What it is and what you can do to manage it

Back in 2012, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This is a complex condition that affects how your ovaries work and how your hormone levels balanced. PCOS is linked with a resistance to insulin and raised levels of testosterone. They say that the exact cause of this is unknown, but I know exactly what caused mine – my extreme weight loss. Most women begin to notice common symptoms in their late teens or early twenties.

What’s the difference between Polycystic Ovaries and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?

I have done so much research over the years to try and find a simple answer to this question. However, I still remember to this day, a nurse explaining it to me in the simplest way possible ‘‘Polycystic Ovaries you can see, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome you can’t’. I know this statement is pretty basic in scientific terms, but to me this made sense. PCOS is a hormonal imbalance; whereas Polycystic Ovaries are harmless follicles – the follicles are underdeveloped and unable to release eggs due to PCOS, which means ovulation does not take place.

What are the common symptoms of PCOS?

Irregular / absent periods caused by an imbalance of hormones

  • Difficulty in getting pregnant
  • Excess facial and body hair
  • Weight gain
  • Thinning hair on your head
  • Oily skin
  • Acne

The symptoms an individual gets will differ from case to case; however, my main symptoms are absent periods and acne.

 How can you manage PCOS day-to-day?

Whilst there’s still no cure for PCOS, the condition can be managed day-to-day with the right lifestyle choices (including a healthy diet and exercise) and medication, if needed.

PCOS is insulin and testosterone-driven condition. The increased levels of testosterone and insulin resistance can ultimately lead to weight gain, especially around the stomach area, and insulin resistance can also result in other health problems such as type 2 diabetes.

I want you to all know that if you are going through this, please don’t let the above information scare you, it’s okay, there are ways to manage this. Weight gain can be managed with a few simple lifestyle changes, and your insulin sensitivity can be improved with a healthier diet, to balance your blood sugar levels.

I want to make it really clear that this does NOT mean you have to start taking part in the next FAD diet ‘craze’, this is not going to do you any good. Extreme restrictive dieting is how I developed PCOS in the first place, this will only hinder your management of the condition due to the nutrition you’ll be depriving your body of.

How can training help?

We all know there are so many benefits, both physically and mentally, from exercising regularly. As mentioned above, increased levels of testosterone and insulin resistance can cause you to carry extra weight, but reducing your body weight by just 5%, can really make some significant improvements to your symptoms.

Personally, what I find really helps me, both physically in managing my symptoms, and mentally, is strength training. We all know I LOVE this type of training. Strength training is a great way to regulate the testosterone levels in your body, the higher levels of testosterone is what can cause acne and thinning of the hair, so by regulating this hormone balance with weight training, this should help to manage these symptoms better.

If you know me, you know I am really not a lover of cardio, give me a dumbbell over a running machine anyday! However, needs must, and HIIT training is a great addition to your training program if you suffer from PCOS. The quick, rapid and continual change of movement along with your heart rate continually ranging from higher bpm to lower, can play a massive part in improving your sensitivity to insulin. I aim to get in at least two 20-30 minute HIIT sessions per week. I do this to help me manage my hormone imbalance, but the mental effects are also great, I always feel so good after, those endorphins release right out of me!

What do I base my food intake on to help me manage my symptoms?

Insulin is a hormone that helps the body to use energy from the food you have eaten. Lots of women with PCOS are resistant to the effects of insulin, therefore, there is more glucose left in the blood to compensate.

I have a feeling you are all expecting me to say that you have to eat lots of veggies, high protein, low carbs, and low sugar treats. To a certain extent, this is absolutely correct; however, I am a huge believer in carbs!

The only thing I tend to go by to help me manage my PCOS is The Glycaemic Index (GI). For those of you who don’t know what this is, this is a ranking system that shows you how quickly blood sugar rises after eating certain foods. Due to the insulin resistance that PCOS causes, the release of carbs are important to regulate and incorporate low GI foods within your diet to help reduce your symptoms. See some examples of low and high GI foods below:

High GI Foods (meaning these foods aid in your blood sugar taking less time to rise)

  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Potatoes

Low GI Foods (meaning these foods aid in your blood sugar taking longer to rise)

  • Certain fruits and vegetables
  • Pulses
  • Whole-grain foods, such as oats and brown rice

So kids, if you need more education on the types of foods that fit your dietary needs, look up The Glycaemic Index.

I hope you have all found this blog helpful. I think it’s so important to raise awareness of conditions such as PCOS, I know so many women suffer from this but it is not spoken about enough. I’m always only a message anyway if you want any more advice. Take what you need from this strong girls. I’ll see you all soon.

Steph x