Waking up, stepping on the scale. Shocked by the number, you remove jewelry and heavy clothing. It barely budges. Stripping down naked, you step on again. Still a scary number. How is it possible to gain 5lbs in a week? Depressed and exhausted by what you see, you would rather climb back into bed under the covers than get dressed and go about your day. What’s the point of leaving the bed anyways? You’re just going to be tired all day, and self-conscious that everyone is judging your ‘lumpy’ body.
This is a familiar tale among the women in my 21-Day Happy Hormones Diet program that even I have felt from time to time. Why will my body not cooperate? How can I make it do what I want?
Firstly, don’t give up- there’s ALWAYS an answer, even if it takes some time to find it.
Today, I want to help you find that answer- the relief of knowing that you’ve been searching for.
Why Am I Exhausted and Gaining Weight Like Crazy?
The answer could be connected to what’s happening in your neck. Yes, that’s right- I’m talking about your thyroid gland. And before your close out this article because your thyroid test has come back “normal” I urge you to finish reading and take my Hormone Imbalance Quiz to see if those ‘normal’ tests are telling a lie.
Under active thyroid, sometimes called hypothyroidism is a very common issue with women. Your thyroid gland has many very important functions in the body (which you can see below) and may become sluggish over time for various reasons, which are outlined below.
Simply put, if your thyroid is under active, it may not be producing thyroid hormone (T4) and may not be able to convert T4 to the more metabolically active form of thyroid hormone, T3. Doctors will often test Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), but this is a hormone made in the brain to tell the thyroid to make more hormone rather than being an active thyroid hormone itself, so it’s often not the best measure of thyroid health. However, high TSH levels could indicate a sluggish thyroid as well.
NOTE: Research suggests that upwards of 90% or more of under active thyroid cases are Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid condition that requires slightly different treatment than regular hypothyroidism. If you are unsure or would like more clarification, please don’t hesitate to contact me or ask your doctor.
The thyroid gland has many functions, such as regulating:
- Metabolic rate
- Heart and digestive function
- Muscle control
- Brain development
- Bone maintenance
- Menstrual cycle length and blood flow
- Estrogen metabolism and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) production
- Progesterone production
Symptoms of Under Active Thyroid
- Weight gain that won’t shift no matter what you try
- Hair loss (sometimes very dramatic)
- Dry or cracked skin and heels
- Low libido
- Constant fatigue- like you could sleep 12-14 hours a night and still be tired all day
- Cold intolerance and/or cold hands and feet
- Muscle cramps and aches
- Irregular, heavy or painful menstrual cycles
- Memory loss and/or brain fog
- Puffy face
- Lump in the throat or chronic sore throat
- Weak immune system- chronic colds, flus and other infections
To see if your thyroid gland may be under active, contributing to your symptoms, and learn why this might be happening and what to do about it, take my quiz.
5 Foods to Shift the Scale and Energize
#1 Sea Vegetables
Food is medicine. If only our traditional medical doctors would subscribe to this school of thought, we would all be better off. But instead of blaming others for our lack of answers or relief from suffering, it’s time to take back control of our own thyroid health with foods. As the thyroid gland requires small amounts iodine to function (T4 uses 4 iodines and T3 uses 3 iodines per molecule), sea vegetables can be beneficial.
Unlike iodine supplements, which can be extremely high in dosage (and too much iodine actually depresses thyroid function), sea vegetables contain iodine in a natural form along with many other vitamins and minerals that promote good thyroid health.
For example, just 1 tbsp of dried dulse (a type of seaweed) contains 500% of your daily recommended intake of iodine. Sea vegetables like dulse and other listed below also have loads of hormone-promoting vitamin C, blood sugar-balancing manganese, skin-clearing vitamin A and energy-boosting iron.
Like the mineral iodine, iron is important for thyroid health. Low iron (Ferritin blood levels below 70) contribute to thyroid dysfunction, thyroid-related weight gain and hair loss, fatigue and mood disturbances like depression.
Some examples of sea vegetables you can use in your diet include:
How to Use Sea Vegetables
- Purchase a shaker of dulse and/or kelp flakes and sprinkle on your food in place of salt (sea vegetables have a naturally salty flavour)
- Rehydrate strips of arame and/or wakame and add to salads and soups (these are nearly tasteless)
- Add to cooked gluten-free whole grains like buckwheat, brown rice and/or quinoa
- Make a lunch wrap with nitrate-free deli turkey, sauerkraut, avocado wrapped in nori sheets instead of flour or lettuce-based wraps
#2 Sesame Seeds
A favourite seed very high in the mineral zinc, sesame seeds could be supportive to a healthy thyroid gland to shift the scale and energize you. As little as 1/4 cup contains 25% of your daily recommended intake of zinc.
Zinc is required in a few steps to creating healthy thyroid hormones. First, zinc is required to produce T4, the less metabolically active form of thyroid hormone. Zinc is also necessary to convert inactive T4 into the highly metabolically active thyroid hormone, T3. Lastly, Zinc is needed for the health of your thyroid hormone receptors. You can have sufficient levels of T3, but if your thyroid hormone receptors aren’t working optimally, you can still experience thyroid symptoms like weight gain, fatigue and hair loss.
