Zone Diet and Losing Weight with Hypothyroidism

Can the Zone Diet Help You Lose Weight?

zone diet, weight loss for thyroid patients

In the past, I looked into whether or not the "Zone" diet approach (Barry Sears, Ph.D. author of the two books: Enter the Zone, and Mastering the Zone) of balancing protein/carbo/fat intake and controlling excess intake of simple carbohydrates (like bread, pasta, etc.) was an effective one for hypothyroid sufferers. My doctor recommended it, and some other thyroid patients had reported success with this way of eating.

Also, autoimmune hypothyroidism (such as Hashimoto's) is correlated to a higher incidence of other diseases, including diabetes. In addition, hypothyroidism raises cholesterol, and makes it harder to lose weight. Somehow, they're all related, and the Zone seemed to have some answers why.

When you eat a carbohydrate, your pancreas secretes insulin to drive down blood sugar back to a normal level. If you eat too many carbohydrates, your pancreas releases so much insulin that it can drive down blood sugar to a level too low to allow your brain to function effectively. This condition of low blood sugar and high insulin can be considered a step away from diabetes.

According to the Zone theory, when you're creating this excess insulin, it also prevents your body from using its stored fat for energy. Hence, your insulin response to excess carbos causes you to gain weight, or you cannot lose weight.

But what are considered "excess carbohydrates?

  1. For some people, most simple carbohydrates (i.e., bread, pasta) are "too much." These people's systems overreact to an amount of carbs that others wouldn't have a problem with. This is why these people seem to gain or have trouble losing, while eating the same amount of food that doesn't cause others a problem. Yep, it's a "glandular problem" for these folks, but the gland is the pancreas!
  1. Some people simply eat too many carbs. According to Sears, only the minority of the population (25%) can eat carbs freely with no blood sugar highs and lows, or weight problems. They are metabolically fortunate. For the rest of us, we're susceptible to carbos. It's being documented that people are eating less and less fat, but getting fatter. If we go on "low-fat diets" and eat only pasta and bagels and fruits and vegs and such, and stay very low-fat, and even exercise, we don't lose and might even gain more.

Now, here are some theories to float.

  1. A slower metabolism can't handle carbs/insulin as it did before. It seems likely that hypothyroidism, with its penchant for slowing down everything else in our systems, also slows down our body's ability to process carbohydrates. Hence, the carbs we could eat pre-thyroid problems now are too much for our systems to handle. So excess carbs lead to excess insulin which leads to excess weight...and someday even perhaps diabetes. Plus, we might end up with even more side effects of blood sugar swings (tiredness, dizziness, fatigue, exhaustion, hunger, etc.) that we may be mistaking as thyroid symptoms.
  2. Stress from chronic physical illness raises cortisol, which raises insulin. Any illness, such as the chronic thyroid problems we face, creates physical stress. Stress raises cortisol levels. And increased cortisol increases insulin levels. (I know my cortisol was through the roof last time the doctor checked. She had no idea why.)
  1. There's also a vicious circle aspect to this. The liver mediates between the activities of the insulin-releasing pancreas and the adrenal and thyroid glands, which are supposed to "tell" the liver to release glucose. If the adrenals and thyroid aren't working properly on the "telling" end, or if the liver is sluggish, stressed out, or toxic, and not working on the "receiving" end, the system goes out of balance. Either way, the result is elevated excess insulin (or hyperinsulinism).

Ultimately, some doctors believe that if your adrenal glands are stronger than your pancreas, this can potentially lead to diabetes.

If your pancreas is the stronger organ, which is more common, then you get fatigue, lowered body temperature, reduced enzymatic activity, and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Interesting, hmmm. The standard complaints we all seem to have, even when we're getting our thyroid hormone!

Prostaglandin E and Insulin Reactions 

The Zone approach focuses on a diet that balances the body's insulin reactions related to food and suggests a diet that ensures we create what are called good "eicosanoids" and limit product of the bad eicosanoids. Of the good ones, Prostaglandin E (PGE) is one of the most important and better-known eicosanoids that come from a diet that is balanced in terms of protein, carbos, and fats, and eliminates the hyperinsulin response.

Here's where it gets even more interesting. If insulin is in check, and the body is producing PGE, what does it do in the body?

  • Inhibits platelet clumping, reducing the risk of clots. (Note: Reduced clotting is a symptom of hypothyroidism.)
  • Helps blood vessels dilate, ensuring adequate blood flow to/from the heart and combating artery clogging. (Note: reduced oxygen in the system, and atherosclerosis/hardened arteries) are effects of hypothyroidism.
  • Helps cut down body's manufacture of cholesterol. (Note: high cholesterol is an effect of hypothyroidism.)
  • Helps release lymphokines, the natural substances that help prime the immune system to take action. (Note: reduced immune function and susceptibility to infection are common in hypothyroidism.)
  • Reduces proliferation of immune system cells which sometimes overreact and begin attack in other cells (this is what is happening in an auto-immune disease). (Note: Hashimotos is an autoimmune disease, and autoimmune diseases are commonly seen in clusters.)
  • Cuts down the release of histamine, which can help curb allergic response. (Note: many folks with hypothyroidism anecdotally report increased allergies and allergic response, even multiple chemical sensitivity and Candida/yeast syndromes.)
  • Reduces pain/combats inflammation. (Note: Many folks with hypothyroidism experience joint and muscle pain and inflammation, including carpal tunnel like inflammation of wrists and arms.)
  • In the endocrine system, PGE stimulates the manufacture and secretion of vital hormones in the thyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands. (Note: we know something isn't secreting properly!!!)
  • By increasing the uptake and release of these messengers, PGE can reduce the need for sleep, and it can help alleviate depression. (Note: fatigue and depression are common in hypothyroidism.)
  • In the respiratory system, it has a relaxing effect on tissues in the bronchial tubes, helping to reduce the intensity of asthma attacks." (Note: many of us with hypothyroidism have a problem with feelings of oxygen starvation or asthma-like breathing symptoms.)

So where is this going? Well, I guess my main recommendation is that others take a look at the Zone-type approach. Sears believes that food is a drug, and I'll tell you, I'd pay big bucks to feel as good as I'd felt on the Zone approach. I can't report to you that I lost lots of weight on it in the month I was on it, but I felt better, less bloated, and my clothes were fitting a bit better.

How the Zone Works

Level 1: Basics

  1. Drink at least 64 ounces of water a day.
  2. Eat more fruits and vegetables, less past, breads, grains and starches.
  3. Eat more frequent meals with fewer calories.
  4. Eat small amounts of low fat protein with every meal and snack.

Payoff: you'll stop gaining excess body fat.

Level 2:Paying Attention

  1. Determine how much protein you require per day, and consume that amount (low fat protein is best.)
  2. Use the eyeball method to control your ratio of protein to carbohydrates at every meal. (Eyeball method: never eat more lowfat protein than you can fit in your hand. And volume of protein dictates amount of carbo to eat. If it's unfavorable carbos -- breads, starches -- then 1 to 1, same amount in volume. If it's good carbos -- fruits and vegetables -- then double amount of protein volume wise.)
  3. Add some extra monounsaturated fat to every meal.
  4. Drink 8 ounces of water thirty minutes before a meal.

Payoff: you'll start losing excess body fat.

Level 3: Zoning

  1. Make sure most carbos come from fruits and veg. Use grains, starches, pasta and breads as condiments. Keep them to no more than 25% of the total carbos consumed at a meal.
  2. Never go more than 5 hour without a zone meal or snack.
  3. Always eat a zone breakfast within an hour or rising.

Payoff: being in the ZONE.