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Interview : Mary Shomon - The Thyroid Diet
Q: There are so many diet books out there. How is The Thyroid Diet different?
A: It’s different because it addresses thyroid disease as a potential cause of weight problems, but covers how even after diagnosis and treatment, many patients still struggle with weight. So it not only provides help to those who are battling weight problems who don’t yet know they have a thyroid problem that is one of the root causes, but it helps those already diagnosed deal with the ongoing battle to manage weight and metabolism. Most practitioners dismiss the weight and metabolic impact of thyroid disease, but I’ve interviewed and featured information from the innovative, leading-edge experts who understand that there is a fundamental link.
Q: You’ve been a patient advocate for almost a decade now. What prompted you to write this book now?
A: My own battle with weight has been at the core of it, plus the many thousands of letters I’ve received from readers over the years. Many of us complain about fatigue, and depression, hair loss, and such, but it seems that the weight gain, and the inability to lose weights on many diets, is the thing that causes many of us the greatest heartache. I set out to figure out, once and for all, how to deal with my own weight, and felt that it would be a help to put what I found, along with the findings of experts and patients, into the book.
Q: I’ve recently reviewed this book on my website. Would you mind providing my readers with a brief outline of the diet?
A: The diet focuses first on optimizing your thyroid treatment-- The most essential step for anyone who is hypothyroid and can’t lose weight is to make sure thyroid treatment is optimized. This means optimal TSH level for you, optimal drug, and in some cases, the addition of T3, or a switch to a drug that contains T3.
The diet itself is low-glycemic (low-sugar), with emphasis on sufficient lean protein, low-glycemic vegetables, some low-glycemic fruit, good fats, lots of fiber, and very limited starchy/high-glycemic carbohydrates.
My approach helps people test out whether they need to go to a controlled calorie approach as well. Some thyroid patients can lose by simply cutting the higher-glycemic carbs, others also need to restrict calories, but not so much as to kick into starvation/hoarding mode. Finding that right balance is a bit tricky, and I cover that in the book.
My approach also includes getting enough lean protein, enough good fats, high amounts of water and fiber.
I also cover various vitamins, herbs, minerals, enzymes, essential fatty acids, and combination formula supplements that promote themselves as helping in: increasing metabolism or making it more effective; aiding fat-burning; slowing fat-storage; balancing blood sugar; and reducing appetite, including the ones I specifically take myself.
And of course, exercise, with emphasis on muscle-building exercise, because it helps raise metabolism.
Q: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing thyroid patients when it comes to weight loss and dieting?
A: First, being taken seriously. So many people are told that their sudden weight gain has nothing to do with the thyroid, and it’s frankly pretty demoralizing to be told this, when you know it’s not true. You eat the same, you work out the same, and all of a sudden right before or after your thyroid problem is diagnosed, you go from a size 8 to a 16, or you gain 25 pounds in 2 months? Sorry, docs, but that’s not “laziness” or “food in mouth disease” – that’s the metabolism in action. So I hope that by saying to people, “YES! Your thyroid does have to do with your weight challenges” my book will be a relief, and make them realize they are not nuts, and not lazy or lacking in willpower.
Second, one of the biggest issues is that it takes longer and is harder for many thyroid patients to lose weight than their friends and family. It seems unfair, and it is, but that’s life. We can go on a diet with a friend, one who weighs the same, and both eat similar calories, work out together, and the friend will drop weight, and we’ll stay the same, or even gain. Or, we’ll change our way of eating, eat “clean” for weeks, work out regularly, take supplements, etc., and lose half a pound a week. Many thyroid patients get so infuriated, they give up. But that’s one of the things I discuss in the book. A half pound may be all you can lose in a week... but those half pounds add up. You have to stick with it, and patience is essential.
Patience is probably another very big issue. It is almost always going to take longer to lose weight for us, than for someone without a thyroid problem. After a month or two of half a pound or a pound a week weight loss, many people simply give up. They want dramatic loss – they want 2-3 pounds a week, or 20 pounds in a month. And truly, it rarely happens for thyroid patients.
Another issue is recognition. We have an estimated 27 million thyroid patients here in the U.S., but half aren’t even diagnosed. So that means there are millions of people walking around with thyroid problems – most hypothyroid – and many of them have weight problems. These people could go on diets all they want, but few will lose much if anything, because their thyroid isn’t treated. This group really needs to be aware, because just diagnosis and treatment may be all they need to get back on track, weight-wise.
Q: Forgive the pun, but where do you ‘weigh-in’ on the whole low-carb vs. low-fat issue? Is the Thyroid Diet a low-carb plan or does it distinguish between good and bad carbs and fats like Dr. Agatston’s (South Beach) diet does?
A: The Thyroid Diet is a “low-glycemic” “good-carb” “good fat” plan. By low-glycemic, I mean low-sugar, and when there are carbs, I recommend the high-fiber fruits and vegetables. For the maximum of one or two servings of starchy carbs a day most of us need, I recommend focusing only on those starchy carbs with high-fiber – like a bran muffin, or high-fiber cereal. So I discourage high-sugar foods, but do suggest at least 5, if not 9, servings of low-glycemic vegetables – with some low-glycemic fruit – per day. And of course, good fats. Avoiding trans-fats, and saturated fats, and incorporating good fats, like olive oil, olives, avocados, fish oils, and essential fatty acids.
Q: You’re very honest about your struggles with weight loss. I bet you’ve heard a lot of advice on this matter. What is the best piece of advice you’ve received? The worst?
A: The best piece of advice – find something, anything, you love about your body, and focus on that. I think if you hate your body, you are almost guaranteed to fail. Even if the only thing you love is your hands, or your eyes, or your pretty feet, then tell yourself “I have gorgeous hands/eyes/feet.” STOP the negative self-talk, that constantly running mental commentary about how you feel/look/are fat. It’s completely demoralizing and unconstructive, and only when I stopped doing it myself did I begin to lose weight.
The worst piece of advice? “Once you start taking the thyroid drugs, don’t worry, the weight will just fall off you!” As most patients know, this is just a big myth! Don’t believe it!
Q: Mary, The Thyroid Diet is currently an Amazon.com hot seller. Where else can people get a copy of this wonderful book?
A: The book is available at local bookstores throughout the United States, and for those outside the U.S., you can have your bookstore request it (Thyroid Diet, by Mary Shomon). Libraries are also starting to carry it, and if your library doesn’t have it, ask them to get a copy for their collection.
Q. Thanks so much for your insightful answers. I think this book should be on the recommended reading list for any thyroid patient.
A. It’s my pleasure, and I am very grateful for your support for the book, and the opportunity to reach out to your readers.
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