PCOS and Diet

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

Q: I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which makes losing weight really difficult. My doctor has advised me to limit carbs. Do you have any other tips on how I can boost my weight loss healthily?

A: PCOS is caused by an imbalance in several sex hormones and as you’ve discovered, weight gain and difficulty in losing it are common symptoms, as are irregular or no periods, facial hair, acne and infertility.

Many women with PCOS also suffer with insulin resistance, where the body resists the effects of insulin and so produces more to compensate. These continuously high insulin levels keep blood sugar levels low, which in turn often prompts cravings for sugary carbs. Unfortunately, this means it’s easier to put on weight – and harder to lose it.

Insulin resistance also increases the risk of longer-term health problems. Women with PCOS, for example, are seven times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes or have a heart attack. However, with proper treatment and weight loss, the risk of developing problems like this can be slashed. In fact, losing between just five and 10 percent of excess body weight is enough to reduce the risk of getting diabetes and heart disease, improve fertility and can make a big difference to symptoms.

It’s likely your doctor has advised you to take more notice of the carbs in your diet in an effort to combat the effects of insulin resistance. In particular, to help keep blood sugar levels stable so you feel fuller for longer, you should limit sugary carbs and replace them with wholegrain carbs such as wholemeal breads and wholewheat pasta. There’s also evidence that eating protein-rich foods such as fish, lean meat and tofu, together with carbs can help to minimise rises in insulin. And of course, filling up on five fruit and veg a day will help to satisfy your appetite without breaking the calorie bank.

I suggest you stick with the calorie allowance recommended by WLR and make sure that most of the carbs in your diet come from unprocessed sources. You might find you lose weight more slowly than you’d like, but you should still see those pounds gradually drop off.

Finally, you might also like to read The PCOS Diet Book by Colette Harris and Theresa Francis-Cheung (Thorsons, £12.99) or log on to Verity, a self-help organisation for women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, www.verity-pcos.org.uk

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