Weight Loss, Metabolism and Thyroid
This article is the first article of a ten-part series on Fat Loss and the best tips, and tricks to help Get You in Shape. This first article will focus on your body’s internal furnace, the thyroid. This vital gland is responsible for regulating your metabolism, or how well you burn calories. A healthy thyroid will burn fat quickly, whereas an unhealthy thyroid can lead to weight gain. Learn more about your thermodynamic thyroid here!
Thermodynamics of the Thyroid
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located just under the Adam’s apple (larynx) in the neck. This gland produces hormones such as the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) that regulates the body’s metabolic rate, as well as many other functions. A typical range for TSH levels is between 0.4-4.0 mU/L. If you are currently being treated for a thyroid disorder, the normal range is between 0.5-3.0 mU/L.
If your thyroid is functioning at its full potential, you will be burning calories efficiently, but if it slows down, weight gain is inevitable. If your thyroid is operating at too high of a rate, that is called hyperthyroidism, where your thyroid is overactive. The opposite is true if your thyroid is functioning at too low of a frequency which is called hypothyroidism.
What Dietary Issues Cause the Thyroid to Slow Down?
A slow thyroid can be caused by a few dietary issues such a super low carb diet, not eating enough calories, over-exercising and under eating and even soy products can negatively impact the thyroid.
Super Low Carb Diets
It seems everyone is on the low carb bandwagon these days, but research has shown that consuming less than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day over time can hinder your metabolism and thyroid function. Short term low carb intake is fine, but long term low carb intake can be problematic. Initially, you will lose weight, but that is mostly water and glycogen. Restricting your carb intake too drastically can decrease thyroid output in the long run. Without enough carbs, you lose muscle and slow down the T3 hormone. If you are committed to a low carb strategy, it is best to cycle your carb intake (more on this topic below).
Not Eating Enough Calories
Regularly eating fewer calories than your body needs will slow your metabolism down. You only need to reduce your calorie consumption by 10-15% of what your body requires to lose weight and still keep your metabolism in gear. Drastically reducing calories can have a negative impact not only on your current metabolism but even long-term as it will cause severe nutrient deficiencies and health challenges which may include insomnia, low energy, irritability and depression. Another downfall to not eating enough calories is once you resume your regular eating, you will gain back what you lost and possibly increase even more because you have a slower metabolic rate due to the drastic reduction in calories and muscle loss during the low calorie eating phase. An example of this would be a female eating 800 to 1000 calories or a male eating 1400 to 1700 calories. Severe low calorie eating is not a great strategy for fat loss.
When you over exercise and combine that with not eating enough calories, this sends a signal to your body to preserve body fat and switch over to starvation mode. When you are in starvation mode, your body will get rid of muscle and store fat as this is the body’s natural reaction and is an evolutionary trait that allows us to survive in challenging environments. You can exercise more, but you will need to eat more to do that (more details on calorie counting below). When you exercise more and eat less, initially it will work to lose weight but only in the short term. Eventually, you slow down your thyroid and metabolism resulting in future weight gain and then some, and this is the most common mistake made when people are trying to lose weight. So, if you exercise more you have to eat more, if you exercise less you have to eat less. To read more about optimal nutrition, check out my free grocery: free grocery list. The “grocery list” gets into the details of healthy eating to lose fat. Remember, to lose body fat, not only do you have to eat healthy, but you have to eat healthy and eat the right amount of calories – “eating healthy” and “eating healthy to lose body fat” can be two separate things.
Next time you are out at a sushi restaurant, you might want to pass on the edamame. Soy foods contain anti-metabolic factors such as saponins, soyatoxin, phytates, protease inhibitors, oxalates, goitrogens, and estrogens. The goitrogens block the synthesis of the thyroid hormones and interfere with iodine metabolism.
How do you Increase Thyroid or Metabolic Rate?
One way to add fuel to the fire in your furnace is to cycle your carbohydrate and calorie intake. You can do this by alternating lower carb days followed by higher carb days. This process will kick start your metabolism back into high gear. Carb cycling allows you to continue to eat carbs from clean sources, and cycling provides for better utilization of fat for burning as fuel, as opposed to burning carbs and muscle for fuel.
- Low Carb Days – On these days you would take in approximately 50-150 grams of carbs each day from non-starchy vegetables. When done in a series of three to six days, it encourages the body to use up stored carbs (glycogen) and switch over to burning body fat for fuel.
