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Lifestyle and Nutrition for PCOS

Why do I need lifestyle and nutrition advice?

Our research on PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) has revealed that many people feel unsupported following a PCOS diagnosis. Many of them are told to lose weight but aren't given tools to help balance their hormones and improve their symptoms.

Nutrition

Food is a vital part of our lives and provides us with the nutrition we need to function. Many diets can be problematic or over-restrictive and can lead to us having a negative relationship with food. We want to help you avoid this negative association with food and to know that you can eat delicious and satisfying food – that’s good for both you and for your PCOS. No single food contains the nutrients we need and eating a mixture of foods is optimal for a healthy, balanced diet. These are foods that can help lower insulin levels.

Fibre helps you stay full after a meal as it slows down digestion. Increasing your fibre intake can help regulate your blood sugar levels and can help prevent blood sugar crashes.

High-fibre foods include: wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice, fruit and vegetables.

Like fibre, protein can help you feel fuller for longer and can stabilise your blood sugar levels.

High-protein foods include: lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, lentils and beans.

It’s important to eat fruit and vegetables to ensure you’re getting enough vitamins and antioxidants. Apples, pears, oranges, grapes and berries contain sugar but produce a slower, smaller rise in blood sugar. Most vegetables produce a slower rise in blood sugar and are good to incorporate into your diet.

Eating plenty of healthy fats can help you feel more satisfied after meals as well as reducing your insulin levels and cholesterol.

Healthy fats can be found in: fatty fish, eggs, avocado, nuts and olives.

Explore ways to enjoy your food again, to know that it’s a source of nourishment and not to see it as the root cause of all evil (aka weight gain). We’ll be honest – crash diets could lead to quick weight loss – however it may deplete your body of nutrients, which is the opposite of what you want when trying to conceive. In addition, crash diets are often not sustainable and usually the weight comes back on as quickly as it left. The same goes for limiting your calories or skipping meals, as it can often lead to overeating later on. The most important thing is finding something that suits your lifestyle, allowing you to eat well and enjoy your food. Pro tip: sometimes making healthier changes with friends and family can give you additional support and motivation.

Exercise

Regular exercise has a number of health benefits for everyone, including people with PCOS. Exercise can:

  • Increase blood circulation and oxygen intake which can improve your heart and lung health.
  • Help with weight loss or weight maintenance.
  • Reduce insulin resistance (which can improve PCOS symptoms).

Some people with PCOS feel tired after eating – often due to insulin resistance – so a 10-minute walk right after a meal can be a great way to increase energy levels.

We’re not saying you should start running marathons (we certainly don’t) but gentle exercise (like yoga or pilates) can be beneficial.

One study has shown that yoga helps to decrease testosterone levels and alleviate symptoms of anxiety, it can also be a great way to start getting a little more active!

Cardio refers to any exercise that gets your heart rate up. Doing so can help reduce insulin sensitivity and release serotonin, which is mood stabilising. Jogging, cycling and swimming are excellent cardio exercises. It can be really tough getting started, we really like the NHS couch to 5k programme (we’ve done it so you know it’s good!)

Not only will sports help get you more active, but they also have the added benefit of doing exercise with friends! This can be great to stay motivated and feel supported when trying to lose weight.

Weight training can involve using resistance bands, weights, or your own body weight to build muscle. While it might seem intimidating to go near the buff men screaming in your local gym, it’s definitely worth a shot. This training type can help you build healthy muscles and bones. Increasing your muscle mass can help you burn more calories while you’re resting and reduce belly fat and testosterone.

Guidelines suggest you should aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of more vigorous exercise. We know this sounds quite daunting so just remember that even a small increase in exercise can help you lose weight. Try to find something you can enjoy and that fits into your lifestyle.

Supporting your new changes

Meal plan

Boring, we know but planning meals in advance can help you stay on track and make sure that you’re eating the foods that are beneficial for you and your PCOS. It can also help you when food shopping to avoid the temptation to pick up high-fat or sugary foods (this also helps you save money!).

Seek support

Get someone on your team! Making diet and exercise changes can be a big thing and you may feel really excited in the beginning, but motivation can dwindle. Having a friend or family member make changes with you can give you the additional support you need to stay motivated.

Be kind to yourself

Lapses in healthy eating are common but don’t let this make you feel like you’ve failed (you haven’t), so ditch the guilt. It’s important to be kind to yourself. Try not to lose motivation – making nutrition and lifestyle changes is hard. Remember it will likely take time for you to notice physical changes or changes to your PCOS symptoms, so allow time for your body to adjust.