At age 23, I was diagnosed with PCOS and if, like me back then, you’re wondering what on earth this means, it stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, a condition that affects your ovaries and is common amongst millions of young women in the UK. When my Doctor diagnosed me, I had very little knowledge of the condition. I was told there and then that my chances of ever having children were significantly reduced and I was left in a state of shock and went home to sob for quite some time. My biggest fears of never being able to have children were realised and I honestly felt completely hopeless. I wallowed in my self-pity for a few days and then decided that there must be something I can do about this, to turn my life around and that is where my little journey began.
There are many symptoms of PCOS that manifest themselves in different ways, such as, weight gain, excessive hair growth all over your body, amenorrhea (no periods) and acne. In fact, if you have two or more of these symptoms you can be diagnosed with PCOS without even a nod at your ovaries! The more I spoke to people about the condition, the more I was overwhelmed by just how many women it affects. Friends I had known for years that were just silently living with it and not in a fuss to do anything about it! It really shocked me that these brave women were happy to accept their diagnosis and future fertility and go about their lives with crossed fingers. I, however, refused to accept my fate and yearned to rid myself of the symptoms.
I have never been over-weight but losing weight has always been a struggle and gaining weight, well that’s just the easiest thing in the world for me! It always puzzled me that I was the healthiest out of my friends yet I still struggled so much, but after my PCOS diagnosis, everything became a lot clearer.
PCOS affects your hormone levels, producing more testosterone than usual and raising insulin levels which in turn affects weight gain. When we eat, our insulin levels naturally go up, particularly when we eat a diet rich in refined sugar, such as breads, pasta and the general sugar junk. Through extensive research, I learnt just how important it is for women suffering with PCOS to keep insulin levels balanced at all times. As soon as that insulin spikes, it has a hazardous effect on our body, hormones and ovaries. In my bid to ‘cure’ myself, I cut out all refined sugar and dairy (okay I still eat cheese every now and then but I’m only human), I upped my greens, grains and protein intake and began my journey to ultimate child bearer!
Ditch the sugar: It is common knowledge now that we should all be ditching the sugar, but when you know the havoc it wreaks on your body, it is a lot easier to cut out. So I never found that part difficult, in fact I revelled in the opportunity to discover new ways to make my favourite sugar laden treats (I had a massive sweet tooth previously) and I began a creative cooking adventure. Opt for dates or maple syrup as sweeteners but do try and keep these to a minimum as their sugar content is still relatively high.
Eating foods with a low glycaemic index: These will keep you sustained and feeling fuller for longer, releasing energy into your body slowly. Pearl barley is a great one for this!
Eating every 4 hours: This was advised to me when I was diagnosed so that you never run into that starving feeling when the hanger strikes as this is a sure sign that your insulin levels are spiking. A handful or nuts or a boiled egg usually does the trick for me in between meals.
Never skip breakfast: This is such an important one and not just for my Polycysters out there. Your body has been fasting for 8+ hours so it is so vital that its first meal is nutritious and balanced. I usually try to eat within 30 minutes of waking up and breakfasts are usually porridge with chia seeds cooked in brown rice milk and an abundance of spices, a green smoothie or some eggs and veg.
Cutting out or limiting dairy intake: Dairy is naturally high in testosterone which ladies with PCOS do not need any more of! Since cutting out milk products I have also seen the benefits to my skin, what a bonus!
Stay balanced: It’s important to get nutrients from an array of different foods and it also helps to keep your diet exciting. Aim for leafy greens, foods high in protein, rich in vitamins and minerals and healthy fats as a general rule for a PCOS diet.
Exercise has also had a massive play in my PCOS journey. Not only is exercise key for keeping weight gain at bay with PCOS, it is also a time when our insulin levels drop. Taking 30 minutes every day to get our hearts pumping is advised for everyone, but it is so important for PCOS sufferers to keep symptoms and insulin levels down. I try to incorporate a mix of workouts in my week, from weight lifting to yoga to HIIT and of course those trusty tap backs on the bike. Not only does exercise do a world of good to your body, but for me, when I often get down about not losing weight like ‘normal’ people do, I remind myself how amazing it makes me feel and that is enough to keep me going!
In many ways, I am extremely grateful for discovering PCOS as my life has changed dramatically over the past 2 and a half years. My journey, although at times frustrating, has been massively beneficial and exciting and I have learnt so much about nutrition and diet that I perhaps never would have known and have created amazing, lifelong friendships. It is so important to talk about these issues that so many young women are burdened with and to create a community where it is safe to discuss them with each other. I would never be where I am today had I not discovered my PCOS and perhaps I will never entirely rid myself of those pesky cysts, but keeping my symptoms at bay and continuing on this path is where I will keep heading.
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a medical condition that is thought to affect up to 1 in every 5 women in the UK. If you have been diagnosed or think you may have PCOS, consult your physician first before pursuing any all-natural treatment plans. To learn more visit the PCOS Awareness Association website here.