How long did you deal with PCOS symptoms before being diagnosed? What was the trigger for pursuing a diagnosis?
I started my periods at a very young age, just 11 years old, and suffered with irregular and very painful periods, along with skin and weight problems, for the next 7 years, finally being diagnosed at 18. Finally being told there was a reason for my problems was a double edged sword: relief that there was a reason for the symptoms but worry that I was probably going to suffer with a whole host of other issues.
What did you know about PCOS before being diagnosed?
I hadn’t heard of PCOS prior to being diagnosed. I just thought I was extremely unlucky with my skin and periods. I have learned a lot since then through research, attending PCOS specific events and talking to other women with it. I am still learning!
How has PCOS affected your relationship with your significant other? How can we increase awareness / sensitivity towards PCOS among men?
My fiancé is, and always has been, amazingly supportive of my PCOS. I told him about it very early on in our relationship as I suffer a lot with low moods and didn’t want him to think it was anything he had done. I was very honest about the fact that I don’t know whether I will be able to have children and he has always been so positive about it all, that’s when I knew I had a keeper!
I think the real issue with raising awareness is the fact that PCOS isn’t a glamorous condition, and a lot of the symptoms are extremely embarrassing for women to talk about, even to other women, so the idea of talking to a partner about it can feel very daunting. Women with PCOS need to know that their symptoms do not define them, do not make them less feminine and can be controlled, therefore they should be treated with dignity by those in the medical profession, which will help them feel more able to talk to a partner about them. More talking, less judging.
What lifestyle or diet changes have you had to make and which ones have worked best for you?
Last summer (July 2013), I completely overhauled my diet and introduced exercise by finding a personal trainer to work with. I was already struggling to eat any foods containing gluten and would suffer afterwards! I cut out all gluten, dairy and sugar in favour of a clean eating plan, so lots of fresh fruit and vegetables (especially dark green), meat, eggs, greek yoghurt, goat’s milk, lots of water and dark chocolate (70% and above). It wasn’t easy to change my diet so dramatically, but the benefits definitely outweigh the cravings.
I also introduced strength and conditioning training thanks to my amazing personal trainer, Chris Main. I was absolutely terrified of stepping foot inside a gym, but Chris has encouraged me the whole way through and has somehow managed to make me enjoy exercise! I always thought I would be judged, but it is actually the first place I have ever felt comfortable. The training is tough, but I feel so much better for doing it.
My favourite exercise is boxing, so much fun! I will be honest and say that it has been a very slow process. Since last July I have lost 2 stone, which is good but I honestly thought I would have lost more by now. I have also lost 52cm from my whole body. This is not a diet, it is a lifestyle choice, and something I will always have to follow if I ever want to try and fully control my PCOS symptoms.
Are there any special challenges you have faced treating PCOS?
Yes. I have really struggled to get doctors to understand my symptoms. Their usual question is ‘are you trying to get pregnant?’ as if that is the only thing that matters. Of course I would love to have children one day, but I really do think they need to understand the impact PCOS has on everyday life for women. The emotional symptoms often go unnoticed and untreated, and I firmly believe they need to be addressed as soon as possible, as they impact in such a big way. Women with PCOS need to be treated with respect, dignity and sensitivity. Throwing tablets at us is not the only answer.
For women interested in trying lifestyle and diet changes as part of their PCOS management, how would you recommend they start?
You have to be ready to make the change. I have tried numerous diets and exercise plans before but only because of comments by others or a feeling of total desperation. They haven’t worked before because I wasn’t ready to fully commit to the process, and it really is a process. If you feel ready to try a new lifestyle plan, find someone to give you some guidance. Be honest about your PCOS symptoms. As embarrassing as it might feel, they are there to help you. Start slowly. Don’t try and change everything at once. It is a lot to take on so do it at your own pace, and don’t let those negative voices of others tell you what you’re doing is ‘too extreme’.
What is your favourite PCOS fighting recipe?
- 1 good sized sweet potato cut into wedges, skin on
- 1 x 200g steak (I love sirloin)
- dessertspoon of Kerrygold butter.
- 1 small pack of asparagus spears
- corn on the cob
- Take one good sized sweet potato cut into wedges, skin on. I heat the oven to 200 degrees and spray some 1 cal cooking spray on then place the sweet potato in 2 rows on the tray. I cook for about 30 minutes or until the wedges are browned on top and slightly sticky. 1 x 200g steak (I love sirloin) cooked in a dessertspoon of Kerrygold butter. I use a frying pan and cook for about 10 minutes so it’s not too well done. Take a small pack of asparagus spears steamed for less than 10 minutes with a corn on the cob. I sprinkle a small amount of himalayan salt on the sweet potato and vegetables, and use a tiny spoonful of butter over the vegetables too.
What is your favourite fitness routine?
My training is mainly strength and conditioning with cardio. I absolutely love boxing and I do combinations with my personal trainer, Chris, which are my favourite part of the sessions. I love them because it’s fast paced, involves good hand eye coordination and I get to hit things! I like to pretend I’m the female Rocky when I’m boxing!! I am also a big fan of the leg press as I like to see how heavy I can go. My best weight so far is 130kg, not a massive amount but certainly a good attempt for me so far!
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers? Any other signs and symptoms, methods for successful weight loss, fertility treatments and outcomes, etc.?
I firmly believe that PCOS symptoms can be controlled and improved. I would love to tell you there is a quick fix (I wish!), but anything that promises massive weight loss in a week is usually a fad that isn’t sustainable and a total waste of money. Clean eating, exercise and persistence are the key to improving a lot of the symptoms both physical and emotional. If you had asked me these questions last year, my answers would have been very different. I would not have believed that I would have a personal trainer and would be willingly going to the gym twice a week! I wish I could tell you how much of a difference it has made to me.
What’s the one message that you think our readers should take-away if they are diagnosed with PCOS?
Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from doctors, other health professionals and other sufferers. There is a whole online community just waiting to help you, including me. I have made so many contacts with amazingly strong women across the world online and it makes such a difference to know there are people out there going through similar situations. Just remember you are not on your own and it will be OK.