As a coach, one of the things that really gets me to the core is that one client that I just cannot help. We all have one, or a few. The ones whom you’ve thrown everything at. The ones whom you’ve tried one angle, seen some good progress (usually very slow progress) but for some reason, they seem stuck. So you try something else, MAYBE see a little progress, but BOOM, another plateau. And no matter what you do, nothing is really happening in the way either of you expect.
I’m the type of coach who cares so much about every client that crosses my path. No one is just a number, or another name on my roster. So when you come to me, I want to make sure we can bring out your absolute best. But I am also highly responsible for the health of another person by nature of my work. Therefore, I could never exclude my professional morals and responsibility to not push a client to extremes simply for the sake of results.
So what do we do? Well, for a number of the clients that I’ve dealt with who seem to be resistant to change (despite complete and near perfect compliance), perhaps they’ve hit a long time plateau that just doesn’t budge, I tell them it’s time to take a deeper look. A look “under the hood”, so to speak, and get to the bottom of the equation. It’s time to take a look to see if their hormones are the missing link and the road block standing in the way.
My Hormone and Car Analogy
When explaining what’s perhaps going on with my client’s body, I like to use the analogy of a car. If the body of the car is your body, gasoline is the food you eat – it fuels your activity and gives you the energy you need to live and perform. But it’s the circuits of the car that are the most important… In our car to body analogy, the circuits – well those are your hormones. They are the driving factor behind why the car works. They send the signals to the parts of the car to start up, to cut the lights on, to move that gasoline, to start and to stop. And if one fuse blows out, it creates a cascading problem.
Your hormones send vital signals to your organs to perform tasks that have to do with all kinds of functions in the body. From regulating hunger, sexual function, stress control, and even metabolism, these are all regulated by hormones. When there is a problem in one set of hormones and organ function, it almost always effects the others. Knowing your levels is so important, and it’s easy to find out where you are through lab reports. So let’s take a closer look at the hormones that could be blunting fat loss. For today’s article, we will take a look at mostly your thyroid gland and related hormones. These are the ones that directly impact metabolism the most. But because this series is going to contain a TON of fantastic info, I’m going to break it up in several parts.
Those parts are:
Part 1 – Your Thyroid
Part 2 – Your Adrenals and Cortisol
Part 3 – Lab Testing and Results: Learn To Read Them
Part 4 – Day to day supplementation
Part 5 – Consider Your Vitamins and Minerals
So let’s jump into part 1!
Thyroid Health and Metabolism
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped organ located right at the base of the neck near the trachea.
Your thyroid is responsible for many metabolic functions such as:
- Heart rate
- Nervous System Control (CNS and PNS)
- Body weight
- Muscle strength
- Menstrual cycles
- Body temperature
- Cholesterol levels
And that’s just naming a few of its functions. You can now see why it’s such an important player in the game. The main hormones that relate to fat loss are T4 and T3 (the thyroid produces many other hormones aside from these two). The brain signals the pituitary gland to release thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), and TSH stimulates the thyroid to release T4 which later gets converted to T3. How the thyroid does this, and it’s most important function, is to take the iodine in your body (which you get from foods you eat – later we’ll talk about the importance of supplemental iodine on a day to day basis), as well tyrosine, and convert these two elements into T4 and T3.
T3 and T4 are then released into the blood, and are transported throughout the body where they impact and control metabolism (converting the calories you eat into energy). A normal thyroid will produce about 80% T4, and only 20% T3. HOWEVER, T3 is FAR MORE POTENT in strength than T4. Now, when the body senses that the thyroid is not producing enough T4 and T3, the pituitary gland kicks in and tells the thyroid to increase production and does this with TSH. Conversely, if the body senses that the thyroid is producing TOO MUCH T4 and T3, TSH levels will lower in efforts to slow down the thyroid a bit. This is where we start to see issues with hypothroidism (a sluggish thyroid), and hyperthyroidism (a thyroid in overdrive).
