How to lose weight with PCOS? This is a common question for women with PCOS. If you struggle with your weight, you are not alone; 60% of American women are either overweight or obese. However, losing weight can be especially difficult for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS.
Why Is It So Hard to Lose Weight with PCOS?
Women with PCOS usually have two major issues that make it hard to lose weight: abnormally high levels of androgens, or male hormones, and insulin resistance. However, it is very important for women with this syndrome to achieve a healthy weight, as this reduces the severity of PCOS symptoms.
In addition, women with PCOS are at higher risk of developing serious health problems that are exacerbated by extra pounds, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. While losing weight is difficult for women with this syndrome, it is very important to lifelong health and improvement of fertility issues.
How to Lose Weight with PCOS
Losing weight with PCOS requires a multi-pronged approach. Not only do women need to eat fewer calories and exercise more often, they also need to control insulin and blood sugar levels while maintaining healthy hormone levels. These goals can be achieved with the following 21 tips.
1. Decide on an appropriate calorie goal and stick to it.
Depending on your weight and activity level, you will need to eat 1200-2000 calories a day to lose weight. You may want to discuss your calorie goal with your physician, as it is not healthy to eat too few calories.
Once you have set your goal, begin tracking your calories. Many people unknowingly eat many more calories than they realize.
A food journal will help you to understand and overcome your weaknesses. Write down everything that you eat or drink along with their calorie content. This will help you to make meaningful changes where needed.
2. Eat a low glycemic index diet.
Some foods are converted to glucose at a slow and steady rate that encourages healthy insulin and blood sugar levels. These are called low glycemic index, or low GI, foods.
Eating a diet full of low GI foods has been proven to increase weight loss in women with PCOS, probably because this kind of diet improves insulin levels while lowering blood glucose. Enjoy whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, as these are all low GI, rather than processed foods and simple sugars.
3. Eat several small meals a day.
How to lose weight with PCOS: While the conventional American diet usually includes three large meals a day, this is not good for women with PCOS. This eating pattern of large meals spaced far apart encourages spikes and dips in both insulin and blood sugar levels.
Instead of having three meals per day, eat 4-6 smaller meals per day. This will ensure that your blood sugar is more stable and that you are never hungry enough to be tempted to binge.
Many dieters are tempted to skip meals to ‘save calories’ for special meals. This is a bad idea for women with PCOS. Instead, eat the same number of meals but with lower calories than usual. Keeping your stomach full and your blood sugar levels steady will decrease cravings while making you more comfortable.
4. Plan for cheating.
Many people lose steam and motivation several weeks into a diet because they are tired of disciplined eating. A diet is a marathon, not a sprint, so you will be more successful if you plan to occasionally indulge yourself.
Many people who have successfully lost weight plan for one cheat meal a week, or a very small treat per day. You can choose any pattern of occasional diet-busting that works for you as long as these calories come to no more than 20% of your overall diet.
5. Load up on protein.
There are several reasons that a high protein diet can help you on your weight loss journey. Protein is filling and it also helps to stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels, both of which reduce food cravings.
If you are trying to lose weight with PCOS, you will likely be more successful if your diet is 30-40% protein and less than 50% carbs. This will ensure that you have fewer food cravings and more even blood sugar levels.
In addition, a high protein diet supports muscle development. Increased muscle mass is important to long term weight loss.
6. Choose resistant starches for carbs.
Not all carbs, or even all starches, are created equal. The starch present in many plant foods such as beans, potatoes, and bananas is a type called resistant starch.
Resistant starch has been found to lower insulin levels by up to 50% in overweight people, making a valuable tool in the battle to lose weight while living with PCOS. Choose these foods over more processed starches when you are having carb cravings, as they will give you the energy boost of a starch while helping to fight insulin resistance.
7. Give up soft drinks and other liquid calories.
How to lose weight with PCOS: Many people enjoy an occasional soft drink, but these and other sugary drinks can have a huge impact on your weight. Soft drinks are not filling but pack a lot of calories.
In addition, soft drinks and other sweet drinks are full of sugar, which can worsen insulin resistance. This makes it harder to lose weight over the long term, so choose water instead.
How much can soft drinks sabotage your diet? A study found that nurses who drink soft drinks are six pounds heavier than those who don’t on average, even when they ingest the same overall number of calories and perform the same amounts of exercise.
8. Drink green tea.
Many diet gurus suggest a cup of tea at night to stave off late night eating. If you choose green tea instead of other libations, there are other weight loss benefits on top of reduced cravings.
Green tea has been found in recent studies to actually reverse insulin resistance. It increases the number of glucose receptors on cells in key tissues.
