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How hypothyroidism changes your relationship with food

How hypothyroidism changes your relationship with food

Hypothyroidism can make it difficult to control your weight, which for some leads to disruptive diets, fatigue and depression. Here's how to take back control

Are you fearful of eating gluten or starving yourself of sweets? Do you feel that despite working out, losing weight is difficult for you?

If you do feel this way, you are not alone. Due to inconsistent and abnormal weight gain, hypothyroidism does change your relationship with food. Despite attaining hormonal (T3 and T4) balance, the changed relationship with food can lead to deteriorating mental health.

Carmel’s case

Carmel (34) was unaware of her hypothyroid until she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease when she was in her mid-twenties. She recalls how during high school she had an abnormal relationship with food. She would starve herself throughout the week and overeat during the weekends.

It was not until she started feeling extreme fatigue during her full-time job as a PR professional that she got worried and visited a GP.

“All the good endocrinologists had a waiting list of at least two months, and I waited until I could get an appointment. It was scary as I had to stop eating sugar. I used to eat tubs of ice cream when I felt overwhelmed.”

What is hypothyroidism?

Supplements and homeopathy for treating hypothyroidismThere are medicines available for hypothyroidism, but patients can also try diet supplements and homeopathy

Hypothyroidism is when the body makes less of the thyroid hormone (which the thyroid gland is responsible for), in turn irregulating the metabolism.

Having an irregular thyroid can affect people’s mood, causing symptoms like depression, difficulty to focus and, in some cases, short term memory lapse.

In its early stages, hypothyroidism is unlikely to have any major symptoms other than tiredness and weight gain.

"Having an irregular thyroid can affect people’s mood, causing symptoms like depression"

However, if left untreated, the symptoms can increase to muscle weakness, an irregular menstrual cycle and a slower heart rate.

In a world where social media promotes “that girl” who eats healthy, goes to the gym and is thin, abnormal weight gaining during hypothyroidism can feel isolating.

Working out and eating cautiously does work on most days, unless you are consciously depriving yourself of your favourite food.

Homeopathy as well as modern medicines

Medicines might be a modern and known solution to treat hypothyroidism, but they are not the only fix. Mayah Riaz was diagnosed when she was 38-years-old, and she feared becoming addicted to medicines and their long term implications on her whole life.

She switched to homeopathy and worked with a naturopathic practitioner to find the right supplements and diets. Unable to spend much time working out, as she constantly felt tired and exhausted, she made efforts to stick to her diet. 

Dietary changes

“I don’t have as much dairy or gluten now as I did before," Riaz explains. "I have cut down on coffee, and I have started making mindful food choices. However, trying to change my diet was challenging, as my relationship with sugar was extreme before.”

Finding alternatives to sugar, like having more fruit or sharing a dessert with someone, is something that helps Riaz to stay on track with her diet and control her hormonal levels.

"Riaz eliminated salmon and inflammatory oils and replaced chocolates with frozen grapes"

She has made numerous other changes in her diet, including eliminating salmon and inflammatory oils and replacing chocolates with frozen grapes.

“Initially it was challenging, but after three weeks it started becoming easier,” she says.

Making such big food chances was mentally exhausting and challenging for Riaz, but it has empowered her to take better control of her life.

Finding the right endocrinologist

Endocrinologist checking woman for hypothyroidismStudies show that hypothyroidism is more common in women

Recent studies have shown that hypothyroidism is more prominent in women, especially between puberty and menopause. The production of oestrogen is known to increase the need for the thyroid hormone by increasing thyroxine-binding globulin.

The need for more thyroid hormone means there is a larger chance that the thyroid gland cannot produce enough, confirms Ergo Sooru, founder of DrHouse.

After undergoing thyroidectomy five years ago, Dani was told by her doctor that post-surgery she could continue to have her usual relationship with food. However, after the surgery she noticed unusual weight gain and changing of her metabolism.

"After I was diagnosed, I experienced a lot of hair loss and had to give up on foods like broccoli"

“I was eating normally and exercising regularly, but my T3 and T4 were abnormal. After consulting numerous doctors, I discovered that so many of my everyday problems were symptoms of my thyroid.

"I felt misled by the doctor who told me I could eat whatever I wanted and continue the same life. After being diagnosed with hypothyroidism, my eating, sleeping and exercising patterns have changed.”

Dani met numerous endocrinologists before finding a doctor who works for her. While searching for an endocrinologist, it is important to know what their expertise is. Many doctors study different topics of medicine, and while some will have training in hypothyrodism, some won’t.

“After I was diagnosed, I experienced a lot of hair loss and had to give up on foods like broccoli. What frustrated me throughout was that, despite eating well, the effects of the symptoms were the same.”

Feelings of fatigue and depression

Fatigue is another major symptom, which resulted in 22-year-old Joao Pedro Milheiro giving up on his dream of being a football player, as when he was diagnosed his energy levels were low.

Fatigue is a key driver of negative mental health in people experience with hypothyroidism, unless you already have advanced symptoms of depression, in which case fatigue can exacerbate this depression.

One of the best things you can do to help your mental health is combatting this fatigue. Getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods can really go a long way, advices Sooru.

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