Running On Empty

About three years ago, I walked out of my doctor’s office stunned. What I believed to be a normal check-up was anything but. However, the diagnosis I received explained A LOT about what I had been experiencing. I was freezing all the time. My body ached and my hair was falling out. I was gaining weight even if I was watching what I ate. After sleeping for 8+ hours, I was still exhausted. I was forgetful, irritable, and all around just not myself.

And the funny thing was, I thought I was just getting older. And it sucked. I was only 26 years old. But that day at the doctor’s office made things just a little clearer. Everything that I was going through was caused by a small, butterfly-shaped gland in my neck. My thyroid.

The thyroid is a gland in your neck that affects SO many things in your body. Most people just know it as “the thing that controls your metabolism”, and while that’s true, the thyroid does much, much more.

When your thyroid goes haywire, it can either produce too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) or can produce too little hormone (hypothyroidism). Hyperthyroidism usually speeds everything up. While hypothyroidism causes everything to

S…..L…..O……W…… D…….O……W……N…..

My thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) was elevated – meaning that my brain was trying to get my thyroid to produce more hormones. This elevation of TSH signaled that I had hypothyroidism. My brain sensed that my thyroid was slacking and was trying to “jump start” it into action. Unfortunately, my thyroid wasn’t working well because of an autoimmune disease: Hashimoto’s.

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis means that my immune system was attacking my thyroid (for unknown reasons) and destroying something that is so vitally important to living and feeling good. I walked out of my clinic with a prescription and a thirst for knowledge of why this happened.

 And thinking that my issues with weight would be gone forever, I was a little excited to have an answer. I thought I would just have to take a small pill every morning to supplement the hormones that my thyroid was not producing enough of and everything would return to normal, including my weight.

Luckily, it didn’t take long for my levels to stabilize out. My doctor started me on a low does of Levothyroxine – a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone. A few weeks later, I had some more blood work and my levels were back in the normal range. It did take a while for my “symptoms” to settle down though. And still some days are better than others.

But the weight didn’t magically disappear. And I dove into more research to figure out why this happened to me. Some sources blamed viral causes, while other blamed environmental toxins. Still others stated that gluten (or other food intolerances) were the responsible culprit.

Since I wasn’t getting the results that I felt like I wanted (weight loss and energy restoration) I jumped on board the gluten-free bandwagon on my own.

And while I don’t recommend it, I didn’t tell my doctor (it was like my own little experiment to see if that would help my levels go down even further). Although I learned that I could survive without bread, crackers, and other gluten-filled goodies, it didn’t change my numbers at all.

I did notice a slight improvement in how my stomach was feeling. I wasn’t hungry ALL the time. And I felt like I chose healthier options when in need of a snack. Until I found the “Gluten-Free” section in most grocery stores.

G-Free Brownies, cookies, crackers – you name it, they’ve got it! And while it is great to have those options out there, I found myself falling back into old habits of eating nutrient void things because they no longer were “off-limits”. Plus, they must be healthier than those gluten ridden snacks, right?

Wrong! The few pounds that I had lost by avoiding gluten for the first few weeks came right back once I started snacking on gluten-free crackers, cookies, and granola bars.

I also went into the mindset of “if my thyroid levels are off, why am I even trying to lose weight?” I felt that if my body was fighting against me anyway, what was the point? It was frustrating to be working SO hard and not see any progress. I almost had given up. I started to eat whatever I wanted. No more tracking every little thing I was putting into my body.

But by then, I had started feeling good again. I figured if my levels were in the normal range, I guess I could try to lose the weight again. And it was going slow but at least I was no longer gaining.

Until this past summer after our Alaska trip. At first, I thought it was vacation weight gain. Although we didn’t eat out the entire time (we actually made a lot of our own meals) we still ate out often enough and I ate A LOT. And I was also training for my half-marthons. And unfortunately, sometimes weight gain is a side effect of all the hard work and miles you are putting in when training for something like that. (You can read more about that here.)

But besides the weight gain, I was feeling pretty good. So I shrugged it off and thought that after my half-marathons, the weight would once again drop. But when it didn’t I became frustrated. I also started losing steam. Once again, I began to question why I was even trying so hard if nothing was working.

It was about this time when I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for my annual physical. I also talked to my doctor about how I was feeling. At this point, I started to feel my motivation lacking, my energy was low, and I was freezing ALL the time. But it was also the beginning of winter in Wisconsin, so it’s not all that uncommon to feel the affects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Thankfully, my doctor listened to my concerns and thought everything that I was feeling was related to my thyroid. She ordered some blood work – but we also discussed that if my levels were ‘normal’ we could trial a different medication – sometimes one is more effective for some people vs. others.

I can’t stress how important it is to find a doctor that listens to you. My doctor is absolutely wonderful and willing to work with me in order to make me feel the best that I can – whether that means increasing my medication, testing my levels more often, or trying a different medication. If you have a thyroid disorder and your levels are “normal” but you still don’t feel “normal” I suggest that you talk with your doctor. If they are not willing to listen, find a new doctor. Essentially, they work for you and if they aren’t it’s time to get a new one.

The next day my doctor contacted me to let me know that I should increase my levothyroxine dose because my levels were high again. No wonder I was feeling run down, sleeping as much as I could but still not feeling rested, and gaining weight. And even though my levels were back to where they were when I was first diagnosed, I wasn’t feeling as terrible this time around.

But I was once again frustrated. I had just spent the last 2-3 months trying to lose weight. I was tracking my food and exercising quite regularly. And I had nothing to show for it except a higher number on the scale. I was about to give up again. But then I had a chat with my Beachbody coach who said “Imagine where you would be if you hadn’t been doing anything and eating whatever you want.”

At the time, I didn’t want to hear it. I wanted our conversation to be a pity party. But after we hung up, her words began to sink in and I couldn’t have agreed more. Maybe I had gained another 10 pounds because my thyroid levels were off, but it was 10 pounds instead of 25 pounds.

 

And her words have reignited a spark in me to keep pushing. And although I have been a little relaxed in that sense lately, I am giving time for my medication to help bring my levels back to normal. It takes a few weeks for the medication to get to a therapeutic level, so to be honest I haven’t been killing myself trying to lose the weight.

I have enjoyed the holidays, being mindful, but also partaking in the good food and drinks. It also doesn’t mean that I have given up exercising either but instead of working out 5+ days a week, I have rested more often, allowing my body the time it needs to recuperate after a workout. That explains the lack of running miles in November and December. I was running on an empty tank. And you don’t get too far on E.

Hypothyroidism is unbelievably common. And unfortunately, over ½ of the people affected by thyroid disorders don’t even know it. The only way to truly know if you have a thyroid issue is through blood tests, but there are some quite common symptoms that may clue you in that something might be going on. This list is in no way complete because everyone has their own experiences, but here are a few things that people suffering from hypothyroidism experience. 

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

– Weight Gain – Fatigue – Poor Sleep
– Dry, Itchy Skin – Hair Loss – Loss of Motivation
– Constipation – Slow Heart Rate – Memory Issues/Brain Fog
– Cold Sensitivity – Muscle Weakness – Depression
– Lowered Libido – Irritability – Decreased Stamina
– Achy Muscles – Low Body Temp. – Frequent Illnesses
– Slowed Reflexes – Heavier/Longer Periods – Puffy Faces/Eyes
– Goiter/Swollen Neck – Muscle Cramps – Thinning Eyebrows
– Brittle Nails – Craving Carbohydrates – Course, Dry Hair
– Low Blood Pressure – Increased Cholesterol – Frequent Headaches

This list is in no way comprehensive. (And if I repeated anything in the chart – I blame the brain fog!)

It’s enlightening just how many body systems the thyroid can affect. And because it is connected to almost everything, it can be quite difficult to diagnosis. Sometimes it takes years to get a correct diagnosis. But if you have quite a few of the above mentioned symptoms, talk with your doctor. The sooner the diagnosis, the soon you get to feeling better.

Slowly, I am starting to feel more like myself. I am more hopeful, more energetic, and more motivated to make this year better in terms of running and weight loss. And although hypothyroidism caused a bit of a speed bump on my road, I’m no longer running on empty. 

Questions:
  1. Do you have any questions about my thyroid journey or what I have learned along the way?
  2. Did any of the symptoms surprise you? Which ones?
  3. If you suffer from hypothyroidism, have you found anything that helps you feel more like yourself? 
-Jordan

*I am not a doctor and this post should not be used to diagnose any medical disorders. It is meant to educate and inform. Seek out professional medical help if you are experiencing any symptoms mentioned above.*

 

 

 

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