Eating for PCOS: My Journey with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Overcoming It
Today we're getting personal everyone!
I believe it's important to talk about things, and share information, even if it may be embarrassing, if someone else can benefit from it.
Like 5-10% of women in North America I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCOS is categorized as having cysts on your ovaries, heightened levels of male hormones, and irregular periods, though you don't need all of those to be diagnosed.
It happened about 2.5 years ago after mentioning to my doctor that I was concerned that my periods were very irregular.
I was sent to a gynaecologist to get tests done that would confirm the diagnosis. The doctor was terrible.
(I don't want to name names but if you're in Toronto and need to see a gynaecologist, message me so I can tell you who to avoid!)
She basically told me in the worst way possible that my androgen levels were raised, I had cysts on my ovaries, it would probably be really hard to get pregnant, and if symptoms got really bad there were medications I could go on.
No bedside manner.
She didn't say anything about diet, or any natural ways to deal with it. Nope. She wrote me a prescription, that I never got filled, and left the room. Didn't even say anything like "that's all, bye." I thought she was coming back so I waited in the room for 10 minutes before asking a nurse if I could leave. Worst doctor ever.
So I of course went home and googled. And cried. The search results online weren't very helpful and I felt really bad about myself.
I wanted to feel like a fertile, feminine goddess, but instead I felt like the opposite.
I wallowed in self-pity for a while.
But I did not want this diagnosis to be the end of it. I thought there must be some way to cure it, and if not cure, then greatly improve.
There were a few resources I found online about how changing your diet can help.
I read that many women with PCOS are insulin resistant. This means that your body can't use the insulin it produces, and it'll pump out more. Too high levels can make your ovaries produce more androgens, like testosterone.
And a diet that's high in starchy gluten and sugary foods makes it really hard to control insulin resistance, and weight gain.
I Believe My Vegan Diet Started It
Okay, I know this may upset people in the vegan community.
I have great respect for them because they believe they're helping the world through not eating animal products. Believe me, I thought that too, that's why I was vegan!
But after over three years of a vegetarian, and then vegan lifestyle, my body wasn't happy.
I was pale, and cold all the time, my nails were weak, I got sick a lot. And this is when I started missing periods. It only just occurred to me lately that these might be connected.
Way before I was even diagnosed with PCOS, I ate a lot of greens, yes and I still do, but I also had a lot of starchy pastas and breads, and a lot of soy.
I believe veganism can work for some people. I am not one of those people. I know some people even manage their PCOS through a vegan lifestyle. I don't know how they do it but it was the opposite for me.
Changing My Lifestyle
I started back slowly, with eggs. And they felt so good. I felt all this energy returning to my body and knew I made the right choice. Salmon was next, which was absolutely amazing. I was reintroducing all this food so I was back to where I was before the vegan detour. But I hadn't cut anything out.
It wouldn't be for another couple years to be diagnosed with PCOS and learn more about it that I realized I needed to haul ass.
While slowly figuring out what made me feel good and what made me feel bad, my periods started returning to normal. I was getting them every month!
I thought that it was high time that I get tested again because it's my body and I want to know how everything is functioning. When I told my doctor that my periods were normal she was more than happy to do another blood test.
And guess what. My hormones are normal!
They're not going to give my ovaries an ultrasound because she thinks it's unnecessary right now. The only time she would, would be if I have trouble getting pregnant in the future, which she doesn't think I will (& hopefully I won't!).
How I Eat Now
I try to keep it real simple. I don't need anything fancy, just quick things that are healthy, delicious, and affordable. I am not a nutritionist in any way but I know more or less about what is good and what is bad.
One of the diets I read about for PCOS is low carb and high fat/protein. I don't stick to any one main diet, I do what works for me, but I try to abide by this.
Here are some examples of meals that I eat:
-Oatmeal with yogurt
-Scrambled eggs & cherry tomatoes, and fruit
-Salad (which I always put cashews, sunflower, pumpkin, & chia seeds on)
-Canned salmon and rice
-Leftovers from dinner
-Salmon, rice, broccoli and carrots
-Taco bowl with beef, rice, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado
-Chicken and veggies
-Pizza because let's face it, it's delicious and okay to eat every once in a while
-Banana or apple with peanut butter
-Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (see above: pizza)
I can still work on this. It can always improve but it's important to enjoy yourself sometimes too. It should be noted that I never drink milk, I rarely have pasta and bread, and I hardly ever consume soy anymore. I believe these were important changes.
I also try to exercise as much as I can by doing Barre (which is great because I can do it unlimited for free!).
My advice to anyone struggling with PCOS is that you're not hopeless. You can take control over it even if that seems daunting and scary. And there's no one-size-fits-all diet to go with.
Every body is different but if you take the time to figure out what works and what doesn't, it will help.
You can do it. I'm with you.