If you don’t like the taste of green tea, try adding a lemon slice or some fresh ginger. There are also many extracts and supplements available that do not require tasting the tea.
9. Exercise daily.
Many people believe that they need to get a gym membership or get out and sweat buckets in order to lose weight. However, low to moderate impact exercise is actually best for people who are just beginning a weight loss journey.
Walking, swimming, and other low impact exercise can help you to build the stamina you need to get fit without over-exerting yourself. Simply walk or swim for at least thirty minutes every day, six or seven days per week.
Mild exercise will lower insulin resistance if you participate in it everyday, even when it does not lead to weight loss. As you get in better shape, you can slowly add more time or switch to more strenuous activity.
In addition to its benefits for women with PCOS, exercise is a healthy lifelong habit. It is never too late to achieve a more active lifestyle.
10. Begin weight training.
Weight training is a great way to build muscle, which burns more calories than any other type of tissue. Not only will you feel stronger and have more stamina, but you will also be less likely to regain weight.
You don’t have to pump iron to weight train. Simple hand weights are sufficient, as are calisthenic strength training exercises such as pushups and squats.
You can start small and gradually add to your amount of weight training. One warning: women with PCOS are more likely to gain bulky muscles due to high androgen levels, so stick with lighter weights if this is not your desired result.
11. Become a stress buster.
Learning to deal with stress in a healthy way is not just good for your mind, but good for your body as well. Studies have found that chronic stress increase insulin resistance, which slows weight loss and exacerbates the symptoms of PCOS.
Finding the method of stress relief that works for you often takes trial and error. However, it is worth the effort because you will feel better both physically and emotionally when you have learned the right blend of coping mechanisms.
If you want to kill two birds with one stone, consider yoga stretching for PCOS or other stress-relieving exercises to help you cope with the anxiety of daily life. Combining relaxation with physical activity is often a great stress reliever.
12. Get plenty of rest.
Most Americans don’t get enough sleep. This can be especially destructive to women with PCOS who are trying to lose weight.
Skimping on sleep has many negative effects. Not only will it make you more prone to overeating and less likely to get the exercise that you need, it also has been found to worsen insulin resistance.
If you struggle to get enough sleep, consider making a bedtime routine that you perform at the same time every night. This often conditions people to become sleepy and fall asleep quickly at a reasonable hour.
13. Give up tobacco.
A lot of people assume that quitting smoking will mean gaining weight. In some cases, this is true. However, kicking the nicotine habit is important to losing weight while living with PCOS.
How to lose weight with PCOS: A 2009 study in Germany found that smoking actually raises both insulin and testosterone levels in women with PCOS, both of which can make it difficult to lose weight. Your doctor can help you to make a plan to quit in a healthy and supported manner that will not lead to weight gain.
14. Consider birth control pills.
Birth control pills can help with a variety of the symptoms associated with PCOS because they help to keep your hormonal levels under control and even prevent cysts from forming. This makes them very helpful for women with PCOS who are trying to manage their disease while losing weight.
Some birth control pills have weight gain as a side effect, but many don’t. Make sure your physician knows that you wish to lose weight so they can help you choose the right brand.
15. Keep male hormone levels low with anti-androgen medications.
There are several anti-androgen medications that can lower testosterone and other male hormones, which prevents many symptoms of PCOS including weight gain.
While these pills have side effects and require medical management, they are worth it for many women with PCOS. These medications help to lessen many of the unpleasant symptoms of PCOS, including weight gain.
16. Ask if metformin is right for you.
How to lose weight with PCOS: Many women with PCOS are already taking metformin, or Glucophage, to manage their insulin resistance. If you are not already taking this drug, it may be time to discuss it with your physician.
Metformin is a diabetes medication that helps the human body process insulin and glucose in a healthier manner. In addition, it reduces the production of testosterone.
Several studies have found that these two effects help women with PCOS to lose weight more easily, especially if they are currently obese. Metformin often helps not just with weight loss, but with many of the symptoms of PCOS.
17. Add liraglutide to your medication regimen.
Liraglutide is another drug used for insulin resistance. While it is not prescribed as often as metformin, it can be helpful in losing weight when added to your existing medications.
A study of women with PCOS found that those who take metformin and liraglutide lose weight more quickly than with either drug alone. The effects were especially helpful in women who had previously been unable to lose weight at all. In addition, there was a larger decrease in waist circumference, which has been linked to insulin resistance.
18. If not planning a pregnancy, ask about thiazolidinediones.
Thiazolidinediones such as Actos, Avandia, and Eulexin all can improve insulin resistance, which is a hurdle to losing weight for many women with PCOS. However, these drugs must be taken with birth control as they are highly contraindicated in pregnant women.
