Stony Brook Medicine Health News

How to Lose Weight with PCOS

Although Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) sounds like a disorder of the ovaries, it’s actually an endocrine and metabolic disorder that affects the entire body, and can cause insulin resistance. 

Insulin regulates blood sugar levels and acts as a storage hormone, signaling to muscle, fat, and liver cells that they should store glucose after a meal.  When it is functioning normally, this storage of excess glucose causes blood sugar and insulin to fall. Women with PCOS can make insulin, but often their bodies can’t use it properly, making the pancreas continually overproduce insulin.

Insulin resistance can cause weight gain and also make it more difficult to manage weight. This weight gain is also a contributor to the complex symptoms of PCOS, and is one of the most important elements in managing the disorder.

Working With a Nutritionist for PCOS

Nutritionists at Stony Brook Medicine review PCOS patients’ current eating patterns and activity in order to help make small and sustainable adjustments to their diet and exercise routines. 

They will review a patient’s food environment, find out how often they are eating, what food they have access to, whether they are cooking at home or eating out, and help PCOS patients make positive dietary and lifestyle changes.

 Adolescents with PCOS have their own challenges. They don’t control the contents of their refrigerator, and may have different dietary needs than family members, such as siblings who expect access to snacks like chips and soda. Adolescents are also exploring new social settings that often involve food, and challenges arise when trying to implement a healthier lifestyle to help manage PCOS. It is hard to avoid pizza if all your friends are socializing at a pizzeria, for example.  

Working with a nutritionist helps patients to think of food as nutrients that benefit their bodies and allow them to function more efficiently. They will work with patients to make manageable changes that can positively affect their PCOS symptoms.

5 Tips for a Healthy PCOS Diet

1. Replace Simple Carbs and Processed Foods

A diet that is too high in simple carbs and processed foods is a major contributor to insulin resistance, which can also lead to feeling hungry sooner and consuming excess calories. 

Replace highly processed foods with fresh foods, including:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Healthy fats
  • Lean protein
  • Whole grains

It is particularly important for women with insulin resistance to choose fiber-rich whole grains and cut down on added sugars. Obvious sources of added sugar are typically found in desserts and sugary beverages, but there are a number of foods with hidden sugars, such as cereal and yogurt. 

Small meals eaten more frequently help avoid the surge in insulin levels. It is important to include protein in snacks and meals, as well.  Protein foods include plant-based options such as beans, hummus, nuts or animal-based options such as chicken, fish, lean meat, eggs, and turkey.

 2. Follow a Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet encompasses many of the elements recommended for managing PCOS symptoms, and is worth exploring for your weekly food plan.

Mediterranean meals are built around vegetables, beans and whole grains, with fish or poultry for protein. Olive oil is used instead of butter for preparing foods. Olive oil is the primary source of fat and provides monounsaturated fat, which lowers total cholesterol. The Mediterranean Diet also includes fatty fish such as mackerel, sardines, tuna, and salmon.

Instead of choosing processed treats high in refined sugar, fruit is served for dessert. 

 3. Choose Nutritious Snacks

Try vegetables with hummus or yogurt-based dips rather than chips and processed, packaged snacks.  Consume fruits with nuts or nut butters.  

To promote satiety throughout the day, focus on what you can eat, rather than thinking about what you are avoiding.

 4. Be Mindful of Emotional Eating

Food is a nutrient that helps our bodies and minds to function efficiently, but many of us eat not because our body needs the nutrition, but because we are bored or stressed, or because eating has become a habit.  

Women, both adults and adolescents, are often busy juggling work, school, family, and social commitments. It is important to find a routine of nutrition and exercise that is realistic and sustainable, and encompass the emotional issues that make it hard to break old routines.

Nutritionists will help you to embrace food as fuel, and can refer you to a therapist who will help you to unlock a new relationship with food. For adolescents, a therapist can help find new ways of thinking beyond the eating habits of mom and dad at home.

 5. Increase Physical Activity

Not everyone feels ready to work out in a gym 5 days a week, but minor changes that will help increase your endurance, like taking a 30-minute walk at lunch-time, will start to have a perceivable impact.

Strength training gets muscles engaged, so buy some hand weights (or use bottles of water) and commit to just 5-10 minutes of weight exercises every day to improve your muscle strength.

The most important thing is to increase overall physical activity by moving just a little more every week. If you are only exercising once a week, then find ways to schedule some extra activity at a time that you can commit to. Our nutritionists have apps and advice to help you make those small changes, and will help you combine them into your regular routine.

For an appointment at our PCOS Center, call  (631) 444-4686.

This article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature. Always consult your healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance and treatment.