Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder common in women of reproductive age. The hormonal imbalance creates excess testosterone, which leads to a host of symptoms including hair loss, facial hair, irregular periods, acne and difficulty losing weight.
Weight gain and weight loss issues go hand in hand for people with PCOS. There are two main reasons for this: insulin resistance and inflammation. Low-grade chronic inflammation drives insulin resistance further, and both lead to weight gain, specifically in the mid section.
Insulin resistance is when cells in the muscles, fat and liver don’t respond as they should to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. This results in too much sugar in the bloodstream.
As insulin resistance develops, the body fights back by producing more insulin. High insulin levels can cause excessive hunger, even after eating a whole meal. Excess insulin caused by insulin resistance leads the body to store fat, particularly belly fat. Naturally, these factors make healthy weight loss a challenge!
Not all PCOS Cysters are overweight or obese, but sustainable weight loss can help those who are. However, “eat less and exercise” isn’t helpful advice for women trying to lose weight with PCOS. Over-exercising and restrictive eating can destabilize blood sugar levels, which is a big no-no when trying to manage insulin resistance and lose weight.
Instead, PCOS Cysters need a tailored plan of action that meets their unique dietary and physical needs. Despite the difficulties accompanying Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, it’s possible to manage PCOS symptoms and lose excess body weight naturally.
How to Successfully Lose Weight with PCOS
Please note this blog post is not a substitute for official medical advice. If you are concerned about your PCOS symptoms, suspect you have an underlying health condition, or wish to make dietary/lifestyle changes, please consult your doctor first.
1. Gluten & Dairy Free
Gluten and dairy are known inflammatory foods, and since PCOS is an inflammatory condition, going gluten and dairy free can give you an edge in fighting that.
Science shows that both gluten and dairy can be addicting, which can contribute to having worsened cravings for them. Gluten has shown to reduce leptin sensitivity by 50%! Leptin is the hormone that tells us that we’re “full” and when we have reduced leptin sensitivity, we feel hungry all the time!
2. Get your carbs right
PCOS women are often told to cut out carbs completely because they spike our blood sugar, but that’s not a very sustainable approach.
You can have carbs, but how and what you eat make a big difference in digestion. For example, if you’re having fish and salad, you could add a side of rice. The healthy fats from the fish and the fiber from the salad will help you slowly absorb the sugar from the rice into your bloodstream and prevent a huge spike in blood sugar.
To learn more about how many carbs are right for your body, I can help you Discover Your Carb tolerance in The Cysterhood.
3. Get plenty of fiber
If you thought the only purpose of fiber was to keep you regular, think again! As well as relieving constipation and filtering out excess hormones, fiber plays a key role in lowering cholesterol and keeping your blood sugar stable, making it easier to lose weight.
Fiber-rich foods not only provide volume but also take longer to digest, making you feel fuller and energized for longer and on fewer calories!
High-fiber foods include:
4. Eat enough protein and healthy fats
Protein helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and keep insulin down by blunting the absorption of carbohydrates/sugars. Specifically having a high protein breakfast can set you up for having blood sugar stability for the rest of the day.
Adding protein to most of your meals is a nutritious and filling way to aid sustainable weight loss.
High protein foods include:
- Fish, such as salmon or mackerel
- Poultry, such as chicken or turkey
- Nuts and seeds
Healthy fats like avocado, nuts, flaxseeds and olive oil are also great additions to a PCOS-friendly diet as they can help to reduce inflammation.
5. Eat 3-4 times per day
How often do you reach for the snacks out of boredom at random times in the day?
Every time we eat, our insulin goes up. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when we’re grazing throughout the day, our insulin is constantly up. When insulin is high all the time, it blocks the process of fat burning.
As a registered dietitian with PCOS, I suggest having 3 balanced meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) along with one snack in between lunch and dinner. You’re less likely to have cravings throughout the day when your meals are balanced and you’re prepared for your afternoon snack.
6. Limit sugary and processed foods
This one’s a failsafe tip whether you’re a PCOS Cyster or not!
Processed foods are high in added sugars, calories, salt, fat and additives such as flavor enhancers or thickeners. Sure, we all love the occasional cookie or bag of chips. But a diet high in sugary and processed foods can cause countless health issues, in addition to weight gain and hormonal disruption.
Prepare for your afternoon snack by swapping the processed, sugary snacks for something more balanced, like hummus & veggies. I’ve got plenty of low sugar snack recipes that you can check out in The Cysterhood.
7. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise is shown to improve the metabolic and reproductive symptoms associated with PCOS. It’s proven to help improve glucose metabolism and regulate your insulin levels, which is great for weight loss.
Along with a nutritious diet, a combination of doing slow, weighted workouts can help improve insulin sensitivity. Lifting weights helps you build muscle, which helps keep your metabolism moving even after your workout.
What’s more, slow, weighted workouts can reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Having high levels of cortisol for a prolonged period can increase insulin. This is why we strongly advise PCOS cysters to try doing slow, weighted workouts.
8. Get plenty of rest
Last but certainly not least, the importance of rest cannot be overstated! Sleep deprivation, even after one night, exacerbates insulin resistance. Numerous studies have examined the link between sleep and weight. Lack of energy and sleepiness typically leads to a higher sugar and caffeine intake, leading to weight gain and less exercise.
You should aim for 8-9 hours of sleep a night to reduce stress, maintain a healthy weight, boost your immune system and lower your risk of serious health problems, like diabetes and heart disease.
Losing weight when you have PCOS can be challenging, as many women struggle with sleep disturbances. However, some of the habits you establish during the day, like keeping cortisol low with slow, weighted workouts or maintaining a PCOS friendly diet so you’re not on a blood sugar rollercoaster, can help you get better quality sleep throughout the night.
With the right approach, you can create a diet and lifestyle that makes you feel fantastic from the inside out.
For more tips on PCOS diet dos and don’ts, check out our podcast, A Cyster and Mister and our handy blog posts on PCOS and chill.