The Mental Game of PCOS

I talk a lot about how becoming physically strong helps PCOS. But when it comes to living a PCOS-friendly lifestyle, your mental strength is equally important. If there’s one thing I have learned from coaching many women, it is that the way we think will shape our recovery more than any other factor. 

I like to keep my mindset on track with these 4 inspirational quotes. Click here to get them sent to your inbox.

Right after I was diagnosed with PCOS, I bounced back from being very sad to being borderline obsessed with fixing myself as fast as possible. I was impatient, single-minded and willing to do almost anything. I started a very restrictive diet and doubled my efforts at the gym. I’d climb the step mill for an hour with my heart beating at 170 beats per minute and then hit the weight room. Not much changed… I did not fix myself.

I sought the advice of an endocrinologist at a prestigious university. At my first and only appointment, this man burst into the exam room with his face buried in my file. He did not look up and just blurted out:

“Yes, you have PCOS. There is not much I can do to help you. Do you have hair on your face I can give you some meds for that.”

Dr. Insensitive, MD then grabbed my face to take a closer look.

I explained to him that I could not lose weight no matter what I did and that I was exhausted every day, all of the time. He rolled his eyes in disbelief. He suggested that I try harder: work out more and eat better.

That was the end of the appointment. I felt humiliated and frustrated.

I went to this doctor because he specialized in metabolic disorders and I was sure that my metabolism was broken. Now he just dismissed my concerns and showed me the door.

This guy was a jerk. If an older and wiser me had been in that office, I would have told him so to his face! But he was not wrong. My body was not broken. It was just responding to how I was treating it… and I was not treating it very well at all.

Ok, I just dug up this rotten memory to tell you this: I know what it feels like to think that you’re broken and that your body is a defective model.

If you feel like your body is broken, I want you to try to stop thinking that way- it will only hurt you. That way of thinking pits you against your own body. It makes you feel like your body is what’s getting in the way of you having your best life. That’s a terrible feeling to have, isn’t it? Feeling like you have to punish yourself and restrict yourself, so your body will submit and finally listen.

I have found a different way to treat my PCOS…

My PCOS diagnosis is just information about my body that I did not have before. My PCOS is just a fact; it is not my enemy.

And now that I have that information I can use it to guide my decisions, to serve as part of the owners’ manual I needed to care for and protect this powerful, awesome body. Not only has this mental shift brought me emotional peace but it also was the beginning of my healing.

Today, I use what I know about my PCOS to shape my environment so that I can thrive. Instead of being critical of my body, I am critical of my environment, my habits and routines. My self-esteem and my vitality are much higher as a result! When my body is not performing at its best, I take a look at how I’m treating it. Not only does this usually fix the problem, but it also keeps me from putting myself down. Win-win!

I’m convinced that this is the best way to treat PCOS. Using the information we have about our bodies to shape a lifestyle that will allow us to thrive. This way of thinking about PCOS gets great life-changing results, but it requires patience. The changes will not come quickly, and that’s ok.

Think of it this way:

If you kept a potted plant in a closet and never watered it, it would become unhealthy. Now if you took that plant out to a window sill and gave it water would the plant be immediately restored?

No. It would take weeks to see new growth and maybe even months for it to blossom again. The same laws of nature apply to your body.

As you slowly remodel the world around you and work to transform your habits into a PCOS-friendly lifestyle, It will take time for your body to respond. I can promise you that you’ll begin to feel impatient and frustrated.

Those old negative feelings about your body might reemerge. That’s ok, it’s normal! Acknowledge your frustration, take a deep breath and turn your focus to all of the good things you are doing for your body. You can’t control how quickly your body will recover from unmanaged PCOS. But you can control your actions. So fix your attention on small steps in your healing journey and let the results come to pass in their own time.

This different way of treating PCOS is not easy. You might have to work really hard at just changing the way you think before you can even make a single successful lifestyle change. It is not a fast process, but it works because it comes from a place of compassion, love, and partnership for and with your own body.

If you are sick of feeling like your body is defective, if you are tired of being angry at PCOS I invite you to change your mind and start treating PCOS differently.

PCOS is just information about your body; it is not your enemy.

