While weight loss with PCOS can be difficult, it's not impossible! You just need to know how to outsmart your hormones!
I think it's safe to say that most women struggle with weight loss and have tried a number of diets and detoxes that just don't work. For women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), weight loss is that much harder because of the insulin resistance that accompanies this hormonal disorder. Not to mince words, but PCOS really sucks!
My PCOS weight gain began in my early twenties (about 40 pounds of weight gain, to be exact). I didn’t fully understand why I gained all that weight until I was diagnosed with PCOS at the age of 23.
Although I researched this endocrine disorder to death, I struggled with weight loss for the next 8 years until finding a dietitian that put me on the right path (you can read how she helped me lose 23 pounds here). I also managed to get pregnant naturally by losing weight, which allowed me to have regular periods again.
While weight loss with PCOS can be difficult, it’s not impossible! You just need to know how to outsmart your hormones!
1. Calories In < Calories Out + Balanced Blood Sugar
To lose weight, everybody must follow the simple rule: the calories you consume must be less than the calories you burn. For women with PCOS, we also have to remember that we suffer from a weight loss blocker, insulin resistance, which refers to:
…cells in the body that are resistant to the effect of normal insulin levels and become less effective at reducing blood sugar levels. More insulin is then produced to keep the blood sugar normal. High insulin levels are also thought to increase the storage of fat and prohibits fat loss. As body weight increases, insulin resistance can become worse and could lead to Type 2 Diabetes.
What’s my point? If you have PCOS, it’s not enough to keep your calories eaten below calories burned. We also have to maintain a relatively stable blood sugar level to avoid the weight gain, (or lack of fat burning) associated with insulin resistance and higher insulin levels.
How do we do this? Avoid refined carbohydrates as much as possible, (e.g. cookies, donuts, white breads/rice, sugary drinks/snacks). Focus on complex carbs and whole wheat options. Complex carbs will still affect your blood sugar levels, but your insulin release is much slower after eating complex carbs than it would be with refined carbs. Don’t decide to be a hero and cut out carbs all together, it’s not sustainable! You need carbs, just not the crappy, sugary ones.
My dietitian also advised me to limit my daily intake of starchy carbs (e.g. pasta, rice, potatoes, bread) to only 3 servings a day (1 serving carb = half a cup). This reduction in sugars made a HUGE difference in my weight loss and also helped me burn the persistent fat stores in my lower belly by keeping my blood sugar and insulin levels more stable.
2. Exercise Regularly
Ok – no one wants to see this tip, but regular exercise is important for everyone. It’s especially important to PCOS sufferers. Aim for a minimum of 20 minutes of exercise a day, which can be as simple as a brisk walk to get your heart pumping.
Not only does daily exercise burn more calories, but it also improves insulin sensitivity (e.g. the body’s ability to metabolize sugar) which is key to maintaining stable blood sugar levels.
3. Strength Training = Improved Insulin Sensitivity
I’ve posted about the benefits of strength training on weight loss, metabolism and overall health here. Strength training (e.g. regularly lifting heavy weights to build muscle) is especially important to PCOS sufferers because, again, it is found to increase insulin sensitivity.
Women with PCOS have a muscle-building advantage over other women, because the increased testosterone levels associated with PCOS also mean that we can build more muscle faster (finally, a PCOS bonus!). More muscle mass also means more calorie burning potential. Order your dumbbells now ladies!
4. Protein Is Your New Best Friend
PCOS sufferers can benefit from a high protein diet because proteins help manage cravings and keep you fuller, longer. This doesn’t mean that you only eat protein, but that a high percentage of your daily intake is protein-based (think 30-40%). High protein foods include meat/poultry/fish, eggs and greek yogurt, to name a few. For a detailed listing of high protein foods, click here.
5. Eat A High-Fibre Diet
Fibre is super important for any successful diet because it helps to keep you full, reduces blood sugar levels and also keeps your bowel movements regular. Fruits, vegetables and legumes are good sources of healthy fibre. For a detailed listing of high fibre foods and recommended fibre intake, click here.
6. Keep Stress In Check
This one is tricky, because stress isn’t something that can always be easily controlled. Studies have found that women with PCOS release higher amounts of the stress hormone cortisol than non-PCOS women. Higher cortisol levels make the insulin resistance of PCOS worse and can wreak havoc on sex and thyroid hormones. High cortisol levels also trigger fat storage.
To keep stress in check, keep your blood sugar levels stable, try to get plenty of rest (easier said than done, I know) and focus on stress-releasing activities, whatever those may be for you.
Good Luck Ladies!