PCOS is one of the most common hormonal disorders in the world. In fact, it’s thought to affect almost 7% of pre-menopausal women in the US (1). What’s more intriguing is that more than 1 million patients are registered per year in India alone. But there is surprisingly limited information on how to treat it naturally. This article explains in details about the best diet for PCOS, as based on scientific evidence.
What is PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)?
PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome) is a condition characterised by hormonal imbalances in women. Specifically, it’s an imbalance in the amount of male hormones (or androgens) produced by the ovaries. This short Youtube video illustrates the condition well.
The term polycystic ovary means, “to have multiple cysts in the ovaries.” However, the development of cysts isn’t actually necessary for the diagnosis of PCOS. Unfortunately there is no known cure yet, and the cause is unknown. However, genetic predisposition coupled with inadequate diet is thought to be a major driver (2).
PCOS is characterised by an imbalance of male hormones in women. It is likely a genetic condition triggered by diet.
Excessive androgen secretion appears to be responsible for most PCOS symptoms. Most will experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Irregular or absence of menstrual periods
- Excess body or facial hair, indicative of increased androgen levels
- Cysts on one or both ovaries
- Uncontrollable weight gain
- Sleep apnoea
- Insulin resistance and associated metabolic problems.
PCOS has a cluster of symptoms related to increased male hormone levels.
Now there are a few basic things to understand before you start using our calculators:
PCOS and Diet: Insulin and Weight Loss are Key
Whichever diet or eating pattern helps you to successfully lose weight and lower insulin will have the best possible outcomes.
Assuming you have been unsuccessful following a low-fat diet (which can work), here are several alternatives:
Low Carb Diets
A low carb diet is an eating pattern where carbs make up roughly 30% or less of your energy intake.
By comparison, the average American diet is around 60% carbs or more than 300 grams per day.
That’s why low carb diets can work well for fat loss when not counting calories.
Low carb diets are also very useful for treating insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. But note those taking metformin will need to speak with their doctor first.
A ketogenic diet is a very low carb, high fat eating pattern (as opposed to higher protein).
Consistently eating this way produces ketones, which serve as the main energy supply for your body instead of carbs. This makes it especially useful for reducing insulin levels and weight loss.
In a small study of 5 women with PCOS, a ketogenic diet reduced body weight by an average of 12% after 24 weeks. There was also significant improvements in PCOS hormones, and a 54% reduction in fasting insulin levels (12).
It’s promising, but incredibly difficult to stick with long-term. Which is why you should combine this diet or any other low carb diets for that matter with Intermittent Fasting.
We all have been fed a lot of bullshit when we were told to eat 5-6 meals a day. We want to stress on this over and over – stick to three meals a day at the most, and aim for a 10-12 hour fasting period between dinner and breakfast.
Studies find that intermittent fasting (where you restrict calories for a limited period) is an easier approach to follow than continuous energy restriction.
It may overcome adaption to the ‘weight reduced state’ by repeated rapid improvements in metabolic control with each spell of energy restriction. It greatly helps improve insulin sensitivity too.
You may think that the best way to achieve PCOS weight loss is to start exercising. And you’d be right. To an extent, that is. Don’t wrongly assume that exercising all day will help you lose a lot of weight faster. It’ll make your body hold on to weight, increase cortisol levels and aid insulin resistance. Regular high intensity workouts with calorie restriction will also reduce your metabolism. Over-exercising and under-eating puts your body under stress and is detrimental to your weight loss goals. To keep hormones balanced – be GENTLE on your body.
Instead, Exercise Wisely
Working out vigorously for 2-3 hours every day, while eating very few calories, will do you no help. Instead, learn to exercise correctly for PCOS weight loss. You want to match your exercise levels to your basal metabolic rate or resting energy expenditure. If you have been exercising and still holding on to weight, try cutting back. Good old low-intensity cardio DOES work; don’t disregard it for the more popular HIIT. HIIT is best only in moderation. Make sure to include weight training exercises into your routine; twice a week is a good start. And aim for 45-60 minutes of exercise a day; no more.
The Power Of Dietary Supplements
Some supplements can help correct insulin resistance, which will make it easier for you to lose weight. Start off by adding Chromium, Vitamin B3, B6, B12 and D to your diet because a deficiency in these can lead to insulin resistance. We also recommend omega-3 rich Cod Liver Oil supplements and Inositol to helps reduce insulin resistance and improve ovulatory function. Inositol or D-Chiro Inositol also helps in reducing obesity by regulating glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis. Natural supplements like Aloe Vera, fenugreek, flaxseed, and licorice root also improve insulin sensitivity with side-effects.
Your gut microbiome could be the hidden key to lasting PCOS weight loss! Studies show that probiotic supplementation among PCOS women for 12 weeks had favourable effects on weight loss, markers of insulin resistance, triglycerides and VLDL-cholesterol concentrations. Imbalanced gut microbiota contributes to both insulin resistance and leptin resistance, and seriously negates you’re your weight-loss efforts. Kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, buttermilk and tempeh are excellent natural probiotics. Also, eat prebiotic foods like garlic, onions, asparagus, and leeks to particularly feed these healthy gut bacteria.
Learn To Beat Stress
Stress and hormonal commotion go hand in hand. Stress is also damaging to your PCOS weight loss goals – it affects your metabolism as well as appetite. Researchers have found disturbed stress response in women with PCOS. That means stress is way worse for you as compared to women without PCOS! Here are some of the stress-busting techniques we recommend – deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, dance, gentle walks in nature, and listening to relaxing music.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on hormones and insulin sensitivity. It also puts your body under stress and disrupts appetite regulation. Aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night. A healthy sleep-time routine will go a long way towards training your mind and body to ‘switch off’ sensory overload and drift off. Keep your room dark and cool, light up aromatic candles, have a bath and switch off all devices that distract you from sleep.
Now go ahead and plug your stats below:
Note: Please remember that the “No. of days” and the “Target date” are just rough estimates and the result can vary from individual to individual based on several factors such as age, activity factors, whether an individual is metabolically adapted or not, etc.
But the majority can rest assured as they will most likely see promising results within the above time frame. For more information on weight loss plateau, please refer to this article.
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