One of the most notable symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is weight gain and difficulty losing weight. PCOS and obesity often go hand in hand, thanks to a myriad of reasons such as an imbalance of hormones and a likelihood of insulin resistance. To make matters worse, losing weight is hard for women with PCOS and weight gain can make PCOS symptoms worse, trapping people in a vicious cycle.
But even though losing weight is notoriously difficult, it's not impossible. It may take a few lifestyle changes and some planning, but you can shed those unwanted pounds and finally get your PCOS symptoms under control.
PCOS expert Martha McKittrick, RD, CDE, and certified health coach, recommends taking an integrative approach to weight loss. That means getting more sleep, managing stress, and increasing activity. She also suggests logging your food on a calorie-tracking app such as MyFitnessPal since many people may not realize exactly how much they are eating.
In terms of the best diet for PCOS, she recommends cutting out sugary foods and limiting refined grains. Instead, she says to eat low-glycemic foods such as whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and lean protein. It's also important to load up on nutrient-dense veggies and other anti-inflammatory foods (think: berries, ginger, and turmeric) since PCOS is associated with inflammation.
Many women with PCOS have more carb cravings than others, so she suggests planning ahead by having healthy snacks on hand for when the carb cravings hit — we like carrots and hummus or a handful of nuts. If you do eat something rich in carbohydrates, pair it with a protein or a fat to stabilize blood sugar and keep you feeling more satiated; you're better off with whole grain toast topped with natural peanut butter than a slice of bread on its own.
Working out is also crucial not just for weight loss, but also for managing PCOS; McKittrick recommends a mix of cardio, weight training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). In fact, a 2015 study found that among three groups of women — one was assigned HIIT for 10 weeks, one strength training, and one a control group — the HIIT group experienced an improvement in insulin resistance. Both the strength training group and the HIIT group had an improved body composition.
However, finding the best approach may take some trial and error since every woman's body is different. "If eating a slice of whole grain bread sets you off to crave more, then you may be best off avoiding bread," McKittrick says. But you don't need to avoid carbs altogether; she says many women can still lose weight while eating a moderate amount of healthy carbs. You also don't need to completely eliminate dairy, either, unless you experience other unpleasant symptoms such as gas or acne. Small amounts of cheese or unsweetened Greek yogurt can be a healthy, protein-rich addition to your diet.
Overall, losing weight may be tough for women with PCOS, but it is doable. It takes some planning and consistency, but with the right foods, an exercise regimen, and adequate sleep, you can finally drop the weight for good.