Healthy Living with PCOS: 5 Lifestyle Strategies
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder affecting approximately 7 million women and teenage girls in the United States. Chances are, you or someone you know is dealing with PCOS.
Symptoms vary from woman to woman, making a PCOS diagnosis difficult. Less than 50% of all women with PCOS are correctly diagnosed. According to a recent study, it can take more than two years to receive a diagnosis of PCOS.
Many, but not all, women with PCOS experience weight gain or have a hard time losing weight. Other women may experience facial hair growth, acne, and a lack of menstrual cycles due to elevated testosterone levels. Insulin resistance is another common side effect that many women with PCOS experience. Insulin is a hormone that allows our cells to use glucose (sugar) to produce energy. When insulin resistance occurs, cells lose their ability to respond normally to insulin. As a result, more and more insulin is produced.
If you are a woman dealing with PCOS, the good news is that there is hope. While there is no cure for PCOS, making a few lifestyle changes can help you manage your symptoms and help support your health long-term.
In this article, we will share five lifestyle strategies for dealing with PCOS. As always, please check with your healthcare provider before making any changes.
Lifestyle Tip 1: Stop believing in crazy PCOS diets.
The internet, and probably your well-meaning family and friends, are an endless resource of nutrition information that promises a fast, easy, and effortless way to be the best you can be. In reality, any recommendation that appears to be fast, easy, and effortless is usually anything but.
Choose to make long-term, sustainable lifestyle changes rather than trying a short-term PCOS diet that promises weight loss. We have all heard the stories of a woman who attained her weight loss goals in a few weeks, only to end up regaining all the weight back after she stopped following the diet.
Don’t let that be you.
Research has shown that making a few lifestyle changes is more successful for maintaining weight loss than following a short-term fad diet. An eating pattern for life should be the one that is realistic for you and sustainable for the long-term, not a quick fix.
Yes, making changes to your lifestyle can be hard at first, but it is well worth the effort. Enjoy a wide variety of whole foods in moderation. Eat fewer highly processed foods (you know the ones with a list of ingredients you cannot pronounce). And most importantly, be kind to yourself. Changing your lifestyle can be challenging, but it is not impossible.
Lifestyle Tip 2: Choose low-glycemic index foods.
Hey, wait, didn’t we just say no crazy PCOS diets? The glycemic index (GI) is not a PCOS diet. It is a system of measuring how much a carbohydrate-containing food increases your blood sugar and insulin levels. This measurement can be critical to those women with PCOS who experience insulin resistance.
The glycemic index system ranks foods on a scale from 1–100. Foods with a low glycemic index (less than 55) result in a slower rise in blood sugar levels. Eating low GI foods also results in less insulin secretion by your body.
Studies have shown improved insulin sensitivity and more regular menstrual cycles in women with PCOS who incorporate low glycemic index foods into their daily lifestyle.
Add a few low glycemic index foods such as beans, legumes, fresh fruits, 100% whole-grain breads, oatmeal, quinoa, and non-starchy vegetables into your daily meals. Replace some of those highly processed carbohydrates you may eat, such as cookies, white rice, and ready-prepared breakfast cereals, with low glycemic index foods. Low glycemic index foods are also good sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients – all of which will contribute to a healthier you.
Lifestyle Tip 3: If you have PCOS, stay active.
Being physically active every day is one of the most helpful things you can do to help manage your PCOS. Research has shown that exercise can help to reduce insulin resistance in women with PCOS. Check with your doctor first, but once you have the go-ahead, make a plan and get moving.
Include a combination of both cardiovascular and strength training exercises. There have been studies that suggest shorter, intense workouts may be best for managing PCOS than moderate exercise. However, any exercise is good exercise. If you are just starting to become active, aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. Moderate activities include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, and dancing.
Don’t forget to include some strength-training exercises at least 2–3 times a week. According to PCOS expert Fiona McCulloch, author of “8 Steps to Reverse Your PCOS,” any exercise is helpful, but more lean muscle may help improve insulin resistance. Examples of strength-training exercises include lifting weights, Pilates, and yoga.
The most important thing is to make sure you move every day. There are many different types of exercises you can do; you just need to find the activity that works best for you. Whether it is going for a walk, taking a Zumba class, or bouncing on a rebounder at home, do what you enjoy.
Lifestyle Tip 4: Add nutritional supplements for PCOS.
In addition to eating a healthy diet and moving, there is an abundant amount of research to suggest that specific nutrients may also be helpful for people with PCOS. But before you jump on board and start adding supplements to your diet, speak with your healthcare team to determine what would be best for you. Everyone is not the same. What works for a friend or cousin, or neighbor may not be the best choice for you.
Also, always buy supplements that have been independently tested and certified by a non-profit program such as NSF® International or USP®. These programs test supplements for content accuracy, purity, and freedom from contaminants.
An NSF or USP seal assures you that the product you have contains exactly what it says on the label. It also verifies that the product will break down in your body correctly. Certification assures that your product does not contain any contaminants or anything that should not be there and verifies that the product was manufactured following current Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) in a GMP-certified facility.
Remember, supplements are only one component of an overall healthy ongoing program of care. Always discuss what supplements you take with your healthcare provider.
Lifestyle Tip 5: Embrace support in living with PCOS.
Remember, you are not alone. At least 7 million women in the US live with PCOS.. There is a good chance that at least one person you know also has PCOS.
Do not be embarrassed about the symptoms you are experiencing. You are not “weird” or “abnormal.” You are encouraged to share your struggles, as there are many other women out there who feel the same way as you. These women would appreciate the support of another person that understands what they are going through.
Consider attending the annual PCOS Challenge Symposium. Not only will you be among hundreds of women with PCOS who understand what you are experiencing, but the symposium also offers many resources, all in one place, to help you manage your PCOS.
There are many different online websites providing various support and information ranging from podcasts by PCOS Diva, exercise guidance by The PCOS Personal Trainer, nutritional and supplement advice by PCOS Nutrition Center, and emotional support like PCOS Diet Support.
Yes, the reality is that dealing with PCOS can often be personal and embarrassing. But you are not alone. Be kind to yourself. Use this guide to help you make steps towards a healthier lifestyle today!
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