Contest dieting and highly restrictive diets have a number of effects on the body freestanding of fat and weight loss. While a diet that takes an obese or overweight person down to a moderate level of body fat is healthy, a contest diet, on the other hand, takes this too far from a health point of view and puts the body in an unnatural and unhealthy level of leanness and calorie restriction. Pushing body fat under 7%, 5%, or even 4% is not natural, and is not a healthy endeavor. Whether you keep your carbs and fats higher and work the fat off with cardio and weights or if you just drastically cut your diet, the end result is that same. In both cases, the body is not getting enough calories to sustain itself and, as a result, the body goes into survival mode to offset the perceived starvation it is going through. This body mechanism was developed over thousands of years and has enabled us to survive times of famine, but greatly works against us in this instance. This is why we can lose weight relatively easily when we start dieting, but as we get leaner, it gets harder and harder as our body adjusts hormone levels in an attempt to conserve all it can and prevent starvation. The main culprits of which are the pituitary and thyroid glands as well as the hypothalamus picking up body signals and making drastic adjustments that result in an enormous and often longstanding decrease in metabolism.
As our body perceives a calorie deficit, a series of responses by the hypothalamus and pituitary ultimately cause the thyroid to react by adjusting T4 hormone (which converts to T3 hormone and is directly responsible for metabolism.) to signal the body to stop burning calories, as it now needs them for survival so it thinks. There is another factor at play however. The thyroid also produces a hormone called rT3 (or Reverse T3) from T4, which essentially decreases your sensitivity to T3. This is a two-pronged reaction to perceived starvation; both stop making T3 and also stop using existing T3. The normal balance is 2:1 of T3 to rT3. At this ratio, your body responds normally to T3 levels. However, when rT3 increases, you lose your ability to respond to T3. Dieting too hard or too long or cutting too drastically can cause a shift in this ratio and the body produces excess rT3. Once this happens, the body tends to continue to make too much rT3 even beyond when it needs to. Often for weeks, months or years this can persist, and even adding medicinal thyroid hormones are of little help, as adding extra T3 is of no help when excess rT3 has desensitized you to it. Once the thyroid is thrown out of whack, it is a process to restore.
There are a number of other factors that can damage thyroid function as well. Antidepressants, Antihistamines and pain medicines all slow thyroid function. High use of stimulant drugs can also exacerbate the problem by decreasing sensitivity to T3. The use of these drugs in combination with a contest diet put you at even higher risk.
How do I know if I have thyroid/metabolism issues?
Below are some key indicators that you may have a thyroid issue:
• Low energy and feeling tired regularly – This can occur sometimes or all the times, but if it is chronic and persists, it may be an indicator
• Low basal temperature – Take your temperature every morning on waking for a week. If it reads below 98 degrees consistently, you most likely have a thyroid issue.
• Inability to lose weight – Despite hours of cardio and extremely limited diet, the weight still won’t come off. This will almost always come along with low energy and general lethargy
• Constipation or digestive problems– This often will be the case even if you are eating a healthy diet. The body has diminished ability to process food and absorb nutrients.
The above can be symptomatic of many other conditions, but if you have three or all four, the chances are you have impaired thyroid function.
What can be done to restore my metabolism?
Eat - First and foremost, it is important to stop dieting which just perpetuates the problem. Slowly reintroduce healthy carbohydrates in the diet at a moderate level. Keep the calorie/carb intake consistent for several weeks. This will allow your body to know what to expect and make adjustments accordingly to burn it off.
Get plenty of Iodine – The thyroid uses iodine and tyrosine to manufacture thyroid hormones. Iodine deficiency is the #1 worldwide cause of thyroid issues. Iodine generally comes from foods that are not overly present in contest diets (iodized salt, yogurt, milk, berries, etc.) So, take an iodine supplement and introduce some yogurt, strawberries and blueberries into your diet. Not only will this help add iodine, but will also aid in digestive issues which are common in those with thyroid issues.
Drink tea – Roobios tea, black tea and green tea have all been shown to assist in healthy thyroid function.
Get your Rutin – Rutin is a bioflavonoid similar to quercetin. It was shown in a 2013 study from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to modulate sodium-iodide symporter (NIS), which is an essential step for thyroid hormones biosynthesis, but also thyroperoxidase (TPO), the key enzyme in thyroid hormones biosynthesis. Essentially, rutin sends the body instructions to recharge thyroid function. Rutin can be found in abundance in buckwheat, and also in high amounts in asparagus and citrus.
Last but not least, be patient. Thyroid issues are tricky and can take time to correct. However, trying to fight the symptoms by taking stimulants and further cutting your diet will just make the situation worse. Get yourself on a healthy and satiating diet for at least a couple of months. Then reassess what symptoms you may have before you cut your diet again.