High androgen levels are pretty much the bane of our existence.
Androgen levels work in unison with your insulin levels. When insulin goes up, so too does testosterone Sharp et al. Insulin also happens to be the hormone that makes our bodies store body fat, which is why a lot of women with PCOS find it nearly impossible to lose weight, while others often accumulate excess stomach fat despite being otherwise thin. Putting two and two together here, since our insulin levels are controlled by what we eat, if we can implement the right diet for PCOS and eat in a way that keeps our insulin levels lower, our PCOS symptoms can improve.
After suffering for four years with infertility, Jamie Bietzell joined my free Challenge in November of She started applying the food principles I describe below and by January of she was getting a regular cycle for the first time in years. By April she had lost 50 pounds, by June she was pregnant, and by December she was a mom.
Just herself, this diet, and a lot of determination. Chronic low-grade inflammation is an inherent part of a PCOS diagnosis which means our immune systems are constantly on amber alert. While inflammation is good if you happen to be injured, when it happens all the time it leads to many of the serious long term health risks that are associated with PCOS. At a more everyday level, inflammation makes a major contribution to many of the daily health issues so common amongst our PCOS community.
Things like bloating, sinus congestion, low energy, brain fog, sore joints, insomnia, anxiety and depression. Given this unfortunate starting point, it makes perfect sense that when choosing what to eat, women with PCOS need to avoid pro-inflammatory foods, and eat more of the things that are rich in natural antioxidants instead.
Almost without exception, all of the success stories from my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge come from women that have tried a lot of other diets before finally discovering that a PCOS diet is a unique beast. While we can draw on the healthy influences of the Mediterranean Diet, Whole30, and Paleo recipes, none of these are perfectly synonymous with the type of diet that works best for PCOS.
The most important misconception I want you to forget is this seemingly universal belief that you need to restrict your calories if you want to lose weight. Since PCOS is the cause of weight gain, reducing your calories is a bit like putting your dirty socks in the dishwasher. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not keeping up with our current understanding of how PCOS works.
The most famous study showing the ineffectiveness of restriction diets reviewed 31 long term weight loss studies and found that between one to two thirds of dieters regained more weight after they finished their diet than what they lost while on it Mann et al. Ketogenic diets require that you consume very small amounts of carbohydrates — like 20 grams per day small.
This metabolic state mimics starvation and is known as ketosis. Going into ketosis is a pretty amazing way to lose a lot of weight quickly, and this type of diet has been widely proven as an effective PCOS therapy Paoli et al. This is another legitimate approach that can certainly be effective, but after spending a lot of time looking into it further, I now think that vegetarianism is far less than optimal for women with PCOS. I totally appreciate the appeal of a plant based diet from an ethical stand point.
I used to be a vegetarian for this very reason which made it harder to accept that the best diet for PCOS includes eating animal protein. The problem with processed foods and PCOS is threefold. And as a general rule, processed foods contain pro-inflammatory ingredients that make your symptoms worse. The worst of these are vegetable oils, which I talk about more in Step 8, and sugar which happens to be the next step in your polycystic ovarian syndrome diet induction. There are also a bunch of compounds in processed foods that people have good reason to be concerned about.
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These include suspected carcinogens like chemical food coloring, potassium bromate, butylated hydroxytoluene E , and its close cousin butylated hydroxyanisole E To me processed foods are things made in factories, where engineers and food scientists collaborate to produce highly marketable products that play on our evolutionary weak-points.
The priorities in this process are cost and convenience rather than health and wellbeing which is kind of counterproductive to using food as medicine. Whole foods by comparison, like the ones included in this comprehensive PCOS Diet Cheat Sheet , are foods your granny and great granny would recognize so these should be easy to identify. At the risk of becoming your least favorite person, the reality of polycystic ovarian syndrome is that quitting sugar is the most powerful step you can take to overcome your diagnosis.
When I first learned this, I freaked out.
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It causes your body to store rather than burn fat, promotes unwanted facial hair, acne, and male-pattern baldness, and it makes you feel like crap emotionally. It would be completely naive to presume that knowing something is bad for us is enough to stop us eating it. Research has clearly demonstrated a number of similarities between food addiction and drug use disorders Pivarunas and Conner 10 with the latest reviews finding strong evidence of sugar addiction at a clinical level Wiss et al.
Other studies have found sugar to be more addictive than cocaine — at least in rats anyway Ahmed et al. I guess that having study participants ingest pure sugar for the sake of science would never make it past the ethics review board…. Responding to the social, psychological, and biological challenges of quitting sugar really was a key driver for me when I developed my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge. During this immersive experience I seek to nourish and satisfy any potential cravings, ensuring participants are well supported during the first few weeks of this difficult step.
