Five years ago I started having night sweats. That was the first sign something was wrong.
Each morning I would wake up drenched. I was only 30, too young to be going through menopause. Although I was in the middle of my first bikini competition prep and dieting and working out pretty intensely, I still felt these night sweats were a little odd.
My doctor agreed, and tested my thyroid. (She’d felt a small bump on it years earlier and I had never followed up with further testing.)
The test came back conclusive; I had Hypothyroidism.
My doctor put me on medication, which for the next year I pretty much never took. I felt that I was a healthy person and didn’t want to be someone who relied on daily medication. I continued dieting and working out through two competitions.
The night sweats also continued.
Things got progressively worse for me physically, and I finally went and saw an endocrinologist who diagnosed me with not just Hypothyroidism, but also Hashimoto’s, which is the autoimmune form of Hypo.
Finally I accepted the fact I would need to take medication daily for the rest of my life, and I started to educate myself as much as possible about Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism.
Chronic illness is a difficult journey, and as anyone who lives with it knows, your body is never the same.
Even with medication, even if your doctor says your levels are “normal” or “good,” if you, too, have Hashimoto’s or Hypothyroidism, diet and exercise is going to be different for you than it is for others.
Here are five things you should know if you have Hypothyroidism.
1. You need more rest.
If you have Hashimoto’s, your immune system is hyper-alert. This means your body is in a near constant state of fight-or-flight. For this reason you can be easily overwhelmed and worn out. You will probably need more rest between workouts and more rest throughout the day. It is not uncommon for me to need to lie down for a few hours after a particularly hard workout or long day of training clients. That’s ok. Give your body what it needs.
Pushing through only sets you up for a big crash later.
2. You can easily eat too much, but also too little.
The challenge with thyroid disease is that weight gain is often a side effect. Our metabolisms are slower which means we don’t lose weight as easily as others and we also gain it more quickly. If you are eating a few more calories than usual, you will put on weight pretty fast. However, you can also eat too little and cause your body to hold on to fat, because it is already in that constant fight-or-flight mode. What this means is, for those of us who are hypothyroid, we must be diligent about not missing meals but also not snacking between meals or eating more than we need to.
3. It is harder to lose weight but not impossible.
Yes, if you have Hypothyroidism, it is going to be harder to lose weight. It can feel hopeless, but I promise it isn’t. You can lose weight, just know it is going to require more diligence than it might for someone with a healthy thyroid. You may have to count calories, and you are going to need to workout regularly and move your body daily. Many of us who are hypo must do cardio to lose weight, while healthy individuals may be able to rely on strength training alone. Patience is going to be most important for your weight loss journey, as it will also likely take longer than expected.
4. Exercise can sometimes make things worse.
As I mentioned earlier, if you have Hashimoto’s your body is in a constant state of fight-or-flight. Exercise creates this same response and releases cortisol, your stress hormone. Ideally, your cortisol is raised during your workout, then lowered as you rest and recover. However if you’re working out too hard, for too long or too often, your body may not be able to recover and your cortisol may stay elevated. This can make you feel fatigued, sore, achey and swollen. Be sure you’re listening to your body and choosing lighter, shorter or less frequent workouts if needed.
5. Diet and exercise are a band-aid on an axe wound if you’re not properly medicated and checking your levels.
When you’re Hypothyroid and the scale seems to climb just when you look at food, it can be natural to focus on dieting and working out to try to lose weight or at least stop the weight gain. However all the exercise in the world and the most stringent diet won’t be effective if you’re not taking your medication properly and being sure to have your TSH, T3 and T4 checked regularly to be sure they are in the optimal range. Normal and optimal are two different things, so be sure to educate yourself and talk to your doctor about the proper tests and how you’re feeling. If you’re tired all the time, gaining weight, have brain fog, get constipated, etc., it is likely your levels are not in an optimal range. Be your own advocate and push for testing and medication if needed.
At times dealing with my Hashimoto’s can be frustrating. There are moments when I feel defeated because my body seems to be fighting me all the time. However, I know there are things I can do to work with my body and illness that help me to feel better and have fewer symptoms.
Hypothyroidism isn’t hopeless, but it is a challenge. Understanding your body’s unique needs can go a long way towards looking and feeling better.