Managing PCOS with Diet and Exercise

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Being diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a lifelong challenge, but with lifestyle changes, proactive medical involvement, and a supportive network of friends and family, your activity levels, dreams of kids and family, and career development are all still possible.  While many with PCOS struggle with infertility, irregular periods, unwanted hair, and skin or acne changes, a lesser discussed association with PCOS is the psychological changes women undergo.

The working partnership between you and your OB/GYN will keep you on track as you adjust to your condition, but you must remember you are not alone in this. For the one in ten women that have been diagnosed with PCOS, the following guidelines for lifestyle changes and management have shown to be successful in keeping your body healthy and your mind sane.

DIET: Eating certain healthy foods can help fight the symptoms associated with PCOS and can alleviate some of the pain and discomfort often experienced. Statistics classify about 50% of women with PCOS as obese or overweight, and the risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure is increased. With PCOS, the body’s insulin absorption rate can slow to a halt, and the body is easily depleted of energy levels necessary for weight loss, but also wreaks havoc with sugar.

Avoiding starchy foods and sugary foods (diets high in carbohydrates) will help lower insulin resistance. Foods to add would be those high in fiber as they slow down the digestive system, giving the insulin (sugar/glucose) more time to be absorbed. Great additions include:

  • cruciferous vegetables-(broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts)
  • greens- (red leaf lettuce and arugula)
  • green and red peppers
  • beans and lentils
  • almonds
  • berries
  • sweet potatoes
  • winter squash
  • pumpkin

Lean protein will also increase energy levels without taxing the digestive system, and tofu, chicken, and fish are great sources.  Filling your diet with anti-inflammatory foods can also help your body fight PCOS, and the following are excellent choices:

  • tomatoes
  • kale
  • spinach
  • almonds and walnuts
  • olive oil
  • fruits, such as blueberries and strawberries
  • fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines

Unfortunately, the list of foods to avoid are probably standard go-to’s in most households, yet they increase the inflammation and sugar levels, making it difficult for the body to fight against PCOS. Any carbohydrate or sugar-laden food should be avoided: white bread, muffins, pastries, desserts, potatoes, white flour products, as well as foods containing high fructose corn syrup, sucrose and dextrose. This goes for drinks as well as foods!

EXERCISE:  Many people really underestimate the value of exercise as a benefit to both the mind and body. While a workout or aerobic exercise program reaps the greatest benefits, even increasing your daily physical movements can make a difference. Not only does exercise and movement increase weight loss and motivate the body’s internal systems improved ovulation- a necessity for those looking to become pregnant- stress levels are also lowered when endorphins are released from daily activity.

Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers, natural sleep aids, and stress reducers. Increased physical activity can work to combat the psychological issues often encountered with PCOS.  Any weight loss or exercise program should be done in consultation with your doctor, but you can take small steps toward more movement. Don’t look for a close parking spot at the grocery store; take the stairs instead of the elevator; take your dog for a walk instead of penning him in the yard; take a friend to the mall on a rainy day instead of renting a movie- the friendship and laughs would be good for your mental health as well! You can also look into yoga or meditation classes as you ease into a more active lifestyle, and these will benefit the mind and body as well.

Your doctor will be your best friend as you work to understand your body’s changes and needs, but if you are intentional in your actions when you aren’t in their office, you can manage your PCOS symptoms just as successfully. Find a support group or enlist a trusted friend or family member to be your confidant and encourager as you address your lifestyle and uncover areas for change.

Don’t be overwhelmed: substitute one food or item at a time. You can do the same thing with an exercise routine until you are confident or comfortable with joining a gym, hiring a personal trainer, or pairing up with a friend. You can take control of your PCOS and not let it’s symptoms control you!

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