I would like to preface this by saying that I have been relatively skinny most of my life. I was a ballet dancer from ages 5 until 22 so naturally my physique followed my discipline. When I hung up the pointe shoes for good my attention turned toward running, then bodybuilding, then calisthenics in order to stay active. After a couple of years of serious resistance training, I decided I was ready to take the plunge and put on some muscle. This meant eating above maintenance and putting on *gasp* some more body fat. I wanted to look fit and muscular so I was willing to do what needed to be done. I was also a classic under-eater (thanks ballet) and wanted to rebuild my metabolism a bit.
I did a controlled bulk for 6 months. During that time I gained around 20lbs (9kg) and I honestly did not care about the extra body fat because in my mind I knew I could lose it once I started cutting. I was just excited to finally see my hard earned muscle.
For two months I tried to lose the body fat I had gained. I went from eating 2200 cals a day to 1400 cals and from no cardio to three 40 minute sessions a week. My grand total weight loss for my efforts was not actually loss at all but gain, another 4lbs (2kg) in fact. Something must be wrong, I kept thinking to myself. But I have been healthy and active my whole life, there is nothing wrong with me, I’m just not trying hard enough.
After a lot of hassling and convincing, my fiancé finally convinced my to go the doctor. I was tested for under-active thyroid and PCOS. For those that don’t know, your thyroid regulates your metabolic rate. When I sat down with the doctor for the results, he looked at me and said, “your thyroid looks a bit dodgy.” That was some insightful medical advice right there. I was given a prescription for T4 (one of the hormones my thyroid had stopped making enough of) replacement, which I promptly went and got filled and started taking immediately.
This is the answer I thought! Once I take this, in a couple weeks I will just lose the weight and be back to normal! Oh what a dream that was. It can actually take up to eight weeks for your body and metabolism to adjust to thyroid medication. So, eight weeks went by then twelve. I did not alter my caloric intake or cardio and still no weight came off. Well maybe about 1lb came off.
Soon, I found myself deep in hypothyroid websites and forums. There was disconnect between what medical professionals said and what the general population was saying. Normally I like to think I have a scientific mind but it was starting to get personal. Doctors agreed that once you were on T4 you should gain and lose weight normally but every single anecdote I read said that they could not get rid of their thyroid weight without extreme measures such as a 1000 calorie diet.
I was dismayed, heartbroken, and starting to not like what I saw in the mirror. I wallowed in self pity for awhile. As someone who is trying to make a career in fitness, carrying around a bunch of extra body fat does not paint a good picture and no one wants to hear you go “but, but, my thyroid!”
So, about 6 months after my diagnosis, I took matters into my own hands. I started to research different treatment methods and found a new doctor. Weight wasn’t the only issue, I was fatigued literally all the time. I asked about natural or desiccated thyroid treatment and she felt it was a better option (although insanely more expensive). Natural thyroid has both T4 and T3 and mimics the body’s natural thyroid function a bit better, hence the name. At this point I was down to 1200 calories a day and decided it was time to reverse diet. I was terrified of more weight gain but I also knew I needed to build my metabolism back up and was feeling so much better on my new medication.
I spent 10 months doing a very slow and painful reverse. The body fat gain fear was real. But I managed to go from 1200 cals to 1900. There were a couple hiccups in there with medication dosage adjustments but overall I’m happy with the progress I made on my own.
Now, I didn’t lose every ounce of body fat I gained BUT my body composition improved greatly, at least in my opinion. Today, I have taken a leap of faith and am actually working with a coach to continue to improve. As someone who trains predominately bodyweight exercises it’s important to maintain a better level of conditioning. The more you weigh the harder that muscle up starts to feel, especially if you carry extra body fat. My food intake is at an all time high as I am finally eating over 2000 calories while not gaining more fat. No one needs that 1000 calorie nonsense.
Remember though, it takes time! It has taken me almost two years since my diagnosis to get my body and my metabolism to this point. If you are currently struggling with an under-active thyroid, don’t lose hope! Be patient and work with your body, not against it. The less I ate, the more my body resisted, even with treatment and hormone levels being normal.
Below are some photos from along my journey. Can we please talk about those hair gains.