Program (it comes with the videos so your $39.99 would be credited) or my 17-Day ANSWER program.  You will then have a concise path to follow.

 I don’t know where you live, but if you are in (or ever visit) South Florida, you might also consider a consultation with a member of my staff.  Finally, I’ll encourage you to tune in to my Saturday morning radio show.  If you are in South Florida, you can get it at 9 AM on WIOD, 610 on your AM dial.  If you’re anywhere else in the world, you can get it through my website, (follow the links to Mind & Muscle Fitness Hour live broadcast).

Q: I have hypothyroidism and have been on synthroid sine I was four, and have a REALLY hard time trying to lose weight.  I've exercised, watched what I eat, but I can't lose any of it, and since I've been on birth control, it's gotten even worse.  I have never been in good shape, and want to change that.  Do you have any suggestions for me? I am hesitant in trying any new diet because it may not work for me, and I'm also concerned about the cost of this one in case it doesn't work.

ANSWER: I certainly understand your apprehension in trying something new.  Let me address the synthroid issue first, then I'll hopefully ease your mind about the risk of trying something new.  It sounds to me as if you had some thyroid problems that were medical in nature.  Medications, such as synthroid, while they may not "fix" the problem, can allow the body to operate normally by restoring thyroid hormone levels to where they're supposed to be.  If, however, somebody with hypothyroidism embarks on a calorie restrictive diet (as the diets you've tried in the past), the body will give up muscle and thyroid hormone production might further be altered.  The sense that you can't lose weight on the diets you've tried because of the thyroid issue was likely developed because the diets and exercise regimens you've followed had a negative metabolic effect!

My program is not a diet based on deprivation.  It teaches you, step by step, how to make modifications in the way you eat and the way you exercise so that metabolism is enhanced.  I can not guarantee that you will achieve the same results as someone who did not have a thyroid concern, but I can guarantee that you will begin moving in a positive direction regaining control of the way your body looks and feels.  I've actually had a large number of individuals with assorted metabolic challenges go through the program, live, in groups, with my trainers, and in every case improvement was achieved.  I do not present my program as a cure, but rather as an education that will empower you to start moving in the direction you'd like.

Because you are apprehensive, I would not steer you toward the complete TRANSFORM! 17 week program right now.  The Answer is very simple, it comes with a book you can read in 90 minutes, and you'll notice results in 17 days!  I'd also suggest you order the EAT! recipe book.  With The Answer, and EAT!, I have a feeling you'll regain a feeling of optimism and you begin to learn how to finally get into "good shape."  Let me know how things work out.

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