When it comes to changing body composition, we know that many times half the battle is mindset. It takes purposeful decision-making to truly prioritize the key habits needed to see change — and to execute them consistently.
Some of the most important changes to make to support fat loss and a healthy metabolism include eating whole, minimally-processed foods (prioritizing protein, produce, and healthy fat), taking quality foundational supplements (such as a quality multivitamin and omega-3 fish oil), training consistently, and getting quality sleep.
While it seems simple enough, these lifestyle changes are a big undertaking. But they also offer a big payoff: Most people find they are rewarded for these habits with an increase in energy, better fitting clothes, more confidence, and even a greater zest for life.
However, for some, the effort isn’t met with the expected results. While this can happen for a variety of reasons, one of the most common barriers I’ve seen in practice are imbalanced thyroid hormone levels.
Understanding Thyroid Function
Our thyroid is a small — but mighty — butterfly-shaped gland in our neck that dictates much of our metabolic functioning. When things are awry, it can be almost impossible to lose weight, let alone feel like the best version of ourselves. The thyroid impacts every area of functioning, including energy, mood, and digestion.
To make things worse, it is possible for your thyroid to be imbalanced enough to cause weight loss woes, but not “bad enough” to meet diagnostic criteria for hypothyroidism by your doctor. This means that you may have been told that your thyroid is fine, even while it is playing an active role in sabotaging some of your body composition efforts.
If you’re wondering if this could be you, here are five signs that your weight-loss problem might be a thyroid problem.
1. You’re always in a sweater.
One of the most telltale signs that something may be off with your thyroid hormone levels is feeling cold — even when your environment isn’t chilly.
If you’re the friend in the hoodie with six blankets when everyone else is happily rocking a T-shirt, or the one at work blasting a small heater desk fan even through the summer months, it may be time to reevaluate what might be causing your permanent chill.
Cold hands, cold feet, or feeling colder than others in general is one of the classic signs that you might need to dig a little deeper to find out what’s really going on.
2. Caffeine and naps are a crutch.
Our most active thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine, or T3, is the hormone that actual exerts metabolic effects on our cells. More simply put, it tells our cells to do what they’re supposed to do.
That being said, thyroid imbalances are not always due to your actual thyroid gland — they may have more to do with what’s going on downstream with your thyroid hormones (like T3) after they are produced by the thyroid.
For example, when we don’t have enough T3, things slow down, including your energy levels. I’ve seen people who are struggling with low T3 rely heavily on naps, energy drinks, sunlight, exercise, and shots of espresso all to no avail.
If you feel like you are perpetually tired, racking up a coffee house bill, and scheming on how to sneak in the next power nap to get through your day, your thyroid hormone levels might be to blame.
3. Your eyebrows are disappearing.
More specifically, the outer third of your eyebrows are disappearing.
It’s common to see thinning hair, hair loss, and disappearing eyebrows when our thyroid is off kilter. Hair loss tends to be one of the most alarming symptoms that people struggle with; it’s a little unnerving to see clumps of hair filling a hairbrush or clogging the shower drain.
If the only weight that you’re losing is from the hairs on your head (or brows!), make sure you prioritize working with your physician and functional-medicine practitioner to rule out thyroid issues.
4. Your nails are splitting and your skin is dry.
The cells of your skin (epidermis and dermis), like other cells in your body, need proper thyroid support to function well.
With the skin constantly shedding outer layers and reproducing itself, it’s particularly sensitive to changes in thyroid hormone levels. When those hormones are not optimized, skin is prone to be perpetually dry and scaly, no matter what topical skin care products might be used.
Similar to the skin challenges that occur with imbalanced thyroid hormones, it’s common to experience weak, brittle, and splitting nails. I have met clients who had tried everything from daily gelatin to high-dose biotin to try to strengthen their nails — only to finally achieve the stronger, healthier skin and nails they’ve been pining for once underlying thyroid concerns were properly addressed.
5. You’re backed up.
As mentioned above, imbalances in thyroid hormones slow everything down, including digestion.
In a state of optimal health, bowel movements happen daily. Regular elimination is critical for those looking to lose weight too: it’s an important mode of detoxification, is critical for maintaining a good balance of good-to-bad bacteria in the gut, and is a must-have for balanced estrogen levels.
If you’re skipping one or more days, make sure you have the basic habits to support regularity down first. For most people, that means drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water every day, getting in movement daily and purposeful exercise most days, consuming plenty of fiber from non-starchy vegetables, organic berries, and nuts and seeds regularly, and taking a chelated magnesium supplement in the evenings.
If you have these critical habits down pat and are still not on an optimal schedule, it’s high time to figure out why.
While thyroid function and physiology can certainly get tricky, you don’t have to be a metabolic expert to know if you’re experiencing symptoms of potential imbalance in these delicate hormones.
If you’re giving an honest 80/20 effort at fat loss, the scale is not budging, and you relate to any (or all) of the symptoms above, it’s critical to determine whether or not this master metabolism gland or its downstream hormones are keeping you stuck and uncomfortable.
The next step is always giving yourself the gift of knowing versus guessing: complete some objective assessments through laboratory testing. Make sure to get a full workup whenever possible.
At minimum, assess thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), thyroxine (T4), and triiodothyronine (T3), and be sure to work closely with a physician and practitioner that can help determine whether or not your levels are optimal, even if they might be within diagnostic norms.
If your levels are off, lab assessments will be the foundation that determines your personalized action steps to address the problem and reclaim your metabolism. If your body is giving your warning signs, take action. You deserve the best version of yourself — happy, healthy, and full of vitality.