Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance that affects about 5 million women in the United States today, especially women of child-bearing age (ahem, Gen-Yers). If you have PCOS, cysts may develop on the ovaries, causing them to harden. The female body also produces excessive male hormones called androgens, which can seriously f*ck things up.
There are differing levels of severity, but most women with PCOS exhibit at least one of these major symptoms. Infertility, menstrual problems, acne, hirsutism (abnormal hair growth), obesity and weight gain are just some of the issues PCOS can bring about. Since many of these symptoms can be associated with other conditions, PCOS is difficult to diagnose. Many women remain unaware that they are even dealing with it.
As I mentioned above, obesity and weight gain are common symptoms of PCOS. Often times, many women with this condition have a hard time getting rid of the weight, even though they desperately want to.
The struggle becomes so overwhelming, many women become depressed. Some even resort to different methods of coping, such as overeating.
You are not alone. As someone who has struggled with PCOS for nearly 10 years, I can definitely relate. So, I have compiled my top 10 tips for jumpstarting the weight loss process when you have PCOS:
1. Eliminate processed and refined foods from your diet.
In my humble opinion, this is one of the best pieces of advice I can offer. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the bodies of women with PCOS are sensitive to literally everything that goes into them. All of the added chemicals in processed foods can have unrealized effects on your hormones, which can ultimately create problems with weight.
It takes more work, but it's important you start cooking and eating more at home, and experimenting with new and interesting ingredients. For example, instead of using things like all-purpose flour and refined sugar, it would be beneficial to become familiar with ingredients like almond flour and coconut sugar.
There are hundreds of recipes out there. Just do a quick Pinterest search, and you can become distracted for hours.
2. Have fun with fiber.
Fiber is one of the most important, yet under-appreciated nutrients out there. Women need at least 25 grams per day, while men need at least 38 grams.
However, as a nation, we are consuming far less than that. The average adult only gets about 15 grams of fiber per day in his or her regular diet.
Eating enough fiber is super important because it helps to control your blood sugar, regulates your bathroom schedule (which boosts colon health) and helps you feel less hungry throughout the day. It absorbs water and swells in your digestive tract, making you feel full for a longer period of time.
My favorite way to make sure all my fiber needs are being met is with a big bowl of fiber cereal in the morning. I eat Kellogg's All Bran Buds, but there is a large variety of choices out there.
As boring as it sounds, it's actually pretty versatile. I've used it to make pancakes, baked goods and other foods that taste pretty delicious. Who knew fiber could be so much fun?
3. Schedule regular visits with your gynecologist or endocrinologist.
Visiting your doctor and having blood work done is extremely beneficial. There are many things going on physiologically that we are not always aware of. For example, women with PCOS are more prone to insulin resistance, which is a pre-diabetic condition that can make it very difficult to lose weight.
While I don't think medication is always the answer, your OB/GYN or endocrinologist can work with you to develop a medication regimen that could assist your progress. A typical PCOS regimen includes birth control to help balance your hormones, metformin to aid in blood sugar control or aldactone, a diuretic that helps to prevent the absorption of salt and keeps your potassium levels stable.
However, these drugs may not be right for your body. This is why it's important to visit these specialists every six months to monitor your progress. Note: These are not weight loss drugs, and should not be taken as such. Only begin use of these medications after you've been prescribed by a doctor.
4. Limit your carb intake.
I know this tip sounds sacrilegious. All good things are made from carbs, right?
While that may be true, carbs can be detrimental to a woman with PCOS due to the insulin resistance factor. While you do want to limit your carbohydrate intake, it is definitely important to remember to not eliminate carbs completely. They provide vital energy for our muscles and brain.
It is also important to remember to replace refined carbs with whole grain carbs for added fiber, vitamins and minerals. Although delicious, refined carbs offer little to no nutritional value, and can contribute to a rapid increase of your blood sugar levels.
5. Drink hot lemon water in the morning.
This is one of my favorite things to do. Hot lemon water is so soothing, and it has a number of health benefits as well. For starters, lemon juice acts as a laxative and diuretic in the system, which helps to release water weight and bloating.
It also has antioxidants which boost the immune system, and it provides the body with a nice dose of vitamin C. This helps aid in the absorption of iron (heads up for all you iron-deficient peeps out there).
6. Add healthy fats.
Studies have shown that adding omega-3 healthy fats into the diet can help reduce the number of male hormones (testosterone in particular) that are floating around in our systems. This helps regulate the menstrual cycle, decreasing symptoms of PMS and making periods more bearable.
Another study found a correlation between increased omega-3 intake and insulin levels. The results of the study showed that women with PCOS who were treated with oral omega-3 supplements experienced a major decline in their serum insulin levels after six months.
So, incorporating fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies or trout into your diet two to three times per week is the way to go. If you don't have access to these fish, are vegetarian or vegan, or are turned off by eating fish for other personal reasons, you can take a fish oil or omega-3 supplement.
7. Develop an enjoyable exercise routine.
I'm a big fan of yoga, but really, adding any form of physical activity is important. Exercise not only burns calories, it can also improve insulin sensitivity and decrease your waist circumference (which can alleviate the symptoms of PCOS).
Finding any activity that doesn't seem like a burden to you is the best way to develop an exercise routine. This way, you will definitely stick with it. For example, if you hate running, it's probably best to not decide to train for a half marathon.
Getting involved with an intramural sports team or taking a Zumba or yoga class are all options that might be more fun than running on a treadmill for an hour. Weight-lifting and resistance training are also super important for all women, not just those with PCOS.
It's important, though, that you get to know your body and do what you can before you jump into a very high-intensity workout. Start small and work up to your full potential.
8. Find time to relax and de-stress.
Increased stress levels trigger the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, a steroid hormone that is responsible for the fight or flight reaction. Elevated cortisol levels may cause weight gain by creating visceral fat (the fat underneath the muscle in the abdomen). It can also prompt the body to produce more sugar in the blood stream and provide the energy to get you the f*ck out of dodgy situations.
However, if the body is consistently producing sugar, the levels in your blood can become elevated. This is another factor that can contribute to obesity.
Meditate, read a book for pleasure, turn off the TV, go for a walk, color or do something else that helps you relax. Just remember to take some time for yourself at the end of every day.
9. Get enough sleep.
Obesity can affect sleep, and sleep can affect obesity. This creates one giant, vicious cycle.
Obesity causes problems such as sleep apnea, which can affect your energy levels during the day. If you're tired during the day, you are less likely to exercise, eat well or put any effort into living a healthy lifestyle because it just won't seem like a priority.
Getting enough sleep ensures that your body is able to fully rest and repair itself at night, which will provide you with enough energy to get up in the morning and start your day in a healthy way. According to sleepfoundation.org, a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night is enough for an adult to feel fully rested and ready to go in the morning.
10. Believe in yourself.
It sounds cliched, but if you don't have faith you will succeed on this path, you probably won't. You are your biggest cheerleader.
No matter what happens, you need to decide to do this for yourself and no one else. All of these tips take time to incorporate, so remember to have patience with yourself. Treat yourself with kindness as you begin your journey toward good health.
I believe balance really is the key. Having a healthy approach to diet and lifestyle is the most important tip I can offer to help you achieve your weight loss goals. Extreme restriction or extreme indulgences put major stress on the body, and make the process that much harder.
So, if you're out at a party and want that piece of cake, I say go for it. Just remember to get back on track the next day with your regular healthy routine, and don't allow that indulgence to turn into a major downward spiral.