The most common advice given by medical professionals to women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is to diet and lose weight in order to manage the symptoms of PCOS associated with abnormally high insulin levels.
Intentional weight loss is often a real struggle for women with PCOS and more often than not leads to feelings of frustration, guilt, shame and desperation, especially where fertility becomes a concern.
It’s understandable that many women in this position will turn to drastic diets and risk developing disordered eating, poor body image and eating disorders as a result.
We know from research that long term food restriction of any kind (aka dieting) has a harmful impact on our metabolism, hormonal regulation, fat stores, sleep, and mental health, all of which will exacerbate the symptoms of PCOS further, rather than alleviate them.
For this reason, I encourage my clients and students to shift their focus away from intentional weight loss (which often leads into the restrict/binge cycle and causes further weight gain down the line) and instead focus on developing a better relationship with food, exercise and their bodies.
Registered dietitian, Robyn Nohling from RealLife RD, has a great blog post series on the topic of the causes of PCOS and how to manage it without resorting to dieting, through gentle nutrition, exercise and managing sleep and stress.
There’s also two podcast episodes on the topics of PCOS and intuitive eating, which I highly recommend listening to on the Love Food podcast by Julie Dillon RD and Don’t Salt My Game by Laura Thomas, PhD.
On my own 6 month online programme based on cognitive behavioural therapy, I cover body image, intuitive eating, mindfulness, emotional eating and taking a gentle approach to nutrition and exercise. We also look at monitoring alternative markers for assessing our health, which are more useful than using the scale, for diagnosing and monitoring health conditions in clinical settings.