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.

16 of Your Biggest PCOS Diet Questions Answered

There is a lot of confusing and complicated information on the internet about PCOS diets. I spent the weekend writing this huge blog post to answer the most common Polycystic Ovary Syndrome nutrition questions in plain language.

If you are looking for a way to start changing your nutrition now, sign up here to get my PCOS Plate sent to your inbox. The PCOS Plate is my simple guide to eating a nutritious PCOS diet, one meal at a time.

 

What is the best diet for PCOS?

Ok, so I think when most of you ask this question, you’re looking for a one-word answer like Paleo, Atkins, Ketogenic or ‘count calories.’ I’m not going to give you that type of answer! When it comes to PCOS diets, I’m agnostic.

I notice that people tend to cling to trendy nutrition fads like they’ve just joined a cult. They find the typically incomplete logic of the new plan flawless and are instantly devoted to its tenets. The problem with this strict adherence is that you eventually burn out or become disillusioned when you do not see the promised results — and you quit.

The End of DietingPCOS Diets

Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome need to move away from the diet mentality and start heading toward a lifestyle. You need to gradually start eating in a way that improves your health and never stop doing so.

“Yeah, ok Erika, but what’s healthy for women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?”

Science has not provided us with the perfect PCOS diet that will solve all of our problems, but we do know a few things for sure. Women living with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome become healthier when:

  • They eat enough protein to promote muscle growth and repair.
  • They meet their vitamin and mineral needs by eating plenty of whole, unrefined ingredients.
  • They eat a lower calorie diet when they need to lose weight.
  • They reduce their intake of refined, highly palatable junk food.

I know that this does not come close to answering all of your burning PCOS diet questions but keep reading — there’s more!

 

Should I count calories, carbs, protein or fat?

Nutrition expert Dr. John Berardi describes calorie counting as “outsourcing appetite awareness to the food-label gods.” Constantly tracking your food is no way to live. You should use food journaling as a way to teach yourself about nutrition and portion sizes. Your goal should be to develop healthy eating habits, so you won’t need to track your meals long-term.

I recommend journaling food periodically so that you can get an objective look at your nutrition. If you are just starting a PCOS diet, journaling your intake for 1-2 weeks can provide valuable insights that will guide your efforts. If you’ve hit a weight-loss plateau or are experiencing new symptoms like anovulation or low energy, a detailed nutrition journal might uncover a hidden cause.

 

How many carbs should I eat?

It’s no wonder that carbs are a huge topic of conversation when it comes to PCOS diets. Studies indicate that switching from a diet high in carbohydrates to a moderate or low carbohydrate diet can improve the ovulation, insulin sensitivity, and blood lipid profiles of women who have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

Just limiting the number of carbohydrates you consume each day is not the best strategy for women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, though. I think it is far more important that you focus on eating higher quality carbohydrates. Most women get their carbs from food products like commercially made bread, pasta, sweets, chips, and cereals. I believe this is problematic for several reasons.

The problem with highly refined carbohydrates:PCOS Carbs

  • Manufactured food products are low in nutrients and fiber, but high in additives, sugars, and calories. Basically, for every calorie of highly refined food you eat, you are receiving very little actual nutrition.
  • These food products tend to be hyper-palatable which means they are formulated by the manufacturer so that you will find it difficult to stop eating them. And – it’s more likely that you will crave them later. So, now you are consuming more calories than you need and getting a microscopic amount of nutrients at the same time.
  • Refined high-carb food products typically cause your blood sugar to spike. Thus, PCOS symptoms like insulin resistance, fatigue, mood swings and cravings become aggravated.

Instead of relying on packaged bread and pasta, try eating more whole, minimally processed carbohydrate-dense foods. They are more nourishing, promote feelings of fullness and tend to cause a gentle rise in blood sugar. Here is a list of the best carbs for a nutritious PCOS Diet:

Most women find that making the shift from refined carbohydrates to whole ones is enough to see positive results. If you think you need to take things a step further, you can aim to get just 40% (or less) of your calories from carbohydrates.