Zinc to the rescue!
How to Use Sesame Seeds
- Sprinkle a tsp or two on soups and salads
- Add a tbsp to smoothies
- Use tahini (sesame seed paste/butter) in place of almond or peanut butter
- Make a salad dressing with tahini, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, spices and a bit of honey and drizzle on salads or dip proteins like chicken or fish
- Add sesame seeds or tahini to the batter of gluten-free baked goods like muffins
#3 Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts are one of my favourite “therapeutic foods” to recommend to my private clients. A therapeutic food is simply a food high in one or several nutrients, which if taken consistently in high enough amounts, could help to alleviate symptoms. Brazil nuts are one of the highest sources of selenium, another healthy thyroid mineral, like zinc, iodine and iron.
Two Brazil nuts contain about 100mcg of selenium, and most times about 100mcg to 200mcg of daily selenium is recommended for thyroid disorders. This means that simply eating 2 to 4 Brazil nuts daily as a “therapeutic food” could increase selenium levels in the body, assisting thyroid health.
Selenium is required for the conversion of inactive T4 into the more active T3 thyroid hormone. Selenium deficiency could contribute to low levels of T3, creating those yucky symptoms of weight gain, fatigue, hair loss and menstrual irregularities. Having adequate selenium levels in the body also helps to lower antibody levels, which is fabulous for the autoimmune thyroid disorder of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (which makes up about 90%-97% of all thyroid disorders).
How to Use Brazil Nuts
- Simply eat 2-4 raw Brazil nuts daily with a meal or as a snack
- Chop them and use them in a grain-free, nut/seed based granola
- Add chopped nuts to salads
- Throw a few Brazil nuts into smoothies or hot tonics/elixirs
#4 Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (like Bragg’s or Filsinger’s) has numerous health benefits, and supporting a healthy thyroid gland for weight management and good energy is one of them.
Specifically, apple cider vinegar contains acids, enzymes and beneficial probtiocs- all necessary for thyroid function.
Remember that T4 must be converted into T3 to be used effectively in the body? Well, about 20% of this conversion happens in your gut! So, if your gut health is in disarray (as it is in every women with thyroid dysfunction I’ve seen clinically), your thyroid will suffer.
Using apple cider vinegar could help to increase stomach acid, which is great for disgusting food properly. Insufficient levels of stomach acid (aka hypochlorhydria) is a leading cause of leaky gut, and a leaky gut will reduce active thyroid hormone and increase inflammation- potentially contributing to hypothyroidism and autoimmune Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Apple cider vinegar also contains beneficial probiotics, and these healthy bacteria are very important for thyroid health. For example, gut bacteria assist the conversion of T4 to T3 in the gut. Specifically there is an enzyme involved in the gut conversion that actually comes from healthy gut bacteria. If this conversion is reduced, you may end up with “normal” thyroid labs despite having thyroid-related symptoms like unexplained weight gain, fatigue, hair loss and depression.
How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar
- Put 1 tsp to 1 tbsp in a small glass of warm water and drink 15-30 minutes before meals to increase stomach acid and aid digestion
- Use ACV with lemon juice, cayenne and cinnamon in warm water as a stimulating morning tonic
- Use ACV instead of other vinegars or lemon juice in your homemade salad dressings
- Add 1 tsp to 1 tbsp ACV to smoothies
#5 Beet Kvass
Beets are a serious superfood. They support the liver, build the blood and provide valuable vitamins and minerals. When you use beets to create the tonic Beet Kvass (see recipe below), it’s like putting those benefits on overdrive.
Beet Kvass is a fermented beet drink. It contains loads of nutrients including iron, folate, manganese, magnesium, fibre and vitamin B6.
Because it’s fermented, Beet Kvass also had loads of those beneficial bacteria or “probiotics” that I mentioned in the previous section.
We know that iron and probiotics are both important for healthy thyroid function, and beets are a great way to get both (and more)!
Beets also help to detoxify the liver. Liver health is important for thyroid function in a few ways. For example, when you eat a meal with fats, your liver and gall bladder create and secrete things like bile acids to help break it down. Bile acids need to be converted into secondary bile acids in the body to function as they should, and probiotic gut bacteria are how it’s done.
When bile acids are converted properly by probiotics, activity of enzymes that convert T4 to T3 are increased.
How to Use Beet Kvass
- Drink 1/2 to 1 cup daily as a beverage
- Use as a base in smoothies
- Use as a base in salad dressings
Beet Kvass Recipe
- 3 litres water
- 1.5 tbsp sea salt
- 3 beets (peel if not organic)
- Wash beets and chop roughly. Add to a glass mason jar big enough for all beets and water, or use a couple of smaller jars if necessary.
- Add the sea salt.
- Add water to about 1/2 inch below the lid.
- Twist on lid tightly, and you might want to label with the date.
- Keep the jar at room temperature for 4-5 days or up to a week.
- After fermentation time, store the kvass in the fridge.
- Optional flavour additions: thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped; 1 lime, washed and quartered, turmeric powder, star anise, cinnamon sticks
- You can reuse the beets for a second batch, but after fermenting a second time, throw the beets away and start fresh.