- Higher Carb Day – On this day you would take in approximately 200-400 grams of carbs from complex carbs such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes, organic rice, squash, and fruits.
One strategy would be to follow a low carb diet (50 to 100 grams) for 3 to 6 days and then switch to one day of high carb eating (200 to 400 grams). If you are committed to a low carb strategy, then this is the best solution to keeps your thyroid and metabolism running hot!
I’ve been a personal trainer and nutritionist in Los Angeles for the past 17 years, as for my clients, only about 20 to 25% of my clients follow a cyclical low carb strategy. Most of my clients eat a balanced diet and allocate about 25 to 30% protein, 40% carbs, 20 to 30% fat. You can follow these parameters whether you are vegan, vegetarian or omnivore (eat plants and animals). I find that following a balanced diet is:
- Psychological easier to follow, more choices
- For most, they feel much better and have more energy
- Feel stronger during weight lifting
- Less likely to have any nutrient deficiencies – a lot of low carb people don’t eat enough fruits and veggies making them magnesium deficient and having other deficiencies
But for some, either genetically or if a person is having gut issues, it would be better to follow a cyclical low carb diet.
Counting Calories – Tedious but helpful
Another strategy which is much more time consuming would be to count your calories – this does take a lot of time and effort but could really pay off and help you determine if you’re eating too much or too little. For those of you that don’t like math, I need to forewarn you, this is a bit tedious and does require some effort which is described below. If this sounds a bit much, feel free to skip this section.
For my clients that are interested in this strategy, the first step would be to look at overall body fat percentage. You could either buy a Tanita scale or find a Dexa Scan (a machine that scans your entire body) that is located near you which can help you determine your overall fat percentage. Most Dexa Scans cost about $50 to $75 for a scan.
The equation that I use is to:
- Find out body fat percentage
- Find sedentary caloric needs
- Find out the total calories needed to maintain body weight by using sedentary caloric needs plus activity level calories
- And lastly, shoot for 10 to 15% below maintenance calories to lose body fat
So, to get started, take what ever your body fat percentage is and find your lean body mass. So for example, take a 200 pound male at 20% body fat. His lean mass would be around 160 pounds. The next step would be to find out what his sedentary calorie expenditure is – in our example, you simply multiply 160 pound by 10 which is 1600 calories a day. If this person laid in bed all day and didn’t move he would burn approximately 1600 calories.
The next step is to add a multiplier based on activity level; does this person sit all day, or does he exercise frequently or is he performing manual labor. Given these variations, this can range from .25 to 1 (this range is based on activity level and training). So for example, let’s say that this person was really inactive, I would use the multiplier of .25. So for our example, 1600 calories times .25 is 400 calories and so his total calories would be about 2000 (1600 plus 400) in order to maintain his weight. But for someone more active in our example, you could use a multiplier that is higher such as .75 which would come out to 2800 calories (1600 times 1.75). So for this scenario, if this person was much more active, to maintain his weight he would eat 2800 calories.
To lose weight you only need to reduce your intake of calories by 10-15% of your total daily caloric requirements. In other words, if you need 2,800 calories per day to maintain your current weight, you would need to reduce that to 2,520 calories per day, and you will lose weight far more effectively than you would be doing by drastically under eating. If you do follow this equation and for some reason you are not losing body fat after 10 days, reduce calories by 100 and see if that helps. If not, reduce by 200 calories. This is not a perfect system and for some may take some tweaking. If you’re still having issues, feel free to contact me and set up a consultation.
The app that I use to count calories is mynetdiary, but any app could be used for this. Yes, this is a tedious process of weighing food and doing some math, but much can be learned from this process. Another option would be to count calories for 2 to 4 weeks to get the hang of the process and then stop. After this period, you should have a pretty good understanding of eating the right amount of calories to lose body fat and gain muscle.
To lose body fat, counting calories is not mandatory and simply eating healthy and exercising is sufficient for most people.
Autoimmune Disease and Thyroid Health
If you think you are having thyroid issues or symptoms related to an autoimmune disease, you may want to see a doctor to have a thyroid panel done. You can also start implementing changes to your diet. Gluten and poor gut health is one of the leading causes of autoimmune problems, especially autoimmune thyroid conditions. Making positive changes to your gut health through diet can help reduce inflammation and heal your thyroid. If you’re not working with a nutrition coach, you may want to seek professional advice and guidance to discuss a healthy nutrition and gut building protocol.
