Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an imbalance of reproductive hormones that is common among women. In fact, it affects between 5% and 10% of women of reproductive age. The hormonal imbalance can cause all sorts of issues, including irregular periods, infertility, development of ovarian cysts, and issues associated with having excess androgen (like excess body hair and severe acne). Those are all difficult and frustrating issues, but perhaps the most frustrating for women with PCOS comes with the associated weight gain and difficulty losing weight.
There are medications that can help with this (talk to your doc about that), but the most effective way to achieve weight management for the PCOS population is through lifestyle and dietary changes. Here is a summary of the most effective changes for long-term weight loss success:
1. Focus on mindful eating
Mindless eating is often at the core of issues with food. And when PCOS impacts your eating, it is quite common for these types of issues to arise! When we eat mindlessly, we lose all connection with our food, and thus the enjoyment that comes with eating, nourishing our bodies, and satiating ourselves. This occurs when we are eating in the car, in front of the TV, while on our phones, or simply when we are in a hurry. We are so focused on other things that we forget to enjoy our food. And satiation- the feeling of being full and satisfied- is often lost. So we have more drive to eat, more cravings, and less satisfaction!
How To Do This:
Many people do this to track calories or macronutrients. But, for those with PCOS, this habit can be effective on a much simpler level. Because so much of our eating is “mindless,” we often don’t register it or simply forget as soon as we are done. By getting into the habit of tracking our food, we can keep ourselves more mindful and connected to what we are consuming. Try keeping a small notebook and pen with you and simply write down what you eat when you eat it. To simplify the process, just note the time of day, what you ate (no need for brands, ounces, etc.), and any other context that might be relevant (e.g., running out the door, bored watching TV, etc.).
*Make It Screen Free
Screens (TVs, laptops, phones, tablets) tend to go hand-in-hand with eating. For many of us, having a meal WITHOUT a screen in front of us can be quite unusual. This is a problem because screens create a distraction that sets us up for mindless eating. And, as we know, mindless eating disconnects us from our food. We just continue to eat without awareness of our body or our mind. By making mealtime “screen-free,” you provide yourself with an opportunity to see, taste, and appreciate your food. As a result, you will ultimately eat slower and reduce those pesky cravings that so commonly co-occur with PCOS!
*Drop the Fork
Here’s another tool you can add to your toolbox: put down your utensil between bites. This sounds simple, but it can actually be quite a challenge. Most of us start preparing our next forkful, the second a bite of food enters our mouth. And that next forkful is then poised and ready to go in front of us. This cues us to chew faster and swallow. Again, this causes us to eat to quickly and lose the enjoyment of our food. It makes us less focused on what we are currently eating and more focused on what we are going to be eating next. Try having a daily meal where you commit to putting your fork down after every bite. Don’t pick it back up until you’ve fully chewed and swallowed the bite.
2. LOW-ER CARB
Carbs tend to be villainized, especially in the PCOS world! But carbs can be a hugely beneficial part of your diet. They can provide you with a variety of valuable vitamins and nutrients, and they can help take care of your gut. But most importantly, they can help maintain blood sugar and reduce the drive to binge that is so common in most PCOS eating plans. BUT, this is only true if you are choosing the right carbs! 😉
How to Do This:
* Make It Complex
When we talk about the “right carbs,” we are talking about those complex ones- the ones that are in their original state and haven’t processed away all of their health value. These include things like beans, legumes, quinoa, brown rice, and sweet potatoes. These foods are wonderful for balancing PCOS blood sugar, and they help keep you fuller longer, thanks to their high fiber count. These are also foods that you actually have to take the time to cook. So, having these carbs in the house is a crave-friendly addition.
* Make veggies the star
Veggies are usually the most nutritious part of your meal, and they fall into that wonderful “good carb” category! They are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to keep you healthy and vibrant, and are also low calorie and filled with fiber. That means they fill you up while decreasing your overall calorie intake! So start thinking about meals based on veggies first and put them on center stage for a change! Zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash enchiladas, veggie stew, broccoli casserole- you get the idea!
3. Healthy hydration
PCOS is an endocrine disorder. As such, your risk for other metabolic conditions is higher than most. One of the easiest and most effective ways to lower this risk is with a healthy water intake! Drinking adequate amounts of water will not only keep all your systems running smoothly and effectively, but it will also help prevent bloating and aid with weight loss!
How to Do This:
Most of us can’t be distinguishing the initial feelings of thirst from hunger. As such, we often eat when a glass of water would have done the trick. Or we eat more at mealtimes due to thirst! Drinking water before meals can resolve both of these problems: it helps you avoid thirst, so you are not eating for hydration. And it can help you eat less at mealtimes. So make a plan to drink a big glass of water before sitting down to every meal.
* Alarm the water
Drinking water before every meal is a great start, but what about in between meals? This is when we are usually busy with life- work, kids, errands, cleaning, etc.- so drinking water is not even on your radar! As such, setting water alarms on your phone can be a great reminder. It allows for a quick break and some easy hydration throughout the day. Set the alarm in your phone for mid-morning and another for mid-afternoon. When the alarm goes off, commit to taking a 60-second break and chugging as much water as you can!
So, there are some tips and tricks to taking control of PCOS and its impact on your weight. Make a plan to start incorporating these strategies and see how you benefit!