I was only 9 years old when I realised I was big. I watched my athletic brother and sister score runs and goals while I kept packing pounds onto my small frame. I would hide food in my room, scared that anyone in my family would see me eating, and I started to dislike my body more with every bite. Years later, at 16, a routine blood test revealed that I had hypothyroidism. The doctors didn’t really explain to me then what I know now: I have an under active thyroid gland that doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone to keep my body running normally. They prescribed me synthroid, a hormone that can help normalise thyroid production, and I’ve been on it ever since. For me, and some of the 12 percent of women who also have hypothyroidism, that meant a slowed metabolism, low energy levels, and at my lowest points, depression and thoughts of self-harm.
For years, I let my condition convince me that I just couldn’t lose weight. I resolved that I would never feel happy in my own body because it was fighting me at every turn. But at just 149cm, when I saw the scale hit 78, I knew I couldn’t let it win anymore. It was time to start fighting back. It was time to feel healthy, confident, and happy for the first time since I can remember.
For over a decade, my weight yo-yoed. I got pregnant with my first son when I was 21, and I gained 16kgs. After he was born, the weight stayed on. I lost 4.5kgs pounds before my wedding two years later, but my weight hovered between 68 and 72 for almost eight more years. At my height, that range was considered obese, my doctors told me.
Every time I started working out and eating better, I’d stick with it for a while and lose about 4.5kgs. But I always found an excuse to stop, and I always put the weight right back on. When my husband was deployed, I was parenting by myself, so how could I possibly find time to exercise (or make anything other than cereal) with two young boys and a full time job? When we moved every few years to a new military base, I was uncomfortable seeing new people at the gym, so how could I work out if I was scared to be seen? When Canada winters rolled around every year, my progress halted. When I was missing my husband or feeling more depressed than usual, I gave up.
If all of those excuses weren’t enough to stop me, this one was: I am hypothyroid.
I told myself that my body just couldn’t lose weight, and I resolved that I’d live at an uncomfortable 68kgs forever. That was until gallstones attacked my gallbladder in 2015. At the time, it was a painful, miserable experience, but giving up greasy, fatty foods so that I didn’t have another attack helped me get to 61kgs. That number, despite everything, showed me that I could lose weight. It wasn’t my thyroid stopping me, it was my mind. I knew I could succeed, I just didn’t know how.
While scrolling through Facebook one day, I saw a post for a weight loss accountability Facebook group. I’ve never been a very social person, but I knew if I wanted to really lose weight this time, I had to have people to encourage me. I clicked join.
I took my measurements and photos of my body from all angles. I posted them on the page, introducing myself and sharing parts of my long battle with my weight. This time, I wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t going to quit.
Thirty minutes a day. That’s it. For 30 minutes, I would do a workout video from the 21-Day Fix program at home. I had started the program before, but could never complete it. This time, though, I had my accountability group waiting to see my “sweaty selfie” for the day. I was waiting to see their selfies, too. I knew that I couldn’t let them down.
The workouts were nowhere near easy—they even made my husband, an active member of the military, break a good sweat. There were jump squats, planks, burpees, and pushups. When I wanted to give up, I had the trainer on the screen encouraging me, a whole group online that I didn’t want to disappoint, and, for the first time, a mindset that told me I could really do it this time. Even after 21 days straight of workouts, a victory I had never achieved before, I wasn’t finished. I switched to P90X, and I’ve been doing different high-intensity at-home workouts ever since.
Along with those daily sweaty selfies, my accountability group leader asked us to post pictures of everything we ate on the page. Yes, everything. My days of serving cereal for dinner ended when the posting began.
I’ve never really been much of a chef, so it was great to see photos and recipes of other people’s lean proteins and surprisingly tasty-looking vegetables on the Facebook page. I even got my whole family, 9- and 12-year-old boys included, to try spaghetti squash. It was a hit.
I still let myself eat one higher-carb food every day—whether it’s a small serving of ice cream on a family movie night or exactly 18 potato chips for a salty snack. Slowly but surely, food started to become something I enjoyed, not something I needed to hide behind. The girl who used to smuggle food into her bedroom was finally free.
STICKING WITH IT
Staying motivated to lose weight is hard enough for women with perfectly healthy thyroids, but when yours is slowing your progress and sucking your energy, it’s not so easy to be positive all of the time. While I saw other people in my group losing 3 to 5kgs per month, I was only losing 1 to 2, even though we were all following the same plan. It didn’t seem fair that I could work just as hard as someone else, but only get half of the results. When I had the same doubts that always led me to quit before, I shoved them out. I told myself that although my hypothyroidism would make weight loss harder, it wouldn’t make it impossible. I was stronger than the antibodies attacking my thyroid and slowing my metabolism. I reminded myself of that every day.
When my hypothyroidism did slow me down, I never let it stop me like I did before. Just last April, I started to feel depressed again as my energy started depleting. It got to the point where my husband had to drive me to work because I couldn’t find the strength. I had thoughts of harming myself, and I knew that wasn’t me.
I went to my doctor, who tested my thyroid levels and said she wasn’t surprised I was feeling so down. She increased my synthroid dosage, and I was back to my daily workouts, steady weight loss, and sweaty selfies in no time.
About 30 inches and 50 pounds of weight loss is nothing compared to what I’ve gained since joining the accountability group. Now I can run around with my energetic sons. I can post photos of my progress online without asking myself if I should delete them seconds later. I can spend time working out with my husband, and our relationship has never been better.
I never thought I would feel this good about myself. For the first time, I’m starting to like what I see in the mirror, and I’m loving how I feel.
ALEXIS'S NUMBER-ONE TIP
You are strong enough to lose the weight you want to lose, but you don’t have to do it yourself. If I hadn’t joined the group, I probably would have thrown in the towel before reaching my weight loss goals—just like I had so many times before. If you’re ready to stop giving up, surround yourself with people, in person or online, who will keep you going. After seeing for myself what a community of supporters can do, I’ve started up my own accountability group. Now I’m the one checking those sweaty selfies, liking those meal pictures, and helping my members stay motivated.
To the women in my group, and around the world, trying to lose weight with hypothyroidism, remember that your mind is your most powerful tool. It might take you longer to reach your weight loss goals, but if you’re ready to stay committed, get ready to love the body you always thought was fighting you.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health