Diagnosed in 2009 with hypothyroidism, chronic illness has certainly changed my priorities of how I look and feel, and I now realize that weight loss is about so much more than a cosmetic change. Meanwhile, thanks to medication, supplements, regular workouts and a revamped diet, I have reached a point where I am happy with my body, but ironically it took chronic illness to get me there and teach me a new way of looking at myself and the world. It is this that has inspired this article.
… Empowering rather than shaming. Shaming someone else (or even yourself!) into losing weight is stressful and depressing. Not only that, but it is very cruel. Practice self-kindness and you will blossom and are thus more likely to achieve your goals. Shut out those shaming voices and remember that it is your body and, first and foremost, you are doing this for yourself.
… About losing weight for the right reasons: to break down barriers and open up opportunities, not to satisfy the needs and concepts of society. Your friends and family may be making what they think are “well-meaning” remarks about how concerned they are about your health or how attractive you used to be when you were a few sizes smaller, but this just serves to belittle you and ultimately you should be doing this not just to “look” better, but also to feel better. Losing weight can get rid of back pain, give you more energy, balance your hormones, lower your cholesterol, increase your self-confidence … and so the list goes on. But you have to want to lose weight for yourself, not because someone else is telling you that is how you should look.
… A change in lifestyle rather than a crash diet. Many people like a quick fix, but quick fixes are rarely long-term fixes. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, a lifestyle change may be in order. Look into what is truly causing your weight gain – whether your thyroid, the stress linked to adrenal fatigue and high cortisol levels, food intolerances, etc. – and seek to target this (or these) root cause(s).
For some this may involve going gluten-free and staying gluten-free. Others may feel the need to cut out even more foods, as in the (autoimmune) paleo diet. At first, this is extremely daunting, but as you start to feel better you may well decide it is worth it and may even develop a new appreciation for food and cooking, as my husband and I did. Today, the US market is swamped with endocrine disruptors – GMO foods, foods with unnecessary additives (some of which are banned in other countries), as well as foods that have no nutritional value whatsoever. The power is in your hands to make the healthiest food choices.
… About eating healthier and working out rather than just cutting the calories. Hypothyroid patients are more prone to leptin resistance, insulin resistance and glucose intolerance (which are also endocrine disorders). Many find that eating small meals when they are hungry can help prevent this. As thyroid patients tend to be more sensitive to carbs, some patients on the online forums have also reported great results with low-carb, high-protein diets, e.g. paleo or even autoimmune paleo.
… About how you feel rather than what you weigh. Back in college, I was obsessed with losing weight, so swam a kilometer a day and ate Weight Watchers diet products to achieve this goal. I weighed myself practically every day. Looking back, this almost seems rather sick. And yet I know I am not alone. At 55 kilos and a slim, but muscly US Size 6-8 (UK Size 10-12), I agonized over how I didn’t fit in with the dratted BMI, only to later realize that many people don’t and that I probably didn’t because of my muscly physique and big bust, things that many doctors rarely take into account. Today, I still don’t fit in with the BMI. But the difference now is that I don’t care. I have grown to be strong and healthy and toned and that is the most important thing to me because thyroid disease has taught me that numbers are only a small part of the picture – whether numbers of lab results, numbers on the scale or numbers of dress sizes. You have to assess whether you, as an individual, are healthy. The fact that I can do a four-minute plank and a 34-second shoulder press against the wall, exercises that many men can’t even perform, says it all in my opinion …
… Realistic. Back in my early 20s, I was a US Size 6 (UK Size 10). When I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, I kind of hoped that I would go back to a US Size 6 (UK Size 10), but gradually realized that this was not going to happen – not so much because of my thyroid disease, but rather because my body has changed so much between then and now. Despite being a US Size 12 (UK Size 16) now, I have found that I feel healthier and stronger on the whole than I did back when I was a US Size 6 (UK Size 10).
On the topic of realism, it’s important to cut yourself some slack. Revamp your lifestyle and diet, but allow yourself the occasional treat to avoid yourself eventually spiraling out of control. Even with treats, it’s possible to make healthier choices. For instance, if I am jonesing for ice cream, I prefer locally sourced, hormone-free ice cream sweetened with honey instead of some of the shop-bought brands that sometimes contain high-fructose corn syrup and milk with bovine growth hormones. Better yet, make things yourself if you have the time and the ability.
… Step by step. Be kind to yourself because a positive mental attitude is so important to healing. Stress results in increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can then lead to weight gain. So be relaxed and patient about your goal to lose weight and don’t put yourself under pressure or let others do so. If you do find yourself surrounded by negative naysayers, distance yourself from them and surround yourself by an encouraging and positive circle of friends.
What are your thoughts on weight loss? How has thyroid disease changed the way you look at yourself and your body?
Yours in health,