Diet culture has made it so confusing for people to know what to eat, how often to eat, when to eat, etc. Throw in a medical and/or chronic condition and we bet one may feel altogether lost. There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding nutrition. Especially when it comes to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS. So before we discuss 6 nutrition tips for ditching the PCOS diet culture, let’s first discuss what this condition entails.
**Please note that this post is a general recommendation regarding nutrition and PCOS. And is not intended to serve as nutritional or medical advice for you specifically. We highly recommend and encourage you to meet with a HAES-aligned registered dietitian with PCOS experience for more individualized care.**
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a hormonal condition that occurs in women when their ovaries produce excessive amounts of male hormones known as androgens. Most women naturally have a small amount of androgens in their bodies. However, women with PCOS have abnormally high levels, which results in a variety of symptoms. These symptoms include…
- Excess body hair
- Weight gain
- Missed or irregular periods
- Ovarian cysts
As these symptoms show, PCOS can be a very serious and debilitating condition. Unfortunately, the exact cause of PCOS is currently unknown, but researchers suspect that several factors, including genetics, play a role. Luckily, PCOS is treatable and can be managed through a combination of lifestyle changes and/or medication. Read on, to learn about some nutritional changes that may help reduce the symptoms of PCOS.
Nutritional Treatment of PCOS
PCOS treatment varies greatly from person to person, depending on their age, how severe their symptoms are, and whether they plan to get pregnant in the future. If pregnancy is a goal, then nutritional treatment can be beneficial as some medications, such as birth control, can lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant. Consuming a proper diet has been shown to decrease insulin resistance, lower blood glucose levels, and improve ovulation for women with PCOS. While we cannot provide individual nutritional advice, the tips listed below can serve as a starting point if you are interested in learning how to manage your PCOS nutritionally.
Let’s review 6 PCOS nutrition tips:
1. Consistent Eating
Eating every 2-3 hours is something we recommend for all individuals regardless of a PCOS diagnosis. When we go for extended periods of time without feeding out bodies, our bodies believe they are in “famine”. When this occurs, the body will begin to place adaptations in place to decrease our metabolism. This is a way the body protects us and attempts to maintain homeostasis. What also can happen during this “famine” is the body’s blood sugar levels begin to decrease. And may get too low. When blood sugar levels are too low, and there is no glucose coming from food ingested, the liver will begin to pump out glucose rather quickly. Again – this is a mechanism of protection in the body. However, it often results in a sudden spike in blood sugar. This rapid low to high blood sugar is like a rollercoaster. Which places individuals at risk for fatigue, mood swings, and insulin resistance.
2. Linking Foods
Focusing on blood sugar levels is often important for those with PCOS (see tip #1). Many times individuals with PCOS will have elevated blood sugar and insulin levels. When an individual eats a carbohydrate by itself there is an increase in blood sugar. This is entirely normal for the body to do as it breaks down carbs. However, for those with PCOS who may be more sensitive and prone to blood sugar spikes, it is recommended that carbohydrates be consumed along with protein and/or fat to slow down the release of glucose. Resulting in more stable and consistent blood sugars. Some examples of this are eating an apple with peanut butter. Or having a cookie with a glass of milk.
3. Focusing on Fiber
Fiber has so many benefits for everyone. Fiber can assist with promoting regular bowel movements, decreasing cholesterol, and managing blood sugar levels to name a few. All of these benefits are of great importance to those with PCOS. Some individuals with PCOS may struggle with metabolic syndrome and elevated cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber specifically becomes a thick gel like substance in our intestines. This slows down digestion, which decreases blood sugars and prevents spikes. It also traps fats preventing them from being absorbed. Which aids in decreasing cholesterol levels. Some foods that are high in fiber include whole-wheat products, oatmeal, legumes and fruits with their skin.
We recommend reading our other blog, “Why Our Bodies Need Carbs,” to learn more about fiber and carbs in greater detail.
Omega-3s help decrease triglyceride levels, reduce inflammation, aid in ovulation function and lower androgen levels. For individuals with PCOS who are struggling with imbalanced hormone levels, it is recommended that omega-3s be incorporated into their daily routine with food. Some food sources high in Omega-3s are avocados, walnuts, chia seeds, fatty fish (salmon, tuna), and eggs.
5. Variety – Eat the Rainbow
Consuming a variety of foods ensures that an individual is receiving all of the macronutrients and micronutrients necessary for the body to thrive. Foods, especially fruits and vegetables that come in a variety of different colors, provide very different micronutrients, vitamins and minerals for the body. All micronutrients, vitamins and minerals serve different purposes within the body. And the body functions best when receiving them all.
6. Ditching Diet Culture
Focusing on diet culture, diets, and extreme or compulsive exercise programs places all people at risk for disordered eating and eating disorders. For those with PCOS, these behaviors can wreak havoc on their hormones, inflammation levels, blood serum values, and overall mental health. Diets and over-exercise actually exacerbate PCOS symptoms instead of alleviating them. If you or someone you know is struggling with PCOS or ditching diet culture, or any struggle with food and their body, please reach out to a HAES-aligned eating disorder dietitian.
Closing Thoughts on Ditching the PCOS Diet Culture
Thanks for reading our guide on 6 Nutrition Tips for Ditching the PCOS Diet Culture. We know that living with PCOS can feel incredibly difficult at times. However, it’s important to remember that PCOS does not have to control your life. With proper care and treatment, PCOS is manageable. The key is finding the right treatment plan that works for you.
Like we mentioned previously, we recommend meeting with a registered dietitian who has experience treating PCOS if you are interested in trying to treat your PCOS nutritionally. That being said, we hope that this blog can help you identify a few areas of focus and serve as a jumping-off point in your PCOS journey.
Courage to Nourish is a group of eating disorder specialized dietitians. We have in person locations in Alexandria, Virginia, Columbia, Maryland. and College Park, Maryland. We offer virtual services across the state of Virginia, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. We offer individual nutrition therapy. As well as support groups. We would love to guide you in building a better relationship with food.
Lauren joined Courage to Nourish because she used to work in the fitness and fashion industry. She realized how much misinformation there is about food and nutrition and vowed to support others with their relationship with food. Lauren holds a special place in her heart for working with clients struggling with women's health concerns including diagnoses involving hormonal imbalances such as PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and fertility difficulties. She also specializes in working with clients who have bulimia, binge eating disorder and those transitioning from a higher level of care. View Lauren's full bio here.