After I wrote this letter in response to a reader titled “I have PCOS and feel embarrassed by my body,” I’ve received lots of questions about how I’ve naturally reversed my own symptoms of poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). For those who aren’t aware of this syndrome, PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that has a wide-range of symptoms, but the most common are irregular/missing periods, infertility, weight gain/difficulty losing weight, insulin resistance and other physical side effects. PCOS affects 1 out of 10 women and many choose to go on medications to balance their hormones, get pregnant or to lose weight. Others, like me, choose to treat it naturally.
I’ve had PCOS since I first got my period at 13. It was never regular and in one summer, I gained 30+ pounds seemingly overnight. It was so embarrassing and I didn’t understand what was going on. I even remember telling my mom one day that I had gone a long time without a period and if that was normal.
“You better not be pregnant!”
“No, mom…I’d have already had the baby by now..”
By age 16, I was on birth control because that was the only way doctors thought to treat it. Despite every attempt at dieting to lose the weight gained, nothing stuck for too long. However, in my early twenties I had a massive ovarian tumor (not linked to PCOS) that was rupturing one of my ovaries. They removed it, did more tests, and I was officially diagnosed with PCOS.
In my case, my diagnoses came by connecting the dots of irregular periods (when not on the pill); difficulty losing weight despite following a diet/exercise plan; constant pelvic pain and cysts on my ovaries, and hormonally, increased levels of testosterone & DHEA as well as sensitivity to a large amount of gluten.
All hallmarks of PCOS.
Living with PCOS feels like an attack on your womanhood, because the defining characteristic of being female, your ovaries, ability to have kids as well as your appearance, is well, not working like it should.
Last winter, I experienced a very bizarre type of migraine called “hemiplegic migraine” which is terrifying not only to watch, but to experience because it resembles a stroke. Due to that, I had to be taken off ALL medications, including the pill, which was how I was treating my PCOS then. I thought this was a great opportunity to treat PCOS more naturally because I was getting sick and tired of having weird medical things occur, and doctors suggesting medication.
The message was clear: It's time to manage my health more proactively and naturally – not reactionary.
So here is what I’ve done in one years’ time to manage holistically my PCOS and reverses the symptoms:
I changed my mindset I swapped PCOS as being something I suffered from to something I have and am managing well. That simple shift changed everything because now I was back in command of the quality of living. Rather than blame my body, I accepted that this is just the way it’s wired and my actions ought to support how my body naturally is. I also researched the heck outta the syndrome for a long time, and began paying more attention to my own body's needs, rather than a prescriptive approach.
I threw out my scale Ok, I actually have it tucked in the closet (hubby likes to weigh himself) but I have not stepped on the scale in nearly a year and I’ve never felt better about my body, appearance and how my clothing fits. The scale-dependent worth was causing WAY more pain than good, and over 50% of women with PCOS are also overweight, so the scale becoming a measure of success is a double-edge sword - having PCOS also makes it 2x harder to lose weight than a women without the condition.
I’ve learned to listen to my body's signals of well-being than the scales numbers. If I feel bloated, I know what to do to relieve it. If I feel lighter, fresher, then I can slip into a skirt that hugs my curves more. I don’t let the scale define how I’m going to feel about my body.
I changed my diet – a little because PCOS affects your metabolism too, I knew there were some small changes I could make to help my body feel better. When I eat bread, I spring for the good stuff, like artisan or my local bakery. When I want chocolate, again, I got for the fancy stuff and not the cheap stuff. I also ramped up more veggies/fruits overall and cut down on proceeded products simply because I wanted to eat more cleanly and freshly. I cook my own meals nearly every day and have soda once in a blue moon.
You might be thinking “Oh sure, I don’t have the $$ to spring for fancy-pants bread and organic” but you know what’s fascinating? My grocery budget didn’t change at all; in fact, I have MORE money to spend on quality products by making simple changes to my diet.
My diet is about balance and sanity – there is nothing that is off-limits to me because I make a choice with eat bite I take “Will this make my body feel energized or sluggish?”
I got smarter about fitness I’ve always been active, and in my post “My #1 secret to plus-size running” you can see how I gave-up the nonsense belief that if I ran, I needed to run a marathon or sprint the whole time. I now get regular exercise 3-4 times a week for at least 45 mins through running, walking or yoga. It’s awesome.
I don’t sweat to lose weight, I do it because I love it and so does my body. And the rewards of greater vitality, stamina and looking adorable in my workout gear make it all worth it.
The results? In one year, my period has returned to my “normal” (which is about every 6 weeks); my testosterone is back to the levels of a woman without PCOS, and my DHEA levels and cholesterol have dropped too. My hemiplegic headaches are few and far between now. My skin is glowing and the most common appearance-based compliment I receive these days about my body is I’m looking “radiant”; I can now run a 5K without gasping for breath; I enjoy wearing stylish clothing and simply FEEL good in my own skin.
My weight is exactly the same as last year. Some of you reading this might stop now, thinking “screw that, I want to LOSE THIS WEIGHT” and I’ll ask – why, because you think you need to look thinner in order to declare victory over PCOS? Sometimes doctors are quick to assume that losing 10% of your weight will treat PCOS, but in my case, that’s not true. I cannot say what is true for YOU but the idea of “just lose weight to fix your problems” isn’t always the only, or most empowering, approach.
The biggest result though is accepting that PCOS doesn’t have to rule my life; that if I make conscious and very simple lifestyle choices, I not only feel better, my body harmonizes. The next big venture in PCOS will be family planning, but I feel confident that I’m doing everything now in my ability to ensure a healthy, happy body and that is all I’m ever required to do – be happy about the choices I make for my body.
Have PCOS? How are you treating it? Need some support?
Have a personal story, advice or perspective on what’s working/not working for you? Share in the comments below or email them to me at Rachel@undercurrentcoaching.com
I also share a few articles on my Facebook page on the subject, so like it and keep in touch. Here are a few other great resources if you have PCOS and would like to build a support team: