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Whether you were just diagnosed or have been for years, one of the hardest aspects of your PCOS is knowing where to start or even “restart” when plans A, B, C, and D aren’t working. It takes a lot of time and searching (and a small chunk of your sanity) to find the answers that you need. So today, to round out my week’s tribute to PCOS Awareness month, I want to share a few things that have truly helped me in my understanding, motivation, and health over the past few years.
After you’ve been officially diagnosed and have developed a working knowledge of what PCOS is (and if you haven’t yet, you can read my “What is PCOS” post to start), it’s time to implement that information into your daily life.
As a quick recap, we learned that PCOS is primarily an endocrine disorder causing an imbalance in our hormones. The beta cells in our pancreas release too much insulin for our bodies to be able to process correctly, which upsets the ovaries, which upsets the testosterone, which causes PCOS & all of its less than pleasant symptoms.
If we want to improve on our symptoms, we need to go the root problem.
The root problem here is insulin.
If we can help our bodies to regulate the amount of insulin it’s releasing, it makes sense that it would help to alleviate our symptoms. So let’s dive into a few of the areas that can help us to accomplish this.
Let’s get started.
TAKE A BREATHER
Now I know we just got started but before anything else let’s take a communal deep breath; in through the nose, out through the mouth. This is a lot to take in & absorb, so take your time. It won’t help you to start out on your journey with anxiety.
It’s important to develop the ability & control to step back from the mix and take a break. PCOS is there every day, invading your space with symptoms in tow. Like a friend that doesn’t understand non-verbal communication and lingers a little too long, all the while you’re thinking “I just want to be by myself and watch Netflix.”
You just need space from your PCOS. Some time to clear your head so that you can continue to deal with it.
Not to mention, stress is bad for you. Like really bad. Stress doesn’t help anybody but it’s especially bad for us because it can counteract all of our hard work by really messing with our blood sugars. Here’s more on that by PCOS Diva.
So relaxing is a must. Pretend it’s your prescription that you have to take every day. Find something that you love to do that can help you to relax. Definitely splurge on the massage and go on vacation more, but find something that you can actually do on a regular basis. Like knitting, reading, walking, quiet time, etc.
I know it’s not always easy to fit in personal time. But apart from those exceptions, you have to prioritize you. If you’re healthy & happy, you’ll be even more prepared to love up on your family and do your job well.
FIND YOUR CIRCLE
This is oh-so-important. I’ve said it before and I’ll it again, PCOS is lonely. I don’t care that statistically 1 in 10 women (and I’ve even heard 1 in 5) have PCOS, realistically it’s lonely.
It can be really difficult for your man to understand, not that he doesn’t try! God bless his heart, Andrew sincerely cares and just wants to see me happy & taken care of. But his “fix it” mentality paired with my crazy hormones isn’t always a great match. I know he means well and most of the time, he is truly helpful. Still, I have times that he just doesn’t understand because he’s not a woman, he can’t be pregnant, and being overweight just means he needs to go on a run.
It can also be hard for your friends & family to understand, not that they aren’t trying! Everyone has their own hard things to deal with; so from an emotional standpoint we can at least sympathize with each other. But even then, they may find it difficult to know how to encourage you or be there for you because they just can’t relate to that specific issue.
None of this makes your people “bad people.” And it doesn’t mean that they can’t play a part in your journey. But it does mean that you need other people, PCOS people.
You would be amazed at how many people pop up sharing that “they too have PCOS” when you venture to share your own
story. Add in people who know people with PCOS and the numbers are even greater. I know that’s not for everybody and it’s easy for me to say, I’ve never been a super private person. I will say that it is so amazing connecting with other PCOS women by just being honest about my experiences. You don’t have to declare it on social media or from a public platform, just be open to opportunities to be transparent. You might be surprised at who is secretly struggling that you already know or the stranger that you might get to know as a result.
Beachbody offers a huge network of women working on their health, many of which have PCOS. It wouldn’t be hard to find a coach or members who have PCOS and can offer unique support & advice on fitness & diet.
I also highly recommend PCOS Diet Support for networking and support. Included in the monthly membership is access to Tarryn’s Facebook group dedicated to women with PCOS. It’s a great opportunity to connect with other “Cysters,” share experiences, learn helpful tips, and find encouragement.
Whatever you decide to do, don’t do it alone. Your circle is out there, you just have to know where to look.
CONNECT WITH A GREAT DOCTOR
Find a great doctor. Obviously you have a doctor that diagnosed you but maybe it’s not a great fit. Don’t be afraid to look around for a doctor that you are comfortable with, who listens to your concerns, and isn’t just tossing prescriptions at you. You’ll be seeing them a lot, so make sure it’s someone you can trust. If it’s the doctor who diagnosed you, lucky you! I’m jealous.