For example, if you consume 1600 calories a day, you want to get 640 calories from carbohydrates or 160 grams of carbs a day. You may find that consuming fewer carbs helps achieve a better result. I suggest starting with 40% and adjust after a 2-week trial, if needed.

 

How much protein should I eat?

Protein is important because it builds lean muscle mass, increases feelings of satiety, and helps to keep your blood sugar stable.

Most women do not eat enough protein. The first step in correcting this problem is to include a protein source with every meal you eat. Poultry, seafood, fish, meat, some protein powders, and eggs are all ideal protein sources. You can also get protein from dairy products and beans. However, these sources also contain carbohydrates so you need to take that into account.

The exact amount you need will vary depending on your activity level, preferences, and body composition. Most experts believe that between .75 grams to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is optimal. For example, a 150 pound woman needs 112-150 grams of protein each day.

If you are trying to lose weight, eating more protein might help. A recent study published in The American Society for Nutrition found that Polycystic Ovary Syndrome patients on a high-protein nutrition plan (40% of daily calories or more) lost more weight than women who consumed less protein. You can read more about this study at the PCOS Nutrition Center Blog

 

What about fat? How much should I eat and what types?

You should eat some fat with every meal. In general, it is pretty easy to consume adequate amounts of fat, so you probably are eating enough already.

Women living with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome should pay particular attention to what types of fats they are eating. If you have PCOS, you’re at risk of developing heart disease. One of the ways to protect yourself from heart disease is to get your fat from whole foods instead of highly refined sources like vegetable oil and margarine. Research indicates that eating high amounts of the hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and omega-6 fats found in processed foods puts you at risk for heart disease.

Here are some examples of healthy fat sources for a PCOS diet:

  • Avocados
  • Nuts, nut butter, and nut oils
  • Coconuts and coconut oil
  • Pasture raised meat and eggs
  • Fatty fish
  • Pastured butter
  • Olives and olive oil
  • Fish oil supplements (especially if you do not eat seafood)
  • Seaweed

Want to learn more about why vegetable oils are not so great? Read this article from the Holistic Squid.

 

How often should I eat?

Some PCOS diets suggest eating more frequently, and others suggest just one or two meals a day. The truth is the number of meals you eat and the timing of the meals is not that important. As long as you are not eating more calories than you need, it won’t make a huge difference whether you divide the total caloric consumption over three meals or four.

The key is to figure out what makes you feel your best and stick to that schedule. In my experience, eating at erratic intervals does not contribute to overall health. If your mealtimes are all over the place, start by eating three meals a day roughly four hours apart. Make adjustments and add snacks if you need them.

 

What about smoothies and juices? Are they good for PCOS?

PCOS diets should not incorporate fruit juice. Even freshly squeezed fruit juice is high in sugar and can cause spikes in blood sugar. If you are craving fresh fruit, eat the whole fruit! It will provide you with blood sugar-stabilizing fiber and you’ll probably consume fewer calories.

shakes-200x300If you need a quick meal on the go, you should make your own smoothie. Commercially prepared smoothies tend to contain low-quality ingredients and are high in calories. A healthy meal replacement smoothie will contain the following elements:

  • High-quality protein powder
  • A serving of veggies
  • A serving of fruit
  • A healthy fat like avocado, nuts, chia seeds or nut butter

 

Do I need protein powder?

No, you do not. You need to eat enough protein, but that does not mean you need a powder. I encourage women to meet their nutritional needs through whole foods whenever possible. Whole foods are more satisfying and are sources for a wide variety of other health promoting nutrients.

Protein powders are a good option for vegetarians and women that struggle to get in enough protein every day. Not all protein powders are created equally, though, and I strongly encourage you to be very selective when shopping for any supplement. Look for organic powders that are free of artificial ingredients and choose a brand that gets their product independently tested for quality. The PCOS Diva sells a very high-quality powder.

 

Should I avoid dairy products?

