To look at the Ryall Graber, you would never think that she lives with a condition that commonly causes weight gain and muscle loss.
Ryall is an IFBB Fitness Pro athlete and has been in love with bodybuilding since her first competition back in 2007. She says that she started out on her personal health journey because she wanted to see what she could achieve in improving her fitness.
What started as a personal project turned into a lifelong passion, driven by accomplishing things she never thought her body would be able to do.
Ryall is a brand ambassador for LetsGetChecked and often speaks about what it’s like to live with an underactive thyroid as a professional athlete. Today she joins us to share her secrets to success regardless of her condition.
To begin, it’s pretty important to actually talk about what thyroid disorders are, so let’s tackle that first. Most people don’t know what a thyroid gland is, never mind a disorder. Don’t worry if you don’t know just yet, it’s pretty common to not be knowledgeable on the thyroid gland.
In fact American Thyroid Association offer up some pretty shocking statistics, one stand-out stat says that 60% of those who are living with a thyroid condition don’t know they have one.
- What Causes Thyroid Disorders?
- How Do Thyroid Issues Cause Weight Gain?
- Ryall Graber Talks Thyroid Weight Gain And Life As A Pro Athlete
What Causes Thyroid Disorders?
Thyroid disorders can range from small, harmless short-lived issues to long-term disorders that can affect your day to day life until you find the treatment options that will work to balance your hormones or repair your thyroid.
Thyroid disorders affect the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is responsible for releasing a steady stream of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream.
Thyroid hormones affect pretty much every part of your body including your metabolism, your heartbeat, temperature, hair growth, brain development and mood.
Thyroid disorders may be caused by hormonal imbalances or actual damage to the thyroid gland itself.
Hormonal imbalances or damage to the thyroid gland can result in symptoms of an overactive or underactive thyroid but you can’t rely on your symptoms to tell you one way or the other. The only way to know if you have an under or overactive thyroid is to get tested.
Let’s take a look at disorders that are associated with with and overactive thyroid and an underactive thyroid.
- Hypothyroidism refers to underactive thyroid in which the thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone.
- Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid in which the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (Commonly causes hypothyroidism)
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder. Antibodies in the thyroid gland begin to attack thyroid cells, which can lead to fewer cells producing thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland becomes swollen and results in the inhibition of the thyroid gland producing a sufficient volume of thyroid hormones.
Hashimoto disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
Graves' Disease (Commonly causes hyperthyroidism)
Graves' disease is also an autoimmune disorder in which antibodies begin to attack the thyroid gland. Graves' disease is marked by the overproduction of thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin which damages the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland then begins to overproduce thyroid hormones, leading to the overproduction of thyroid hormones and the enlargement of the thyroid gland.
Graves' disease is one of the most common causes of hyperthyroidism.
Thyroiditis is the inflammation of the thyroid gland in the neck. This may cause the thyroid gland to produce too much or too little thyroid hormone. This can cause symptoms of either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Thyroiditis may cause hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism
The symptoms of thyroid issues are those that can often be attributed to lifestyle factors. An overactive and underactive thyroid have the opposite symptoms and sometimes the exact same symptoms, which is why coming to terms with your condition could be tricky at the start. You might have read our in depth articles regarding the symptoms of hyper and hypothyroidism but lets have a quick recap.
How Do Thyroid Issues Cause Weight Gain?
There is a complex relationship between thyroid hormones and weight gain.
Thyroid disorders that lead to weight gain are most commonly hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid.
Let’s take a quick look at the thyroid hormones that influence your weight:
Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
TSH is also known as thyrotropin or thyrotropic hormone. TSH is released by the pituitary gland in response to signals from the body that they thyroid gland is releasing too much or too little triiodothyronine (T3) or thyroxine(T4).
T3 is a thyroid hormone that affects most if not all cell functions. T3 is a key player in regulating your metabolism. An insufficient volume of circulating T3 is often responsible for weight gain.
T4 is the biologically inactive form of T3, it is the transporter of T3 all around the body and in the bloodstream. An insufficient volume of circulating T4 is also responsible for weight gain.
In a previous interview with Dr. John Morris, he states that “10-20 pounds of extra weight is a reasonable and expected number to attribute to an underactive thyroid. There are cases in which sufferers are morbidly obese and would attribute this to thyroid issues but it just doesn’t happen. 200 extra pounds are not associated with an underactive thyroid.”
The American Thyroid Association says that only 5-10 pounds of weight gain can be attributed to hypothyroidism, and treatment of your thyroid will likely only lead to a 10% decrease in the thyroid weight gain.
One of the leading symptoms of an underactive thyroid is unexplained weight gain. If you do not have a sufficient volume of circulating thyroid hormone in your blood, your metabolism may slow down.
Your metabolism refers to the sum of cellular reactions that occur within your body to maintain life.
Thyroid hormones regulate the chain of chemical reactions that are involved in the fat burning process during and after we exercise.
When the metabolism slows down, so does your body’s ability to expend calories as energy, as well as fat-burning. This is compounded by the fatigue and low mood you may also feel as a result of hypothyroidism, ultimately leading to overall weight gain.
Let’s take a look at Ryall's story, as a professional athlete, hypothyroidism is something that could dramatically slow down your progress. Here, Ryall shares her journey to success, in which she never let her thyroid get in the way.
Ryall Graber Talks Thyroid Weight Gain And Life As A Pro Athlete
You are an IFBB Fitness Pro, how did you get here?
For people who don’t know what an IFBB Fitness Pro is, it’s a professional fitness athlete. I am governed by the International Federation Of Bodybuilding and Fitness, and this is the most elite federation in the world.
I achieved my professional status in 2007, and it all started with a quest to get into the best shape of my life. I was 27 years old and I had done gymnastics as a kid, I was sporty but I was a skinny fat kid, I was 100 pounds and not a lot of muscle. I challenged myself personally in a fitness competition, and that very year I earned my professional status, which is crazy.
I gave it everything I had. It started with the quest to get into the best shape of my life which involved training for it, hiring a group of people to help and later earning my professional status.
Where did your passion for health and fitness originate?
My drive for health and fitness actually originated from that first competition, I started to develop a passion for being able to push my body past any limits that I thought I had.
You know, I would be training and I would be like, “Oh I can’t do that” and then I would do it, and I was actually seeing what my body was capable of, physically and emotionally, that developed a very deep passion for me. So that’s where it all started really, my first competition.
When did you realize that you were experiencing symptoms that were related to your thyroid?
I went to the doctor, I was like "I have no idea what is happening, I am training 3 hours a day, I am absolutely exhausted, I am gaining fat but losing muscle."
The doctor ran blood panel and that was when we realized that my TSH, T3 and T4 were all under normal threshold levels.
Have your thyroid issues ever held back your health and fitness goals? When did they start?
The answer to that question is yes. In 2016, I was competing on the Arnold World II, back to back to back shows and my hormones started to fatigue, my adrenal glands shut down and my testosterone actually tanked. My T3 and T4 were under normal levels.
I was absolutely exhausted and that is when I realized that I had to go onto thyroid medication to actually regulate my metabolism and regulate my thyroid gland because of the type of training that I do. My body was just so fatigued.
Side effects of that experience included muscle loss, fat gain and extreme fatigue. I had to withdraw from Olympia that year.
I had 7 cortisone injections into my body to deal with sports injuries and that completely messed up my hormones. Cortisone is a "no-no". A proper sports doctor will never give cortisone shots but general doctors do it all the time. It seemed to trigger a lot of my hormone issues, muscle loss and fat gain, that kind of thing.
I had to go on medication due my extreme exhaustion and I had to work twice as hard to achieve my goals but I wasn’t seeing any changes.
As it's Thyroid Health Awareness Month, what advice would you give to someone who is living with thyroid issues?
You need balance, find the balance. You might need to do a lot of blood work, but continue to search for a physician or an endocrinologist that will work with you, to ensure that you have a proper balance of all of your thyroid hormones.
You don't have to live with thyroid dysfunction, depending on the degree of thyroid issue that you have. If it's mild, it can be a herbal solution, with supplementation, like selenium to convert T4 to T3.
After you get tested, find a doctor who is prepared to work with you and prescribe the correct medication if you need it.
How has being diagnosed with thyroid issues changed your life?
It has made a huge impact on my life since I dealt with my condition.
I have more energy, I am able to see results from optimal nutrition and training. In a short amount of time, my body actually responds to what I am doing.
As a fitness athlete with a physique round, this is imperative. When I am ready to get lean, when I am ready to reduce my body fat. My body responds and so does the T3, that’s regulates my metabolism.
Our metabolism needs to be in a healthy healthy range. It has greatly impacted my life from those physical standpoints as well. Knowing now that my thyroid is functioning optimally gives me confidence with my prep in terms of knowing what my body is capable of achieving.
To know that my body is healthy and well. To know that my body is going to cope, to know that my metabolism is going to cope with a prep, because being a pro-fitness athlete means that I am putting my body into situations that are not necessarily normal for a 40 year old woman.
Alongside thyroid hormones, a lot of men and women who bodybuild may suffer from decreased testosterone and increased cortisol, how can this be combated?
- Have it diagnosed
- Seek advice on how to have it treated
- Follow up with more blood work every 4 weeks
- Manage your stress
- Manage your sleep
- Do not have cortisone put into your body for sports injuries, that will completely spike your cortisol levels, though I’m not sure what that will do to your testosterone, I believe it will cause it to decrease, that is what I experienced.
For those who are stuck in a rut with their health and fitness journey, what advice would you give them?
Set a small goal, do not overwhelm yourself with a large goal. Set a small goal and make that your main focus for 4 weeks.
If we can establish healthy lifestyle habits, those habits in 3-4 months become your lifestyle. If you focus first and foremost on your foundation and creating a healthy foundation, the rest is going to come.
After this, you can start to establish bigger goals and fitness goals, whether that is to run a marathon or to compete in a competition or do a Spartan race, you can’t start at zero and go straight to 100.
Start with those smaller milestones, tick them off and then crush the bigger goals.
What words do you live by?
The biggest words that have stuck with me over my entire professional career would be: “Think it, be it, believe it, achieve it.”
I believe that it is our mind that limits us on achieving things we want to achieve.
It’s not our physical being, it’s our mind and we have to push past, you have to start with the mind.