How to manage PCOS without restricting

Did you know you don’t need to lose weight to manage your PCOS?

You don’t even have to diet or restrict food.

We know this probably goes against everything you’ve been told about PCOS.

In this blog, we outline all you need to know about PCOS, and how to manage it without restriction.

Let’s start with what exactly PCOS is…

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine condition that affects around 1 in 5 people with ovaries.

PCOS is a syndrome, which means that there isn’t a specific set of symptoms that everyone has. Rather there are various symptoms that people with PCOS, may or may not, experience.

Symptoms of PCOS

  • Darker hair, thick coarse hair, hair growth on chin, neck, face and other areas (hirsutism)
  • Irregular or lack of periods, irregular or lack of ovulation
  • Difficulty getting pregnant or reduced fertility
  • Oily or acne prone skin
  • Alopecia (hair loss or thinning of the hair)
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety

If you are reading this and feel like you share some of the above symptoms, it may be worth consulting your GP.

Diagnosis

To find out whether you would have PCOS the standard procedure is the Rotterdam criteria, where two of the following three criteria:

  • Have an ultrasound to see whether there are any cysts on the ovaries
  • Track periods or use blood tests to see whether you are regularly ovulating and have a regular menstrual cycle
  • Look for signs of excess testosterone

Signs of excess testosterone can be from physical signs (facial hair, hair loss or thinning and acne) or blood tests

Unfortunately for many, they don’t even have the opportunity to have a diagnosis.

Many GPs prescribe weight loss and expect the symptoms to go, or only see PCOS as a real problem if someone is struggling to get pregnant.

If you have PCOS and want more non-diet information, we recommend The PCOS Collective.

Why weight loss won’t solve your PCOS

Most are bombarded with recommendations for weight loss.

The basis of this is that there’s a bias towards people in larger bodies being diagnosed with PCOS. And unmanaged PCOS can result in long-term conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Which is believed to affect people in larger bodies most (based on unbiased science: not true).

This is particularly challenging for someone in a larger body because it can feel like health professionals are blaming them for their condition.

It’s the sad reality for many, as unfortunately weight loss is considered the first line of treatment for PCOS. This is despite the knowledge that weight loss is often harder for people with PCOS, rates of disordered eating is higher in those with PCOS, and weight loss often isn’t sustained long-term.

Reasons weight loss is harder for people with PCOS

  • People with PCOS often experience insulin resistance. This causes increased levels of insulin in the body. As increased insulin is linked with increased hunger and weight gain- it makes it harder to lose weight.
  • PCOS more than likely involves a hormone imbalance and this has been known to implicate hunger hormones.
  • People with PCOS often have elevated levels of cortisol, and this is associated with high levels of stress. As stress is linked with weight gain this can make weight loss harder for people with PCOS.
  • People with PCOS have higher rates of eating disorders. Research suggests this is predominately binge eating disorder. However, clinical experience suggests it’s all types of eating disorders (including restriction and purging).

How to manage PCOS without disordered eating

We have touched on why weight loss isn’t the answer – but what is?

These suggestions that will follow will most likely go against what your GP is telling you, but your management is led by you, not your GP.

So ask yourself how do you want to manage your PCOS?

You can implement these strategies, in addition to other strategies. Such as medication or other things your GP suggests.

1. Manage your stress

This might sound easier said than done. But there are some things you can make part of your routine that will make you better equipped to handle stress.

Including:

  • Getting enough sleep is essential for you to better manage stress. Try to have 8 hours of restful sleep minimum.
  • Another way to achieve better sleep is to limit the intake of caffeinated drinks after midday. This might sound too early to you but caffeine can stay in our system for up to 12 hours, so it’s worth limiting if we want to achieve better sleep.
  • Practicing mindfulness isn’t for everyone but it can be a great tool to manage stress. There are plenty of apps out there that can help you with this. It doesn’t need to be a class.
  • Taking up journaling can also be a good way to work through what has happened through your day. Writing your thoughts and feelings down might be a great way of getting them out there.

2. Build a better relationship with food

This is again easier said than done and to work out what your relationship is like it’s worth answering a few questions first if you find any of these questions that describe you and you want help with your relationship with food, contact us.

It is worth working on your relationship before any nutritional recommendations are followed, otherwise, you might find it all overwhelming.

  • Do you currently eat enough and regularly? It might be hard to know this so a better way to think about it would be asking yourself do you feel that you have satisfied your hunger when you go to bed? If not then it’s likely you haven’t eaten enough during the day. Aim for three meals a day with snacks in between (2-3) and if this sounds difficult for you, it might be worth consulting a professional to work on your relationship with food with you.
  • Do you honour your hunger? To put this more simply do you eat when you are hungry or do you try and suppress these hunger signals. If it’s the latter you should focus on trying to eat when you are hungry.
  • Do you often eat for emotional reasons? Emotional eating is commonly reported with PCOS, but this isn’t something to fear. Emotional eating is perfectly fine, but it doesn’t always solve the problem we were emotionally eating for. Adding other activities into our self-care toolkit means that we don’t only rely on food to comfort us. This could be as simple as reading a book or talking to a friend.

3. Nutrition for PCOS

There is vast amount of nutrition-related strategies into managing PCOS.

Some of the most important ones are:

  • Carbohydrate intake

Carbs are often demonised, but in reality you need them as part of a healthy diet.

Starchy carbs like potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, and grains contain energy, fibre, essential vitamins, and minerals.

You need them for PCOS management. We know online low-carb is popular, but studies show that low carb is not the way to manage PCOS.

  • Fats

You may know there are different types of fats, but what you might not know is there are two fats that are especially important in people with PCOS.

These are monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats.

Sources of MUFA fats come from seeds, nuts, and avocado.

Sources of PUFA fats are oily fish, flaxseed, and chia seeds.

  • Don’t cut out food groups

It often gets thrown around that people with PCOS should cut out gluten, dairy, sugar and probably any other thing that makes life enjoyable.

Good news for you. We are here to tell you that this isn’t necessary. Because the only reason that this was ever suggested is the association between these foods and weight gain.

4. Exercise for PCOS

Movement is great for the mind and body, but this doesn’t have to be a HITT workout. Just something you enjoy.

This could be walking, swimming, running, dancing, or playing sport.

How do I get help for PCOS if I have disordered eating?

If you do have PCOS and struggle with your relationship to food, we can help you.

We hope this blog has given you some strategies to start managing your PCOS. Without having to diet or restrict.

Managing your PCOS is even more difficult if you have disordered eating.

The key is healing your relationship with food. Learn about how we can support you with nutrition therapy here.

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