The PCOS Diet: How to Lose Weight If You Have PCOS

Having Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) makes it tough to lose weight. These pro strategies can help.

What is PCOS?

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There are things every woman needs to know about PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), a hormonal imbalance in nearly 7 percent of pre-menopausal women in the United States—that's 1 in 5 women. "It's one of the most common hormonal disorders in the developed world," says NYC-based nutritionist, Janine Whiteson. PCOS comes from an overproduction of male hormones or androgens that a woman's ovaries naturally produce. This excess androgen secretion is responsible for most PCOS symptoms. Unfortunately, just because it's a common affliction doesn't mean the symptoms are easy to manage, so you'll want to make sure you're following a PCOS diet.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

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Women with PCOS have higher-than-normal levels of androgens, can wreak havoc with your overall system. "PCOS can have serious health effects, including heart conditions, infertility, diabetes, IBS, skin issues (like acne), unwanted hair growth, hair thinning, and obesity, and it often impacts one's emotional and mental health resulting in depression," says motivation speaker and CEO of RGD Enterprises, Roxana Damas. Here are other reasons your hair might be falling out.

 

Why is PCOS linked to weight gain?

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Women with PCOS tend to gain weight easily because they have higher-than-normal level of insulin—a hormone that is produced in your pancreas that helps the cells in your body turn sugar (glucose) into energy. "PCOS coupled with weight gain promotes insulin resistance, which makes it very difficult to lose weight, it dramatically increases the risk of type 2 diabetes (and other metabolic health conditions), and it appears to upset the regulation of sex hormones in the body which worsens the symptoms of PCOS—a vicious cycle," explains Whiteson. With that said, it should come as little surprise that 50 percent of women with PCOS are overweight or obese. But you can avoid gaining weight—and even drop pounds—with PCOS, if you follow these guidelines.

 

PCOS diet tip: Eat more fiber

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To combat the symptoms of PCOS and reduce insulin levels, Whiteson urges her patients to follow a high-fiber diet. "High-fiber foods can help combat insulin resistance by slowing down digestion and reducing the impact of sugar in the blood, which may be beneficial to women with PCOS," she says. Among the options she recommends are cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts, greens including red leaf lettuce and arugula, green and red peppers, beans and lentils, almonds, berries, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and pumpkin. These are the great things that happen to your body when you eat more fiber.

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PCOS diet tip: Eat more lean protein

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Protein keeps you fuller longer, so you're less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks. "Lean protein such as tofu, chicken, and fish don't provide fiber but are very filling and a healthy dietary option for women with PCOS," says Whiteson. "Eggs are also a great diet component for women with PCOS. Not only are they a wonderful source of protein, but they're packed with nutrients that improve the symptoms of PCOS. The egg yolk provides a good source of omega-3 fats, iron, folate, vitamins A, D, and E, thiamin, and choline." Check out these 55 delicious egg recipes and more ways to add lean protein to your diet.

PCOS diet tip: Eat foods that reduce inflammation

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Inflammation is partly to blame for the hormone imbalance in PCOS, according to the PCOS Nutrition Center, so eating foods that help reduce inflammation can minimize PCOS symptoms. Whiteson recommends tomatoes, kale, spinach, almonds and walnuts, olive oil, fruits (no fruit juices, which are often filled with added sugar and don't have the fiber of fresh, whole fruits), fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon and sardines, and whole grains. (These are the omega-3-rich foods for people who don't like fish.)

PCOS diet tip: Cut back on certain foods

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Refined carbohydrates cause inflammation and exacerbate insulin resistance, which is problematic for women suffering from PCOS, according to Whiteson. You'll want to avoid highly processed foods and anything overly sugary—when reading food labels, be sure to look for sugar's various names, which include sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and dextrose, and be wary of "healthy" foods with hidden sugars. In general, cut back on white bread, muffins, breakfast pastries, white potatoes, and anything made with white flour (there are so many reasons to avoid white flour!). Skip pastas that list semolina, durum flour, or durum wheat flour as their first ingredient because they're high in carbohydrates and low in fiber. Instead, opt for pastas made from bean or lentil flour—you won't believe these amazing new pasta alternatives!

You'll also want to avoid foods that trigger inflammation, including fried foods such as French fries, plus margarine, and processed meats. Here's what happens when you stop eating red meat.

PCOS diet tip: Make sure you’re getting enough iodine

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Heads up if you've been watching your sodium. “Many people are following low-sodium diets these days, not realizing that the iodine supplied by iodized salt is essential for your thyroid, as well as your ovaries,” says Ryan Frankel, founder and CEO of EduPlated.com. “To make sure that you’re getting enough, increase your intake of foods rich in iodine including kelp, wakame, and other sea vegetables, potatoes with the skin on, good quality, probiotic-rich yogurt, and navy beans.”

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PCOS diet tip: Get your daily dose of vitamin D

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Many women with PCOS have low vitamin D levels—these are the signs you could be vitamin D deficient. According to Frankel, correction of vitamin D deficiencies have been found to be effective at improving insulin resistance. “Though milk and fortified orange juice contain vitamin D, it’s not in the form that our bodies can absorb best," he says. Try to make eggs (with the yolk), sardines, and wild-caught sockeye salmon part of your diet at least three to five times per week. Should you get your vitamin D levels checked?

PCOS diet tip: For best results...

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PCOS, like many disorders, responds positively to proactive lifestyle choices. This includes daily physical movement. "Exercise may reduce insulin resistance, especially when coupled with a limited intake of unhealthy carbohydrates – most experts agree that at least 150 minutes per week of exercise is ideal," says Whiteson. "Women may experience improved ovulation with weight loss, so women who are obese or overweight and want to get pregnant may find physician-approved exercise especially important."

Whiteson also notes that the symptoms associated with PCOS can cause stress. "Stress reduction techniques, which help calm the mind and let you connect with your body—like yoga—can also help." Try these 8 mini-meditations to reduce stress on a regular basis.

 

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