Karina, a previous Challenge participant, is proof that even the worst sugar addicts among us can be saved. When she started my free Challenge, Karina was so hooked on sugary foods that not only was she suffering from many of the typical PCOS symptoms, but it was making her feel like a monster around the house too. With the wellbeing of her family in mind she took the plunge and went sugar free. Another nice benefit of getting off sugar is that your taste buds become much more sensitive, which makes everything else taste sweeter.
I realized after switching to a PCOS friendly diet that fruit can be a tricky food to navigate. For example, a comprehensive analysis has shown that even in people without diabetic-like health concerns, fructose promotes insulin resistance in the liver ter Horst et al. The presence of fiber and other nutrients in fruit appears to offset the damage caused by this sugar. The upshot of all this is that whole fruit is still healthy for women with PCOS, but it pays to be smart about how you include it in your diet if you want to optimize your health outcomes.
I recommend only having whole fresh fruit and avoiding ALL fruit juices, canned fruit, or processed fruit concentrates. Also make sure to choose fruits that lean towards a tart taste and avoid those that are super sweet. While you can find published data sources for the fructose content of most fruit, the natural variation found between different species as well as how ripe the fruit is when you eat it means that the best way to tell is by using your taste buds.
The sweeter the taste, the higher the sugar content.
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This means more currants, berries and melons, and less apples, grapes, and bananas. While unlikely to take off as the next sexy diet fad anytime soon, the principles of low carb, slow carb, from whole food sources describes many of the important nuances of how best to eat carbs when you have PCOS.
Going slow carb on the other hand means choosing carbohydrate food sources that are digested slowly over time. Now I have some major issues with the use of the glycemic index, but for the purposes of choosing carbohydrate food sources it does provide some moderately useful guidance when coupled with the third part of this principle. Whole food carbohydrates are things you can grow and then harvest without any processing. This means starchy vegetables like sweet potato, yam, taro, and squash.
Beans and lentils are another great whole food carbohydrate, while suitable grains include quinoa, buckwheat, or red, black or wild rice. To put all this into context, as a practical guideline, I generally recommend eating either 3 oz 85 g of grains, around 5 oz g of legumes, or approximately 3 — 8 oz 85 — g of starchy vegetables depending on how starchy the vegetable is with every meal.
Bianca, a previous Challenge participant, embraced this dietary principle as a key part of her journey to beating PCOS. Eating low carb, and slow carb, from whole foods sources took Bianca from the brink of gastric surgery when she first joined the Challenge, to finally finding a way to control her weight naturally. This is because, our hunger and fullness hormones are cued by protein but not by sugar and carbohydrates.
When we eat good sources of protein we not only support our wellbeing, but we feel full for a long time afterwards. One of my favorite demonstrations of this fact can be seen in the second week of my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge , where I prescribe steak and eggs for one of the breakfast meals. This is one of the reasons why whole food sources of fish, meat and eggs are such powerful tools for supporting a good polycystic ovaries diet.
Even breakfast where you can. I also generally recommend buying the most well-raised fish, meat, and eggs, you can afford. This sentiment is widely shared by many of her equally well- informed contemporaries with nutrition researchers like Adele Hite from the University of North Carolina publishing thorough criticisms of the recommendations made by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Report Hite et al.
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Breaking free from the ingrained idea that fat makes us fat is a major milestone towards real results for women wanting to switch to a PCOS diet. I still see it daily within my own extended family! When I learned that wholefood sources of fat were good for me, I have to admit, I went a wee bit crazy on the butter and pork belly. I started eating enough saturated fat to give a cardiac surgeon a heart attack but I also monitored my metabolic health markers like fasting glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Eating more fat is the other side to the low carbohydrate coin. Diet intervention studies reliably show that a decrease of dietary carbohydrates along with an increase in fat consumption promotes weight loss, testosterone reduction and improved insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS Goss et.
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This is useful beyond just weight loss and the management of insulin resistance though, as these are the kinds of metabolic changes that can help restore ovulation, and reduce the effects of acne and hirsutism. And while in Step 6 I talk about the benefits of protein to help satiate hunger, our fullness hormones are also perfectly designed to be triggered by fats. This is exactly why foods like coconuts, olives and avocado are so incredibly filling, making them great for staving off sugar cravings.
Katrina for example, had gained 50 pounds since the birth of her daughter, was suffering from secondary infertility, and was upset by the fact that she could grow a full beard. So the best diet for PCOS should include lots of fat. This includes saturated fats which despite what everyone else believes, are actually really good for you. For more information on this topic you can read my 6 reasons to add saturated fat to your PCOS diet here.
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