Losing weight can be very challenging for individuals with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) due to lots of factors, including hormonal imbalances (typically androgen levels and testosterone levels), insulin resistance, and inflammation. Remember that it isn't always possible to control these changes and it is completely natural, healthy, and normal to experience a weight change with polycystic ovarian syndrome. However, even a small weight loss of about 5% of overall bodyweight can improve insulin resistance, hormone imbalances, menstrual cycles, fertility, and overall quality of life.
People with PCOS often put lots of pressure on themselves to lose weight and we know this can be incredibly difficult to go through. If you're a Fertifa patient, our in-house clinical team can help answer any questions you have on PCOS and will be there for you every step of the way 💜
A balanced and nutritious diet
Focus on consuming a well-balanced and healthy diet that includes whole foods, lean proteins, high-fibre carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Increase your daily intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins while limiting processed foods, sugary snacks, and beverages.
Monitoring your carbohydrate intake can also help manage weight. Cut out excess sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates (think refined sugars, white rice, white flour, pizza dough, and most white breads) and substitute brown rice, whole wheat bread, or other options when these are available.
Intermittent fasting that works by spreading your meals throughout the day to help regulate blood sugar levels has also been seen to help some people, while others have found success eating fermented foods and healthy bacteria (such as the healthy gut bacteria found in many kombucha drinks) as part of their diet.
Mindful eating, avoiding food cravings and binge eating, and paying attention to the ingredients in meals and foods are all great practices too. Remember, we're all different people with different bodies and what works for one person, might not work for you. The most important thing is maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet, filled with fruit and vegetables, good fats, and proteins.
Here are some healthy food substitutes to try
- Insoluble fiber (beans, brown rice, almonds, and fruits with skins)
- Protein rich foods
- Fish (salmon, shrimp, tuna, cod)
- Lean poultry (skinless chicken and turkey)
- Plant protein sources (beans, peas, tofu, tempeh)
- Nut butter
- Non-starchy vegetables (spinach, kale, escarole, endive, lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, etc.)
- Water and low sugar drinks
A low sugar intake and high fiber diet are two important things to keep in mind when doing your weekly food shop.
We know that shopping for these new foods can be tiring and a struggle, but don't feel like you need to overhaul your diet in one go. Try making small changes every week, and remember, you're not alone!
We'd recommend speaking with a health care provider or nutritionist about regulating insulin levels through diet changes or medication. If you're a Fertifa patient, this is something we can help with. For people diagnosed with PCOS, it's important to keep a close eye on your blood sugar levels and insulin levels as part of your weight loss journey and overall health.
Regular physical activity
Regular exercise is very important in supporting weight management and improving insulin sensitivity. Exercise should ideally include a combination of cardiovascular exercises (for example, brisk walking, cycling, or swimming) and strength training exercises (for example weightlifting or resistance training) for optimal results.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, along with two or more days of strength training. Some individuals find high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to be a beneficial in addition to resistance training.
Maintaining an active lifestyle can also help reduce the risk of heart disease and the risk of diabetes, overall increasing your metabolic health. Individuals with polycystic ovary syndrome are at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease compared to those without PCOS as they experience higher insulin resistance.
To summarise, regular physical activity:
- Improves cardiovascular health: Regular exercise strengthens the heart muscle, improves blood circulation, and increases the efficiency of the cardiovascular system. It helps to lower blood pressure, reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which collectively reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Manages weight: Regular physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight or achieve weight loss, which is beneficial for heart health. Excess weight increases the strain on the heart and contributes to conditions such as hypertension and high cholesterol.
- Helps manage diabetes: Exercise helps to manage diabetes by lowering blood sugar, improving insulin sensitivity, and boosting insulin action for better glucose control.
- Promotes glucose control: Exercise helps regulate blood sugar levels by increasing glucose uptake into cells, improving glycemic control, and reducing the risk of hyperglycemia.
In addition to these specific benefits, maintaining an active lifestyle has broader positive effects on overall health and well-being. Regular physical activity helps manage stress, improves mental health, enhances sleep quality, boosts energy levels, and strengthens muscles and bones.
High stress levels can worsen symptoms of PCOS and contribute to weight gain. Maybe this is the perfect excuse to leave your desk and go for a walk?
Practice stress-management techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or engaging in hobbies and activities you enjoy. Chronic stress can put people at risk of a range of different challenges - including depression and anxiety.
Stress can also contribute to hair loss or exacerbate existing hair loss conditions - reducing stress might be able to help women experiencing hair loss as a result of PCOS.
Prioritise getting those zzzs in. Sufficient sleep and establishing a regular sleep routine is so important for overall health and well-being. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night, as poor sleep can disrupt hormonal balance and contribute to weight gain. If you are experiencing obstructive sleep apnea, it is recommended you seek advice and treatment from a healthcare professional who can best support you.
Medication and medical support
In some cases, healthcare providers may prescribe medications to manage specific symptoms of PCOS, such as hormonal imbalances or insulin resistance. These medications are typically prescribed on an individual basis, so we'd always recommend speaking with your healthcare provider to see if medication is necessary and appropriate for your unique PCOS situation.
Medications may also be prescribed to manage blood glucose levels and fructose levels to ensure that they remain stable.
Remember that weight loss should be approached in a gradual and sustainable manner! Your body mass and body composition will change in many different ways throughout your weight loss journey (and throughout your life), so just remember to be patient with yourself and kind to yourself.
Set realistic goals and write up a weight loss plan to help manage and track your progress. If you're a Fertifa patient, our in-house clinical team can help answer any questions you have on PCOS and will be there for you every step of the way 💜