Nov 14, 2019

Treating PCOS With Lifestyle Modifications

A little over a year ago, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Before my diagnosis, I had never even heard of PCOS. When I first went to the doctor, I hadn’t had my menstrual cycle in over four months and I was experiencing stabbing pain in my lower right abdomen. I never would have imagined that I had an ovarian condition - in all honesty, I thought my appendix was rupturing or something of that nature.
After a variety of tests and days waiting on results, I was finally diagnosed. My hormone levels were all out of wack - I had more testosterone than I did progesterone. That was a major hit to my self-confidence, it felt like I wasn’t “good” at being a woman. To top it all off, I was told by the doctor that PCOS is a leading cause of infertility in women. What a punch in the gut that was.

Even though 1 in every 10 women have PCOS, it isn’t spoken about much. In addition, there is no cure. There are medications women can take to manage their symptoms, but many of these come with side effects that are managed with more and more prescriptions. Then, there’s the slew of health complications that come with PCOS, such as:
     Type II diabetes
     Cardiovascular disease
     Weight gain and obesity
     Endometrial cancer

The unfortunate symptoms of PCOS are known to greatly affect the self-esteem of women who suffer from it. Women with PCOS often have excessive facial and arm hair growth, difficulty losing weight, irregular menstrual cycles, and thinning hair on the head. I personally experienced each of these symptoms, and each severely affected my self-confidence.

I had spent years with these unexplained symptoms that destroyed my self-esteem. Now that I had a diagnosis, I wanted to stop playing the victim. Instead, I wanted to take control of my health for the first time in my life.
Lifestyle Changes

When women are diagnosed with PCOS, the most important thing they are told to do is to make some pretty dramatic lifestyle changes. Since hormone imbalances and sugar levels are major concerns in women with PCOS, the three things suggested for diet modifications are:
     Cut out dairy
     Limit sugar intake
     Limit carbs to whole-grains
Limiting sugar intake is the most obvious, and, in my opinion, the hardest one. After all, people who eat a surplus of sugar are more at risk for developing type II diabetes. In my experience, limiting sugar was a challenge. I eventually discovered that the right mix of berries with some sugar-free, almond milk whipped cream got the job done.

Eliminating dairy products seemed easy at first until I realized how much I really loved cheese. Switching milk with almond milk was easier than I thought, but I definitely missed cheese. I tried every brand of nut-cheese I could find, but none tasted anything similar to cheese. In the end, I settled with allowing myself one meal with cheese each week. To my surprise - that was completely manageable!

As for the rest of it, only eating whole grain bread was a welcome change. I found that I was less bloating and my energy was sustained even longer. I stopped having sugar crashes after my meals and the weight began to shed off. I never thought I would be happy with a diet consisting of solely lean protein and fresh produce - but after two weeks I had never felt better.

Once I had adjusted to my new eating habits, I started hitting the gym.

The first time I went to the gym, I was extremely insecure and fearful. I sat in the parking lot for a good 15 minutes before mustering up the confidence to go inside. When I finally went in and got started on the elliptical, I felt an overwhelming sense of achievement, like I was finally taking control of my health. I looked healthier, I felt more energetic, and I had more self-confidence.

Advocating for Better Health

Eager to boast about the lifestyle changes that were working for me, I would come to work with these delicious, healthy home-cooked meals. In the meantime, my coworkers were still ordering takeout and indulging in a late afternoon vending machine run. They were tired by the end of the day, and I was thriving. I work in a small office, so my coworkers and I are extremely close. They were all so supportive of this health journey I was on, that we decided to focus more on corporate wellness in our office.

As it turns out, all the claims about how important corporate wellness is really are true. We started taking short, frequent breaks to get some fresh air and walk around the block. We also started having healthy snacks delivered to the office. We gave up a sedentary office lifestyle for one that is better for all of us. As a result, everyone was happier and more productive.

In addition to incorporating better health into my work life, I wanted to do more. I had been part of a Facebook group for women with PCOS for a while, yet the posts were quite negative. I saw a lot of women struggling to lose weight, manage their symptoms, and be comfortable in their own skin.

I started sharing meal prep ideas and recipes with the group, and the feedback I obtained was phenomenal. These women were so grateful for my suggestions and made me feel as though I was doing something great to help others. I ended up making friends and finding immense support from these women who knew exactly what I had been going through.

Advice for Women with PCOS

I know first hand how hard it is to lose weight, ward off cravings, and do everything possible to improve your lifestyle - yet still feeling as though you are failing. I also know what it’s like to battle self-esteem and not feeling like a real woman. However, I also know how good to feels to get those small victories - you know, when the scale reads two pounds lighter than it did last week or when you find a new meal favorite that satisfies all of your cravings.

If there’s one thing that I have learned over the last year, it is that I can’t be too hard on myself - and you shouldn’t be either. If you fall off your clean eating, have someone hold you accountable as you get back to it. If you miss a week at the gym, don’t start weighing yourself obsessively - just grab a friend to go with you and get back to it. Most of all, no matter what happens, give yourself a little break. You’re just where you need to be.

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