As far as I can tell as a lay researcher, there is a scant amount of medical research which suggests that PCOS diets and dairy do not mix. For example, a study published in the Journal of International Preventative Medicine concluded that “milk intake and prevalence of PCOS may be related in some way.” There is also some speculation that the hormones found in factory farm dairy could have an impact on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Tarryn from PCOS Diet Support has an excellent article on the hormones in dairy and PCOS

Also, women who struggle with acne often find relief when they cut back on dairy. If your skin is causing you problems, try avoiding dairy for a month and monitor the condition of your skin.

All in all, there is no definitive answer to the PCOS and dairy question. If you are concerned about the risks associated with consuming dairy, then stop eating dairy products. Milk and other dairy products are not an essential food so cutting them out will not negatively affect your health.

Personally, I cut out dairy products to avoid any possible risks. But if I do decide to indulge in some gelato or cheese, I do not stay up at night worried if I have done great harm to myself!

 

Will going gluten free help me lose weight?

It might. When women stop eating commercially prepared bread, pasta, cereals, and snack foods to avoid gluten, they tend to lose weight. I suspect that eliminating these hyper-palatable, high calorie, low nutrient food products is what causes weight loss in most cases. If you simply replace your morning bagel with a gluten free bagel, and your evening plate of Oreos with gluten free cookies, you will not lose weight. In fact, you might gain weight because some gluten free food products contain more calories than their gluten-containing counterparts.

Obviously, if you have Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, you should cut out gluten. There’s lots of talk about a possible correlation between Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and gluten intolerance and Celiac, but there is no clear cut proof. You will not find any medical studies on gluten and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Having a healthy gut will improve your overall health, though. If you suspect you are intolerant of any foods, you should follow an allergy elimination diet (like the one in this article by Dr. Josh Axe) to uncover food sensitivities. 

The takeaway here is that you should get most of your carbohydrates from whole, plant-based sources. Most of these foods also happen to be gluten-free. If you decide to go gluten free, remember that gluten-free breads, noodles and snacks are not necessarily part of a healthy PCOS diet.

 

Should I eat soy?

To be honest, I don’t see much of an upside to eating soy. It bestows very little in the way of health benefits and it’s not particularly delicious. Like dairy, soy is not an essential part of a healthy diet so you can easily leave it off your menu and avoid any risk (no matter how small.)

When it comes to PCOS diets, the concern surrounding soy has to do with phytoestrogens. The phytoestrogens found in soy are similar to estradiol, a form of estrogen. These compounds have some estrogen-stimulating and estrogen-inhibiting effects. It is possible that the phytoestrogens in soy could imbalance our hormones more than they already are — yikes! However, you would need to consume a lot of soy to affect your hormonal balance.

If you choose to eat soy, I recommend that you limit yourself to a serving each day and avoid highly processed forms like soy burgers. To learn more about soy, check out this article by nutrition smarty-pants Ryan Andrews

Should I drink caffeine?

Starbucks_Coffee_Collage

I was about to start writing about the possible health benefits and risks associated with caffeine, but I stopped myself. I don’t think we know much at all about caffeine. For every study that says one thing, another study will contradict it.

If you drink caffeine, be reasonable about it. Limit yourself to one or two cups of tea or coffee a day. Do not drink caffeine after noon because it might disrupt your sleep. Sleep is incredibly important to your health — cappuccino is not! And whatever you do, don’t even look at an energy drink. Not only do they contain an obscene amount of caffeine, they’re also loaded with sugars or artificial junk your body does not need.

 

Should I drink alcohol?

First, set aside any buzz-worthy headlines about the health benefits of beer, red wine or any other adult beverage. For every upside to drinking, there is a downside. The health benefits are just not compelling enough to make a case for regular alcohol consumption.

Alcoholic beverages contain a lot of calories and not a lot of nutrition. For this reason alone, I recommend limiting yourself to just a few drinks a week, especially if you are trying to lose weight. We all know that alcohol lowers your inhibitions, and for some women, those lower inhibitions will trigger poor nutritional choices. Do you find that your beer always comes with nachos? Is your glass of wine followed by a huge plate of lasagna? If you answered yes, then alcohol might be sabotaging your efforts to lose weight.

If you enjoy the occasional drink, I do not think that you must give that up to be healthy. You can follow these rules to keep your PCOS diet on track while savoring a nice Pinot.

