What Is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism, also referred to as underactive thyroid, is a medical condition that fails to produce sufficient amounts of thyroid hormones, and currently nearly 5 out of 100 Americans. The thyroid gland, located in the front of the neck, plays a crucial role in regulating metabolism, energy production, and overall body functions. Thyroid hormones are responsible for controlling the body’s metabolism, which affects how it uses energy and processes nutrients. Many processes in the body slow down with low amounts of the thyroid hormone which can lead to other complications such as depression, fatigue, and even heart problems.

What causes hypothyroidism?

There are a variety of causes of hypothyroidism.

  • Hashimoto’s disease: An autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the thyroid gland, leading to decreased hormone production.
  • Medical treatments: Certain medical treatments for thyroid conditions, such as radioactive iodine therapy or surgical removal of the thyroid gland (thyroidectomy), can result in hypothyroidism.
  • Congenital hypothyroidism: Some babies are born with an underactive thyroid gland or without a thyroid gland altogether. This can be due to genetic factors or problems during fetal development.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as those used for bipolar disorder, heart conditions, and cancer treatments, can interfere with thyroid hormone production and contribute to hypothyroidism.

  • Iodine deficiency: The thyroid gland needs iodine[2] to produce thyroid hormones and having little to no iodine will cause these levels to be lower and can lead to hypothyroidism.

What are the other causes of hypothyroidism?

Other causes of hypothyroidism include the pituitary gland or hypothalamic dysfunction which can also cause underactive thyroid as the thyroid gland is controlled by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus in the brain. If there are issues with these glands, such as tumors or disorders, it can disrupt the production of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and, subsequently, affect thyroid hormone production.

What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?

  • Fatigue and weakness. Feeling tired, sluggish, and having low energy levels are usually the hallmark symptoms.

  • Weight gain. Hypothyroidism[1] can lead to weight gain or difficulty losing weight, despite maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine.
  • Cold intolerance. Feeling excessively cold, particularly in the extremities.
  • Dry skin and hair. The skin may become dry, rough, and itchy, and the hair may become brittle, thin, and prone to falling out.
  • Slow or irregular heart beat.
  • Mood changes and depression. Hypothyroidism can affect mood, leading to feelings of sadness, depression, and irritability.
  • Menstrual irregularities. Women suffering from hypothyroidism may have irregular or heavy menstrual cycles.

Will hypothyroidism make me gain weight?

Hypothyroidism can contribute to weight gain or make it more challenging to lose weight. Thyroid hormones are important regulators of metabolism, which is the process through which your body transforms food into energy. When the thyroid gland is underactive and doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones it can slow down your metabolism thus causing you to burn calories at a slower rate. This leads to causing you to gain more weight or just having difficulty losing weight.

How does hypothyroidism cause weight gain?

Hypothyroidism can cause weight gain[3] due to its impact on the body’s metabolism. The thyroid hormones, particularly triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), produced by the thyroid gland, play a vital role in regulating metabolism. The body’s metabolism slows down when the thyroid gland is underactive and does not create enough thyroid hormones. This means that fewer calories are burned for energy, and the excess calories are more likely to be stored as fat, leading to weight gain. Insulin resistance is also contributed by hypothyroidism which means even more weight gain since sugar is not being utilized by the cells at all.

Does Everyone with Hypothyroidism Gain Weight?

Not everyone with hypothyroidism will gain weight. While weight gain is a common symptom of hypothyroidism, its severity and impact on weight can vary among individuals. Some people with hypothyroidism may experience minimal weight changes[4] or no weight gain at all. However, there are other factors that can contribute to weight gain such as constipation, fatigue, muscle weakness, and irregular menstrual cycles. Also, individuals must take in the severity of their hypothyroidism diagnosis, any medications they might be taking, their individual metabolism, and their own lifestyle and dietary choices as these may contribute further to weight gain.

Why is weight loss tough in hypothyroidism?

Weight loss tough in hypothyroidism

Weight loss can be more challenging for individuals with hypothyroidism[5], [6] usually due to a slower metabolism, however, there are other factors that might make it tough to lose weight with this condition. Fluid retention is one reason weight loss can be difficult, which is due to excess fluid in the body. Another reason is the imbalances in the various hormones that affect weight loss such as leptin, ghrelin, insulin, and cortisol. Altered fat metabolism is another challenge as hypothyroidism can affect the breakdown and utilization of fats in the body. The impaired production of thyroid hormones can disrupt the efficient processing of fats, making it harder to burn stored fat for energy.

What is the best weight loss diet for hypothyroidism?

There is no specific diet for those trying to lose weight with hypothyroidism, as nutritional needs and preferences can vary. However, certain dietary approaches can be beneficial for supporting weight loss and overall health while managing hypothyroidism.

  • Increase fiber intake. Incorporating foods like legumes, vegetables, fruits and whole grains into your daily diet will promote satiety, prevent constipation, lower cholesterol and help control blood sugar.
  • Increase protein intake. Lean chicken and meats can help against hypothyroidism because a diet low in protein can lower thyroid function.
  • Incorporate healthy fats. Just like proteins, healthy fats can help control appetite and increase satiety. Foods such as salmon, tuna, and nuts should be incorporated into the diet to ensure better thyroid function.

What Is the Best Exercise for Hypothyroidism?

