Just what is it about PCOS that makes weight loss seem virtually impossible? If you’re a woman suffering with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome you’ll know just how infuriating weight control is (or perhaps the lack of it). It is frustratingly easy to gain weight and equally frustrating to lose it. Such weight issues unfortunately come hand in hand with PCOS, along with skin and hair troubles, which are inevitably all factors that can make us feel ugly and insecure.
So what’s different in our bodies that makes ‘losing weight’ such an illusion …and, more importantly, how can we make it a reality?
#1. The Role of Insulin in PCOS
The most influential factor that makes this whole losing weight malarkey so impossible for women with PCOS is the defective role of Insulin.
Insulin is the all important hormone in our bodies that’s responsible for metabolizing glucose or dealing with sugar in our blood stream. It transports sugar to the muscles and if the body has more glucose than is needed then it is stored as fat should we need it later (1). Women with PCOS are proven to have some kind of dysfunction in the cells responsible for secreting insulin (our Beta cells). These cells are responsible for detecting sugar in the blood stream and seemingly overreact, producing more insulin than what’s needed. This means that more glucose is stored as -you guessed it- fat. Women with PCOS are also known to have insulin resistance, meaning that your body needs more insulin than normal to deal with sugar in your blood stream. High levels of insulin cause your body to store more fat and also causes your ovaries to make more testosterone, making the symptoms of PCOS worse.
#2. Appetite Control
Women with PCOS do not feel as full after meals as women who don’t have PCOS, research has proven. There are a number of hormones involved with hunger and appetite control including cholecystokinin, ghrelin, and leptin. (7). When such hormones are impaired it can lead to cravings of sugar, binge eating and ultimately obesity. This means that women with PCOS will continue to feel hungry, even if they have eaten all of the nutrients and calories they require.
#3. Sluggish Metabolism
Basal metabolic rate is the number of calories you need, daily, to function including keeping your organs working, digesting food, staying alive etc. Women without PCOS needed roughly 1800 calories per day whilst women with PCOS only needed around 1400 calories per day, and those with insulin resistance needed even less. What does this mean? That women with PCOS, women dealing with all these other issues and feeling constantly hungry, don’t need as many calories per day as the average women? Doesn’t seem very fair, does it?
So what can be done to help us control our weight better? Here’s how I do it:
- Eat smaller meals but more often. This helps in two ways; it encourages our metabolism to get a move on by eating more frequently, and it also helps us psychologically as we will subconsciously feel fuller as we have eaten more meals, albeit they will be smaller in size. This reduces the chances of snacking.
- Eat a low glycemic index diet. Some foods are converted to glucose at a slow and steady rate that encourages healthy insulin and blood sugar levels. These are called low glycemic index, or low GI, foods. Diets made up of low GI foods has been proven to improve weight loss in women with PCOS, probably because it improves insulin levels while lowering blood glucose. Such foods would be whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, all low GI, rather than processed foods and simple sugars.
- Choose resistant starches for carbs. Not all carbs, or even all starches, are created equal. The starch present in many plant foods such as beans, potatoes, and bananas is a type called resistant starch.Resistant starch has been found to lower insulin levels by up to 50% in overweight people, making it a valuable tool in the battle to lose weight while living with PCOS. Choose these foods over more processed starches when you are having carb cravings, as they will give you the energy boost of a starch while helping to fight insulin resistance.
- Give up soft drinks and other liquid calories. Soft drinks and other sweet drinks are cram packed with sugar, which can worsen insulin resistance. This makes it harder to lose weight over the long-term, so swap it for water instead. Yes this can get boring but there are lots of ways to make your water more enjoyable. Scroll to the bottom of this blog post to find out how: Drink More Water
- Excercise. Seems fairly obvious but it’s imperative.
And I don’t mean go for a run or go to the gym, I mean be active as much as you can. Low to moderate impact exercise is actually best for people who are just beginning a weight loss journey. Walking, taking the stairs, swimming, all help you get fit without over-exerting yourself. Mild exercise will lower insulin resistance if you participate in it everyday, even when it does not lead to weight loss. As you get in better shape, you can slowly add more time or switch to more strenuous activity.
Losing weight is important in managing our symptoms but boy it isn’t an easy road. It’s not through lack of trying and it’s not all in your head. I know personally that the struggle is real. But, it’s a struggle shared by thousands of women who also have PCOS. As long as you try your best to manage your symptoms the best you can, make some simple lifestyle changes as explained above (and there’s plenty more tips if you read more about it) then believe me, you will take control.