Part 1: Why You Have a Slow Metabolism

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Written By

Rhea Dali

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

A.a. Milne | Part 1: Why You Have A Slow Metabolism

Unexplained weight gain?

Stubborn body fat that won’t budge no matter how much you workout?

Eating healthy, but still feel bloated, constipated or ‘not yourself’?

You’re not alone—millions of Americans struggle with unwanted weight gain, stubborn body fat and a body that feels like it’s working “against you”—(no matter how healthy you eat or how hard they train).

So what do you do about it?

You consult Google of course! (Or a personal trainer, diet books, 30-day programs or Instagram posts), and you’re sure to find the (same) answers:

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  • Eat less calories.
  • Less carbs.
  • Watch your fats.
  • Do HIIT training.
  • Lift weights (but not too heavy).
  • Try intermittent fasting.
  • “Just-try-harder”.
  • Commit to Orange Theory or CrossFit 4 to 5 times each week and hit it hard—for the after burn.

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  • Drink bulletproof coffee.
  • Go on a juice cleanse.
  • Hit the stair master in the morning and weight room at night.
  • Tighten and tone.
  • Try Barre.
  • Even your doctor tells you to lose weight and diet…
  • Cut out meat.

 

(Surely ONE of these methods will work).

However, in ALL your efforts, you find yourself right back at square one:

“I don’t get it! I eat healthy, workout all the time, and nothing is changing?!?!”

Get this: There may be MORE to the story (In fact, some of these weight loss efforts may even be keeping you stuck).

It’s the reason why your metabolism is “slow” (that no one is talking about)…

Explaining A “Slow Metabolism”

There are 3 common “phenomenons”

“I feel like my body is working against me!”

The thing is: Your body is NOT working against you, but your body is doing its best to cope after it feels like you (and stress) has been working against it.

Stress stinks, and if left unaddressed, it often presents in one of these three phenomenons that SLOW down your metabolism:

1.) Hashimoto’s and Hypothyroidism

2.) Underlying gut pathologies (such as SIBO, leaky gut, dysbiosis, parasites)

3.) Adrenal Dysfunction & Hormonal Imbalances

In other words: The reason your metabolism is “slow” is MUCH deeper—and goes far beyond eating 1200 calories, burning more than you eat or cutting out your carbs (in fact these things may be making things worse).

In this series, we will dig a little deeper into understanding each of these—the REAL reasons why “moving more and eating less”  or diets, from the Whole 30 to Weight Watchers, may not work over time, and why your metabolism seems “off”—beginning with Hashimoto’s, and “Hypothyroidism.”

Thyroid 101

First things first, what is your thyroid and why does it matter in the first place?

Your thyroid is the “central” command station of multiple metabolic processes in your body, releasing “thyroid hormone” to help run the show.

Your thyroid hormone directly acts on the brain, your digestive system, your cardiovascular system, bone re-growth and formation, red blood cell energy, gall bladder and liver function, steroid hormone production, blood sugar metabolism, fats and cholesterol metabolism, protein metabolism and body temperature regulation.

In short: Since your thyroid governs ALL these metabolic processes, if your thyroid breaks down, many many many other systems go down with it (metabolism included).

Over time, if left untreated or unaddressed, a sluggish thyroid can lead to Hashimoto’s and “hypothyroidism.”

Meet Hashimoto’s & Hypothyroidism

Some facts and statistics for you:

An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease—with up to 60 percent of these people are unaware of their condition. Women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to have thyroid problems, and 1 deca durabolin resultados in 8 women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.

Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid disorder, affecting about 1 in 5 (diagnosed) Americans (and even more ‘undiagnosed or ‘sub-clinical cases). It presents differently in people, but is most often characterized by symptoms like:

  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Low Body Temperature
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Irregular periods
  • Infertility
  • And a “slow metabolism.”

Hashimoto’s is a “sister” to Hypothyroidism—with similar type symptoms, however, unlike hypothyroidism (a condition of chronic low thyroid hormone production), Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease that is the pre-cursor, or “sets the stage,”for hypothyroidism.

Hashimoto’s is the most common autoimmune disease in the U.S.— affecting nearly as many Americans (8%) as Diabetes (9%). (Reminder: Autoimmune diseases are types of disease wherein the body “attacks itself”).

In Hashimoto’s, your body produces a high amount of antibodies, causing your immune system attacks healthy cells—specifically proteins in your thyroid gland. Over time, this causes gradual destruction of the gland itself, and if Hashimoto’s continues without intervention (lifestyle and dietary), your body eventually becomes unable to produce the thyroid hormones your body needs. The result?  “Hypothyroidism.

Question: So does Hashimoto’s mean you are hypothyroid?

Not necessarily.

