How long did you deal with PCOS symptoms before being diagnosed? What was the trigger for pursuing a diagnosis?
My story begins with disordered eating patterns that started in my mid teens with a conversation about Rosemary Conley’s “Hip and Thigh diet” (essential message – fat makes you fat – or at least thats what I gleaned from it), ridiculous ‘dieting’ in addition to vegetarian and then vegan eating styles in to my mid 20s (and very low fat).
No semblance of regular menstrual cycle EVER – which resulted in scans and diagnosis of PCOS at 25 plus gloom and doom messages about fertility. Took contraceptive pill for a while (was ‘meant’ to help with PCOS – although I think this was basically because it masks the symptoms). But when I stopped the ‘pill’ because my husband and I wanted to conceive, I still (unsurprising) had no menstrual cycle worth counting.
The next step was lots of fertility drugs to try to force ovulation (no mention of diet or the fact I was underweight) and eventually IVF (lots and lots more drugs – forced ‘menapause’, forced over-production of eggs etc).
By this point I was trying to be as healthy as possible in my own way, as I felt this would maximise chances that an embryo would implant – yoga, no alcohol, vitamins, juices, etc and amazingly I got pregnant first go. I was elated … my husband less so, but I didn’t really choose to notice until by month six of the pregnancy he’d withdrawn leaving me to become a single mother to a new baby. Next chapter found me chronically sleep deprived, exhausted and heart broken.
I lost lots more weight (breast feeding a big baby) …. but eventually, after about four years, I got my act together, ate properly, got some sleep, exercise and was happy again. Amazingly my periods returned regular as clockwork for first time EVER and have continued to be regular for past 7 years – so I feel like I am ‘cured’ of PCOS although a scan would be the only real way to tell I suppose.
What lifestyle or diet changes have you had to make and which ones have worked best for you?
Learning to LISTEN to my body rather than fighting it was key for me. I used to get massive cravings for high fat, creamy, chocolatey foods in my 20s which I tried to ignore and suppress believing that fat was BAD BAD BAD! I realise now, more poor body was struggling to do its hormonal thing with a virtually fat-free diet. Fat is an ESSENTIAL part of a healthy diet (whereas sugar isn’t) – once I realised this and stopped the fighting, amazing things happened!
I also learned to eat mainly low GI and whole foods which helped enormously with energy levels, sugar cravings and mood stabilisation. Having subsequently trained as a health coach I have written an ebook on PCOS-friendly Eating (grab a free copy by signing up here http://eepurl.com/EQABD and I offer short group programmes that support women with PCOS through taking charge over their diet and lifestyle and making sure they are doing ALL they can to support their body to deal with PCOS before going down the medical route. If I can help one woman avoid the IVF/divorce/heartbreak journey then its all been worth it! I also help women to learn to understand their cravings and respond in a POSITIVE way rather than suppressing what their body is trying to communicate to them.
For women interested in trying lifestyle and diet changes as part of their PCOS management, how would you recommend they start?
Read up on PCOS-friendly eating and then get the support you need to REALLY engage with the changes you need to make.
What is your favourite PCOS fighting recipe?
My favourite recipe is for heavenly raw chocolate brownies – these are the perfect antidote to chocolate cravings and you can feel virtuous while eating them as there is NOTHING bad! See http://healthcoachforwomen.co.uk/heavenly-raw-chocolate-brownies/
What is your favourite fitness routine?
I spend half an hour doing gentle yoga stretches and core stability exercises in the mornings as soon as I get out of bed. I have a pint of lemon water by my side so I know that by the time my day starts properly,I’ve already hydrated.
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.?
Weight loss often comes naturally when you start to eat in harmony with what your body wants/needs rather than using willpower to stick to predetermined diets and regimes. Yes there are general guidelines that its good to follow, but everyone is different and what is MOST important is learning to TRUST that your body knows what it needs. Focus on making good food choices rather than trying to ‘be good’.
What’s the one message that you think our readers should take-away if they are diagnosed with PCOS?
Clean up your diet and find a good support group or health practitioner to hold you accountable before going down the assisted fertility path. Get to grips with any cravings you have (you might need to do a quick cleanse or detox to get the sugar and caffeine out of your system in particular) and then treat sugar as a very occassional ‘treat’ and not part of your daily diet. Read labels because it is hidden in surprising places!
If you already have children (especially daughters) make sure you teach them to be aware of what they are eating and to make sensible food choices too. Its hard with so much rubbish on the market directed towards children, but if you can instill good habits early on, it sets them up for life. Encourage them to read labels and think about the choices they make.
By Annabel Boys