5:2 Diet with a Thyroid Condition?
September 27, 2016 4:28 AM   Subscribe

Why am I GAINING?!

So I've been doing the 5:2 diet for around 2.5-3 weeks now. And I thought things were going pretty well. I had made a point not to weight myself, as they advise those new to the diet to wait for a few weeks. So imagine my shock when I went to my doctor's today for something unrelated and had to be weighed.

I've GAINED 2.5 lbs?!

Now, I've been struggling with my weight off and on since I was a teen. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis in HS and I believe I also have some insulin resistance and/or subclinical PCOS because I have all the accompanying hair and skin complaints, which are just as stubborn as the weight issue. So I'm used to weight loss being a huge struggle. But I don't really gain that much either. My body seems to have a kind of set point it likes. I can try really hard to diet/exercise but usually I'm unsuccessful. But the other side of that coin is that I can also take a lot of liberties at my set point weight before anything shows up on the scale.

But for the past few months it's been going further UP, which was scary.

So I started 5:2.

When I first started, I told myself that if I felt terrible on it I would stop immediately. But that really hasn't been the case. On fast days I can feel a little light headed and off but nothing too bad. I power through. I've experienced NONE of the telltale signs that my thyroid hates the diet and wants me to stop like tremors and hair loss. Also, when I started, I had just had my blood work done and it was the best it's been in AGES. Good Vit D, good iron, good B12, etc. I also make sure to take a liquid vitamin everyday for maximum absorption. I also take coconut oil to boost my metabolism. Before I started, I Googled "5:2 Diet with Hashimoto's Hypothyroidism" fully expecting to see that it was a metabolism killer. But99% of the Hashi's people were saying that 5:2 helped them to shift the weight unlike any thing else, but not at the expense of feeling well.

So why am I gaining? On a recent fast day, I noticed I was doing well and then in the last few hours, I admit, I started feeling kind of bad. My neck pulse felt slow and faint. The finger-heartrate app on my phone said 77bpm or something thereabouts. I'm usually up in the 80's-100's. But a lower heart rate is supposed to be a good thing right?

It's also true that on my feast days, I was eating some healthy foods but I would also make sure to get treats in too, like chocolate chip cookie dough and maybe some salty snacks too? That kind of thing. But not in large quantities. I've often been doing light cardio on those days too. I didn't want to eat under my TDEE because I was scared my body would go into starvation mode otherwise.

The odd thing is, up until now I felt like I might be losing some. Especially inches. My waist seemed smaller and that annoying double chin thing that happens when you're propped up on couch seemed to be going away.

Other things that have to be considered are that I got weighed in the afternoon, after not much sleep, fully clothed (at home I'm in my birthday suit!) and about 1-1.5 weeks out from my period. Mitigating factors? Maybe. But even with all that, I think it's hard to make the point that I've actually *lost* anything.

Even though many may see this diet as extreme, I really like the simplicity of it. I feel like, if I can get it to work for me, I could stay on it for life. 5:2 maintenance is just 6:1, which seems like it would be a breeze. I like that it is supposed to help with longevity, brain degeneration, and insulin resistance- this last one really appealed. I like that every time I have a fast day, it recalibrates my relationship as food and shows me that I never need as much as I thought and that there are other ways for me to keep busy.

If you want to point out to me that what I'm doing is totally unhealthy and you think I should stop, fine. I get it. And I absolutely will, if that's the general consensus. But what I'd rather focus on is this: How can I make this diet work for me and why hasn't it, up until now? From a purely scientific standpoint, I'm almost inclined to go a bit harder with it and consider 4:3, which is also known as The Every Other Day Diet. I mean, even if my metabolism is slowing down (god forbid) and my body is hanging on it everything in a kind of starvation mode, what goes up must come down, yes? I mean, if, on three days of the week I'm eating a total of only 1500 calories and the the rest of the week, I attempt to do some exercise and curb my need for sweets, it will come off, right?

Or will I just end up being the embodiment of a kind of dieter's Murphy's Law? Maybe if I carry on this way, I can actually defy science and keep gaining and gaining?
posted by ChickenBear to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Please talk to a nutritionist. No one here can give you comprehensive advice about your health without a thorough examination of your overall eating habits and exercise.

Also, if you're eating more calories than you are burning, then you will be gaining weight, whatever diet you take on. For me, your usage of the phrase 'light cardio' signifies that you are doing some gentle walking? You need to do more cardio than that -- something like 30 minutes a day at brisk walking pace/ slow jog. Additionally, a high resting heart rate of 80 - 100 bpm means that you are extremely unfit and need a lot more exercise.
posted by moiraine at 4:36 AM on September 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think it hasn't been very long, you weighed in the afternoon fully clothed and on a different scale and got a number that probably means you've lost a pound in reality and even if not, you feel like you are losing inches. Don't like the misleading number on the scale derail you! Weight loss is super weird and doesn't like to follow logic. Keep doing what you're doing (maybe less with cookies and more feasting on real foods but if you can eat just a few cookies and move on its probably not an issue for you whereas it would be for me).

