Hi friends! I’m back with another PCOS post, this time sharing some practical nutrition tips for PCOS that aren’t dieting. Diets are damaging to all bodies, but this can ring especially true for women with PCOS due to the underlying metabolic changes, hormone levels, and inflammation associated with the condition. The good news? There’s plenty you can do to support your PCOS with food without feeling crazy.
Before we get started, I do want to share this message for any woman struggling to wrap her mind around her PCOS diagnosis, because I can empathize with you firsthand:
You are not alone, and your body is not broken.
It may need some extra TLC and you may have to learn some more about it, or ask for help from dietitians, doctors, therapists, friends, etc. - but know that help is available and healing is possible.
Why diets don’t work & the scoop on insulin resistance
Insulin resistance is a common feature of PCOS. Since insulin is the key that “unlocks” cells so that glucose can enter and be used for energy, lack of energy is a common symptom. Insulin resistance can also contribute to cravings and, because insulin is a growth hormone, some weight gain or difficulty losing weight. I’m not sharing this to create shame around weight (because that is the opposite of my goal for Satisfy) but to help provide some explanation of the underlying mechanisms with PCOS symptoms.
We know that diets fail in up to 97% of dieters, but this can be especially true for women with PCOS. Because of underlying insulin resistance and other metabolic changes seen in PCOS, (temporary, because all diets are) weight loss is not only less likely, but more damaging and can slow the metabolism more.
Not only that, but since weight is merely associated with PCOS and their relationship to each other isn’t causative, a recommendation of weight loss is not only effective and unethical, but speaks towards one symptom of PCOS rather than helping support hormones and insulin resistance.
Another note: Women with PCOS are at increased risk of eating disorders, although the mechanism isn’t clear. It could be due to several factors - maybe genetic, maybe being told to diet by providers, maybe something different altogether. But either way, we know the relationship exists and diets aren’t a good idea (here or anywhere).
3 nutrition tips for PCOS that aren’t dieting
Here are three gentle nutrition tips for PCOS that aren’t weight loss. I think it’s important to mention that these are tools not rules, and while they may speak to some people they also may not to others.
1 | Choose complex and lower glycemic index carbs
Women with PCOS may have a hard time managing blood sugars (see insulin resistance above), so choosing complex and lower glycemic index carbs (think: whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and other carb sources with fiber) can help slow a blood sugar rise and make it easier for your body to process food for energy.
2 | Choose protein with meals and snacks
Protein can help manage blood sugar, stimulate insulin release, and provide satiation - so having it throughout the day with meals and snacks (as well as eating enough fats) can provide physiological benefits and satisfaction.
3 | Ask your doctor about evidence-based supplements
There’s a wide number of information about supplements out there, so I’ll try to narrow it down to two supplements that are shown to be helpful with PCOS - inositol and omega-3’s.
Inositol is a vitamin-like compound naturally made in the body. Supplementation of inositol has been shown to help anovulation, insulin resistance, and other features of PCOS. There are two stereoisomers, or “shapes”, of inositol that are proven to be most helpful to PCOS in a 40:1 ratio of myo-inositol:D-chiro-inositol. Ovasitol is a commonly recommended brand and comes in this ratio - there’s a coupon code in this blog post.
Omega-3’s, found through supplementation of fish oil, can help regulate hormones (like the high testosterone that is a hallmark of PCOS) and calm the underlying inflammation related to PCOS. Ask your doctor or dietitian about dosage and recommended brands.
A note about supplements: Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, but there are third party companies that help provide verification for supplements’ content. Look for “USP” or “third-party verified” on the label.