Let’s clear up the main difference: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a disease; hypothyroidism is a condition. Hypothyroidism is most commonly caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, but not always. Hypothyroidism may also be caused by chronic stress, underlying gut imbalances—not just Hashimoto’s.

In short: Hashimoto’s doesn’t necessarily mean you are “hypothyroid,” however, you can very well become “hypothyroid” if the Hashimoto’s is not addressed; and you can also experience “Hypothyroidism” without having Hashimoto’s.

So How Do You Get Hashimoto’s or Hypothyroidism?

Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism happens when your body (and eventually thyroid) gets overworked or stressed to the point that it “poops out.”

Like other conditions and diseases, environmental factors “pull the trigger,” causing inflammation and the presentation of the ailment at hand.

Your lifestyle is a “drug” that can either help you or harm you and your chances of getting a condition or disease, like hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s. (In fact, your genetics only play about 10% of the role in your presentation of diseases)

Some common stressors that trigger both autoimmune diseases and the hypothyroidism I often see in clients include:

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  • Not eating enough and chronic dieting
  • Restrictive eating and/or eating gut irritating foods often (gluten, grains, conventional dairy, nuts, sugar, legumes)
  • Avoidance of particular food groups (fats, carbs, proteins)
  • Erratic eating habits (binge-purge, binge, restriction)
  • “Burning a candle at both ends”
  • Saying “yes” to everything (all the time)
  • Regular prescription medication or NSAIDs or history of antibiotic use

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  • Longterm birth control use (which impacts the health of your gut and eventually thyroid)
  • Overexercise or chronic cardio
  • Totally sedentary lifestyles (little to no movement at all)
  • Poor sleep
  • Surgery, infection or injury
  • A chronic time of stress in your life (like an eating disorder)
  • And the macdaddy of them all: Gut imbalances (things like SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), leaky gut or other gut dysfunction)

 

 

—Just to name a few.
The MORE stressors or “triggers” you have in your life, the more susceptible you are to disease—especially once stress invades the gut.

Why?

It Starts in Your Gut

Approximately 60 to 70 percent of the thyroid hormone is converted in the gut.

If your gut is unable to make that conversion, and/or you’re not digesting and absorbing their nutrients properly to deliver to your body systems (like your thyroid and hormone production) in the first place, then of course, your thyroid may be a byproduct of that stress.

For those with histories of eating disorders and/or yo-yo-dieting,  you have the “perfect storm” for Hashimoto’s or Hypothyroidism to hit like a tidal wave (especially if you have a slight genetic predisposition to match). Reduced thyroid function is often a byproduct of malnutrition. Hence why dieting, under-eating,  obsessing over food, over-training, or an extended period of time spent battling anorexia, binge eating,or bulimia, leads to a metabolism that seems “off.”

Stress and impacted gut health often “catches” up with you.

Interestingly, one study of 42 females with an eating disorder, compared to 48 females with depression, showed a “significantly” higher rate (53%) in the incidence of “thyroid disease” in those with disordered relationships with food than those with depression alone (only 17%).

More than likely, these individuals were not getting in the proper nutrients, enough nutrients, much less absorbing them in the gut and other necessary nutrients to convert thyroid hormone in the first place. Couple this with the high incidence of unhealthy gut flora linked to eating disorders as well, and no wonder thyroid disease is more often a byproduct of restrictive and chronic dieting.

Even if you don’t have a diagnosed eating disorder, if you haven’t been “eating enough” or disconnected with your body’s needs in the name of diets and “health”—you may not be doing your thyroid good.

Another study (Holtorf, 2014), originally published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism found that just 25 days of calorie restriction resulted in a 50-percent reduction of produced T3(your “active form” of thyroid hormone).

And, yet one more study (Fothergill et al, 2016), this one of former “Biggest Loser” tv show contestants found that with significant and drastic weight loss, a significant drop in metabolism also occurs—as 14 of 16 former contestants had regained their lost weight six years later and continued to maintain the slowed metabolism from their lower-weight body.

Other Stressors

In addition to restrictive eating and dieting’s effect on Hashimoto’s or hypothyroid conditions, I also see clients with low thyroid function once they are in recovery from their disordered relationship with food or a period spent in treatment.

They come to me wondering WHY their metabolism is “so slow” now—and a look into other stressors in their personal health histories reveals other reasons why:

For instance, birth control is often prescribed to individuals who have experienced amenorrhea during restrictive dieting in order to restore their period. However, while an influx of estrogen may seem like the “answer” to jumpstart the Red Tide, little is discussed about the detrimental gut-effects birth control pills take on the gut flora, and the potential for residual pathologies—like SIBO (small intentional bacterial overgrowth) and leaky gut—to develop (all of which effect thyroid function).

