Losing weight for women suffering form PCOS can be very difficult and in most cases not very result oriented. That’s because PCOS is a bit of a catch 22 – it can be linked to insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain, and then because excess body fat causes the body to produce even more insulin, this can make PCOS symptoms worse – creating a vicious cycle. Losing weight isn’t easy for anybody, but women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) face some extra hurdles.
How to lose weight naturally in PCOS?
Most women at some point have to contend with weight gain. But for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), losing weight can become a constant struggle.
PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder in women of childbearing age and can lead to issues with fertility. Women who have PCOS have higher levels of male hormones and are also less sensitive to insulin or are “insulin-resistant.” Many are overweight or obese. As a result, these women can be at a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, and uterine cancer.
Why PCOS cause weight gain?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is your body’s way of saying you can’t handle high sugar levels – so your diet is a chance to really change things – and this can help you in your later life, pre-menopause and before and during pregnancy. By keeping your weight stable, your pregnancy is likely to be more straightforward health wise
PCOS makes it more difficult for the body to use the hormone insulin, which normally helps convert sugars and starches from foods into energy. This condition — called insulin resistance — can cause insulin and sugar — glucose — to build up in the bloodstream.
High insulin levels increase the production of male hormones called androgens. High androgen levels lead to symptoms such as body hair growth, acne, irregular periods — and weight gain. Because the weight gain is triggered by male hormones, it is typically in the abdomen. That is where men tend to carry weight. So, instead of having a pear shape, women with PCOS have more of an apple shape.
Risks associated with PCOS-related Weight gain?
No matter what the cause, weight gain can be detrimental to your health. Women with PCOS are more likely to develop many of the problems associated with weight gain and insulin resistance, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
- Endometrial cancer
Many of these conditions can lead to heart disease. In fact, women with PCOS are four to seven times more likely to have a heart attack than women of the same age without the condition.
Follow a healthy eating plan, not a diet
Strict diets are too likely to backfire, says Julie Dillon, RD, a dietitian who works with people with PCOS in North Carolina. When a diet fails, your best intentions can deteriorate into a vicious cycle of losing weight, gaining it back, and losing it again. But yo-yo dieting can hurt your health: Recently, it was linked with double the risk of heart attack, stroke, or death in people who already had coronary artery disease in a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Women with PCOS already have a higher risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and stroke.
Instead, center your healthy eating plan around anti-inflammatory foods, as women with PCOS have chronic, low-level inflammation. That means avocados, nuts, fish, olive oil, and green tea. Many of these foods are also components of the much-touted Mediterranean diet (really more of a lifestyle), which has repeatedly been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, among other benefits.
Don’t dismiss carbs
Some women with PCOS report intense cravings for carbs, sometimes leading to the urge to shun them entirely, says Angela Grassi, RD, founder of the PCOS Nutrition Center in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. But avoiding all carbs might actually set you up for more cravings, leading you to eat more carbs of the not-necessarily-“good” variety.
Be choosy about your carbohydrates. “Eat balanced meals with a little bit of carbs like whole grains,” says Grassi, who has PCOS herself. Stay away from processed, high-glycemic-index carbs like crackers, candy, and soda. Instead, select whole grains like brown rice or quinoa or fiber-filled sources of carbs like potatoes, vegetables, and fruit, all of which help control blood sugar.
Exercise and then eat
Exercising right before a meal can help rev your metabolism so you end up storing more carbs as energy than fat, according to Sweeney. And exercising on the regular trains your body to use up extra glucose stores in your body, which can help keep your insulin levels down, says Maria Horstmann, a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified trainer who specializes in working with women who have PCOS.
Horstmann previously told Women’s Health that women with PCOS should focus on high-intensity interval training, which utilizes short, intense bursts of energy, while Apovian and Dumesic both recommend any type of cardio that gets your heart rate up.
Get Good Sleep
People who skimp on sleep are more likely to be overweight, and inadequate sleep can also affect insulin resistance. “Aim for seven to nine hours of restful sleep every night,” says Sheth. “Start with a calming bedtime routine, and go to sleep earlier,” she recommends.
If you’re spending enough hours in bed but still waking up tired, talk to your doctor. Research has found that women with PCOS are not only more likely to feel sleepy during the day, they are also more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing stops periodically throughout the night. Being overweight or obese increases your risk for sleep apnea, which in turn makes you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and heart disease. “Treating apnea may also help with weight loss,” says Dr. Perloe.
If you’ve got sleep issues, don’t ignore them
One common side effect of PCOS is sleep apnea, which disrupts sleep. Lack of sleep causes weight to go up because it messes with hormones controlling hunger and fullness, says Apovian. Try to get at least seven hours of shuteye per night, and talk to your doctor if you think you might be suffering from sleep apnea.