Although I was very athletic growing up — I played tennis eight hours a day — I practically starved my way through high school and still wasn’t very thin.
In college, it wasn’t the so-called freshman 15 for me, it was the freshman 35. I would lose it, but then gain it back my junior year; only to lose it again by the time I landed my first job out of college. I remember having a cold and going to the campus clinic where the doctor said to me, “You’re too pretty to be fat … lose weight.”
That kind of advice, tossed out to me as a “pep talk,” has never really helped me. I know … shocking, isn’t it? It’s funny now, but it wasn’t then.
While pregnant with my first child, I knew my weight gain was due to more than just normal overeating. I was pregnant and eating for two, but I gained enough weight for four. It took me two years to lose the 76 extra pounds I gained, but I did it. It was an enormous struggle, and I was exhausted all the time. It wasn’t until after the birth of my second child that I realized that something was definitely wrong. I couldn’t lose the weight I had gained during pregnancy. I starved myself. I tried every weight-loss program on the planet, including the liquid-diet route, before I finally consulted my doctor. He did a simple blood test and discovered that I had low thyroid, or hypothyroidism.
Some might say hypothyroidism isn’t that significant. But they would be wrong. It’s a condition in which the body lacks sufficient thyroid hormone. And the main purpose of thyroid hormone is to run the body’s metabolism. “Your thyroid is like a carburetor in a car. When you’re not pressing on the throttle, it doesn’t go anywhere,” says Dr. James Gibson, a Waterford Township internist. “The thyroid gland and how it works within the body involves very complex physiology. A low-functioning thyroid can cause mild clinical disorders; it can also cause very serious medical conditions, and, in worst-case scenarios, people can end up in a coma.” In a sense, I was relieved to get confirmation from a doctor that the struggles I was having with my weight were not just all in my head.
However, knowing that I suffered from this condition didn’t remove my everyday tribulations, in particular, the exhaustion. I cannot describe the sensation I felt (and still feel) in being that tired. But I can tell you how it affected my everyday life. I wanted to sleep all day. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. My husband was worried about me because I was so exhausted all the time. I began to feel overwhelmed by the thought of doing routine tasks. I thought it was just me not being able to adjust to the hours I was working. I began to think I would never get accustomed to rising at 2:30 in the morning.
In 2006, Gibson prescribed a synthetic form of thyroid hormone. I began on a very low dosage, and that helped for a little while. Then I began showing symptoms again. I was (guess what?) tired, began gaining weight again, couldn’t shed extra pounds, and was always cold. I wanted to scream, but I was too tired to summon the energy to yell. I went back to Gibson and he did another blood test, which indicated my thyroid was low again. Since my initial diagnosis of hypothyroidism, my dosage of synthetic hormone has been increased four times.
“Getting your blood checked every four to six months is imperative, until the hormone is regulated.” Gibson says.
“There’s no cure for hypothyroidism, except taking the synthetic hormone,” Gibson says. In other words, I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life.
As of now, we’re still fighting the battle with my thyroid. I say “we” because the condition affects my entire family. The symptoms of low thyroid creep up on you, and the constant struggle with weight is a daily reminder of how important it is to get this particular hormone level under control.
I’ve never wanted to define myself by my outward appearance. Instead, I try to focus on living a healthful lifestyle. That said, I do find it challenging when I don’t get my hoped-for results when I step on the scale. To say that I get discouraged is an understatement. However, I do take some comfort in knowing that there may be a solution.
As Gibson tells me, “There are three steps to getting your weight and energy levels back on track. The first step is getting the thyroid level regulated. Next, is to continue monitoring your blood levels, and then we can move forward in trying to get you the right diet and exercise plan that will work for you.”
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I can see it from here.