If you you see no change in a few months of this maybe reconsider but I think it's way too early to say it's not working.

Good luck!
posted by kitten magic at 4:37 AM on September 27, 2016 [9 favorites]

I can fluctuate 5 pounds from the beginning of the day to the end. Add clothes to that and it can be 7. I wouldn't pay that much attention to this. If you continue to gain, you might consider whether your non-fasting days are overcompensating for your fasting ones.
posted by cecic at 5:08 AM on September 27, 2016 [13 favorites]

Cecic is right. Since this is bugging you, try weighing in the morning before you eat or get dressed to get a more accurate idea of where you're at.
posted by bunderful at 5:16 AM on September 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

My doctor's scale always weighs heavier than my scale at home. You won't notice a measurable difference in 2.5 - 3 weeks unless you're weighing on the same scale at the same time of day wearing the same amount of clothes.
posted by something something at 5:53 AM on September 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

Don't let that doctor's office scale derail you! You seem like you're doing so well and you like this plan and the only thing making you question it now is one number from a scale you don't usually use on a time you don't usually weigh in with more clothes than you usually wear.

I totally get it though, your brain is yelling "whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, why are we making this effort when you clearly aren't reaping any of the benefits?!" This happens to me too. Tell your brain to shut it and just keep on going. Give yourself at least 6 weeks of this and re-evaluate. I bet the scale will have moved.

You said yourself that you feel like you're losing inches and that's a big deal! You are doing a good thing for yourself and don't let your brain talk you out of it.
posted by whitetigereyes at 6:02 AM on September 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

I had not heard of this diet. Wikipedia says: "The 5:2 diet, or fast diet, is a diet which stipulates calorie restriction for two non-consecutive days a week and unconstrained eating the other five days".

It seems to me that, if you take in enough calories in your 5 days of "unconstrained eating", that's going to dominate the 2 fast days, and you aren't going to lose weight.
posted by thelonius at 6:13 AM on September 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

Just to reiterate what others have said, day-to-day weight can easily fluctuate by five pounds, largely due to hydration level and how much food happens to be passing through your digestive tract at the time. That's why people often recommend avoiding doing daily weigh-ins — the noise of the natural day-to-day fluctuations easily overwhelms any long-term, but much smaller on a daily scale, progressive loss. However, the problem that avoiding day-to-day weigh-ins is supposed to prevent still persists on the time frame of a few weeks (unless you're doing some kind of Biggest Loser/very rapid weight loss, which of course should be done only under very close medical supervision). You could be losing a pound a week (in some sort of Platonic "true weight" sense) yet still measure +2.5 pounds after three weeks. And that's even before you take into account the weight of your clothes (I don't know about you, but my clothes typically add 2-3 pounds) and the fact of weighing yourself at a different time of day (if it's in the afternoon, compared to usually weighing yourself first thing in the morning, add in anything you've had to eat or drink that day to your usual weight).

What's worked for me, as far as tracking weight, is to go against the usual advice and weigh myself daily — but instead of gauging my success by whether I weigh more or less then I did yesterday, I gauge it by comparison to an exponentially weighted moving average, as described in the "Signal and Noise" chapter of The Hacker's Diet. (I believe The Hacker's Diet was posted to MeFi many years ago. While I don't endorse everything in there, I found that chapter particularly helpful.)

When I say it's been helpful for me, I am explicitly making no claims that it would be helpful for everyone. Maybe it would be helpful for you to track your weight that way. Maybe not.

I can't comment on the thyroid issue, but I can tell you I've been doing 5:2 for over two years now, with mixed success: the first six months, I lost about 20 pounds. The next six, I slowed and lost another 10. Since then, despite staying on 5:2, and still having quite a bit more I'd like to lose, I've pretty much plateaued.

5:2 is premised on the idea that you don't substantially increase your calories on non-fast days, compared to what you would eat without being on a diet. Some people find that's easy to do, so 5:2 may work for them. On the face of it, it's absurd: if you can eat what you want five days a week, wouldn't you just make up on your non-fast days what you don't eat on your fast days? In fact, this was what I thought when I started 5:2 and was skeptical it would work. To my surprise, I found I wasn't any more hungry than usual the day after my fast day, and didn't eat more than usual those days, leading to weight loss in the first year. I suspect, though, that I've started to semi-consciously eat more the day before a fast day, so I don't feel quite so hungry on a fast day, which has lead to the plateau I've seen since then. If you're not already doing so, it's probably worthwhile to track your calories on non-fast days just so you're aware of whether you're eating more than you were before on those days. (I should probably take my own advice about this.)

I tried 4:3 for a while, but I found for me it was too much to bear: I did start distinctly eating more on the 4 non-fast days, which led to no progress there. But just because 4:3 didn't work for me doesn't mean it won't work for you. If it does, more power to you.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:37 AM on September 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Obviously, yes, talk to a dr / nutritionist, etc etc.