Hypothyroidism and The Subnormal Conundrum
This is the area that gets tricky for most. Many people don’t realize that they could be living with a thyroid that operates at a suboptimal level. The symptoms of hypothyroidism are very general, and can sometimes be overlooked as simply fatigue. But if they’re signs and symptoms you’ve had for a while, that never seem to go away, then taking a look at your labs and thyroid hormone levels is important. Some of the signs of hypothyroidism are:
- Trouble sleeping
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Weight gain, or the inability to lose weight
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry skin and hair
- Sensitivity to cold temperature
- Cold hands and extremities
- Frequent, heavy periods
- Joint and muscle pain
Now please note, this is only a PARTIAL list! If you want a full and complete list please see this link at one of my favorite thyroid health education websites Stop The Thyroid Madness (http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/long-and-pathetic/). Oftentimes, and in my own experience with clients, I’ll suggest and pretty much request clients to have labs done if I notice patterns like chronic fatigue that they complain about in feedback updates, and in our case, if they’ve been attempting to diet for a while with little to no real results.
What’s also interesting is that these same clients sometimes come to me after failed attempts on their own to lose weight, or after hitting a plateau for a very long time without being able to budge, despite having tried everything. My first call to action as a coach is to look at their plan and see if I can revamp what they’re doing. So for some, that might mean to simply raise calories and tweak training which sends them back on the track towards fat loss. For others it might mean reverse dieting before attempting to focus on fat loss as our main goal (in this case the focus becomes more about recompositioning and optimizing the metabolism). And for them, this approach works and they too seem back on track for some great changes and progress.
But for some clients, these tweaks just aren’t enough. If after a number of weeks, which may then turn into months without real change, that’s when my concerns raise and the order to see a doctor comes in. And many times what we find is that they may not be full blown hypothyroid, but instead they fall within “normal” ranges – more often on the low end of normal…
Enter the sub-optimal hypothyroid issue.
Many doctors will take a look at your lab results, and they will see that you are within normal ranges, despite being on the lower end, despite you having symptoms of hypothyroidism, or despite your concerns. The goal with true thyroid health is to typically be on the MID TO UPPER END of normal. This would put you at more “optimal” levels for prime function of the thyroid. I’ve got another great site for you…
For those who may have already had labs done (we’ll talk about this in a later article), check out this site which specifically talks about optimal values for your hormone panels http://www.drrind.com/therapies/thyroid-scale. So it’s very important to know your numbers, and know your lab results and how to read them. It’s important to know what tests to ask for when you go in to get blood drawn because many doctors are ONLY looking at TSH and T4 levels (which as we see above is incomplete given the nature of how the thyroid functions).
Testing only these two hormones will give you output on how the PITUITARY GLAND is working – not how the thyroid is converting T4 to T3, and how well it’s functioning as a whole. So making sure to request the proper tests, and if an issue is found, working with a doctor or health care professional willing and able to treat your SYMPTOMS not just your numbers is crucial. The unfortunate thing is that it can often take some research to find the right health care professional, but it can be done.
What I’ve found for clients who end up in this situation is that after identifying the underlying issue, and after being treated (many get put on low dosage thyroid medication and OTC supplementation to improve thyroid function) they seem to get back to a point where their body responds once again to dieting and training. More over, they see an improvement in their overall health, mental focus and clarity, energy and more.
So knowing your numbers is important. And realizing that in this game, it’s not just about calories in and calories out. There’s so much MORE that matters in the equation, and if your thyroid is out of whack, it doesn’t matter how many calories are coming in or out, how much cardio you do, how many times you tweak your plan…
You’ll never see the results you seek – and it’s not your fault. Get checked, get educated, and get treated. In our next part we’ll take a look at how your adrenals and the hormone cortisol could be causing that dreaded plateau as well. Got questions or comments? Post them below and I’ll see where I can help you out and point you in the right direction.