Women with poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) have higher levels of the hormones testosterone and insulin. This can lead to side-effects such as increased body fat (especially around the tummy) and finding it more difficult to lose that fat, as well as acne, skin tags around the neckline, increased facial hair, male-pattern baldness and insulin-resistance. Insulin-resistance is similar in people with type 2 diabetes (T2DM), therefore, the same complications for those with T2DM apply to women with PCOS. These women can also have irregular menstrual cycles and fertility issues making it more difficult to fall pregnant.
The role of insulin in the body is to move glucose in the blood to other cells in the body to make glycogen for the body’s energy source. Insulin has a secondary role of taking excess glucose that is not used for making energy and storing it as body fat, Insulin-resistance is a condition where the body’s cells are no longer receptive to insulin and less glucose can be used to make energy in the cells and more glucose is then stored as body fat. The more glucose there is in our blood, the more insulin is released to remove it. When the cells are insulin-resistant, the brain gets a little scared of the level of glucose in our blood and releases even more insulin to try and reduce the amount of glucose in the blood. These high levels of insulin quickly take the glucose from the blood and store it as body fat to be used as fuel in times of famine. These days though, we have don’t really have to worry about famine so this stored fuel is rarely used but more often than not, it is added to each day. Eventually, this can lead to being overweight, and, if you have PCOS or T2DM, it can be even easier to store body fat, and harder to lose it. So, here’s my TOP 5 must-do’s for losing weight and improving symptoms.
- Keep your carbohydrate intake lower than your protein and fat intakes. I know this goes against the Australian Dietary Guidelines, and also the guidelines for managing T2DM in Australia, but all the newest evidence is showing a low-carb diet is so much better for people with insulin-resistance ( UK and USA guidelines for managing diabetes now recommend a lower carb diet). It kind of makes sense if you think about it. If your body is not very good at pushing large quantities of glucose into the cells, why would you feed it large quantities of foods that break down into glucose? In fact, studies have shown that eating a low-carb diet can actually improve the sensitivity of insulin. This means, if you take Metformin, or another medication to help with insulin-resistance, you may be able to reduce your dose or even stop taking it (Your GP will guide you on this). Don’t just take my word for it either. The CSIRO are developing a new diet plan for people with insulin resistance that focuses on eating a lot less carbs than the current guidelines suggest.
- Don’t fear dietary fat!! That’s right, you heard me. For so long, our dietary guidelines were based on a flawed study performed in the 1950’s by a man called Ancel Keys. His Seven Country Study “showed” that eating a diet high in saturated fats was linked to heart disease. However, there were a lot more than seven countries studied and Mr Keys left out the countries where the residents ate lots of saturated fats but didn’t have high levels of heart disease, or countries where the residents ate low levels of saturated fats but did have high levels of heart disease. Now, 60+ years later, we know polyunsaturated oils are higher in omega-6 fatty acids, which can increase inflammation at cellular level, while monunsaturated and saturated fats and oils are higher in omega-3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory and can actually reduce inflammation in the body. New evidence also shows there is no link to eating saturated fats and getting heart disease. Carbohydrates and sugar have also been linked to inflammation in the body. It makes sense that if we reduce our fat intake, we will increase our carbohydrate intake, and, as I mentioned above, that isn’t such a good thing for people with insulin-resistance. So, your take home message here is eat a range of fats (except trans fats which really are quite nasty). Don’t fear the natural fats found in meats and dairy but of course, they are still high in calories (energy dense) so don’t go crazy and watch your total calorie intake each day if weight loss is your goal. It doesn’t matter what you eat, but if you eat more than you need, you will put on weight.
- Eat your greens… and other colours too! Vegetables contain so many vitamins and minerals that are necessary for our bodies to function optimally. Plus, they are full of fibre and they are pretty low in calories (what we call nutrient dense rather than energy dense) so you can fill up on them which is important if you are trying to lose weight and you’re watching your total calorie intake. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends women eat five serves of veggies each day. They also recommend we eat less of the starchy vegetables too (potato, pumpkin, sweet potato, peas and corn). It’s actually quite easy to fit five serves of veggies into your day if you start including them in every meal, including snacks. Try having half a tomato with scrambled eggs for breakfast, some carrot and hummus for mid morning snack, load up your plate with a range of colourful salad veggies at lunch and include lots of steamed or stir-fried greens with your evening meal. Take advantage of weekly farmer’s markets. The produce is fresh and often locally grown. It’s in season, which means it costs less than imported produce and you might find yourself feeling adventurous and increase the variety of veggies you eat.This guide will show you what a serving of different veggies looks like to help you calculate your total intake.
- Drink water and lots of it. I know we live in a modern world and we have so many beverage options available for us to choose from, but nothing is better for you than water and nothing is cheaper too. There is no need to go and buy bottled water either. Tap water is just as good and readily available. Drinking water can help you feel full, keeps your gastrointestinal tract healthy, helps relieve constipation, is good for keeping your muscles from fatiguing too quickly and keeps your skin healthy and plump.
- Get organised. This is the cornerstone for success for anyone who is wanting to live a healthier lifestyle and feel their optimal best. So often, we start down the path of healthy eating, only to trip ourselves up when something unexpected happens in our day. We get invited out to lunch, we forget to take our lunch to work, there’s nothing in the pantry to eat or we get home late from work. We then choose foods that don’t really meet our goal requirements and we end up eating something we wish we hadn’t. Not only have we eaten something that makes us take a step away from achieving our health goals, but we tend to feel disappointed with ourselves for falling off the wagon. I really don’t like my clients to get angry with themselves if this situation ever happens to them. I want them to understand life happens. We are all busy and just trying to do our best. I want my clients to learn from this experience, and jump back on the path of healthy eating, So, what do I suggest? Firstly, plan what you will be eating for your meals for the week. I typically cook double quantities at dinner and have leftovers for lunch the next day. I write down all the dinners I plan to cook for the week and from there, I prepare my grocery shopping list. I try to save time by only visiting the supermarket once each week. During the week, my breakfasts are always the same each morning and my snacks are often quite similar. I then plan my day and pack my meals the night before. I have a great cooler bag that fits all my meals and an ice brick to keep everything cool. I keep extra snacks in my bag, my desk drawer and in my car too, for times when something unexpected happens and I don’t happen to have my cooler bag with me. I even keep a plastic fork in these areas too so I really don’t have an excuse to not eat well. I’ve been planning my meals this way for years now so I rarely find myself in a situation where I’m forced to eat something that doesn’t suit me (I have coeliac disease so I’m really careful to choose foods that are gluten free). As always, practice makes perfect and the more you get organised and plan ahead, the more it becomes a habit and before you know it, you’ve adopted a new healthy eating lifestyle that will see you achieve all your health goals and keep you healthy for life!
Cheers for now