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Acne, weight gain, irregular periods and fertility struggles. Those are just some of the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal problem that affects up to 20 percent of women worldwide.
The prevalence of PCOS in India is higher than in other countries and unfortunately, PCOS cases in young Indian women are on the rise. Studies say that 1 in 5 Indian women of reproductive age suffers from PCOS.
In this article we will explore the symptoms, the causes, the details of the PCOS diet, and the lifestyle that women who have been affected by PCOS should follow. This should be considered alongside the PCOS treatment advised by your Doctor.
PCOS number of cases: global average graph
PCOS causes are varied and it arises from a combination of factors.
Studies show that PCOS runs in families1. Multiple genes contribute to an increased risk of PCOS. Carrying a specific gene variant doesn’t guarantee you’ll exhibit symptoms but it is a factor which could, when combined with other factors noted below, result in PCOS2.
If your mother has higher levels of testosterone during her pregnancy with you, your risk of developing PCOS goes up3.
A sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, and obesity contribute to insulin resistance and excess inflammation. This makes PCOS more likely, as well as worsens PCOS symptoms.
Up to 70 percent of women with PCOS have insulin resistance, meaning that their cells can’t use insulin properly.
Obesity is a major cause of insulin resistance.
Getting adequate movement, good nutrition, and managing weight won’t cure you if you have PCOS, but they can improve symptoms, quality of life, and future health outcomes4.
Several environmental pollutants have been linked to PCOS, too5. These include organochlorine pesticides, perfluorinated compounds, phthalates, and bisphenol A (BPA). Major hormone disruptors, these chemicals are found in air, water, soil, and food, as well as in household cleaning supplies, food containers, and beauty products.
Many women have PCOS but don’t know it. In one study, up to 70 percent of women with PCOS hadn’t been diagnosed6.
PCOS is a “syndrome” or a group of symptoms that affects the ovaries and ovulation. Its three main features are:
The PCOS hormonal landscape of a woman. Source: Precision Nutrition
The most common PCOS symptoms are:
Doctors would typically diagnose PCOS when someone exhibits at least two of the following three symptoms:
While it is common for doctors to prescribe medication to treat PCOS, several international guidelines as well as the national guidelines by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India, note that the first-line of treatment for PCOS is weight management through proper diet and exercise.
The guidelines note that certain lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, are considered first-line treatment for adolescent girls and women with PCOS.
These modifications have been effective in restoring ovulatory cycles and achieving pregnancy in obese women with PCOS. Weight loss in obese women with PCOS also improves hormone levels.
On the Internet, you’ll find PCOS diet plans that contain long lists of foods to avoid, or ‘must have’ foods or high-intensity exercise programmes.
We are not going to do that here. Based on the science and our experience of working with thousands of clients, we know one thing for sure: it’s not possible to consistently stick to an extreme diet and fitness plan. It just does not work long term.
The good news is that most people see big improvements with just three small and sustainable lifestyle changes.
Research shows that lower carb diets can be helpful7. Diets with a lower diary content can also help. See this article we’ve written on a low-carb Indian diet.
When you think of lower-carb, focus on what you should eat and not on what not to eat. This will help you focus on what you need to do and take action.
Here are the key things to focus on when looking to lower your carb intake.
When the above foods take up most of the space on your plate, you will find that you automatically fill your plate with smaller amounts of grains and starchy vegetables (like potato).
In women with PCOS, exercise can provide many benefits:
Here is the goal you should aim for.
Aim to get at least 45 mins of movement each day.
This does not need to be a workout. Even a brisk walk can make a big difference. Find exercise options that you like doing – playing a sport, dancing, cycling. Whatever you look forward to doing. This will ensure that you are regular with it and don’t need to rely on motivation or willpower to keep you going.
Getting enough sleep is not a ‘nice to have’. It’s a ‘must do’ to allow your body to operate at its best. This includes hormonal health too.
Aim to get 7 hrs of sleep on a consistent basis.
Having a good sleep routine helps a lot to prepare your body and mind for sleep.
Take a look at this infographic where we outline a power-down ritual that you can use to wind down for the day and get high-quality sleep.
If stress is a problem for you, include some stress-relieving activities into your daily schedule. Meditation, walking outdoors, time with family and friends, and engaging in your favorite hobbies are great stress-busters.
It can be harder losing weight with PCOS. That is one reason you should focus on the lifestyle habits we mentioned in the previous section. Your diet, movement and sleep have a bigger influence on your health and PCOS symptoms than just your weight. In many cases, fat loss will happen anyway as a natural side effect of better overall health. But if it doesn’t, you’ll still be eating, moving, feeling, and living better.
We have outlined below a PCOS weight loss diet plan that you can try in order to better balance your diet, lose excess weight and improve your PCOS symptoms.
Please use this as a guide only. The portions are based on a woman in the weight range of 60-70 kgs.
We would recommend that you work with a Daily9 coach to customize it further for your needs.
Vegetarian diet for PCOS
Dinner: Eating out
When your goal is to improve your PCOS, you need to be laser-focused on what will help with that goal and what will not.
As we noted at the start of the article, insulin resistance is one of the causes for PCOS. One big factor behind insulin resistance is a high consumption of certain types of foods in the diet.
Foods like this usually fall in 3 categories:
High calorie foods to avoid for PCOS
Here are some examples of such foods:
It is impossible to have a full list but hopefully you have understood the logic – foods that offer little nutrition but contain a lot of calories.
Women who have been affected by PCOS can certainly improve their situation and lead a healthy and normal life by following the diet, exercise and sleep strategies noted in this article. While losing weight with PCOS can be harder, it is possible.
This is echoed in the national guidelines which state the following.
Eating well, staying active, and maintaining a healthy weight (or losing even a small amount of weight if you’re overweight) can improve PCOS symptoms.
We’ve worked with hundreds of women and understand the unique challenges they face when trying to lose weight or find a weight loss diet plan. You can see some of our success stories here, including the story of Chitra who lost 25 cms in spite of her thyroid and PCOS issues. The Daily9 system is proven to work as an effective weight loss diet plan. Women coaches at Daily9 have developed practical ideas and strategies that work in real life and improve the weight loss that women achieve with Daily9. This helps with weight loss and also many health conditions that Indian women face like digestive issues, diabetes, PCOS, thyroid, fatty liver and joint problems from excess weight.
While there are many calorie counters out there, we believe that a focus on quality & nutrition (and not just calories) is critical for any weight loss diet plan. Instead of tracking calories, we believe in tracking healthy habits at Daily9.
Most importantly, the Daily9 system is practical and suits an Indian family environment. This will set you up for success with weight loss and also weight maintenance in the long run.
If you’re looking for a scientific and practical approach to weight loss, take a look at the Daily9 coaching programme. It’s the only programme that helps with weight loss and weight maintenance.
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