Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone disorder affecting women of reproductive age. When we think of PCOS, we think of the uncomfortable symptoms. From fatigue and excessive hair growth to bloating and oily skin, PCOS Cysters have to deal with a lot. It can be pretty exhausting, right?
Here’s the good news.
You can manage the symptoms of PCOS and lead a happy, healthy life. Although there’s no cure for PCOS, a combination of dietary and lifestyle changes can keep the undesirable symptoms at bay.
Thanks to a few key self-care practices, you can get back to feeling good again. Contrary to the blanket ‘one-size-fits-all’ advice you may have heard, it’s not just about losing weight; it’s about taking care of yourself from the inside-out, so you can ease your symptoms, boost your self-esteem, and learn what works for your mind and body.
Let’s take a look at the top self care tips to help manage PCOS symptoms.
Please note this blog post is not a substitute for official medical advice and is for informational purposes only. 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 who will be able to advise you on appropriate treatment options.
PCOS Self Care Tips
Eat the right foods
This one’s a game-changer. Women with PCOS are often insulin resistant, which is when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t easily take up glucose from your blood. The pancreas produces even more insulin to lower blood sugar levels. That extra insulin promotes weight gain and increases cravings, which can lead to binge-eating or consuming too much sugar.
A PCOS-friendly diet is a varied diet that satisfies your hunger and helps you maintain a healthy weight. If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, you may have been told to cut out carbs altogether because they spike your blood sugar. This isn’t a sustainable approach. If your curious what foods to keep around for PCOS, check out our pantry must-haves HERE and our roundup of PCOS-fighting foods HERE.
Foods To Avoid With PCOS
Here is a list of common foods known to contribute to, trigger, and / or worsen symptoms of PCOS:
- Refined carbs, including white bread, muffins, pastries, sugary desserts, and pasta
- Processed sugars like high fructose corn syrup
- Gluten and dairy
- Excess alcohol and/or caffeine
- Other inflammatory foods
You can eat carbs, but the way you eat them makes a big difference in how your body digests the food and absorbs the sugar into your bloodstream. It’s a good idea to balance carbs with protein, healthy fats, and fiber. For example, if you’re having fish and salad, you could add a side of rice. The healthy fats in the fish and the fiber in the salad will slow down how quickly the carbs make your blood sugar rise, and control how quickly it comes back down.
To learn more about how many carbs are right for your body, I can help you Discover Your Carb Tolerance in The Cysterhood.
As well as relieving constipation and filtering out excess hormones, fiber plays a key role in lowering cholesterol and keeping your blood sugar stable, which can aid sustainable weight loss and improve whole-body insulin sensitivity.
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.
Protein and healthy fats
Protein helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and keep insulin down by blunting the absorption of carbohydrates/sugars. Healthy fats like avocado, nuts, flaxseeds, and olive oil are also great additions to a PCOS-friendly diet as they have strong anti-inflammatory properties. PCOS is strongly linked to chronic, low-grade inflammation. You might be suffering from inflammation if you’re experiencing digestive issues, headaches, joint pain, weight gain, inexplicable fatigue, or food sensitivities (e.g. gluten intolerance).
Remember to eat 3-4 PCOS meals per day
As a registered dietitian with PCOS, I suggest eating 3 balanced meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) along with one snack in between lunch and dinner or breakfast and lunch (whatever you feel like, or both!) You’re less likely to have cravings throughout the day when your meals and snacks are balanced and you’re preparing some of your food in advance.
Drink herbal tea
Drinking unsweetened herbal tea has a plethora of benefits, especially for women with PCOS. Just to name a few, certain types of herbal tea can: help keep you hydrated, provide essential vitamins and minerals, be a good source of antioxidants, help jump start your metabolism, provide stress relief, promote good sleep, and so on. Here are some of the best herbal tea for PCOS and what they’re good for:
- Green, white, and black: antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties
- Peppermint and spearmint: anti-androgenic effects
- Cinnamon: improving insulin resistance and relieving stress
- Ginger: anti-inflammatory properties and female hormone regulation
- Licorice root: reducing testosterone and healing cravings
Regular exercise is known to ease the metabolic and reproductive symptoms associated with PCOS. It’s proven to help improve glucose metabolism and may even help to regulate the menstrual cycle if you’re prone to PCOS-related irregular periods. Slow weighted workouts ( like yoga, pilates, and body weight exercises) can help improve hormone levels, insulin levels, and metabolic profiles for women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
What’s more, slow, weighted workouts can reduce the stress hormone cortisol, making you feel calmer and happier. Having high levels of cortisol for a prolonged period can also increase blood sugar and insulin. This is why it’s so important for PCOS Cysters to get moving; it’s a surefire way to improve the mental and physical symptoms of PCOS.
Spending time in nature
In a world that’s always ‘on’, it’s easy to stay glued to our phones and computers for hours on end. Before we know it, we’ve spent the whole day staring at a screen – and we wonder why we feel so sluggish!
Never underestimate the calming and rejuvenating powers of nature. Go for a walk, eat lunch outside, and swap 20-minutes of screen time with sitting in the garden or local park. It’ll work wonders for your mind, help to combat fatigue, and give you a well-deserved boost.
Get enough sleep
Quality sleep is the very foundation of self-care. 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.
If you struggle with dozing off, try to implement a nighttime routine that gets you in a more relaxed state. This could include turning off your devices an hour before bedtime, taking a warm bubble bath, drinking herbal tea, or listening to a relaxing playlist.
Essential oils are known for their self-care benefits and in turn, have become more and more popular over the years. Some essential oils, like lavender and rosemary, are known to calm the nervous system and reduce stress and anxiety. Other essential oils, like cinnamon and thyme, may even help improve insulin resistance and balance progesterone levels (respectively).
Consider adding essential oils to your daily routine via lotions, carrier oils, relaxing soaks, and diffusers. For a full roundup of the best essential oils for PCOS and how to use them, click HERE.
It’s easy to rush through our demanding schedules without stopping to notice what’s going on around us. Mindfulness is all about paying more attention to the present moment – from your thoughts, feelings, and immediate surroundings – to help you feel more positive and grounded.
This could also include paying attention to your breathing, noticing the way the light streams through your window, or focusing on the flavors of your food. It sounds so simple, but it can be hugely transformative as it interrupts ‘autopilot’ mode and gives you newfound perspectives and appreciation for what you have in life.
With the right lifestyle and dietary adjustments, you can reclaim the life that PCOS tried to steal from you. Take care of yourself – body and mind – and you take care of your symptoms.