[Image Source: Peter Mooney]
PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It is a condition in which women have an imbalance of the hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. This leads to the growth of cysts on the ovaries. These cysts are benign but can cause problems with the menstrual cycle, fertility, cardiac function and weight gain.
An overproduction of the male sex hormone, androgen, can be a contributing factor. PCOS may also be genetic with women being more likely to develop the condition if their mother or sister has it.
Women living with PCOS typically gain weight easily and find it hard to lose it. The reason for this is because they can't use the hormone, insulin. This ‘insulin resistance’ leads to a build-up of insulin in the bloodstream, which leads to higher levels of the male hormone, androgen. Increases in male hormones lead to symptoms such as body hair growth, acne, decreased breast size, deeper voice, thin hair, pelvic pain, irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, anxiety, depression and weight gain.
Insulin is released upon the ingestion of carbohydrates, from simple sugars to complex starches. Complex carbohydrates are converted to sugar, so breads, pastas, cereals and rice, while taking longer to break down, still add sugar to your bloodstream. Because women with PCOS can’t use the hormone, insulin, they can’t convert those sugars into energy, resulting in a build-up of sugar in the bloodstream.
What this says to me is that in order to manage weight for women with PCOS, you should start by eliminating bread, rice, pasta, cereal and other forms of processed carbs. The reason being that all carbohydrates convert to sugar eventually.
I talk often about how vegetables and fruits are carbs; however, our bodies have been accustomed to eating these since humans evolved into homo-sapiens approximately 200,000 years ago, and other variations of our ancestors approximately 6,000,000,000 years ago. Those other forms of carbohydrates such as bread, rice, pasta and cereal only entered the human diet approximately 10,000 years ago. The real difference, and the major benefit of vegetables and fruits, are that they’re full of many other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which those processed forms is carbs aren't, at anywhere near the same extent.
I believe an option to weight management for women with PCOS is to trial an essentially Paleo diet. It doesn’t have to be strictly Paleo but Paleo is something that most people can comprehend. It’s essentially about eliminating packaged and processed foods. Full Paleo requires you to eliminate dairy, but you might be able to consume dairy depending on how your body responds to it. As I always suggest, speak to a dietitian, and while you’re at it, see a naturopath for good measure. If you live in a town where a functional medicine doctor lives, lucky you and I suggest seeing them too. They might suggest an elimination/reintegration diet and when you begin reintegrating dairy, pay attention to how your body responds to it. Pay particular attention to burping, flatulence and defecation.
This is going to be controversial and many traditional doctors won't agree. They provide advice based on scientific research and there is very little scientific research about Paleo. Most of the research around a Paleo diet is only several decades young. As a result, it’s still being challenged and tested. Most of it is anecdotal but I like what I hear from some of that anecdotal evidence. From a personal point-of-view, simply paying attention to how you feel can be more powerful than any scientific research.
You take your health into your own hands by doing this but when you've tried everything else and it hasn't worked, what more do you have to lose? It's not going to make you sick. People have been eating a diet full of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, poultry and nuts for over 200,000 years.
I, personally have been eating this way for the last 2 years and I'm more energetic and healthy than ever before. All my health measures say I'm an extremely healthy person.
Exercises for People with PCOS
Now that you’ve started to control that which makes up 80% of your health - nutrition, you can take care of the other 20% - exercise.
- Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise will help you lose weight and control your insulin levels. Go for a 60 minute moderately paced run/walk or bike ride every day, or at least three days per week.
- Interval Exercise
Interval exercise will help you to lose weight, control your insulin levels and even increase your strength. Perform a high intensity interval workout three times per week. Here’s three example workouts.
1. Set a timer to go off every 2 minutes for 20 minutes. Alternate every 2 minute segment for variety.
A) Run 100m (50m out/50m back). When you get back, perform 20x Back Bridges and 20x Squat Thrusters with dumbbells. Rest for the remainder of the 2 minutes.
B) Run 100m (50m out/50m back). When you get back, perform 20x Crunches and 20x Bent Over Rows with dumbbells (ensure you keep your back straight) or Resistance Band Rows. Rest for the remainder of the 2 minutes.
2. Set a timer to go off every minute for 20 minutes. Inside every minute, perform the following three exercises. Again, alternate between these two lots of exercises for variety.
A) 30x Skips
B) 20x Mountain Climbers
C) 10x Squats
A) 30x Star Jumps
B) 20x Swimmers
C) 10x Lunges
3. Perform 5 rounds of the following exercises:
60s High Knees
(Go as high as YOU can, stay tall and don’t drop your hips in order to lift your knees higher)
30s Push Ups
30s Back Extension
- Strength Exercise
Strength training is often associated with bulking up. But it isn’t. Strength training is actually one of the best forms of exercise in order to lose and manage weight. Strength training creates muscle and muscle increases your metabolic rate, burning more calories throughout the day, including at rest. Having a strong body also supports you in being able to perform everyday tasks. Body weight strength exercises are best as you learn to control your body through a range of fundamental movement patterns. Dumbbells are also beneficial for increasing the intensity, performing other exercises and strengthening your body independently on your left and right sides.
Perform these 6 bodyweight exercises every day to develop your fundamental strength. Do each exercise for 1 minute with no rest between.
Do you have, or know someone who has PCOS? I’d love to know what you think about this particular article.
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