It is the beginning of a new month and I hope that you have already set yourself your health intentions and action steps for this month??
I certainly have, as I have a health update that is guiding my own actions to make some changes for this month.
As my work is focused on women’s health and wellbeing, I thought it was relevant to share my own personal update as I have been going through some health issues.
For those that are new here, and I have had a lot of new subscribers of late.
Hi, I’m Emma. I’m 40 and a health coach. A health coach who also believes in balance and fun as an essential part of good health. I’m also not naturally thin, I actually have to work quite intentionally to have a very average looking body. With this most recent health update, it actually explains why that is.
For the last 18 months or so I believed that I was heading into peri menopause even though at 40, that is quite young. My periods pretty much came to a halt, despite having hormone levels tested that were normal, and still feeling the symptoms of a monthly period. In fact I had all the symptoms of peri menopause, i.e. ever ever-increasing challenge to lose weight, headaches, trouble sleeping, feeling hot all of the time, increased hunger levels, digestive problems and bloating.
After another trip to the gynaecologist, it turns out….
I am NOT peri menopausal at all, but I do in fact have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
It feels like a relief to finally have an answer and something that I can work with.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects between 8-13% of women of reproductive age according to the World Health Organisation. It is characterized by an imbalance of hormones, leading to the growth of cysts on the ovaries. This can result in a range of symptoms, including irregular periods, infertility, weight gain, acne, and excessive hair growth to name a few.
While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, it is believed to be influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Insulin resistance is also commonly associated with PCOS, as it affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels and i know this is something that I have suspected for some time that my body has been dealing with. A sound reason why I had been feeling hungry literally ALL of the time!
Understanding the role of diet in managing PCOS symptoms
Diet plays a crucial role in managing PCOS symptoms. By making strategic food choices, you can support hormonal balance, manage insulin resistance, and reduce inflammation in the body.
One of the key principles of a PCOS diet is to focus on foods that have a low glycemic index (GI). These foods are digested more slowly, causing a gradual rise in blood sugar levels. This helps to prevent insulin spikes and promotes more stable hormone levels.
In addition to managing blood sugar, a PCOS diet should also include foods that are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. This can help to reduce inflammation in the body, which is often elevated in women with PCOS.
Whilst a lot of the PCOS diet and lifestyle recommendations are similar to that of being menopausal, I am going to be looking at some additional diet tweaks as there is something that is causing it to flare up more. Over the past 3 weeks I feel like I have been constantly looking as though I am 6 months pregnant whilst also having what feels like continual pre-menstrual cramps and not to mention feeling insatiably hungry ALL of the time.
Here is where I believe lies the problem with many mid-life women, because it’s the same for perimenopause too. I believe in being able to move towards a more intuitive style of eating. No one wants to track and measure their food forever. But it can be really difficult to listen to your internal hunger cues, when an imbalance of hormones causes you to feel hungry all of the time.
This is where using tools such as food tracking can be useful to help keep in check how much you are actually eating and ensure you are getting enough protein to help with those hunger signals and rebalance your hormones.
Over the years I have been working as a health coach, I have moved away from overly restricting my diet or completely removing certain foods or food groups. I always want to feel freedom with my diet, eating habits and not let it take over my life, and that’s always what I share with my clients too.
But at this point i’m experiencing some discomfort and I am going to have to work on removing some things that are known triggers for PCOS such as refined flour (potentially wheat and gluten) and foods that are higher on the glycemic index. I may also have to look at switching back to a vegan protein as dairy can be an issue for some people with PCOS. It will be something that I will however test out because you know, this girl loves me some cheese. I have also just ordered a 2kg bag of whey protein that I am not going to waste!!!
But my motivation is different now. Sure I’d still like to lose a little bit of weight, but more than that I want my stomach to stop being in as much pain. I’d also like to prevent my hair from falling out, or growing facial hair which are also common side effects of PCOS.
So whilst I will have to look at making some additional changes to my diet, it isn’t so much as just cutting things out for the sake of it, but more about tuning in and listening to my body more.
These are the steps that I will be taking to better manage my PCOS symptoms, but actually these are all good suggestions for good base health practices.