I have friends who have utilized both naturopathic and conventional doctors successfully. I’m certainly not against prescription medication but I do believe that a lot more can be done to enable your body than taking a pill. In my experience (certainly not every case), conventional doctors tend to focus more on resolving symptoms whereas naturopathic or wellness doctors focus on resolving the root problem. Personally, I think both perspectives can be extremely helpful when utilized together. I have taken prescription Metformin for years to help regulate my insulin but I also utilize essential oils, supplements, and diet.
It’s really up to you and what you feel that your current needs are. Don’t count one or the other out because with PCOS, you never know what might prove to be beneficial.
SUPPLEMENTS & MEDICATIONS
Unfortunately, PCOS women tend to be lacking in the essential nutrient department. So we need help.
I’ve tried a lot of supplements and have gone from eating a pill box full every day to only drinking my daily Shakeology. This is subject to change. I’ll probably give it a few months and if the results could be better, I’ll add some of my supplements back in.
Tarryn of PCOS Diet Support swears by Ovasitol and/or Inositol in addition to the two above. And she’s written some great articles on each that gave me a foothold in my understanding & research on each one: Vitamin D, Omega 3, Inositol, and Ovasitol.
There are many other supplements to add in later on down the road for specific symptoms, like: magnesium—great for muscular irritation & inflammation, Calcium, and Folic Acid—for improved fertility.
I am also huge on Essential Oils. If you’ve never tried them, it can sound too good to be true and a little hippie. But they really do work. They have relieved the worst migraines, back pains, and provided wonderful aromatherapy. I’m currently trying some new blends that I’m hoping will help with fertility, shrinking ovarian cysts, and balancing my hormones. More to come on that later!
Finally, medication. I am not, I repeat, NOT against doctor prescribed medications. I’m just a little weird about it because I’ve been on so many different things since I was 16 at which time they prescribed me anti-depressants (because physically I felt off but the tests were negative and I was a teenager and as such, prone to hormonal imbalance). Can you just let me have one little eye-roll?
There are some amazing doctors out there, they can just be difficult to find. I don’t love the idea of just taking medication if there other alternatives to fixing my body at the root problem, like eating right and exercise.
I’ve taken Metformin for years and just stopped this year because I decided to perform a “supplement cleanse” in order to figure out what I really should be taking. I completely understand WHY you should take Metformin and again, it’s something that I might add back in later on. If you do decide to take Metformin, you should check out this article.
When it comes to handling my PCOS, diet is the number one priority. The food that you eat can either help to moderate the need for insulin or cause it to spike.
Like ice cream–lots of sugar, right? You’ll recall that insulin’s role in digestion it to transport carbs & sugars for storage & energy usage. When you eat ice cream, you are digesting a lot of sugar which will in turn, require insulin’s help. Sounds great, right? Except that for those of us with PCOS, our bodies go a little crazy when told to send the insulin. When asked for a few good men, the pancreas sends an army.
So what can we do so that our body doesn’t release as much insulin? Eat less ice cream, for one. 😉 The key is to eat foods that can be easily digested; real foods that contribute to the upkeep of our body rather than make it work harder.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean all healthy foods are the best foods. There’s this tricky little thing known as the Glycemic Index which, as Tarryn of PCOS Diet Support explains much more eloquently, determines “how quickly your blood sugars will rise after eating a specific food. So, the lower GI foods will cause a lower rise in blood sugar. If your blood sugars rise slowly, your insulin levels will also rise slowly. If your insulin levels rise slowly and don’t spike, your testosterone levels will be better controlled.” If you want to go more in depth on the Glycemic Index, I recommend starting with Tarryn’s post on the subject.
In efforts to maintain a steady release of insulin, it’s helpful to eat several smaller meals or three main meals with snacks in
between. It’s not about eating more so much as eating consistently. Eating every 2-3 hours lessens the rise & fall of your insulin; whereas eating on an irregular basis will have your insulin dipping from long periods without food to randomly skyrocketing when you finally eat.
That’s one of the reasons why I ended up on the Beachbody bandwagon which encourages this style of eating. You can check out meal plan ideas on Beachbody’s blog. I drink my daily dose of Shakeology (VEGAN, because protein powder will increase your insulin) which is extremely helpful for bloat, inflammation, and getting in your daily supplements. I am currently tied to the 21 Day Fix, which has proven to be very successful for women with and without PCOS.
I am curious to try to Ninxgia Red by Young Living, a superfood enriched, nutritious drink (which sounds fairly similar to Shakeology). I’m receiving my first batch to try this month which I pretty excited about; I’ve heard only great things.
I also recommend foods that are considered “anti-inflammatory,” to help reverse the effects of Chronic Inflammation. My chiropractor gave me this link to kick-start my research on this subject.
When it comes to exercise, it’s most important that you are doing something. Whether it’s walking, running, lifting, HIIT, just do something for at least 30 minutes a day. This will help your body with so many things, like: digestion, metabolism, increased insulin sensitivity, burning fat, cholesterol, toning, and strengthening (including your heart). Not to mention, it just makes you feel so much better.