  • Limit yourself to one or two beverages.
  • Do not order specialty cocktails or blended drinks. Most are high in calories and sugar. Instead, choose a light beer, red wine, or a hard alcohol with soda water and lime.
  • Have a healthy, balanced meal before drinking. If you are eating dinner out, do not order a drink until after your food has arrived. This way, your buzz will not influence what you choose to order.
  • Metformin and alcohol do not mix. If you drink and take metformin, talk to your doctor about the dangers associated with this interaction.

According to the Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association,women who have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome are at risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). If you were diagnosed with NAFLD, you should talk to your doctor about whether or not you should consume alcohol.

Should I cut out all sugar?

No, you do not need to cut out all sugar. That’s an oversimplified solution to a complex problem.

First, let’s talk about the difference between added sugar and naturally occurring sugars. Added sugars are put into products by human hands. For example, honey in your green tea or the 9.33 teaspoons of sugar found in a can of coke. Naturally occurring sugars are in whole foods that also contain water, fiber, vitamins and nutrients. You don’t need to actively avoid naturally occurring sugar! For example, don’t decide to stop eating carrots because they have more sugar than other veggies. No one has ever become obese by eating too many carrots!

I think any good PCOS diet will limit added sugars. There is a correlation between being overweight and having a diet high in added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends women limit themselves to 100 calories of added sugar per day (that’s 25 grams or 6 teaspoons). The average person consumes around 19 teaspoons of added sugar a day. So there’s a good chance you, too, are eating too much added sugar.

4 Ways To Avoid Added Sugars

  1. Pass on sweetened beverages like soda, juices, teas, and specialty coffee drinks.
  2. Say “no, thank you” to packaged snack foods. Nearly every manufactured food product under the sun has added sugars, even savory foods like chips.
  3. Make your condiments. Manufactured salad dressings, sauces, nut butters and sandwich spreads often contain added sugars.
  4. Make your desserts from scratch. If you are going to indulge in a treat, make it from scratch so you can control how much sugar is added to the batch.

Try keeping your daily consumption of added sugars very, very low. This way, when you go out for a birthday dinner, you can enjoy a small slice of cake completely guilt free! When your diet, on the whole, is very low in added sugar, a rare splurge will not do much damage.

If you are struggling with sugar cravings, read my article on The Cakewalk System to learn how I kicked sugar cravings to the curb. Looking for more tips on how to cut out sugar? Check out this handy article by holistic nutritionist Erica Mesirov

 

What foods absolutely do not belong in a PCOS diet at all?

Hmm, I can’t think of any. A healthy diet is not really about cutting out certain foods. Eating a healthy PCOS diet is about filling your plate with plenty of delicious, satisfying and nutritious foods – so many in fact that there is not much room left in your life for the junk!

The idea that you can never ever have certain foods again is not a productive or healthy way of thinking about nutrition. Strictly eliminating certain types often causes people to fetishize that food. Fantasizing, craving and coveting foods are dangerous behaviors. Indulging in a slice of pizza every month is not nearly as destructive as binging or yo-yo dieting because you can’t tolerate the strict diet you’ve put yourself on.

 

I know I need to change the way I eat. Where do I start?

Begin with the basic building blocks of a nutritious PCOS diet and master them. Most people fail to lose weight because they never turn the basic principles of healthy eating into daily habits. The infographic below is what I call my PCOS Plate. It is a simple concept, but it works. If you can make eating this PCOS plate a lifelong habit, you will not need to buy another PCOS diet book ever again.

PCOS Diet

 

Complex diets are very appealing and they can deliver impressive results in the short term. But, eventually, most people fall off the wagon and all their hard work fades away.

I am begging you to try something different. Slowly start making your meals look more like the PCOS Plate. Take it one small change at a time and once 90% of all your meals look like this, message me and tell me how you feel!

Warning: The PCOS Plate is simple, but it is not easy. It will take time, consistency and practice to make the PCOS plate your habit. Remember to be patient and kind to yourself as you take this step by step, one day at a time. Sign up here to get my PCOS Plate plus PCOS diet meal ideas sent to your inbox