Another example: “Exposure therapy”— with many processed, refined foods in treatment and hospitals—is a therapy that can be highly beneficial for the mind (especially for an “I lived to tell about it” or  “food cannot hurt me” mentality); however, too much of a good thing is not always a good thing either. And often times, these foods are served to the detriment of helping individuals heal their gut health as well. While it is a GOOD thing to declare PEACE and conquer the ability to eat any and all food without judgment, sometimes the pendulum swings further to the right, and girls are fed a higher percentage of packaged, processed and standard American grain-based diets rather than a hybrid blend of a gut-healing protocol, coupled with exposure therapies and outings. (think: ice cream outings, takeout pizza, fast food challenges, bagels, pancakes, candy bars, cookies—and other “forbidden foods” once off limits by ED).

It’s a fine line for treatment providers and individuals in recovery to walk, but one that has yet to be addressed on the front lines of most treatments.

Consequently, I often see clients who are “recovered” from their eating disorder (POSITIVE), but in the months and years post-treatment, discover that they have a whole new set of issues to recover from—This may look like: constipation, frequent bloating, gas, hormonal imbalances, HPA-Axis dysfunction and yes, thyroid conditions.

Why? Many of these women are still living in a world, conflicted over “good” and “bad” foods—eating “safe” (diet) foods in “abundance” [(i.e. egg whites, fat free yogurt and fat free ice-creams, a scant amount of monounsaturated fats (like olive oil and avocado), fat-free spreads and condiments, lots of fruit and raw veggies, whole grains, little meat, and perhaps some nutbutter (peanut butter or almonds)], but missing out on some essential nutrients (like saturated fats, zinc and iron from enough protein, and even some starchy root veggies like potatoes or beets—salads and celery sticks are much safer).

The key here is balance, and while “a calorie is a calorie” to some extent (be it ice-cream or almonds), there is no denying the nourishing benefits of real foods the body was meant to thrive upon.

If and when you are not supporting your gut or a healthy hormonal balance with (a.) an adequate intake of nutrients (eating enough fats, real-food carbs, meat), and (b.) digestive support or mindful digestive practices (like probiotics, chewing your food well, restoring impaired gut function also from the eating disorder, etc.), then the thyroid may take a hit as well.

I know it, because I lived it myself. For 15 years, in and out of treatment centers, most of these times, the SAD (Standard American Diet) is what was served—and even though I got “all my exchanges” and calories in—there was little awareness or attention to the actual digestion and absorption of these foods in the first place (Pop question: Why are so many eating disorder patients on Miralax, Colace, Tums, Pepto Bismal, Beano, anti-anxiety and SSRI medications for their ‘brain imbalances?’ Hello dysfunction in the digestive tract).

We will talk more about gut health tomorrow, but for today, the bottom line is: Our lifestyle choices matter for our metabolic (i.e. thyroid) health.

What Should I Do About It?

Unfortunately, most endocrine specialists and conventional medicine practices don’t offer effective treatments for autoimmune disease. They turn to steroids and other medications to suppress or “band-aid the immune system in certain conditions with even more possible damaging effects, like multiple sclerosis or arthritis.

The good news? There are multiple lifestyle interventions that can help you (and your body) heal if a thyroid condition may be present.

First things first: Make NO assumptions.

Before assuming ANYTHING though or playing “Dr. Google” to diagnose yourself, if you suspect hypothyroid or Hashimoto’s symptoms, it is vital you get a COMPLETE thyroid blood panel  to get the facts, alongside consulting with a skilled practitioner who knows both about thyroid conditions, plus the lifestyle and dietary interventions to help treat them.

Most general blood panels at your annual check up do not screen for all bio-markers of thyroid function, typically only looking at TSH, T3 and T4 values.

If your doc is not looking at TSH, T3 and T4, Reverse T3, and Thyroid Antibodies (TPO, TGG) then a thyroid condition may be missed.

As far as lab work goes for your thyroid, here is a run-down of the “ideal” (functional) lab ranges you should look for:

Chart

TSH: 0.5–2.0 µIU/mL

T3 Free: 2.54.0 pg/mL

T3 Total: 100–180 ng/dL

T4 Free: 1.0–1.5 ng/dL

T4 Total: 6–12 µg/dL

REVERSE T3: 9.2–24.1 ng/dL

TPO: 0–34 IU/mL

Tg Antibodies: 0–0.9 IU/mL

(Note: “Functional” lab ranges are the lab work ranges that represent optimal health; many of the conventional or standard lab ranges on blood work panels indicate ranges that do not reflect optimal health, but rather the state of disease already)

Treating Hashimoto’s & Hypothyroidism

“Treatment” for Hashimoto’s and Hypothyroidism have a few differences.

If you are able to catch Hashimoto’s thyroiditis before it is Hypothyroidism, then thyroid hormone replacement therapy and medications may NOT be necessary to heal and feel better (and may not even be necessary with Hypothyroidism if caught early).

However, if hypothyroidism is present—and has existed for sometime—often times hormone replacement is necessary, at least for some time.

Whichever end of the spectrum you fall on though, with both conditions, lifestyle interventions are NUMBER ONE for “healing,” reversing hypothyroidism and/or sending your autoimmune disease into remission .

Here are 5 steps you can take today to start taking back your health:

Step 1: Explore the Root Causes

What triggered your condition or disease? Do some deep digging and reflecting into your personal history and timeline with stress in your life, the foods you eat, the health journey you’ve been on to date. This is vital for helping you begin to address and remove any current, pressing or residual stressors.

Step 2: Remove Inflammatory Foods

As noted, gut healing is essential to healing your thyroid. “The gut is the gateway to health” is no joke, and much of what you eat on a daily basis—especially now—matters for improving your health. Since Hashimoto’s, in particular, is an autoimmune-condition, and autoimmune diseases are typically directly linked to a disrupted or leaky gut, this step is a “gamechanger.”  To address inflammation, an “autoimmune” protocol is highly recommended for the first 30-60 days. What this involves? Removing “gut-irritating foods” for a period of time, then slowly reintroducing them if you want to see how you do. While not every food on the autoimmune protocol is necessarily “off limits” for those with hypothyroidism, in my practice, I’ve seen most clients greatly benefit with this similar approach as well (why? less stress).

The Autoimmune Protocol foods to eliminate (for 30-60 days) include:

  • Eggs
  • Nuts/Seeds
  • Dairy
  • Grains & Gluten
  • Legumes/Nuts

Step 3: Eat in Abundance

While you’re at this whole “autoimmune protocol” thing, this definitely does NOT mean you are on a diet—at least in the conventional form of the world. “Least restrictive eating” is encouraged and a philosophy of “Eating in abundance” (what CAN I eat?!) as opposed to “what CAN’T I eat?!” mindset.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of foods you can eat outside these AIP protocol foods!

Eat in abundance: proteins of all sorts, healthy fats, vegetables, root tubers, fruits and yes, even the occasional sweet (pure maple syrup is a great sweetener replacement).

Download your full “Eat in Abundance: An AIP-Friendly Guide to the Hundreds of Foods You CAN Eat” handout here, along with gut-friendly (AIP approved) meal and snack ideas to “get you through.”

In addition, don’t neglect the nutrients you may be missing in your diet as well as gut health support, including:

  • A quality probiotic and fermented foods (medicinal or condiment size doses)
  • Selenium 200 mcg (potentially—check your selenium levels on your blood panel)
  • Iodine in foods (kelp, sea vegetables, seafood)
  • Other digestive supports, as needed (work with a practitioner to customize); some of the most commonly effective general digestive aids I use include:
    • Betaine HCL (promotes healthy stomach acid for initial stage of digestion)
    • Beta TCP (1-2 with each meal; promotes healthy liver-gallbladder digestion)
    • Digestive Enzymes (1-2 with each meal; promotes breakdown of foods)

Step 4: Address Stress

Stress stinks—no doubt—especially for your thyroid and gut healing. Perhaps you discovered some formerly unidentified stressors in this article that made you think, “Hmm…I never realized that…” Make your list. Take a few minutes to jot down every single stressor you can think of in your life, then a pro-active action step you can take towards diminishing it today. Seriously, you will feel the difference. In addition, self-care and time for Y-O-U is muchos-necissitas (very necessary)! Need some inspiration? I have lots!

  • Just say “no”
  • Go to bed 30-minutes earlier
  • Sleep in a little longer than usual
  • Get some fresh air
  • Go on a walk and listen to a podcast or playlist you love
  • Connect with a friend
  • Unplug 2-3 hours before bed
  • Don’t check social media (for a day!)
  • Vary your exercise routine
  • Drop in to a yoga class
  • Do something you love but rarely make time for

Step 5: Connect

Struggling with an Autoimmune disease and hypothyroidism can make you feel like you’re “all alone” or that no one gets you, but guess what? There are thousands others out there just like you who “get it” and can become part of your own healing journey.

A big shout out to Mickey and Angie out of Autoimmune Wellness for those of you suffering with Hashimoto’s! As for hypothyroidism, did you hear me say it is the MOST common thyroid condition in the country, affecting about 1 in 8 women?! Hello. You are definitely not alone (and unfortunately many others don’t know or understand “why” their metabolism is “slow”).

Stay connected with Thrive today, and my Thrive Life Project online community and program I am setting up for women just like you who have felt like they are “at war” with their body, or their body is at war against them.

Lastly, part of connecting means really not going it alone from your own health restoration perspective. If you suspect a thyroid condition may be at play, connect with me at my Thrive Clinic today. Thrive works with clients both locally in my Austin office and around the globe to take back their health in all areas of their lives.

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