I was only diagnosed with PCOS two years ago…my own fault. I probably would have discovered this years ago if I hadn’t been dreading gynae-offices like I did. I knew something was wrong and although it was a relief to know what it was, I wasn’t particularly ecstatic – I was thinking ‘Really, what more God?’
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age. Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods or excess male hormone (androgen) levels. In my case, my period would come for 2 weeks and disappear for 2 years or come for 4 days and disappear for 6 months. I have never had a regular period since my teens. The ovaries may develop numerous small collections of fluid (follicles) and fail to regularly release eggs.
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. Early diagnosis and treatment along with weight loss may reduce the risk of long-term complications such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Some of the symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular menstrual cycle. Women with PCOS may miss periods or have fewer periods (fewer than eight in a year). Or, their periods may come every 21 days or more often. Some women with PCOS stop having menstrual periods.
- Too much hair on the face, chin, or parts of the body where men usually have hair. This is called “hirsutism.” Hirsutism affects up to 70% of women with PCOS.
- Acne on the face, chest, and upper back
- Thinning hair or hair loss on the scalp; male-pattern baldness
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Darkening of skin, particularly along neck creases, in the groin, and underneath breasts
- Skin tags which are small excess flaps of skin in the armpits or neck area
PCOS really sucks
Depression and anxiety are common symptoms of PCOS. About 29% of women with PCOS have depression compared to around 7% of women in the general population and even more women with PCOS will have anxiety – 57% compared to 18% of women in the general population.
Coping with hirsutism, severe acne, weight changes and fertility problems may affect your body image, self-esteem, sexuality and femininity. This may add to depression and anxiety levels. Problems with fertility can have an impact on your mood, particularly if fertility has been a concern for a long time. Obviously, this affected my relationship but luckily, I have been blessed with a very patient (not always understanding-understandably so) man.
I wanted my daughter to grow up with siblings but could never carry full-term. My daughter is turning 14 in a few weeks so the ‘when is the next one coming?’-question has officially expired-thank God, because I really got tired of always smiling every-time people asked me why I’m not having another baby like they’re on sale on Takealot.com…I can’t and I am done-my daughter brings me enough joy…and have you seen the prices of Pampers and school-fees? I am okay with how my life turned out now although it did take a while.
Complications of PCOS can include:
- Gestational diabetes or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
- Miscarriage or premature birth
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis — a severe liver inflammation caused by fat accumulation in the liver
- Metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels that significantly increase your risk of cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes
- Sleep apnea
- Depression, anxiety and eating disorders
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Cancer of the uterine lining (endometrial cancer)
Obesity is associated with PCOS and can worsen complications of the disorder.
What to do now?
Well, this is what I did…
Eat more protein- Incorporate lean protein into every meal you eat. I am talking about lean beef, chicken, turkey, Greek yoghurt, tofu and tempeh if you’re vegan.
Protein is important because it builds lean muscle mass, increases feelings of satiety, and helps to keep your blood sugar stable.
When trying to lose weight, one is tempted to cut out carbs, but this will be a mistake. You’ll lose weight for a while, but the results rarely last. Low energy levels, increased cravings for sweets and out of balance hormones often lead to sugar binges and rebound weight gain.
What you should say bye-bye to are refined food products like commercially made bread, pasta, sweets, chips, and cereals.
So, what should you eat instead?
Minimally processed carbohydrate-dense foods. They are more nourishing, keep you feeling full and cause a gentle rise in blood sugar.
Here is a list of the best carbs for a nutritious PCOS Diet:
- Sweet Potatoes (Yasss!)
- Root Veggies
- Whole oats
- Black bean, Chickpea or Lentil Pasta
- Brown Rice
Note: green veggies are very low in carbs so you can include them in your meal along with any other healthy carb.
And don’t forget your healthy fats
Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to lower testosterone in women with PCOS. High testosterone levels are the root cause of pesky symptoms like acne and hirsutism, a diet higher in Omega 3 fats could help you normalize your hormone.
Here are some examples of healthy fat sources for a PCOS diet:
- Avocados and Avocado oil
- Nuts and nut butter
- Coconut oil
- Fatty fish like salmon and sardines
- Olive oil
- Fish oil supplements (especially if you do not eat seafood)
Avocado, coconut oil, and ghee are the best choices for cooking at high heat. Olive is best suited for lower temperature cooking or used as a dressing.
All of this is great for alleviating PCOS symptoms and but if you want to lose weight you will have to learn to control your portions. No matter how healthy the food, consuming more food than you need will cause you to gain fat. This is probably one of the reasons why I could never lose weight successfully, because most diets will focus on healthy eating but not quite how much is really enough for your body-so you may find yourself overeating on healthy foods…yep-it’s a thing.
So, here’s how you’re going to master this portion-control thing:
Start by portioning out your meals so that you have lean protein, healthy carbohydrates, and healthy fats in the appropriate amount for your size.
My favourite way to measure out portions is to use your hand as a measuring device:
- Your palm determines your protein portions.
- Your fist determines your veggie portions.
- Your cupped hand determines your carb portions.
- Your thumb determines your fat portions.
So for each meal you put on your plate, there should be:
- 1 palm of lean protein
- 1 fist of vegetables
- 1 entire thumb of fat dense foods
- 1 cupped hand of healthy carb dense foods
Note: if you are trying to lose weight, limit your carbs to no more than 3-4 servings each day.
Another thing…CHILLAX! Stress will only make PCOS worse!
Stress is sometimes considered to be an invisible factor in the severity of these PCOS symptoms, but the symptoms of stress are actually quite clear as well as extensive.
Signs of stress include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Muscle tension and aches
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Overeating or under eating
- Loss of enthusiasm
- Mood changes
- Irritability and depression
- Weight gain (especially around the belly)
- Ovarian cysts
- Muscle tension or pain
- Decrease in sex drive
- Stomach problems
- Excessive drug or alcohol use
- Withdrawal from daily life
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
Obviously, these are serious issues that need to be addressed and when piled on top of the already disruptive symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome any woman can feel overwhelmed.
Some Stress Management therapies I love are
· Music Therapy
· Dance Therapy
· NLP relaxation techniques
· Watch funny movies and sitcoms
· Go for massages
Medications can be used to treat PCOS and address underlying influences such as Insulin Resistance. Naturally, Metformin was prescribed to me, but I never took them (naughty me-for not being able to swallow big tablets) and although I am not a fan of unnatural medication, I am taking oral contraceptives to regulate menstruation and help balance my hormones.
What I have learned about PCOS is that it is a condition, IT IS NOT ME. We tend to get lost in these labels and start using it as excuses.
Once I stopped focusing on my PCOS and started focusing on getting stronger, my attitude did a 180. I went from feeling defeated to feeling empowered, plus I started looking better and had more energy.
People tell me all the time that they cannot lose weight because they have been diagnosed with Insulin Resistance. In the back of my head the same thoughts were lingering when I embarked on my weight-loss journey, but this is where my faith kicked in. I had no idea what to expect, whether I was going to lose 5 kilos or not. I literally took it one day at a time…ate what was on my meal plan, prayed and showed up for classes every day…and it didn’t even take that long to realise that I was on to something.
Have a little faith.