The best exercise for those wanting to lose weight with hypothyroidism is one that suits their fitness level, preferences, and overall health. Regular physical activity is beneficial for managing weight, improving mood, boosting energy levels, and supporting overall well-being. Aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing, can suppress appetite and also help to burn calories. It is best to aim for at least 30 minutes a day for at least five days a week moderately to intense exercise. Strength training such as lifting weights or using resistance bands, can help build lean muscle mass which can aid in increasing overall calorie expenditure and further support weight management even in those with hypothyroidism.

What else can you do to lose weight with hypothyroidism?

In addition to regular exercise and a balanced diet, there are several other strategies you can incorporate to support weight loss with hypothyroidism[7], [8].

  • Optimize thyroid medication by working closely with a healthcare provider to ensure dosage is appropriate and effectively managing your hypothyroidism.
  • Monitor calorie and carbohydrate intake.
  • Avoid and limit processed foods.
  • Manage stress by incorporating stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or engaging in hobbies that you enjoy.
  • Get adequate sleep by aiming for at least 7 to 8 hours of each night as sufficient sleep is crucial for overall health, including weight management.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day to support proper hydration which can help control appetite, improve digestion, and enhance overall metabolic function.
  • Try taking supplements such as Phenocal which is a natural supplement that helps boost metabolism and energy levels. This will further help to achieve weight loss goals.

How is hypothyroidism diagnosed?

Hypothyroidism is typically diagnosed[9] through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. Medical history and symptoms will help to assess any common signs of hypothyroidism, such as fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, dry skin, constipation, depression, and menstrual irregularities. Physical examination may be conducted to check for physical signs of hypothyroidism, such as dry skin, thinning hair, swelling around the eyes or face, and an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter). Blood tests is the primary diagnostic tool for hypothyroidism to measure the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroid hormones—triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Typically the diagnosis would consist of an elevated TSH level and decreased T4 level.

How is hypothyroidism treated?

Hypothyroidism is typically treated with medication, lifestyle modifications, and regular monitoring. The primary treatment for hypothyroidism involves the use of synthetic thyroid hormone medication, such as levothyroxine (T4) or liothyronine (T3). In addition to prescribing medication, adjustments on any currency medicines may need to be made if they cause weight gain. Lifestyle modifications such as a balanced diet, engaging in physical activity daily and managing stress should all be a part of treatment for hypothyroidism, as well as , following up with a healthcare provider.

How to keep your hypothyroidism under control?

Keeping hypothyroidism under control involves a combination of medical management, lifestyle modifications, and regular monitoring. Take medication as prescribed, regularly monitor thyroid function, maintain a healthy lifestyle, keep a balanced diet, engage in regular exercise and stress management, get adequate sleep, communicate with your healthcare provider and lastly educate yourself on hypothyroidism.

How can hypothyroidism be prevented?

Hypothyroidism be prevented

Hypothyroidism, in most cases, cannot be entirely prevented since it is primarily caused by underlying factors such as autoimmune conditions or genetic predisposition. However, there are certain measures you can take to promote thyroid health and potentially reduce the risk or severity of hypothyroidism:

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle which includes consuming a balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity, stress management techniques, sufficient sleep, and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption and smoking can also support thyroid health.
  • Be aware of any family history of hypothyroidism. If there is a family history of thyroid disorders, it may be beneficial to inform your healthcare provider. They can monitor your thyroid function more closely and take appropriate measures if needed.
  • Address autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
  • Regular medical check-ups can help detect thyroid dysfunction early and prompt treatment if necessary.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

How can I activate my thyroid to lose weight?

While it's not possible to directly activate or "turn on" your thyroid to promote weight loss, there are several lifestyle strategies that can support thyroid function and overall weight management. Consult with a healthcare professional, manage medication regimen, maintain a balanced diet, engage in regular exercise, manage stress efficiently, get sufficient sleep, and monitor calorie intake.

Does hypothyroidism cause belly fat?

Hypothyroidism can contribute to weight gain, including the accumulation of excess body fat, including belly fat. However, it's important to note that not all individuals with hypothyroidism will experience significant belly fat or weight gain. The impact of hypothyroidism on body composition can vary from person to person. Changes in lipid metabolism can lead to increased levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. It's important to note that belly fat accumulation can also be influenced by other factors such as genetics, lifestyle choices, overall diet, physical activity levels, and hormonal imbalances beyond hypothyroidism.

Why do I keep putting on weight with an underactive thyroid?

Weight gain is a common symptom in individuals with an underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism. There are several factors related to hypothyroidism that can contribute to weight gain such as a slow metabolism, fluid retention, increased belly fat storage, changes in appetite and satiety and hormonal imbalances. In addition insulin resistance can occur leading to more increase in body fat and weight gain. It's important to note that while hypothyroidism can contribute to weight gain, it's not the sole cause. Other factors, such as genetics, lifestyle choices, dietary habits, and physical activity levels, also influence weight management.


While managing weight with an underactive thyroid can be challenging, it is possible with a comprehensive approach that includes medical treatment, lifestyle modifications, and support from healthcare professionals. By consistently taking prescribed medication, adopting a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, managing stress, and prioritizing adequate sleep, those with hypothyroidism can work towards achieving a healthy weight. Each person’s journey is unique, and it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide personalized guidance based on your specific needs. With dedication and support, it is possible to manage weight effectively and lead a healthy and fulfilling life despite having an underactive thyroid.