Low carb/low calorie dieting leads to hypothyroid function. How does that work!?
In the last post I wrote in this series – Hormone Imbalance – Part 2: My Low-Carb Weight-Loss Story, I left off at the point where my health began to seriously deteriorate. I developed herniated and bulging discs, rapid onset open-angle glaucoma, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, fibroadenomas of the breasts, and… oh yeah… my worst nightmare of all – I started to rapidly gain back all the weight I had lost on my extreme low-carb starvation diet. And then some. In this post, Hormone Imbalance – Part 3, I’m going to explain just what was going on in my body, unbeknownst to me at that time.
Adrenal Fatigue? Not Exactly. Try Carb/Calorie Starvation Induced Hypothyroid Function
As I mentioned in my last post, I was eating a dangerously low carb and calorie starvation diet – keeping my carb intake under 20 grams of carbohydrates per day, and my caloric intake was under 750 calories per day – in fact, most days, I ate less than 500 calories a day… and yet, I was rapidly gaining weight. It made no sense to me at all. How could the diet that had melted off 120 pounds from my body now suddenly be causing me to gain it back even more quickly than it had come off?
Well, as it turns out, extreme low calorie/low carb diets have a way of telling your body it’s starving to death, which then prompts your metabolism to come to a screeching halt. You start having symptoms of adrenal fatigue – cortisol and adrenaline pumping out of control, trouble waking up in the mornings and sleeping at night, dizziness upon standing up, irritability as blood sugar drops, low blood pressure, unexplained weight gain, especially in the belly, menstrual problems, ovary/uterus/breast issues, bulging/herniated discs, glaucoma… then you go to a doctor and say, “I think I have adrenal fatigue,” and the doctor says “no, there’s no such thing as adrenal fatigue… you just need to eat less, exercise more, and here, take these anti anxiety pills…” Meanwhile, it hasn’t clicked for either of you that your symptoms are actually telling you that you’ve got hypothyroid function at the cellular level. This appears like adrenal fatigue to those who are slightly more invested in their health than their doctors are, and like sloth, laziness, gluttony and drug incentive $$$ opportunity to the doctor.
What’s actually going on in the body is a hypothyroid condition. Here’s why… in layman’s terms.
When you stop giving your body sufficient energy (calories and glucose), your liver’s glycogen supply begins to run low. Once your liver’s glycogen supply runs out, you need to eat something, and if you don’t, you start having low blood sugar symptoms. Faintness, dizziness, irritability, inability to think clearly, etc. And rightfully so, as your body is literally eating itself alive, because your body signals your adrenals to start producing adrenaline, which is what starts the process of fat burning for energy, and also cortisol, which catabolizes your muscle, bone, and organ tissues for protein for conversion into glucose for your brain and eyes. If fat was truly our bodies’ preferred energy source, then why would the body tell the adrenals to start producing cortisol with the adrenaline, for the purpose of catabolizing the protein from the muscle and organ tissues for glucose conversion? Obviously, we are not meant to starve ourselves of glucose, since it’s that important to certain parts of our body (like brain and eyes), that our bodies will eat themselves alive in order to make glucose for these body parts that need them.
Here’s the problem with prolonged and chronic adrenaline and cortisol secretions, however. I mean, hey, your body starts pumping out the adrenaline, that means more fat burning – how is that not a great thing!? Well… not so fast. It’s like this. Adrenaline blocks thyroid conversion at the cellular level. Your body might be burning fat, but your T4 to T3 conversion is slowing down. This is why we have plateaus during our weight loss when we engage in calorie restrictive dieting. You’re shutting down your thyroid function. Oh your thyroid gland might be just fine – no problems at all. But your metabolism is about a whole lot more than just the health of your thyroid gland. Your cells need to convert T4 to T3. So do your liver and your kidneys. And when there’s adrenaline pumping out nonstop, adrenaline gets in there and blocks those receptors needed for T4 to T3 conversion. And that’s just adrenaline. The same problem occurs with cortisol, which also blocks your thyroid conversion pathways. Not to mention estrogen levels rising – and not just for women! You guys also have estrogen, and you are also susceptible to rising estrogen levels due to liver malfunction – the liver that doesn’t get enough fuel to do all its jobs properly. What’s the problem with estrogen levels rising? You guessed it – estrogen also blocks the thyroid conversion pathways. Hence, adrenaline, cortisol and estrogen are all anti-metabolism when they are in chronic and prolonged production and secretion. They create hypothyroid function at the cellular level in your body.
But I didn’t know all this back when I realized I needed to start eating healthier. Instead, I went crazy with clean eating and organic foods, while still maintaining my “carbs are evil, calories are the devil” mindset. I just changed the foods I ate, and….
I Developed Orthorexia
Instead of understanding that I desperately needed to increase my caloric and carbohydrate intake, rather than to continue to demonize them, I went the other extreme and threw various other foods and food groups into the fiery depths of my disordered eating hell. “This meat isn’t grass fed and organic! Into the garbage disposal for you! This is fruit! Sugar! Bah! OMG FRUCTOSE! :shrieking: Oh this vegetable has too many carbs! Peas are the devil!” (Never mind that I actually love peas.) While I did begin eating organic vegetables, I ate very few. I also hopped on the water bandwagon and started drinking about a gallon a day of water. And gave myself hyponatremia, because I didn’t understand just how damaged and fragile my metabolism was, or that I was severely hypothyroid, and how drinking too much water while your metabolism is that disturbed actually breaks your metabolism down even further and makes you even more hypothyroid. By the time all was said and done, I’d gained back 90 pounds; lost 30 again… and then I put on 138 pounds on top of the 60 pounds I was already overweight. My body was on constant red alert, and I was denying it everything it really needed, while telling myself I was eating healthy, and obsessed with it to the point of letting it rule my entire life… all the while, blowing up like a water balloon, feeling traumatized to see my own reflection in the mirror, abusing myself mentally and physically, even to the point of contemplating suicide.
As it turns out, both starvation and hypothyroid function cause depression. Even suicidal depression. And when you pile all that on top of a person who never learned how to love herself, dealing with CPTSD after a lifetime of abuse, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, I made it through the disasters, and I’m well into my recovery. In my next post in this series, I’m going to tell you what I did to make it through the darkest years of my dark “night” of the soul. Stay tuned!