PCOS Friendly Lifestyle
I hate the word diet. It’s a fad it means you’re not sticking to it, to me it means short term. So this is my new lifestyle, this a change I have made to look after my body and I have reaped the rewards.
I signed up to the 30 day PCOS diet challenge to support a very dear friend who is battling her own fertility issues in the hope that doing it together she would not feel so alone, infertility can be a very lonely and dark place so support is really so important. Now the plan is designed by a PCOS sufferer Kym Campbell who has spent years researching the effects of different foods on the body and how they can aggravate or hinder not only PCOS but other side effects too. The difficulty with PCOS is even though 1 in 10 women suffer with it there is no cure and so often doctors don’t know enough about it that they throw medication at it to try and fix the symptoms rather than look at the root of the problem. Here are a few facts most people aren’t aware of with PCOS:
- You only have to have 2-3 symptoms to be diagnosed you do not have to have them all but getting a diagnosis can be difficult
- Main symptoms include; hair loss, excess hair growth, acne, carrying weight around the stomach, tiredness and lack of energy, struggle to lose weight, irregular cycles
- You can still have a period and not ovulate
- Some symptoms become apparent with tests like high testosterone, lack of ovulation or irregular ovulation
- If you fall into the overweight category of PCOS or are insulin resistant then your difficulty to lose weight can be further hindered by exercises like Running or rowing which instead of burning fat the cortisol you generate through endurance training turns the glucose you produce into fat – meaning you actually don’t burn any fat but gain some! The best exercises for this is things like HIIT, yoga & weight training as they all decrease cortisol levels
- You can have PCO which is Polycystic Ovaries’ where you have cysts on your ovaries or PCOS which is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome where you have the symptoms but no cysts
- PCOS or PCO does not mean you cannot conceive naturally, despite what doctors might tell you. Zak is living proof! However it can take longer and be more complicated and many women do still need IVF assistance
- Some women also suffer the likes of Endometriosis which can cause
chronic pelvic pain
It is also important to point out that PCOS can lead to a number of other health problems for sufferers as we are at higher risk of Womb cancer, cervical cancer, diabetes, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, depression, high cholesterol and sleep apnea. So it is so important that we live a healthy lifestyle as much as possible but it can so often be a catch 22 as we need to keep our weight down but can’t lose weight easily.
Now for me I have PCOS so no cysts and my symptoms have a changed a little, in the sense that pregnancy seemed to reset my body so I consider myself to now have thin type PCOS as I lost a load of weight after Zak was born but my symptoms are acne, irregular cycles, irregular ovulation and higher testosterone levels. It’s not like I was doing this challenge to lose weight I was comfortable where I was at and my weight has been pretty stable since I came back to work but I was intrigued to see if cutting out certain foods were going to directly impact my health. I was incredibly sceptical but willing to support my friend and try it!
The idea of the diet is to eliminate foods that affect PCOS so basically sugar, gluten & dairy and also avoid certain oils. Kym writes a plan which includes a foods to avoid list, a foods you can have list and recipes. Her plan is designed to ease you in so the first few days is just video tutorials to help you understands what foods do to your body, why you react the way you do etc. Just this element of the challenge was enlightening for me – did you know the pancreas is the only organ that doesn’t repair itself?! Then you do 1 week of compliant breakfasts and each week you add an extra meal so week 2 you introduce dinner and week 3 you introduce lunch so by the end of the 30 days you are eating totally PCOS compliant food. However Emma and I decided to go all in from day 1 as we don’t do things by halves! I have mainly been dairy free since September 2019 after deciding to try it and seeing a beneficial change in my cycle so that wasn’t going to be a challenge and cutting out gluten was basically bread and pasta so I felt comfortable with that, the sugar was going to be the hard part so we thought let’s just get it over with!
Sugar is mind blowing, we all love it and anyone who says they don’t eat much of it is lying. It’s in everything, literally everything. Next time you do your food shop look at the ingredients on products you buy, it will blow your mind. It’s in baked beans, tinned tomatoes, mayonnaise, ketchup, bread, drinks, cereal, yoghurts, crisps and so much more. Not to mention the obvious like alcohol, cakes, chocolate, sweets. I naively thought I didn’t eat a lot of sugar or I thought I knew when I was eating sugar but I had no clue. I was eating things I thought were healthy like yoghurt & granola and it was filled with sugar!
Now sugar withdrawal is no joke and although it affects everyone differently for the first week of the challenge I found it so hard. I would pace round the house climbing the walls trying not to eat everything in sight, I stopped sleeping, I felt moody and irritable but I was so determined to stick to it. By the 2nd week I was over the worst of it and I had found some good substitutes, I had more energy and I started to sleep better. Remember it takes 21 days to break a habit! Gluten & dairy really weren’t particularly challenging for me, I swapped to alternative pasta’s like chickpea or beetroot and I discovered I love Kale or beetroot wraps so lunches were easy enough. I did have to get a little more creative with my home cooking and in the early days I would spend my evenings on Pinterest looking for recipe ideas as I live quite a busy lifestyle with a toddler so meal prep was key for me, so there was definitely a bit of trial and error. Pinterest and the Facebook support group we are part of really helped with snack ideas which is what I really struggled with initially. I couldn’t just grab a bag of crisps anymore I had to check ingredients in everything and I found that stressful – though I have now found some compliant crisps! Emma shared a brownie recipe with me and one of the other ladies shared her cookie recipe and they changed my life!
