Diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome? Don’t panic, there is a lot you can do today to get healthy!
I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome/Disease (PCOS/PCOD) in 2013. I am 5 feet tall and have been around 55 kgs for most of my life. But in January of 2013, I suddenly started to rapidly gain weight. My food patterns hadn’t changed, and even with regular exercise the weight gain wouldn’t stop.
And then I started to regularly skip my periods every other month. It was horrifying and scary as I didn’t know what was going on with my body. When I saw the scale at a whopping 67 kgs I finally bit the bullet and went for a check up with a gynaecologist. The diagnosis was PCOS.
PCOS, simply put, is a hormonal disorder leading to small cysts growing in a woman’s ovaries. It causes a host of problems such as excessive weight gain, amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea (absent or abnormal periods) mood swings, excessive facial hair, acne, hair fall etc. If left untreated, it can lead to infertility, diabetes even heart disease and depression.
Now, doctors have a standard response to PCOS. They tell you to lose weight and get you on a birth control pill or Metformin (Glycomet, Glucophage etc). They give you a pill and ship you off without much information. Apart from medical treatment I would suggest that you find yourself a good nutritionist to work with, instead of blindly popping a pill and not changing your diet and just hoping for the best.
Like many women with PCOS, the first challenge for me was to reduce weight. Because of the hormonal imbalances in the body, losing weight becomes the hardest challenge of PCOS. But losing weight or more precisely reducing fat content of the body is the most essential step to manage PCOS, especially reducing abdominal fat.
I took the doctor’s advice, continued with my regular exercise routine and went to a nutritionist. And so began my journey to manage this tricky disease.
It took me about two years of trial and error, hard work, sticking to workouts and revamping my diet completely to get the weight down and keep it off. Today I am at a healthy weight, the fat percentage of my body is normal, my menstrual cycle has normalized, other symptoms like hairfall, acne, mood swings reduced. I still have PCOS but my symptoms have become manageable. And the best part is I feel good.
PCOS also pushed me to go back to college to study food and nutrition and understand the relationship between our bodies and the food we eat.
Over time, I understood that all PCOS is doing is begging women to get in touch with their bodies. The goal is to listen to your body and get diagnosed early. Many women ignore major warnings for many years like sudden weight gain, adult acne, extreme mood swings, skipped or excruciating periods etc. They cover up the symptoms with loose clothing, go for laser hair reduction, take antidepressants, use make-up to cover the acne. Some women are too shy to visit a gynaecologist and only go when they are unable to conceive after marriage only to get diagnosed with PCOS.
So how do you manage your weight and remain healthy with PCOS? There are many things you can do today!
Take up one physical activity you enjoy and stick to it. Cardio in combination with weight training or yoga, pilates are good options. Also, be prepared mentally and know that fat loss is a very slow process with PCOS but it does happen. Work on losing abdominal fat. Take up yoga, pranayam, meditation to calm the mind and banish the mood swings.
Understand PCOS and terms like insulin resistance. Talk to your doctor. Educate yourself on the subject, read up on it. (Some book recommendations below)
Eat simple home food as much as possible. Eat medium to low glycemic index foods. Eat small meals throughout the day.
Foods to include – Complex carbohydrates and whole grains like jowar, nachni, bajra, oatmeal, brown rice etc, fruits like apples, pears, papaya, green leafy vegetables, try sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.
Foods to exclude – Sugars and refined, processed foods. Reduce or eliminate coffee, bread, pasta, Chinese food and noodles, rich desserts, limit alcohol. Yes ladies, some sacrifices will have to be made but the normal weight, regular periods, clear glowing skin, strong hair will make it be worth it!
Take sources omega-3 fatty acids – flax seeds, fish oil, walnuts etc.
Eat the best type of lean protein – egg, chicken, fish. Best meal combination is protein and complex carbohydrate. Example: Chicken roll, egg roll, paneer roll etc.
Increase water intake. Drink two liters of water per day. Infused water is all the rage these days. You can flavour your water with fresh citrus fruits, cucumber, mint etc.
Plan meals and take food with you. Ensure that you have snacks packed on a long trip with you so you have healthy choices wherever you go and don’t eat whatever is available because you are starving.
Acne is a common complaint for women with PCOS. According to a several studies, frequent dairy intake as well as a high glycemic load diet can contribute to acne. If you have acne and want to see if dairy is a factor, you may want to eliminate dairy entirely for 2 weeks and slowly reintroduce it in small amounts to see if it has any effect. But ensure that you get your calcium and vitamin D from other sources if you do cut back on dairy.
Yes, PCOS does feel like it is out to rob you of your femininity, with the infertility scare, clumps of hair falling out, acne, extreme mood swings, hair growing out of all parts of the body, irregular periods, weight gain – it can be a nightmare especially for a young college going girl. But it is also a great opportunity to get in touch with your body. Just be patient and give your body the time to heal. Focus on what you can work on today. Work with your doctor, local nutritionist and figure out a plan to manage your symptoms.
Today, I have made with peace with living with PCOS, and work with it instead of fighting it. It is a frustrating journey but the best gift it has given me is to slow down and listen to my body and not let life’s stresses take over so much that I lose connection with my own body.
The Insulin-Resistance Diet–Revised and Updated: How to Turn Off Your Body’s Fat-Making Machine Paperback – Import, 1 Jan 2008 by Cheryle R. Hart, Mary Kay Grossman
The PCOS Workbook: Your Guide to Complete Physical and Emotional Health by Angela Grassi
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