PCOS & Food: The Hidden Potential of Mind Management

Today’s blog post is a slightly different approach as I am focusing on the particularly interesting topic of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). This was a request from one of my subscribers who has this condition and wanted some tips to help her. I think it is important for all of us to be aware of how we can help ourselves or others with conditions like these.

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common condition that affects how a women’s ovaries work. The NHS identifies there to be 3 main features of PCOS including:

  • Irregular periods meaning your ovaries do not regularly release eggs
  • Excess androgen meaning there are high levels of ‘male’ hormones which can lead to physical signs of excess facial and / or body hair
  • Polycystic ovaries causing your ovaries to become enlarged and contain underdeveloped fluid-filled sacs (follicles) around the eggs. These sacs are often unable to release the egg and so ovulation does not take place.

If you have 2 or more symptoms you can be diagnosed with PCOS. PCOS affects about 1 in 10 women in the UK and although it is difficult to know the exact amount of women, it is a prevalent and very common condition. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown to doctors currently, but there is a general consensus that it can run in families.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

The symptoms usually appear in your late teens or early 20s and they can include:

  • Irregular or no periods
  • Difficulty with getting pregnant as a result of failure / irregular ovulation
  • Excessive hair growth – usually on face, chest, back or buttocks
  • Weight gain
  • Thinning hair and hair loss from the head
  • Oily skin or acne

PCOS can also be related to development of health problems later on in life such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol.

For the remainder of the discussion I have chosen to focus on the symptom of being overweight. There are ways in which our food choices can combat this to an extent, and therefore avoid future health conditions as much as possible.

What causes PCOS weight issues?

PCOS can often cause abnormal hormone levels in the body including high insulin. In many cases women are insulin resistant resulting in them having a very high insulin level.

Being overweight or obese also increases the amount of insulin your body produces.

What is insulin and insulin resistant?

Insulin is a hormone that controls the sugar levels in the body. The role of insulin is to allow cells of the body to take in glucose and use them either as fuel or to store them as body fat.

If an individual’s body becomes resistant to insulin it will try to cope by producing more insulin. As a result it is possible that there can be a build-up of insulin levels in the blood. With the over production of insulin it is difficult to use it all as fuel, and it can lead to excess fat storage.

Insulin resistance can make it extremely hard to lose weight and many PCOS sufferers struggle with this.

However there are food choices that individuals can make that can help rather than hinder these PCOS symptoms.

What foods should I add to my diet?

Below I have created a diagram showing the types of foods that if added to insulin resistant diets can help with PCOS and weight. This is described as a low glycaemic index (GI) diet in which the body digests slower. As a result the insulin levels rise less and slower than they would otherwise.

What foods should I avoid from my diet?

In the next diagram I have listed some of the items to avoid. In general foods highly saturated in fat and sugar should be avoided. Obviously the reality is that it is impossible to completely remove them from your diet. It is important to remember that everything should be consumed in moderation and where you can reduce intake, try doing so.

I would like to say that I am not a dietitian or expert on what is the best alternatives. My understanding is that if you make switches like white bread to brown and milk chocolate to dark, these will definitely be helpful. I think it is important to eat alternatives rather than cut food out of your diet, and again remember eat everything in moderation! 

The behavioural science behind this is much the same as my other articles relating to dieting. Training your System 1 & 2 can help immensely and remembering to focus on long term goals rather than short term gain.

Don’t fall for the marketing tricks, check your labels when you shop, and try to make more pro-active choices. Remember that having a growth mindset is just as important as making the initial choices. This mindset will help you keep in mind that you are in control of your food choices and you can change them in order to help yourself.

Check out my Indian Chickpeas with Poached Eggs recipe featured in the image below for a high fibre and anti-inflammatory meal!

I hope you enjoyed this slightly different post today. If you have any other topics like this you would like me to cover, feel free to leave it in the comments below. Alternatively, email me on email@behaviouralfoodie.co.uk

I love to hear from you!

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