In my practice, I’ve found that a good nutrition and a supplement program can help to optimize TSH. Also, adjusting your overall lifestyle can have a huge impact on your hormonal health. When your body is showing symptoms and health issues, something is wrong. Think of it like a red light on the dash board of your car. If your car is saying “check engine” and you ignore it, what will happen? You will completely burn out your engine! This is also true with the human body. Our dash board is analogous to symptoms that are occurring – hormonal imbalances, low energy, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, depression, stomach issues, anger issues… These are all reds lights on your dash board. Red lights never get better, they only get worse if you don’t take action immediately.
- Detox – Our liver detoxifies our bodies, and when we are toxic it slows down our system and can negatively affect our metabolism. If you are working with a nutritionist, ask for a good detox program and make sure you are eating only whole foods – food that is pulled from the earth, or picked from a tree, or is hunted or raised. If it is in a wrapper chances are it is not a whole food. If you are shopping in the aisles at the grocery store and not shopping on the periphery or outer perimeter, chances are you are not eating whole foods.
- Eat Organic – The overuse of pesticides can disrupt and over burden the body and may lead to a hormonal imbalance. Eating organic gives you the antioxidant-rich food that you won’t get in non-organic fruits and vegetables. Eating organic foods will reduce your toxic load making fat loss easier.
- Supplements – Helpful supplements may include tyrosine which may help speed metabolism and iodine which may help with metabolism and thyroid function. Other supplements that are beneficial are B-complex, kelp capsules, selenium, vitamin D and zinc. Why supplements? Can’t you just get these nutrients from food? Because of the over use of our fields and a lack of crop rotation, our soil has become depleted. Our foods simply have less nutrient density compared to 100 years ago. Unfortunately, we have too many people on planet earth to feed and the focus is on quantity production of food, not quality. The second reason why supplements make sense is that we are constantly detoxing due to our toxic environment. Daily, we are exposed to 100,000 different types of toxins and chemicals which in order to detox uses up nutrients from our diets.
- Check Your Thyroid Levels – Many people are not aware they have a slow metabolism until they get their thyroid levels checked. Testing your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and T4 are part of the routine testing and are usually ordered together. Testing T3 may be required if TSH is abnormal. The reverse T3 test measures the inactive form of T3.
- Eating the Right Amount of Calories – Keeping the metabolism in high gear requires the right amount of fuel. If you don’t consume enough calories, your body goes into starvation mode, and your metabolism will slow down. Each time you eat, your metabolism kicks back up again. Eating smaller meals 3-5 times a day can help keep your body’s furnace burning.
- Keep a Food Journal – Journaling your food will help with accountability and awareness. The most common phrase I here among people is that “I eat healthy”. Many people don’t realize how much junk food that they may eat over the course of a week; eating lots of non-organic foods, processed foods and junk food can really add up. Tracking your body weight and waist measurement and comparing that to your food journal can be helpful to achieving the body you desire.
- Sleep and Stress – This may be one of the more obvious tips, but both sleep depravation and high levels of stress can cause various types of hormonal imbalances. For my clients, I recommend sleeping 8 to 10 hours a night and managing stress with meditation, yoga and stretching. Intense exercise can be a huge form of stress and is probably not a good idea of you are under a lot of work or life stress. Also, working on optimism and positive self-dialogue can have a healthy impact on overall well-being and hormonal health.
- Get at least 20 minutes a day of sunshine – Sunlight has shown to be protective against autoimmunity and has a positive impact on thyroid health – “The majority of the data here reported suggest that vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency may be associated with increased risk of thyroid autoimmunity and that reduced serum concentrations of vitamin D are linked with a major aggressiveness of thyroid cancers.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543192/
Being a personal trainer and nutritionist in Los Angeles for the past 17 years has given me some interesting and key insights into healthy eating and exercise. To find out more details and for a complete list of healthy food options, feel free to download my free grocery list. Click here.
A healthy thyroid doesn’t take a lot of work, but it does require some careful measures. To lose weight you only need to reduce your intake of calories by 10-15% of your total daily caloric requirements. In other words, if you need 2,300 calories per day to maintain your current weight, you would need to reduce that to 2,000 calories per day, and you will lose weight far more effectively than you would be doing by drastic dieting or over-exercising. For more helpful tips contact us today or check out our 8-week Body Makeover Program! Kick start your metabolism and make 2019 your year to feel fit and fabulous.