I like to keep my mindset on track with these 4 inspirational quotes. Click here to get them sent to your inbox.

PCOS Wisdom

Three Steps to Fitness Motivation That Lasts

If you follow my blog, you already know that exercise can dramatically improve your PCOS. The thing is, it’s difficult to develop an exercise habit. I get emails every week from hard-working, smart women who can’t seem to find lasting fitness motivation.

Today I’m going to share with you the 3-step process I use to help my clients form a workout habit that feels easy, natural and even fun. Plus, I’ve tapped into my inner high school team coach and recorded 3 pep talks to get you going! 

Step 1: Say yes to the first workout

It might sound crazy, but don’t worry about being motivated. Heck, you don’t even need to worry about what type of exercise you should do! The first step to building an exercise habit is to say “yes” to that first workout now and worry about motivation later.

Step 2: Practice

After you’ve said yes to your first workout, it’s time to start practicing the habit of working out on a regular basis. You should give yourself at least two weeks to establish this habit.

Working out on a regular basis is a habit that takes time and focus to develop. If you skip the step of practicing this habit and move on to more complicated stuff like designing the perfect workout, you’d be putting the barbell before the squat or the cart before the horse.

Why not try something different and give this long-term approach a shot? Here are two easy ways to make sure the next two weeks are a success.

 

Schedule your workouts.

Obvious right? Scheduling time to exercise is a clear first step. Where most of us mess this up is that we set the bar too high for ourselves right away.

Have an honest conversation with yourself about how often and for how long you are willing to exercise. This goes back to that question: “What are you willing to say yes to today?” Find some weekly workouts that you feel 90% (or more) confident that you can successfully do this week. There is no wrong answer here.

Ok, now I want you to open up your calendar and look for any already fixed routines and habits in your weekly schedule. These highly routinized parts of the day are an ideal time to practice a new habit. New habits are more likely to stick around if you pair them with a habit you already have. This trick is called habit stacking, and it is AWESOME!

Make your workout rewarding today.

Most of the rewards of working out, like fat loss, happen in the long term. These benefits are entirely amazing. BUT when you are tired and pressed for time, the long-term rewards of working out can feel pretty, um, unrewarding.

Find an immediate, non-food way to reward yourself for consistently working out. There are all sorts of ways to reward yourself and one of my favorites is called temptation bundling.

Temptation Bundling is a motivational strategy that ties together two activities – one that you should do, but tend to avoid, and an activity you love to do but isn’t necessarily productive. Set a specific limit on an activity you love, aka a funtivity, by linking it to your workouts. For example, only allow yourself to listen to your favorite podcast while you’re at the gym.

I know you might be tempted to go on a Google spree to find the perfect workout program. Or maybe you’re already thumbing through the pages of a fitness magazine. It’s great that you are so enthusiastic. I love that!

But I’m here to tell you it’s time to pump the brakes. Focus all of that mojo on one thing: becoming the type of person who works out. Pour every drop of your attention and effort into this one mission: building a workout habit.

Step 3: Manufacture some fitness motivation

To be honest, the next two weeks might be harder than you anticipated. That’s because motivation is a fickle beast. But do not despair! I have a few motivation-boosting tricks that will help this exercise habit take root in your life.

 

Find fitness inspiration wherever you can.

Collect a few images, quotes, YouTube clips or songs (cue: Eye of the Tiger) that inspire you to pursue physical fitness. Be as creative and silly as you want! Whatever gives you a little high and makes you want to hit the gym is the perfect trigger to have on hand for when low motivation strikes. I like to pretend I’m a superhero 😉

Stop minimizing your accomplishments.

Nothing kills motivational momentum like ignoring the small wins. It will take awhile for you to see an improvement in your PCOS but that does not mean you shouldn’t celebrate all the good stuff you are doing right now!

Starting a workout habit on top of everything else you do all while managing PCOS is a HUGE step in the right direction. Honor your achievement.

Use your imagination.

There are two ways you can use your imagination to manufacture fitness motivation. Imagine the best and the worst case scenario.

If you work out today, what will that feel like? Imagine how fun it will be to do your workout to that new album you scored on iTunes. Imagine how energized you will feel and that satisfying feeling of a job well done.

Now imagine that you skip your workout. Why would you skip it? Identify the limiting factors that might get in the way of your best intentions. Now come up with a strategy to overcome that limiting factor. Cool- now you are ready to succeed in spite of adversity!

Becoming the type of woman that works out on a regular basis is not an easy feat! But if you say yes to the first workout, practice the habit of working out, and manufacture some fitness motivation, you can become the committed trainee you always wanted to be.

PMS and PCOS: Dealing with Premenstrual Cravings

Do you stay on track with nutrition and exercise for about 20 days, but then the PMS Craving Fairy casts her evil spell and you completely undo all your hard work?

It seems like everything is smooth sailing until the premenstrual phase of the month. You feel empowered; you make good food decisions, workout and even lose weight. Then, in just a few days, you do a 180-degree turn. It’s this terrible 28-day fitness Ferris Wheel you can’t escape from!

Today I want to talk about what you can do to manage premenstrual cravings when you are trying to lose weight and live a PCOS-friendly lifestyle.

PMS and Cravings

The first thing you must know is that you are not crazy!

I hate the way we talk about premenstrual symptoms! The fluctuation of your hormones every month is a perfectly natural thing, and it only makes sense that you will experience some changes as your body processes through this cycle every 28-35 days.

These fluctuations are a good thing. They are a sign that you are a healthy, vital, living organism that is changing and evolving! That said, premenstrual cravings and increased appetite can make pursuing fitness goals or weight loss particularly challenging.

The first thing you need to do is let go of the shame, guilt, and feeling of temporary craziness. Increased hunger and cravings are well-documented features of the premenstrual stage in the female cycle. There is a web of complex physiological factors that contribute to this common phenomenon. Here is a short list:

  • Energy expenditure (the number of calories your body burns) has been shown to increase in the days following ovulation and leading up to menstruation. 
  • Estrogen peaks during ovulation and then significantly drops just before menstruation. Estrogen helps regulate your appetite. When estrogen is low, you can experience increased hunger.
  • Premenstrual drops in serotonin (a neurotransmitter) are associated with increased cravings for carbohydrates.
  • Women seem to experience reduced insulin sensitivity in the days leading up to menstruation. 

Do you feel relieved to know you’re not weak-willed madwomen on the hunt for cookies? I do! I feel so much better just knowing I am not dreaming up these premenstrual cravings!!

 

Art Work by PCOS Fit Revolution Member Karisa Steinwand
Art Work by PCOS Fit Revolution Member Karisa Steinwand

Now the question becomes what I can do about it? Am I doomed to sabotage my fitness goals every 28 days?

No, you are not. Let’s talk about some practical ways you can embrace your fluctuating hormones and manage these pesky symptoms.

Premenstrual Planning Is Everything.

Planning for PMS should include more than swinging by Target to buy a box of tampons. Below is a list of steps you can take to ensure PMS fitness success. All of the suggestions below take a little extra planning and follow-through. Make the effort!

Do not let the PMS Craving Fairy catch you unprepared! Take some time now to prep for PMS.

Focus on maintaining your weight instead of losing weight. 

Eating at a caloric deficit while experiencing a week of increased cravings and appetite is just a bad idea, plain and simple. You are setting yourself up for a guilt-drenched binge at worst or a miserable week at best.

Instead, focus on not gaining any weight. I have found this is the time that most women will regain the weight they lost the three weeks before. Your PMS will last 7-10 days tops. I would much rather see you take it easy on yourself and not gain weight. Weight management, especially when you have PCOS, is a marathon, not a sprint. So consider changing your approach during the few days you have increased appetite.

I like to just eat just one extra balanced meal on days when I have a bit of PMS hunger.

Click here to get my PMS Crave Busting Menu to see how you can maintain your weight and take the edge off of your premenstrual appetite.

Get to bed.

Sleep deprivation aggravates hormonal imbalances and is correlated with increased cravings for junk food. Get the rest you need so that you are in a position to deal with your PMS symptoms. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Make sure you schedule some time in the evening to prepare for sleep by winding down with a positive and relaxing activity like meditation, gratitude journaling, or a hot bath with Epsom salt (this will give you a magnesium boost.)

Eat blood sugar balancing meals and consider taking inositol.

One of the contributing factors to PMS cravings is reduced insulin sensitivity. This could be particularly problematic for women living with PCOS since many of us already have issues with insulin resistance. That is why it’s critical that you take steps to manage your blood sugar during PMS.

  • Eat balanced meals every 3-5 hours so that you do not become hypoglycemic.
  • Eat carbs along with protein and fat.
  • Avoid foods that are high in added sugar.
  • Consider supplementing with inositol.

Studies indicate that inositol is as effective as metformin in improving PCOS insulin resistance. I use the supplement Ovasitol (a proprietary blend of inositol for PCOS), and I have personally experienced a huge drop in sugar craving since I started using it.

Don’t know what a blood sugar balancing meal looks like? My PCOS Plate infographic will teach you how to put together a blood sugar balancing meal in just a few minutes – Check it out here.PCOS Diet

Plan to eat a treat.

If cravings are part of your PMS experience, plan to eat a treat. You can fulfill your desire without getting off track. I have found that when women eat just a treat on its own, they are much more likely to go back for seconds or thirds. To prevent overindulging, satisfy your hunger with a balanced low-carb meal and treat yourself to a dessert afterward.

For example, eat a chicken breast and veggies grilled with olive oil and rosemary for dinner and follow it up with a single serving of your favorite dessert. This way you are getting valuable nutrients that will increase your satiety (protein, fiber, vitamins and healthy fat) plus the treat that will help you feel less deprived.

Click here to get my PMS Crave Busting Menu to learn how you can add a treat into a healthy premenstrual meal plan.

Harness the power of exercise.

There has not been much research done on exercise as a treatment for PMS, but we know that physical activity has some benefits that will help with symptoms. Even if you do not feel up to doing your regular workout, physical activity is important during the premenstrual part of your cycle.

  • Exercise boosts serotonin levels. That increase of serotonin could banish a PMS craving.
  • Physical activity suppresses appetite. If PMS hunger is an issue, do not stop exercising! Research has shown that in the hours following a bout of exercise people produce less hunger-stimulating hormones. 

Things you can do all month long to make PMS less pesky.

Try using supplements.

Some natural health experts think that PMS is made worse or even caused by a magnesium deficiency. Naturopath Lara Briden recommends taking 300mg of magnesium glycinate every day. I like to take mine at night because magnesium has a calming effect.

As I mentioned before, inositol is a great supplement for PCOS in general. It promotes insulin sensitivity, ovarian function, and hormonal health. Plus, some women (like me) have fewer sugar cravings after taking inositol.

Talk to a health care provider about Chasteberry. In some cases, Chasteberry can help with PMS. Dosage recommendations can vary case by case, so I would consult with your healthcare provider first.

  • Lara Briden, ND, recommends 200mg of standardized extract before breakfast and to stop use five days before menstruation. But she cautions it may not be the right supplement for some types of PCOS. 
  • Dr. Sara Gottfried recommends 500mg-1,000mg for the treatment of PMS that’s associated with low progesterone. 
  • Dr. Axe recommends 400mg daily before breakfast to treat PMS.

Manage Stress

Chronic stress will interfere with your hormonal health at EVERY stage of your cycle. If you have chronic stress, please take it seriously and try some proactive strategies to manage it. Here are some daily practices that can help you deal with stress.

  • Meditation. I like to use the app Headspace to do a daily meditation.
  • Journaling. Keeping a gratitude journal can help you refocus on the positive and stop fretting over the negative.
  •  Outdoor exercise. The combination of physical activity and being outdoors is a powerful stress fighting tool.

Fix digestive issues.

Poor gut health can make it difficult for your body to expel excess hormones. Down the road, this could lead to an imbalance. If you suffer from IBS, constipation, diarrhea or just poor digestion, here are some steps that can help:

  • Take a high-quality probiotic. I love Dr. Mercola Complete Probiotics.
  • Rule out food sensitivities to things like dairy, wheat, eggs, soy or FODMAP’s.
  • Make sure you are getting enough fiber from whole foods.
  • Minimize your use of antibiotics. And take probiotics when you use them.
  • Stay hydrated.

