What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder characterized by irregular menstrual cycles along with the development of small cysts in the ovaries. It a common disorder among women of reproductive age.
Before we delve into what can be done to maintain one’s weight if they are diagnosed with PCOS, it is important to understand how weight gain is related to PCOS.
Why does PCOS cause weight gain?
PCOS makes it difficult for the body to use the hormone insulin, which normally helps convert sugars and starches from foods into energy. This condition is called insulin resistance. This causes insulin and sugar (glucose) to build up in the bloodstream, therefore eventually turning into body fat as it is not getting utilized by the body.
But this certainly does not mean that a woman with PCOS cannot maintain her body weight. As a matter of fact, studies have proven that reducing the body weight may help in bringing the hormones back into balance. So the question that arises how to lose weight with PCOS? What is the right PCOS diet plan?
Let’s break this down and start off with what NOT to eat.
Foods to avoid for PCOS and weight loss
- Refined carbohydrates: Almost every dietician you consult will tell you to cut down on carbs, but why is this important?
Simply because carbs are harder to digest for the body in comparison to proteins and fats. Especially if one is diagnosed with PCOS, it is of value to understand that the hormone ‘insulin’ plays a big role in this process. Breaking down carbs is harder for your body than an average human. So trying and avoiding carbs is the first and most important step towards weight management
- Added sugars: There is plenty of foods that have natural sugars in them which are good, but added/ processed sugars is unnecessary for the body.
Added sugars raise blood sugar levels and increase your risk of insulin resistance, which is directly linked to obesity. Women with PCOS may process sugar differently than women without it. Research shows that women with PCOS experience inclined spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels after consuming the same amount of sugar as women without this condition. This includes avoiding foods like cookies, cakes, candies, sweets etc.
- Processed foods: This is a no brainer. Processed foods usually have added sugars, spiked levels of salt and other preservatives which are naturally not good for anybody, specifically women with PCOS.
Studies have shown that processed foods are not only unhealthy but also unsatisfying, which in return increases the portion of food eaten as opposed to if it was a fresh plate of food.
- Caffeine: This is probably one of the hardest foods to give up for most of us but it is true that caffeine actually has a huge effect on hormone levels.
Increased intake of caffeine leads to interference in ovulation and escalated production of stress hormones. If you want to include caffeine in your diet, avoid consumption in direct form and incorporate into your meals like breakfast. Try and limit yourself to one serving a day.
- Alcohol: Some forms of alcohol such as mixed drinks, sweet wine, or beer have the potential to raise insulin levels quickly resulting in a blood sugar crash.
Alcohol can also interfere with your liver’s ability to produce glucose leading to low blood sugar levels. Drinking too much alcohol can interrupt with your ability to make wise mind food choices. Alcohol can also increase your hunger level, leading to overeating. Alcohol also causes sleep disturbances. Chances are if you drink too much the night before, it can affect your sleep and leave you dazed the next day. This could affect your workout routine too. However, if you do enjoy social drinking limit yourself to a glass or two (Red wine is your best bet) and remember to have it along with food so as to reduce its effects.
That is all the things one should try and avoid. Seems like a lot right? Almost everything? Well no. Now we will move onto the foods that you should inculcate in your diet to help in weight loss if you have PCOS.
PCOS diet to lose weight
- Proteins: Any and every form of protein is your body’s best friend.
Include legumes, whole grains, lentils and nuts, and obviously don’t forget your veggies. Protein helps stabilize blood sugar and increases feelings of fullness after a meal. It may also aid weight loss by reducing cravings, helping you burn more calories, and managing hunger hormones.
- Healthy fats: Simple myth busting, “fats” do not actually make you fat. Although fats are big on calories, they expand the stomach volume, helping you to feel more full hence consuming lesser calories throughout the day.
Healthy fats include olive oil, coconut oil, nut butters, avocado etc. Healthy fats also tricks your body into using fats for energy, compensating for the lack of carbohydrates.
- Prebiotic foods: Prebiotic foods are high in special types of fiber that support digestive health. They promote the increase of friendly bacteria in the gut, help with various digestive problems and even boost your immune system.
Prebiotic foods have also been shown to improve metabolic health thereby helping in speeding up the weight loss process. Some prebiotic foods are Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onion, leek, shallots, spring onion, asparagus, beetroot, fennel bulb, green peas, snow peas, sweet corn, and savoy cabbage.
Superfoods: There are some foods which should be on the top of your grocery list if you have PCOS. These foods are:
- Cinnamon– Cinnamon is a well-known insulin sensitizer.
- Spearmint Tea– Spearmint tea is an almost-secret superfood in the PCOS world. Long-term use can reduce hirsutism, which always improves body image.
- Pumpkin seeds– Pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan and support serotonin production, which improves mental health. They’re also a fantastic vegan protein. One ounce contains approximately nine grams of protein.
- Sunflower seeds– Like pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds are another great vegan protein source, with six grams of protein per ounce.
- Dark chocolate: Yes! This is your best way to curb your sweet tooth cravings. Choose 60% dark, which is gentler on your stomach than the often-touted 70%+ and make sure it is free of soy lecithin, which may contribute to endocrine disruption.
Above all these dietary recommendations, it is of utmost importance to understand that just foods alone may not help in weight loss. One needs to practice regular exercising, meditation etc.
While women with PCOS lose less fat than those without this condition, the exercise regimen did result in loss of belly fat and improvements in insulin sensitivity. Exercising also reduces heart disease risks which usually come along with weight gain. Be sure to incorporate cardio and strength training into your routine, alternating days between walking, running, or kickboxing with lifting weights and doing bodyweight exercises. Aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes every day and remember to take walks throughout the day to get your blood flowing and your heart rate up.
Outside of diet, exercise, and medication, the best way to prevent weight gain with PCOS is to manage stress. By practicing some self-care, such as meditation and yoga, can help clear the mental roadblocks that are preventing you from losing weight and build willpower to overcome challenges. Reducing stress also puts you in better mind frame to make healthier decisions. Remember to keep your mental health in check and not get demotivated. Nothing is impossible and hence YOU CAN LOSE WEIGHT WITH PCOS. Just small lifestyle changes will take you further on your weight loss journey. Enjoy the ride along and look at it as a wise decision taken for your future self.
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