These drugs have more side effects than many others, so you should discuss them with your doctor, carefully read package inserts, and weigh the pros and cons. They are a good option for some women, especially those that cannot lose weight with other means and are not planning a pregnancy in the near future.
19. Avoid crash or fad diets.
Losing weight with PCOS is a long term commitment. You need not just a diet, but a long term lifestyle change.
Most crash diets are so severe that they cannot be sustained for long periods of time. In addition, many of them actually make insulin resistance worse, which will cause you to gain back all lost weight and then some.
Fad diets are often higher in carbs and lower in fats than is optimal for a woman with PCOS. Talk to your health care provider before beginning any restrictive diet.
20. Focus on health.
It is very difficult to lose weight with PCOS. Many women find they are more successful when they focus instead on their health, eating and exercising in ways that make their illness more manageable without worrying about scales and pounds.
As you get healthier and begin to manage your disease more effectively, weight loss will be much easier. Exercise and eat right for your health and happiness; the pounds will eventually begin to come off.
21. Consider surgery as a last resort.
Bariatric surgery is an option for people who have a BMI over 40 (or over 35 if you have certain weight-related conditions) and cannot lose weight any other way. While it is often effective, surgery is a serious and permanent step that should be considered only when other methods have failed.
There are two popular types of bariatric surgery: gastric banding and gastric bypass. Gastric banding is less invasive and involves reducing the size of your stomach by placing a tight band around part of it. Gastric bypass is a major surgery in which a small pouch is made in the stomach and the intestine connected to it.
Both of these surgeries result in a smaller stomach that cannot hold as much food, which usually leads to weight loss. However, women with PCOS who get these surgeries will need to be on a carefully controlled diet for the rest of their lives.
Bonus: 5 Best Supplements to Lose Weight with PCOS
If you are still wondering how to lose weight with PCOS, there are several safe and healthy supplements that can help you get the results you need.
How to lose weight with PCOS: There are several types of inositol, a carbohydrate that occurs in nature. The compound usually labeled ‘inositol’ in the dietary supplement section is usually myo-inositol.
Inositol is completely safe and has been found in studies to be very important to insulin signaling. People who have disorders of insulin production, such as type 2 diabetes, are often deficient in this compound.
Taking an inositol supplement can help you to overcome insulin resistance, allowing you to lose weight more effectively. This supplement also has other positive health effects for women with PCOS, so it should be in your arsenal.
How to lose weight with PCOS: Many women with PCOS are deficient in magnesium, a trace element that is essential to healthy functioning of the endocrine system. Low magnesium levels are linked to both insulin resistance and diabetes, so taking a supplement can be beneficial to maintaining healthy insulin and glucose levels.
In a study of patients with poorly controlled diabetes, supplementing with 1000 mg per day of magnesium oxide was found to help control blood glucose levels better than a placebo. Not only did these patients have better Hba1c levels (a blood test that indicates blood glucose control), they also had fewer side effects of diabetes.
This amino acid derivative, often called NAC for short, is a powerful antioxidant. However, recent studies suggest that it also plays an important role in reversing insulin resistance.
NAC can lower insulin response to sugars and simple carbohydrates In addition, a new study shows that it may help improve fertility in women with PCOS who are not responsive to popular fertility drug Clomid.
While NAC is present in some foods, it is not present in high enough levels to treat symptoms of PCOS. For this reason, many women who have PCOS who wish to lose weight take an NAC supplement.
How to lose weight with PCOS: Chromium has been linked to metabolism, especially glucose metabolism, in many well-known studies. Because of its effects on glucose metabolism, it can be a helpful supplement for women with PCOS who are trying to lose weight.
Chromium picolinate is the most popular form of this drug for weight loss. People who take this supplement score better on glucose tolerance tests. This supplement can be especially helpful for women with PCOS who struggle to lose weight due to lowered glucose tolerance.
These little seeds have a variety of health effects, including restoring hormonal balance in women. In a recent study, women with PCOS who took flaxseed daily saw a decrease in both male hormones and in hirsutism, or unwanted facial and body hair.
The effects of flaxseed on PCOS are still being studied, but they look very promising at this time. This supplement has been found to be safe and healthy in general, with a variety of positive health effects.
How to lose weight with PCOS
Losing weight while managing PCOS is a major undertaking. It is much more difficult for women with this syndrome to achieve a weight that makes them feel healthy.
However, weight loss is possible if you carefully manage your PCOS and focus on healthy, long term changes. Many of these tips will not only help you to lose weight, but help you to have fewer symptoms of PCOS and lead a healthier life.