For many women with PCOS trying to get to a healthy weight can be a challenge. You’ve tried various diets, cutting carbs, tireless amounts of cardio only to end up right back where you started. However with the right strategies and a combination of diet, exercise, commitment to a lifelong approach and persistence, you can lose weight and take back your life.
Losing weight is a daunting task, even for an otherwise healthy woman. Notably, the level of difficulty rises with an increasing age. However, things can be totally different and most challenging when you have PCOS.
In our Eating for Balanced Hormones Nutrition Plan, we’ve put together an easy to follow meal plan focused on supporting healthy blood sugar levels and your reproductive health.
Are you ready to embark on this journey? Let’s go.
Why Weight Gain is So Common When You Have PCOS
You know the most influential cause of PCOS is hormone imbalance. Also, it’s the same reason why most women with PCOS have a predisposition to extra layer of fat in the abdomen.
Before I explain about the link between weight gain and PCOS, let’s have a quick overview of hormone imbalance in PCOS.
When you have PCOS, the levels of male hormone (androgen) testosterone rises. As a result, you develop a range of symptoms. For example, excessive hair growth on the face and body, irregular periods, fertility issues and yeah, weight gain.
Another hormone that is impacted by the presence of polycystic ovaries is insulin. Insulin is key to regulating the transport of glucose molecules from your bloodstream to the cells. The cells burn glucose to produce energy or store them in other forms like glycogen.
PCOS patients usually cannot utilize insulin properly. This condition is called insulin resistance (IR). Consequently, blood glucose levels surge. To keep the blood glucose in control, your pancreas pumps more insulin into the bloodstream leading to elevated blood insulin level. This condition is known as hyperinsulinemia. One more thing to note here is elevated blood glucose also affects your hunger.
In the women with PCOS, weight gain results from the effects of high levels of both androgen and blood glucose. Here is how they work.
Insulin increases your hunger and cuts down energy use. In the meantime, androgen enhances fat deposition, especially in the belly region. Also. it sabotages your attempt at maintaining weight loss.
What are the Risks of Weight Gain with PCOS?
Obesity or being obese is a risk factor for any woman whether or not she has PCOS. Nonetheless, women who have PCOS are at a greater risk. This is owing to the hormone imbalance and its widespread health effects. Weight and PCOS increase your risk of the following disorders.
- Type 2 diabetes. Over time, untreated IR can lead to type 2 diabetes.
- High levels of unhealthy fats in the blood.
- Elevated blood pressure. Together with high blood fats, it can lead to a heart attack if you do not lose weight.
- A sleep disorder called sleep apnea. When you have sleep apnea, you have spells of breathlessness while asleep. It reduces your sleep quality as well.
- Fertility problems like difficulty getting pregnant or maintaining a pregnancy.
- Cancer of the womb. It is also called uterine cancer or endometrial cancer.
In addition, there seems a link between obesity and PCOS symptoms like acne and irregular menses.
Losing Weight with PCOS: What Are the Goals and Treatment Approaches?
Losing weight does more to your health than just making you look good. It helps to reduce the risk of type diabetes, heart disorders and other PCOS complications like infertility. When you start working seriously to shed some pounds, the first thing to do is to keep your expectations realistic.
You should not expect to get a supermodel’s body with a week of diet and exercise. Also, believing in the claims of magic pills or crash diet can do more harm. Before we learn more about the ways to lose weight with PCOS, let me remind you that weight loss is a part of a broader health concept called weight management.
Know the 3 Aspects of Weight Management
- Prevention of an excess weight.
- A healthy weight loss.
- Maintenance of weight loss.
What are the Key Approaches to Lose Weight with PCOS?
I am sure you have read or heard about how diet and exercise can help you shed some pounds. But did you notice the tips were most likely for the women with no PCOS? If you have PCOS, your requirements may be entirely different. This is owing to the hormone imbalance that’s causing problems with your metabolism.
In order to address the weight gain issues with PCOS, we have brought a list of tips after an extensive study.
The basic idea behind the dietary approaches to lose weight is to keep the energy intake low while not depriving your body of the essential nutrients. Meaning, your diet should have low calories yet contain all the necessary nutrients. Does it mean you have to give up your favorite takeaway food? Yes. Here are some dietary measures you should consider.
- Consider a diet that’s low in sugar but contains more fiber. Avoid high-fat foods. Feast on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fibers give you a feeling of fullness without pumping your blood sugar levels. Also, don’t forget to read the label on the food items. It will give an idea of the nutrients in one serving. You may also want to consult a nutritionist to make sure you are not missing the key nutrients.
- Avoid taking a large meal at one time. Instead, take four to six small meals. That way, you will be able to keep the blood glucose in control.
- Do not take high GI foods. GI (glycemic index) is the measure of how fast the food increases your blood sugar levels after you take it. Some low GI foods are whole wheat bread, oatmeal, oat bran, muesli, pasta, converted rice, barley, sweet potato, corn, yam, lima/butter beans, peas, legumes, and lentils. Likewise, most fruits and vegetables have a low GI.
- Replace table sugar with artificial sweeteners.
- Don’t miss your breakfast and have cereals as the first food of the day.
Exercise is a great way to lose weight when you have PCOS. No doubt, any type of physical activity offers a myriad of health benefits. However, no exercise regimen can produce equal benefits in all the individuals. That said, the one-size-fits-all theory does not work in this condition. Here are some exercise tips to consider:
- Set aside at least thirty minutes for exercise on most days of the week. Find out a regimen which you enjoy. That way, you will be most likely to not give up after a few days.
- Walk at least 2000 “extra” steps every day.
- Use stairs instead of escalators.
- Find your motivation to keep going and stick to it despite failure at achieving the expected weight loss targets.
While dietary changes and exercise are a great way to lose weight with PCOS, in most cases, the loss weight seems to come back again after a while. Thus, it is critically important that you work on other aspects of weight loss management to keep the excess weight from coming back again.
On a long run, your inherent behavior and individual psychological attributes determine whether or not you will be able to continue your weight loss program. Thus, you should keep a close eye on your behavior. That said, self-monitoring is what you need at the moment. Here are some tips that might help you.
- Keep your self-esteem high. Find a way that motivates you and keeps you going. It could be a strong desire to wear your favorite outfit or a smile on your sweetheart’s face.
- Keep a positive image of how you look in front of the mirror.
- Visualize how not losing the weight could worsen your health and appearance.
- Maintain a high level of self-control to not binge on unhealthy foods.
- Stay focused on your goal and remember why you started the journey.
- Avoid feeling disheartened by minor setbacks. Failures make you stronger if you are determined to achieve your target.
We would love to hear from you. Have you been successful at losing weight with PCOS? Please share what you have tried and what has worked for you in the comment box.
- Brennan, L., et al. “Lifestyle and Behavioral Management of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.” Journal of Women’s Health 2017 Aug;26(8):836-848.
- Moran, Lisa J., et al. “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Weight Management” Women’s Health. 2010;6(2):271-283.