Period-RepairLearn more about your period.

Understanding your cycle will make you feel much more comfortable with the fluctuations and changes that you experience every month. I can tell you from personal experience that a little period knowledge will empower you.

I highly recommend the book Period Repair Manual by Laura Briden, ND. It is an easy to read and informative book about your dear Aunt Flo.

 

 

Erika, thanks, but my PMS is so bad. None of this stuff helped.

Most of us use PMS to describe some annoying but manageable premenstrual symptoms. However, there are two medical conditions associated with this time of the month: clinical PMS and PMDD (Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder).

If your symptoms are so intense that they disrupt your life, seek the help of a healthcare provider. Find a professional that is willing to listen and takes your problems seriously. I’d encourage you to visit an MD to rule out medical issues, plus consult with an alternative medicine professional like a Naturopath.

Planning for PMS instead of ignoring it and trying to white-knuckle my way through every month has improved my life 🙂 Take some time to build a set of PMS strategies that work for you.

Click here to get my PMS Crave Busting Menu sent to your inbox, for free.

How Laura Beat Sugar Cravings by Eating Balanced Meals

Laura is a busy social butterfly in her 30’s. She has a demanding job in the London finance sector and she is always on-the-go. When Laura joined the PCOS Fit Revolution, she felt pretty off track and confused. She had been eating a healthy diet and exercising some. But Laura’s weight was creeping up and she had intense sugar cravings, low energy, and an unpredictable cycle.

After looking over Laura’s food journal, I could see why she was so confused. Most of her food choices were very healthy and she was not overeating. The trouble was that Laura’s meals were just a bit off balance, which was causing her blood sugar levels to fall and spike. These highs and lows made her sugar cravings worse and caused her to feel less energetic – yuck!

We set a goal for Laura to start eating three blood sugar balancing meals every day. I did not give Laura any complicated instructions on how to go about eating a balanced meal. I just told her to eat some carbs, fats, and protein at every meal. The results were incredible! In two weeks her sugar cravings disappeared and she lost 4 pounds.

Do you want insider information and PCOS Fit Revolution strategies? You can get an inside look at our private Facebook group, discussions about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and PCOS management tips sent to your inbox. Click here to join for free.

Over the last six weeks, Laura and I have worked on several habits that have allowed her to lose weight while still enjoying a busy social life in London and a demanding career in finance.

How Laura Has Lost 9 Pounds, Beat Sugar Cravings and Still Has Fun on the Weekends.

Laura’s Tips

Understand the power of a balanced meal. Make sure you know which foods are carbs, proteins, and fats and try to eat all three at every meal. It will keep you feeling energized and satisfied.

Pack your gym bag the night before. Laura loves to hit the gym in the morning, but sometimes it is hard to get motivated when that alarm clock buzzes. Laura packs her gym bag the night before so she feels prepared to honor her commitment every morning.

Don’t skip dinners out with friends, just plan ahead. Do not hide away in your apartment all weekend just because you want to lose weight. It is possible to go out and have a great meal and meet your goals. Simply take some time to decide what you will order before you arrive at the restaurant. Choosing a healthy option ahead of time will keep you on track without stressing you out or ruining your social life.

Erika’s Pro Tips

Have a plan B workout. Life is unpredictable. You will sleep in, your boss will ask you to work late, or you will just feel tired. Whatever it is, you can count on some of your workouts not going as planned. Try having a 10-15 minute alternative workout plan on hand for these moments. It’s better to get a little exercise in rather than none at all. You can walk home from work or just jump rope for 10 minutes.

Never drink and order. We all know that alcohol lowers your inhibitions. For many of us, those lower inhibitions will trigger poor nutritional choices. When eating out, do not drink any alcohol until you have ordered a healthy entree. Don’t let your cocktail do the ordering for you.

Study take out menus. Delivery food can save you in a pinch and be a needed relief after a stressful day. Collect menus from the local take out restaurants and find a few that have healthy options. Mediterranean and Asian restaurants tend to have healthier dishes. Circle any healthy entrees and toss out menus that are not healthy. Now you have a stash of delicious and nutritious delivery options 🙂

Use your hand to help with portion control. Check out this infographic below. Using your hand to measure your portions is a discreet and efficient way to watch what you eat while on the go!

precision_nutrition_calorie_control_guide_web

Do you want insider information and PCOS Fit Revolution strategies? You can get an inside look at our private Facebook group, discussions about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and PCOS management tips sent to your inbox. Click here to join for free.

Managing PCOS Symptoms and a Family

Do you have trouble managing your PCOS symptoms while taking care of your crazy, awesome, busy, loving family?

If you answered yes, you’re not alone. This is 100% totally normal. So instead of pretending we have it all perfectly together, let’s talk about it!

PCOS Fit Revolution member Ellie is a homeschooling mother of three and small business owner. She is very familiar with the challenges of managing PCOS and a busy household. Today Ellie and I had an honest chat about how she and her family are slowly learning to live a PCOS-friendly lifestyle.

Do you want insider information and PCOS Fit Revolution strategies? You can get an inside look at our private Facebook group, discussions about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and PCOS management tips sent to your inbox. Click here to join for free.

How Ellie is learning to manage her PCOS symptoms and her crazy-awesome family

 

Ellie’s Tips

If it does not work out the first time, don’t give up.
It took Ellie several tries to find a meal planning strategy that worked for her. If you try to make a healthy change, and it does not go well, DO NOT beat yourself up! Instead, try a different strategy. Sometimes you have to experiment with a few different methods to make a new habit stick-toable.

Pair new habits with daily chores.
Pair new habits, like meal planning, with chores you already do on a regular basis. For Ellie, that meant prepping her healthy lunch and breakfast when she packed her husband’s sack lunch each day.

Embrace slow changes.
When you have a family in tow, making big changes to your diet can feel overwhelming and may not be practical. The cool thing is that you can see good results by making one small change at a time. Preparing lunch ahead of time helped Ellie dramatically reduce her sugar intake and lose 4 pounds in two weeks.

Give yourself credit!
When you do something well, give yourself credit. Wives, mothers, and women, in general, put a lot of pressure on themselves to be perfect. Celebrate the positive changes you are making instead of comparing yourself to impossible ideals.

Find social support.
Ellie mentioned that she struggles with being too hard on herself. When Ellie feels down on herself, she reaches out to her fellow PCOS Fit Revolution members. This is so smart! Instead of feeling isolated and disappointed with herself she gets affirmations and encouragement from women who really understand what she’s going through.

 

Erika’s Pro Tips

A PCOS-friendly diet is good for the whole family.
I know many women living with PCOS feel like they have to eat differently from the rest of their family, and this is a huge source of stress. The truth is that a PCOS-friendly diet is beneficial for all humans! Slowly introduce healthier foods and traditions into your family so that you can adjust to a new lifestyle together. Let your family join you on this journey and share in the health benefits!

Longterm success happens one step at a time.
If you are eager to embark on a PCOS-friendly lifestyle, start with the basics. Instead of becoming a gluten-free vegan, cross-fit junkie in the space of one week, just try adding veggies to every meal and strength training a few times a week.

Diving head-first into a complicated and demanding series of lifestyle changes is not necessary for managing PCOS and you might even do more harm than good.

Rethink “kid food.”
Many parents have come to me with the same story… “I bought the (name of junk food here) for the kids, but I ate most of it myself and now I feel awful.”

Children do not need to eat highly processed foods. In fact, it is better if they ate as few of these foods as possible. Consider cutting back on the “kid food” you buy for the family and gradually start replacing it with real food. For example, replace fruit snacks with freeze-dried fruit, PB&J with Apple & Almond Butter Sandwiches and goldfish crackers with roasted almonds. Looking for more ideas? Check out this list of 45 Real Food Snacks for Kids by Stacy Karen of the blog Keeper of the Home.

Be patient and kind to yourself.
It is ok to slip up now and then, that is part of being human! The key to successful PCOS management is not being perfect; the key is to keep trying. Look for ways to make the most out of your current situation. Making lasting changes takes some creativity and resilience.

Do you want insider information and PCOS Fit Revolution strategies? You can get an inside look at our private Facebook group, discussions about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and PCOS management tips sent to your inbox. Click here to join for free.