Foods to include in a PCOS diet
When it comes to a PCOS diet, it’s all about choosing nutrient-dense foods that support hormonal balance and manage insulin resistance. Here are some of the best foods to include:
1. Lean proteins: Opt for lean sources of protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, and legumes. Protein is essential for hormone synthesis and can help regulate blood sugar levels.
2. Low-GI carbohydrates: Choose complex carbohydrates with a low glycemic index, such as whole grains, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and brown rice. These foods provide a steady release of energy and help prevent insulin spikes.
3. Healthy fats: Include sources of healthy fats in your diet, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. These fats are important for hormone production and can help reduce inflammation.
4. Colorful fruits and vegetables: Incorporate a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables into your meals. These foods are rich in antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation in the body.
5. Fiber-rich foods: Aim to include plenty of fiber in your diet through foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels and promotes healthy digestion.
It’s important to note that while these foods are beneficial for managing PCOS symptoms, portion control and overall calorie intake should also be considered for weight management. Some food tracking can be beneficial in the early stages if you are looking to lose weight.
Foods to avoid in a PCOS diet
Just as there are foods that can support a PCOS diet, there are also some foods that should be avoided or limited. I’d also say that these too are just good base health habits to practice for all midlife women.
1. Processed foods: Highly processed foods, including fast food, sugary snacks, and refined grains, should be avoided or at the very least significantly reduced. These foods can lead to blood sugar spikes and inflammation.
2. Sugary beverages: Stay away from sugary sodas, fruit juices, and energy drinks. These beverages are high in added sugars and can negatively impact insulin resistance.
3. Trans fats: Trans fats, commonly found in fried foods, packaged snacks, and baked goods, should be minimized or eliminated. These fats can increase inflammation and worsen insulin resistance.
4. Excessive caffeine: While moderate amounts of caffeine are generally fine, excessive caffeine intake can disrupt hormone balance and exacerbate PCOS symptoms. I have only just recently started drinking coffee, mainly drinking mushroom coffee, but I will test this out to see what my tolerance to it is as it can also be beneficial to weight loss.
5. Dairy products: Some women with PCOS find that dairy products can worsen symptoms such as acne and hormonal imbalance. Consider reducing or eliminating dairy from your diet if you suspect it may be contributing to your symptoms. I don’t have any acne and am hoping dairy isn’t too much of an issue for me, as I would hate to have to stop eating cheese.
Always consider that everyone will respond to foods differently and it’s often about testing out foods and getting to know your body better. If you are concerned you may also consider working with a nutritionist or dietician.
Incorporating Exercise Into A PCOS Lifestyle
In addition to a healthy diet, regular exercise is an important component of managing PCOS. Exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity, promote weight loss, and reduce symptoms such as mood swings and depression.
When it comes to exercise, find activities that you enjoy and can stick to. Aim for a combination of cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises. Particularly focusing on improving strength and also stress-reducing mind-body activities and low level zone 2 cardio.
Conclusion: Taking control of your health with a PCOS diet
A PCOS diet can be a powerful tool in managing symptoms and improving overall health. By focusing on nutrient-dense foods, managing insulin resistance, and reducing inflammation, you can take control of your PCOS and reclaim your health and happiness.
Please keep in mind that I am not an expert on this and am only just navigating these changes myself. I’ll keep all my findings, research and progress up to date here as I share my own PCOS journey.
Remember, every woman with PCOS is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It may take some trial and error to find the right balance of foods and lifestyle changes that work best for you. Stay patient, be kind to yourself, and celebrate every small victory along the way. With the right approach, a PCOS diet can transform your life and help you thrive.
Consider speaking with a PCOS medical specialist, this is NOT to serve as medical advice.
Your journey doesn’t have to be a scary or an all or nothing approach, small action steps will build up over time and get you moving back in the direction of better health and feeling better in your body.
I am damn passionate about helping you to do that too. To meet you where you are at and help you take the right step that is specific for you.
Want to get started on the base health habits that I believe ALL women need to start with CLICK HERE to join my 5 day kickstart challenge