To help us over the 30 days Emma & I shared our food diaries at the end of each day. This helped us share recipes or meal ideas we liked, meant we were supporting and encouraging each other and also stopped both of us for sneaking in treats as we knew we had to tell each other at the end of the day! Over the 30 days I was 95% compliant to the diet. I had microwave rice/quinoa once a week which has sunflower oil in that we were supposed to avoid and for Jay’s birthday I had 2 glasses of red wine. Everything else was strictly compliant.
I persisted with my couch to 5k running as it was a separate challenge I wanted to complete and I’m pretty sure I’m not insulin resistant so shouldn’t hinder me but I did also increase my kettlebell and HIIT workouts, so overall I was working out around 6 times a week.
At the end of the 30 day challenge I felt incredible and was converted but intrigued to see the results. Now we didn’t think to measure inches before the challenge started so we could only go off the scale which perhaps may not be an exact representation of the true changes to our bodies as muscle is heavier than fat. But for me the results show I lost 9 pounds my BMI is now 25.5 and its never been this good! My skin hasn’t cleared completely but has drastically improved, I ovulated so clearly I could tell which side the egg was released and my energy levels have improved. My cycle also went from 40 days to 34 days! There was no denying the difference in my body, my clothes were looser I looked more toned (thanks to the exercise) and I had a definite healthy glow about myself. A little personal bug bear of mine though is the term skinny. So many people said how skinny I looked and I find that as derogatory as being called fat. I am not skinny and I never will be. I have saggy boobs a mum tum I still tuck in my knickers and an arse and none of that is going to change. I don’t want it too! I am a healthy size 12, I have curves and yes I look slimmer but my body is not a perfected sculpture, my thighs still jiggle! I appreciate the compliments and that people are noticing my hard work has paid off but please can we say I look healthy not skinny?
I turned 30 just after the challenge finished and I deliberately went back to eating whatever I want for a week to see if it changed my body or symptoms and in all honesty it did. As soon as I reintroduced sugar every day I stopped sleeping properly, I was hungrier and ate more, I craved sugar so much more, I had less energy and my skin changed after a few days of sugar. By the end of the week I had cut my sugar back down and I wasn’t eating gluten. I felt bloated and I had put 2 pounds back on. I don’t live my life by the scales so I wasn’t too worried about the weight gain but I didn’t like how different I felt and that was just after 1 week! So I decided I would stick to a compliant PCOS lifestyle 80% of the time. The reality is I love food, all food, there’s barely anything I don’t eat and I like to go out for dinner with my friends and family. I like to have a few glasses of wine when I don’t have Zak and if this pandemic ever ends I’d like to go out on the town for a few margaritas or prosecco’s! So simply put 80% of the time I eat no dairy, gluten or sugar but if I go out for dinner, or Jay comes over I have a glass of wine and eat what I want. I do think it’s a case of everything in moderation and this is why I call this a lifestyle change because it’s something I intend to maintain for the rest of my life.
I’ve shared some of my journey, meals and snack ideas on social media and I have received so many messages of people asking questions or advice, people supporting and encouraging and it’s been really interesting to see how me just sharing my journey has helped others. People have asked if it’s an easy adaption to make. The short answer is no. Bu the reality is it can be! I have found gluten & dairy free substitutes easily enough and if I have treats I try to make them either gluten, dairy or sugar free. Going sugar free is definitely the hardest part of this lifestyle as you can’t buy many products that are free of all 3 – hence why I get so excited when I do find some! For sugar substitutes it does involve getting creative in the kitchen like I say I found some great recipes for brownies & cookies and surprisingly there are a fair few baby/ toddler snacks that are compliant, particularly from Aldi. Aldi do the cheapest and tastiest snack bars which are everything free. The Skinny Food Co online offer a wide range of sauces and snacks that are sugar free. Also when I say I don’t eat sugar I mean refined sugar, so I still eat fruit and natural sugars – snack on some berries instead just don’t overdo it! I also think so many people assume healthy food tastes like crap when it doesn’t have to – this is why I share my meals to hopefully show you can still have tasty and appealing looking food that’s good for you.
This is not designed to be a preachy post that you all need to cut out sugar because the reality is that’s bloody hard and not practical for everyone. This is what works for me and my body and everyone has to do what’s right for the individual. All I can say is I am changed woman; I would never have thought I would make such a drastic change to my life and I don’t know if it was a global pandemic, turning 30 or being a mum that made me want to make positive changes but it’s worth it. I do now watch Zak’s sugar intake and he does often eat my dairy and gluten substitutes (the kid eats everything) but he still eats plenty of gluten & dairy. 95% of what Zak eats is what I have cooked at home so he does tend to eat what I do more often than not but I doubt when he goes to his dads it’s the same! I believe kids learn by example so I take my responsibility of mum very seriously and I want Zak to enjoy food as much as I do, I’m so proud of how varied his diet is but I want him to understand everything in moderation. I feel like I finally understand my body, why it does what it does and what it needs me to do. I now can give it the TLC it needs and be grateful for it and I look better for it. 30 never felt so good