A PCOS dietitian can help you manage Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). As nutrition experts, we understand that a diagnosis of PCOS can be overwhelming at first, but it does not have to be. We can empower you with the nutrition changes to help you manage your symptoms. Let’s start with the basics of PCOS.
What is PCOS?
PCOS can be a big challenge for as many as 10 percent of young women have a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovarian syndrome. As hormones in the female body become unbalanced, many women struggle with weight gain or difficulty losing weight and difficulties getting pregnant.
It is actually very common for PCOS to be mistaken for many other diseases.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome early symptoms:
- Few or no menstrual periods. This can range from less than nine menstrual cycles in a year (more than 35 days between cycles) to no menstrual periods. Some women have regular periods but are not ovulating every month. This means that their ovaries are not releasing an egg each month.
- Heavy, irregular vaginal bleeding. About 30% of women with PCOS have this symptom.
- Hair loss from the scalp and hair growth on the face, chest, back, stomach, thumbs, or toes. About 70% of women in the United States with PCOS complain of these hair problems caused by high androgen levels.
- Acne and oily skin, caused by high androgen levels.
- Depression or mood swings. Hormonal changes are a known cause of emotional symptoms.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome gradual symptoms:
- Weight gain or upper body obesity (more around the abdomen than the hips).
- Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair.
- Repeat miscarriages
- Symptoms of too much insulin and insulin resistance, which can include upper body weight gain and skin changes, such as skin tags or dark, velvety skin patches under the arm, on the neck, or in the groin and genital area.
- Breathing problems while sleeping. This is linked to both obesity and insulin resistance.
- Pain in the lower abdomen and pelvis.
- High blood pressure may be more common in women with PCOS, especially if they are very overweight.
A PCOS Dietitian can help you manage your Syndrome
Nutrition, as well as other forms of treatment, can truly help women with the symptoms and frustrations of PCOS. It was thought years ago that PCOS was a reproductive disorder but in fact it is an endocrine disorder. Endocrine disorders are any that deal with hormones secreted by the endocrine glands. PCOS deals specifically with the hormone insulin. Normally after a meal blood sugar rises, the pancreas secretes insulin and insulin acts as a key that unlocks cells to get the blood sugars inside to be used as fuel. In those diagnosed with PCOS, insulin is resistant so sugars don’t get into the cell as efficiently and the body produces more and more insulin. It is this excess insulin that causes weight gain in many women with PCOS.
Four PCOS Dietitian Strategies
What can you do to manage PCOS?
Here is clever way to remember the 4 steps thinking of each of the letters in PCOS:
P = Practice Mindfulness
Because many of us struggle with an unhealthy relationship with our food, it is crucial to begin learning the art of “conscious” or “mindful” eating, a lifelong learning process with incredible results. Our PCOS Dietitian can help you eat mindfully because if you are enjoying what you eat you will eat better foods in smaller portions. Being in tune with your body and learning to recognize hunger, satisfaction, and fullness are key to eating mindfully. Check in with yourself before, during, and after a meal and rate your hunger on a scale from 1-10, 1 being ravenous and 10 being stuffed to the point of discomfort. We should aim to stop eating around 5, where we are satisfied and not “full” but not still hungry. The goal is to eat mindfully and slowly so that we can recognize when our body is satisfied.
Some tips to practice mindfulness:
- Don’t let food act as a band-aid. Addressing the underlying issue that is causing you to overeat, whether it be stress, anger, sadness, or boredom, will lead you to eat mindfully
- Never get to a 1 on the hunger scale (ravenous). Keep pre- portioned snacks handy at work, school, and meetings to hold you over until dinner time
- Eat breakfast! Your metabolism slows over night and eating something first thing in the morning will jumpstart your metabolism. Starting the day mindfully will carry throughout the day and you will be more energized
- Use smaller plates during meals. We have been trained since childhood to “clear our plates”. Now it is time to re-train our brains to practice mindful eating.
- Slow down! Try to eat your meals while sitting down, giving your body plenty of time to enjoy the meal and giving you time to recognize fullness cues.
Here is a PCOS dietitian illustrating a mindful eating exercise. Practice mindful eating with Kristin:
C = Carb Care for managing Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Our bodies need a variety of foods to get the nutrients we need each day. Some women with PCOS believe that they should completely cut out all carbohydrates from their daily diet. “Cutting out carbs will decrease the amount of sugar in my blood, which will decrease the amount of insulin released from my pancreas, and I’ll lose weight, right?” The answer is no. Cutting out an entire food group will cause you to be deficient in tons of nutrients your body needs to function each day. The key with PCOS, and all of us really, is to regulate the amount and type of carbohydrate we eat at each meal. Nutrition is key for managing PCOS, we can help design an individualized nutrition plan.
Some tips for carb care:
-At each meal a carb serving should be no larger than one cup or should take up only about ¼ of your plate (and remember, use a smaller plate for mindful eating and portion control!)
-Choose carbs like fruits, whole grain breads and pastas, dairy, potatoes with skin, corn, peas and beans instead of sugary, processed cakes and sweets. The fiber in fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains, and beans as well as the fat and protein in dairy help to slow down digestion of the carbohydrates and improve insulin levels, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels
-Keep processed sugar, which is a carb, to a minimum
O = PrOtein
Add a source of protein to every meal to slow down the digestion of carbohydrates and to keep you fuller longer. A portion of protein should also take up no more than ¼ of your plate and be no larger than about the size of your palm.
S = CaliSthenics
Exercise is an important part of PCOS treatment. Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day is shown to improve the functioning of many organs in the body and can help to stave off carb cravings that many women with PCOS suffer from. Exercise may also aid in healthier eating habits.
Women with PCOS understand and struggle with the side effects of the condition on a daily basis, but incorporating these 4 simple concepts into your daily life can really have a huge impact in lessening some of those frustrating effects.
Popular Blogs written by our PCOS Dietitian to help you dive deeper in PCOS Nutrition include:
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Food for Fertility
- Grain Free or Gluten Free for PCOS?
- Best diet for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Our Top 3 Tips for Healthy Eating with PCOS
- PCOS friendly Snacks
For more information about PCOS, take a look at this blog posted in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website on PCOS.
Our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists in Greenbelt, Columbia, Rockville and Annapolis, Maryland can work with your physician to help you. We also have virtual telehealth appointments available. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms please call our office at 301-474-2499 to make an appointment so we can help.
Blog reviewed and updated September 2020.
An award winning recipe developer, Dietitian Kaitlin’s mission is to empower others to reach their health goals by encouraging them to get back into the kitchen. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating and Cooking with Diabetes.