Author: Amanda Cofer, MPH
With many medical conditions come specific and special diets that a doctor or licensed clinician (a registered dietitian perhaps) might prescribe or strongly recommend following. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is one such condition that might require more specific healthy habits. Women who face PCOS can be up against daily struggles when it comes to managing blood sugar and insulin levels, losing weight, and managing hormone levels. It goes without saying that it’s a doozy. Let’s look more into what a PCOS diet may consist of!
What is PCOS?
Before jumping into the diet plan itself, let’s talk a little bit about what PCOS is. This condition impacts 1 in 10 of childbearing ages (generally between the ages of 15 and 44). PCOS leads to ailments such as hormone imbalances (increased androgens or male hormones), insulin irregularity, frequent ovarian cysts, and irregular menstrual cycles. Women with PCOS might have a hard time with their metabolism as well and, as a result, have many more areas of their health be affected. These metabolic struggles might increase body weight and then make it more difficult to lose. Those with PCOS looking to lose weight should coordinate with their doctor to find what might be best for them as well as consider what type of diet might benefit their overall condition.
Signs and symptoms of PCOS might include thinning hair, hair growth on the face and body, changes in mood, increased acne, pelvic pain, irregular menstruation, fatigue, and weight gain. If you notice any of these symptoms consult with your healthcare provider to rule out PCOS or begin treating the condition.
The PCOS Diet
Since the metabolism is highly affected in PCOS diet and exercise are important components to managing it. While it isn’t possible to have complete and total control of our hormones and bodies all the time, these two factors can make a noticeable difference. The metabolic struggles are a result of too much insulin in the bloodstream which can have similar impacts compared to Type II diabetes. The amount of glucose in the blood increase and, wah-lah, we have one of the perfect storms for difficulty with weight control. Learning more about the types of foods that influence blood sugar levels, for the better and the worst, is a critical component to a PCOS diet.
You don’t necessarily need to go out and buy special products to help you eat this way or learn these skills, but will need to practice building healthy habits. Most foods fit into a PCOS diet so it will be about finding the combination that works for you, since we all have somewhat different body chemistry when it comes to a condition such as this. So, what types of foods might you want to look for if you have been diagnosed with PCOS?
First, you’ll want to seek out fiber rich carbohydrates to keep insulin and blood sugar regulated. Carbs sometimes get a bad rep but we need them. They are our body’s main source of fuel. That being said though, we do want to make sure we are fueling with high quality carbs (premium gas, if you will) most of the time. For those with PCOS it might mean working more closely with a Registered Dietitian to learn about the glycemic index, a measurement used to indicate how food raises blood sugar levels. Foods with a low glycemic index, generally raise blood minimally or at a much lower rate than those that would be higher on the scale. Foods to look for here would be whole and hearty grains (rices, breads, oats), berries, beans or lentils, and most green veggies.
Second, inflammation can be tough to manage when dealing with PCOS as well. Looking for foods that help control inflammation will be important when considering your PCOS diet plan. Inflammation can be caused by increased insulin levels and weight gain and result in ailments such as joint pain, more insulin troubles, and vascular issues. Look for foods that are high in antioxidants such as blueberries, strawberries, and kale. You know, superfoods! Foods with unsaturated fats can also help reduce inflammation so nuts (walnuts in particular), olive oil, and salmon could be helpful to incorporate.
Lastly, balance. Some of the above might feel like general healthy habits but when talking about PCOS, they take on a different meaning and a different balance. With all the fad diets out there, with high protein this, and low carb that, those with PCOS need to find a balance that works for them to help them lose weight and maintain it. Having too much of one and not enough of the other could do more harm than good. This balance also applies to foods to avoid. It’s not necessarily realistic or sustainable to say that those with PCOS need to completely cut sugar out of their diet, and afterall us Noomers are all about sustainability. However, moderation is key so learning how to manage sugar or processed white carbs is important for those with this condition. This might sound like a “don’t” that most “diets” have but when you’re working through PCOS these changes might need to become lifestyle changes.
The Bottom Line: The PCOS Diet Plan
While this isn’t a specific plan, it is a specific diet, and not the fad kind. Hearing that you have a condition like PCOS that requires you to change habits that have been engrained for years can be daunting. Working with your healthcare provider, a dietitian, and Noom can make something that might feel impossible at first become possible. PCOS impacts multiple body systems and with healthy habits, women affected can fight back.