Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a medical condition that affects a woman’s hormone levels and ovulation schedule, which can cause infertility and is usually diagnosed by the appearance of multiple cysts on the ovaries. Aside from the pain of bursts cysts and other PCOS symptoms including hirsutism (excessive hair growth), acne and insulin resistance which can result in type 2 diabetes, one of the physically visible symptoms is obesity and weight gain which is often the cause of eating disorders and mental health issues for many women with PCOS.
Unfortunately, reversing the weight gain is not easy. Our inability to drop weight as fast as we gain it means we have to work that little bit harder to see any real results. For PCOS sufferers, not just any diet will do! Losing weight fast could mean you need to eliminate even more food categories from your diet than your peers, keeping to a much stricter food and exercise regime.
The rapid weight gain for PCOS sufferers stems from higher than normal insulin levels. When your insulin levels get too high, your body begins to produce more androgens, which can result in higher than normal testosterone levels creating hormonal imbalances. Insulin is released by cells in your pancreas, which help the body to metabolise carbohydrates, proteins and fats through the absorption of glucose from the blood, which eventually is absorbed by the liver, fat and skeletal cells. In simpler terms, insulin helps your body to convert sugar into energy.
Luckily, there are ways to fast track your weight loss through lifestyle changes like a healthy diet and exercise, as long as you pick the right type of diet and eliminate food that doesn’t agree with your body (like gluten). According to author of best-selling diet book ‘The Fast 800’ Dr Michael Mosley, in order to keep our insulin levels down, we should be aiming to eliminate refined sugar and refined carbohydrates.
“Cutting out sugar and refined carbohydrates is the first and most important step back to health. Instead of white rice and bread, eat whole, unprocessed grains like whole oats, buckwheat, barley, brown rice and quinoa, and only in moderate quantities,” Dr Mosley said.
What is the best diet for PCOS?
Every woman is different, but if we were to narrow down a promising diet to promote healthy weight loss for women with PCOS, Dr Mosely has his own recommendations!
“Most of us have spent a lifetime relying on sugar and processed carbs to supply comfort and reward, and to enjoy with friends. These are basic psychological needs, and unless they are met in a different way, the decision to cut out sugar will last only until the next moment of stress.
“For this reason, it is essential to learn to enjoy a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet. This means a diet that features plenty of healthy fats as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, and good levels of protein,” he said.
Just some examples of the food you should be aiming to incorporate include:
- Poultry: chicken, turkey or duck.
- Vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, carrots, cauliflower and more.
- Seafood: Salmon, tuna, crab, mussels and more.
- Dairy: Cheese & yoghurt.
- Healthy fats: Extra virgin olive oil & avocados.
- Fruit: Apples, bananas, strawberries and more.
- Anti-inflammatory foods: Tomatoes, kale & spices (turmeric)
Dr Mosely also recommends cutting down on snacking, consuming an adequate amount of omega-3 rich foods and exercising on a regular basis.
“When you find yourself opting for a healthier lunch after a workout, you are feeling the insulin-sensitising effects of physical activity. Muscles that work harder than usual take up more glucose than usual, and in so doing, activate their insulin receptors without the stimulus of extra insulin. This helps to restore insulin sensitivity, putting you back on the path to health,” he said.
“A combination of cardio and resistance sessions will remodel your appetite from the first workout onwards. Incidental exercise, too, is important: climbing the stairs rather than taking the lift; walking rather than taking the car; taking five-minute breaks from sitting at your desk each hour.”
What foods make PCOS worse?
While there is a long list of food we can eat to promote healthy weight loss for PCOS, there are also plenty of foods we should make an effort to stay away from! Just some of the foods we should exclude or consume in small amounts include…
- Sugar: Mediterranean diets are low-sugar diets, so try to stay away from sugary drinks & snacks! That means no more chai, ice cream and soda!
- Low fat items: Just because it’s low fat doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you! Often then items are pumped full of sugar to mask the blandness.
- Sweet fruit: We trick ourselves into thinking fruit is good for you but unfortunately, this doesn’t include ALL fruit. Go to town on berries and apples but try to stay away from sugary fruit like mangos, bananas & melons.
- Avoid starchy food: This means white bread, potatoes (sorry), rice and pastas. Instead if white rice, switch to brown but be careful of sugar filled wholemeal substitutes.
- Quit your snacking habit: Nuts can be good but are also packed full of fats! Try to eliminate snacking and instead eat filling main meals for brekkie, lunch & dinner.
It’s not always easy to cook to a diet, but there are meal providers who include food prepared similar to that of a Mediterranean style dish, that promotes weight loss for PCOS sufferers.
Macros is a great meal provider with plenty of delicious, macro-controlled meals, lending themselves to the simplicity of the Mediterranean style diet, including healthy proteins, fibres and fats.
Then there’s Soulara! The fully plant-based menu provides all of the nutrients you need to fulfil the needs of a Mediterranean diet, replacing your meat-based proteins with plant-based proteins and using fibre rich ingredients such as lentils and chickpeas.
My Muscle Chef also has a great variety of healthy options to choose from, which directly caters to people undertaking a keto diet. The keto diet follows similar guidelines to that of a Mediterranean diet, however, the food choices are slightly more restricted!
For more healthy, PCOS friendly options, follow the link through to our list of meal providers!