Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) go through the figurative gynecological ringer.
They can sense a blood sugar spike (and the subsequent crash) from a mile away. They can read and analyze hormone panel results like a pro. They can recite the name of every ovulation predictor kit and pregnancy test on the market. Yet we’re often left at a loss as to what is really going on within our very confused bodies. It’s a lonely, sometimes hopeless spot to be in. But there is hope.
As a six-year PCOS veteran who has finally learned how to deal, I want to share with you what has worked for me. While every single situation varies, and no two PCOS women are alike, there are lessons we can take from each other that may open doors for us that we had given up on. Here are the five ways I tackled PCOS and got back to the business of living:
Dealing with PCOS requires so much of your body that you owe it to yourself to get at least seven hours of sleep. In fact, some of the best times in my life as a PCOS sufferer have been when I was able to pack in eight, even nine hours of sleep a night. While you certainly don’t want to sleep too much, you need to give your body the additional sleep it needs and deserves. If that means missing an episode of The Office, tough stuff. Your health is more important.
4. Supplements and Medications
If you have PCOS, then you probably know about Metformin (Glucophage), a diabetic drug that is often used to treat PCOS. Metformin works by lessening carb impact on blood sugar and keeping levels steady. Metformin has been shown to reduce the risk of miscarriage from 40 percent (for PCOS) down to around 8 percent (similar to non-PCOS risk).
Two companies, Women to Women (womentowomen.com) and Insulite Labs (insulitelabs.com) offer PCOS “systems” that can bring relief. I personally used Women to Women’s system. Within a month on their program, I had my first period in nearly three years, and have been getting more regular periods since. The word about these programs needs to get out! They may not be as cheap as a birth control prescription—but for me, it has been worth every penny to know that I am healthier.
Research has shown that fish oil is incredibly helpful in the treatment of insulin resistance. Barlean’s orange-flavored fish oil capsules (vitacost.com) are affordable and potent, and are full of EPA/DHA and Omega-3s. But fish oil is just one of hundreds, maybe thousands of additions to healthy diet and exercise that can help relieve a PCOS patient’s symptoms. From greens powders to enzyme therapies to protein boosters, the options are out there. Just get creative and inform yourself. Remember, knowledge is power.
Okay, so we all know that exercise is a necessary part of a healthy life whether you have PCOS or not, right? Right? But with so many trends and opinions to weigh, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. But here’s a secret: nobody’s “quick fix” is the be-all, end-all of workout plans.
You need to find what you like to do—because in all honesty, aren’t you going to be more likely to just do it if you’re enjoying it? If you love walking or running, invest in some good shoes (I suggest Asics—they’re magical), some moisture-wicking workout gear (Nike and Athleta make quality duds), and a good MP3 player (Sansa makes small, adaptable, and affordable models in chic colors). If you like weight lifting, get some gloves and some angry-girl music and hit the iron! From yoga to rugby, there’s an activity out there for any personality. The point is this: make it fun to work out—your fitness is your job and nobody can do it for you. Dealing with PCOS is about your health, and you can’t have health without fitness.
2. Rest, Eat, Repeat.
The common thinking goes along these lines: “If exercise and nutrition is good for managing PCOS, then exercising for two hours a day and eating 1,000 calories a day will be REALLY good!”
Sorry, but no. Put down the celery sticks and back away from the treadmill. You’re a woman! You need REAL food and REAL rest. Food is an integral part of fitness, and a bowl of iceberg lettuce won’t fuel your body, it will just force it into starvation mode. And muscles build themselves back up when you’re at rest. Ironically, some of the things we do to “stay in shape” actually put us further behind than when we started.
Most women will benefit greatly from a simple regimen of 3–4 half-hour cardio sessions and 2–3 full-body resistance training sessions per week. If you’re going to the Olympics next year, that’s different. But for the rest of us, there’s no point in killing ourselves in the gym—it’s counterproductive. Same goes for food. You need real food, not just a “protein water” and a side salad coated in nasty fat-free dressing. No, no, no. Here’s an ideal day in the diet of a PCOS woman:
- Breakfast: Two eggs, scrambled with 1/4 cup of lowfat cheese, one slice of toasted sprouted grain bread (gluten-free Ezekiel is fabulous), and one or two cups half-caffeinated coffee (try Truvia or Splenda in lieu of sugar)
- Snack: Half a pear, slathered with a tablespoon of natural almond butter
- Lunch: Five ounces grilled chicken or salmon on a bed of spinach, olive oil, and vinegar for dressing, and iced green or black tea
- Snack: Half a cup of low fat, natural cottage cheese topped with half a cup of blueberries and a sprinkle of cinnamon
- Dinner: Five ounces of grilled, lean protein (beef sirloin or pork might work), steamed asparagus (it’s easy—try the steamer bags that are popular right now) drizzled with olive oil, and half a baked sweet potato (try low fat greek yogurt with cinnamon as a topping—yum!)
- Dessert: Fresh berries with greek yogurt on top, or even a few squares of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate
By eating whole, nourishing foods, you will not only battle PCOS, but you’ll send your quality of life through the roof. Cravings will drop, weight may drop, and your symptoms will improve—sometimes dramatically. Balance is the name of the game.
And finally …
1. Diet Personalization
Eating for PCOS is tough. To cut carbs or not to cut carbs? Low or high calories? Low or high fat? Weight Watchers or The Zone Diet? Finding the answers to your questions is a job best left up to YOU.
For me, it was a long process and not a pleasant one. The weird things I learned about how my body processes foods, especially carbs? Apples make my blood sugar go nuts. Blueberries are great, but strawberries turn me into the Bloat Monster. Ezekiel sprouted grain breads, available in the freezer section at many national chains, are a God-send. Pasta and rice? Maybe in a perfect world I could process those items. But then again, in a perfect world, Dermot Mulroney would be my personal massage therapist. Obviously, that’s not the world I live in.
Is there any rhyme or reason to it? No—but if it works, it works, and it’s not a “one size fits all” thing. Diet personalization is something you and only you can figure out. Think of it as an experiment: keep portions very small, journal how foods make you feel, and keep searching until you find the cornerstone foods and products that will help you shape a healthy diet for a lifetime.
As with many trials in life, your gut will tell you what is right. In truth, health care is as much an art as it is a science—your doctor is a great primary resource, but it’s up to you to care for yourself full-time. And only YOU have the power of sensing those gut feelings. As the great Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string.”
PCOS is a battle between our base genetic programming and the modern, maximally processed world we live in. And it’s up to you to find your balance. Whatever the case, do something today to help ensure that your life as a PCOS patient will be better tomorrow.