I personally recommend HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and Yoga. Here’s why:
HIIT is most effective at improving your insulin sensitivity and it’s most time effective (for those of us who can’t spend more
than an hour at the gym). HIIT utilizes intervals to alternate between increasing your heart rate with challenging exercise and lowering your heart rate with low intensity exercise. It’s very effective at burning fat and builds your strength & endurance.
Yoga doesn’t feel as effective but I would argue that it’s so important. Stress is a big enemy of PCOS and yoga is an awesome way to alleviate that stress. Not to mention, it can help with your chronic inflammation by stretching out those sore & crampy muscles. I like to use yoga when my body is especially weary. It still strengthens your body but is simultaneously relaxing.
Diet and exercise go hand in hand. You can’t outrun a crappy diet, especially here. Unfortunately, insulin not lack of crunches is responsible for your mid-section. So it’s most important that you nail down a great diet in addition to any exercise.
I also think it’s important to find something that you love to do, otherwise it’s going to be really hard to stay motivated. So if HIIT and Yoga aren’t your favorites (definitely give them a try and maybe do it once or twice a week) but move around doing what you enjoy doing.
This is my other big plug for Beachbody & 21 Day Fix, which provides a 7 day workout regimen that is primarily HIIT but also adds in active rest days doing Pilates & Yoga (I’m not getting paid to say that, I just really like it).
Here are some other helpful articles on exercise from PCOS Diet Support:
FIND YOUR MOTIVATION
Why are YOU trying to get better?
Do you want to carry your own baby? Feel better? Lose weight? Avoid diabetes? Avoid future health problems? Or maybe be a role model to your kids?
Go ahead and take a minute to think of it. You probably don’t even need 5 seconds. Jot it down on paper & tape it on your fridge, in your car, on the mirror.
Remember YOUR reason why.
You’re going to need it.
You’re going to have really hard days. Days that just sneak up out of nowhere and are decidedly crappy. Emotional, mascara running, chocolate eating kind of days where you feel like you just can’t anymore. And you’re going to need to remember in that moment why you should keep pushing.
You need to remember that it isn’t impossible, it’s just really hard and it can take a long time to find the right balance for you.
You need to remember that your reason why is really important and not worth giving up on.
You also need to remember that you are strong, focused, and determined because God is enabling you.
And if I can do it, so can you!
You know how I know? Because you’re here. You showed up and you are trying to learn in order to get better. You’re not letting PCOS keep you down and for that, you have my utmost respect & admiration. It’s takes guts and you most definitely have them (metaphorically and physically, I hope).
Hang on to your reason why and find motivation in your small victories. Don’t allow a lack of desired results to form a belief that your journey is pointless or unsuccessful.
Even if you do lose the weight or get a positive pregnancy test, you still have to keep going because the PCOS will always be there. That shouldn’t make you feel hopeless (though I admit it can sound that way). Instead I hope you realize that this isn’t about the end-game, it’s about the journey. If you meet one goal, there will another beyond it. There are so many opportunities for successes and wins in your life. Determine to look at it that way instead of the other way around.
You. Yes, you. You got this.
Ok. So let’s just take a minute here.
I know that all of the above sounds overwhelming. Trust me, I’ve eaten lots of Dove Peanut Butter Chocolates and cried because my brain hurts just trying to process it all and comprise a reasonable lifestyle plan that abides by all of those things. It IS a lot.
My goal for this post was to give you an overview of where to start with your research and implementation. So it looks like a lot of brief ideas and links to learn EVEN MORE.
DON’T PANIC. I have been where you are and it’s frightening, frustrating, and all of those other f words. You feel like you need to figure everything out & fix it all at once. It’s not about that. Your PCOS isn’t going away so now we’re on this lifelong journey to find a good, sustainable balance that suits our lifestyles. And each one of us is completely different. What may work for me may not work for you, and vice versa.
You can tell that I love PCOS Diet Support and have heavily utilized it to jumpstart my own research. But I don’t rely on Tarryn’s word alone, I research on my own from reliable, academic, medical sources. So just because I’m saying it, don’t take it as gospel.
Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, please. Research both sides without bias. Make informed decisions.
But if it makes you feel any better, it’s a lot simpler than it sounds. The way I see it, I’m not going to spend my days living in fear of eating the wrong thing or taking the wrong supplement. Instead, I’m going to eat the healthiest food & make the best choices that I can and over time, I will refine my choices with research & experience.
Tarryn of PCOS Diet Support recently wrote an article that addresses “decision fatigue” and it spoke to me. It contains excellent advice on staying motivated and navigating through various decisions on your PCOS journey. Must read recommendation!
Right now, just learn. Build your foundation. Implement one change at a time. Make one better choice each day. And eat an occasional chocolate.
Here are the links to my PCOS Pinterest boards, I’ve worked hard to add some of my favorites tips, recipes, and even favorites memes–because humor is important.
Here are some of my favorites articles by fellow PCOS Cysters: