One of the many fun things about Graves’ disease is changes in weight. Probably 75% of people who are hyperthyroid start losing weight. When you are hyper your body goes into overdrive. Everything speeds up, including your metabolism and for a lot of us, also our appetite. Some of us have our appetite rev up higher than our metabolism is burning calories. So for some lucky people with Graves’ disease, we gain weight. Sometimes it’s only a few pounds, and sometimes you are like I was, gaining over 100 pounds in a six month period. When I was first diagnosed with Graves’ I was told that I must be doing something wrong, I was exercising, eating healthy and very few calories and still gaining twenty pounds a month or more until my RAI and subsequent going hypothyroid. After I went hypothyroid, which is when most people start gaining weight, I actually lost some of what I’d gained, but not even close to all of it.
The more I talk to other Graves’ disease patients online, the more I find I am not alone. About 10-25% of people who are hyperthyroid gain weight. Doctors are not sure why. Once you go into normal thyroid levels or into hypothyroidism it becomes harder to lose the weight you put on. Mary Shomon-in Thyroid Diet Secrets, who is a noted thyroid expert, explains that sometimes when we have a thyroid problem, our bodies can more easily go into what is called “hoard” mode, where your body doesn’t think you are getting enough calories to maintain your metabolism, so despite being overweight, your body won’t let you lose weight. So when the person tries to restrict their calories to too low, their body rebels and does everything to make sure the pounds won’t come off.
I’ve come across this many times in the various thyroid and Graves’ disease support groups I’ve been an admin in online. The poor person is already mourning the loss of their old self and then you have body images to contend with because you are no longer the size you used to be.
Just as devastating is the person who goes the typical way and loses a huge amount of weight. Those people will sometimes get insensitive remarks about how thin they are, and then have to contend sometimes with muscle wasting issues, lack of energy and inability to move around much as they have grown so weak.
Whether Graves’ has made you gain way too much or too little, it’s a terrible thing to a person’s self image. My recommendations are to first find a good counselor to help you with body image issues caused by thyroid disease, someone who is somewhat knowledgeable and knows that it’s not “all in your head”, and can give you tips to cope with this new you. Second, is to work with your doctors and other health care professionals to try to get your thyroid levels as optimized as possible so you feel the best you can. Then when those two are in motion, you can try various dietary and lifestyle changes to see what will help you control your weight the best.
There are many different paths to helping you overcome weight issues, whether it be a need to gain weight or a need to lose weight. This isn’t a one sized fits all disease, so sometimes you have to find what has worked for others and see if it will work for you. The most common things dietary paths tried that I’ve seen are the following…
-Low Glycemic index diet (eating like a diabetic), controlling blood sugar levels so they are more stable has helped many people stabilize their weight as well. Examples are South Beach Diet (phase 2)
-Gluten free. Some people with Graves’ and other autoimmune issues develop Celiacs which makes a person have many issues when they consume gluten containing products, some people have success controlling their weight and other health issues by going gluten free.
-Anti-Inflammatory diets, there are several anti-inflammatory diets, some are explained here. Some people feel better when they eat less foods that cause inflammation.
-Paleo diet- recently a few have tried the paleo diet and have had some success with this.
Just remember, always check with your doctor before starting any diet or lifestyle change, what works for one doesn’t always work for everyone, and a diet may have to be modified to work with your health conditions. For example, I tried the gluten free diet and it made me feel a lot worse, but eating like a diabetic ended up helping me lose about 30 pounds and control my fatigue. I know another person who doesn’t seem to be bothered by sugars, but if she eats anything with gluten, she’s miserable for days. We are all different and sometimes we have to try multiple things to figure out which one works best for us.
Lastly, it’s important to make sure your nutritional needs are being met. Once a year at least, I’d recommend getting these tested: Vitamin D, calcium, potassium, magnesium and if you have Hashimoto’s disease have them check your iodine levels as well. Many people with autoimmune thyroid disorders can become low on various nutrients and that can also hinder your ability to control your weight and feel your best.