Fro a logic point of view: if you're eating above your TDEE (how many calories you burn IN TOTAL that day) you will gain. To keep out of starvation mode you need to eat above your *basal metabolic rate* (how many calories you'd burn if you sat in bed all day not moving).

Yes, your weight can fluctuate up to 5 lbs, and you shoudl weigh yourself in the morning to get a more accurate reading, but if you're consistently eating above your TDE, you're very likely eating more calories than you're burning on fast days. Try keeping a calorie journal for a week and see how it measures up.

Also take your measurements! Maybe you have lost inches. Would you really care if you were up 2 lbs if you'd lost 2" around your middle?
posted by ananci at 8:14 AM on September 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know there's a school of weight-loss thought that says "Don't always be looking at the scale!" but honestly for me it's much more reassuring to weigh myself daily when I'm trying to lose weight (ideally in the morning after using the toilet but before eating breakfast). Yes, there is a ton of noise in the data, but to me it's much more demoralizing to see an increase or lack of decrease after a week or a month than to see it after one day.

So, basically, one measurement is meaningless. You might actually be gaining, losing, or maintaining weight - you just can't tell from two measurements three weeks apart (I mean, unless they were like 10 pounds different).
posted by mskyle at 9:05 AM on September 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

First, I want to second mskyle.

For a number of people, obsessive weighing can exacerbate eating disorders/body dysmorphias/other bad things. Those people need to stay away from scales.

If you're not one of those people, tracking your weight (and maybe other things like body fat percentage, waist/hip/neck size) daily and consistently can be much more illuminative than a once a month thing. The most important aspect though is not to put any credence in the day-to-day flucations, but to enter the data into some kind of a tool that will give you a moving average. The Hacker's Diet had some good excel templates for this (and now they have an online version that I've never used and cannot vouch for).

2.5 pounds is easily water weight, or a heavier sweater that day, or increased muscle mass, or any number of things. You shouldn't be worrying about this gain.


You seem very on top of tracking aspects related to your health in general. This can be a good thing, but can also lead to unhealthy obsessions, so I hope you'll keep on top of where your headspace is going with this stuff.

I do think that you need to back away from the Internet as a source of information about what is good, for you. As someone with autoimmune thyroid-weirdness in her body (Grave's, "cured" with radioactive ablation + levo4lyfe) I can tell you from experience that this is a part of the body and a set of conditions that presents so strangely and uniquely for different people that Internet forums are almost completely useless.

Focus on your doctor's advice first, of course. And if you think you've got nutrition down (if 5:2 is something you can stick with, then do so... the biggest thing about "diets" is maintaining the lifestyle change) but you're not happy with your progress, try adding exercise that you enjoy. In six months, if things are not going the way you want them to THEN look for a change assisted by professionals (nutritionist, doctor, personal trainer, etc.)
posted by sparklemotion at 10:17 AM on September 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fasting is a stress (especially for women) and it will increase your serum cortisol. That will ultimately cause your weight to redistribute itself in the abdomen and/or cause you to gain weight. Moderation is more effective in the long run. Eat until you're 75-80% full, and then go for a 15-20 minute walk outside.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 3:06 PM on September 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

2.5 - 3 weeks is, what, 5 or 6 fasting days? That's not much. 5:2 is supposed to be slow and steady; it mostly works by being psychologically easier to sustain over the long term than other diets.

Fasting is a stress (especially for women) and it will increase your serum cortisol.

5:2 is nothing like the starvation diets in that study. It's more like a very low calorie diet (but milder) and according to the abstract those had no effect on serum cortisol.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:14 AM on September 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

You might want to check out the Keto diet. There is a women's forum on reditt, where a lot of women post Keto successes with PCO and related symptoms.
There is also varying Keto options for fasting. One of the Keto fasting guru's is Dr Fung.
I have Hashimoto's and can appreciate the weight issues it brings on. Keto has worked wonders for me - and it's an easy diet to follow. The FAQ will show you how to set up your "macros" and how to manage Keto. Whereas other diets I have done - I always struggled with hunger and cravings - and that doesn't exist for me when on Keto. And other's have had similar experiences.
There is not a lot posted around Keto and Hashimoto's - and as other posters have mentioned, diet and nutrition is so individually based. One method that works for one person - may not work for other's.
posted by what's her name at 7:42 AM on September 28, 2016

2.5 pounds when you're 1.5 weeks away from your period is mostly likely bloating/water weight. I retain like a sponge and can easily go up 3-4 pounds in a single day, especially around PMS time.

That said, if you're insulin resistant (like me - I have PCOS), it may be better to keep an even keel with your blood sugars, food intake and resulting insulin levels. Too many ups and downs, and long waits between food might not be the best idea for your situation. I agree with the others saying to see a nutritionist.
posted by jhope71 at 9:37 AM on September 28, 2016

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