Transitioning to a Healthy Lifestyle with PCOS
Change can be new and exciting, but it can also be scary and haunted with uncertainty. I remember the day I was diagnosed with PCOS and was terrified by the changes that were ahead of me. I have always been one who has made small steps to improve my eating and exercise habits, but when PCOS came into the picture, it was crucial I made a serious change. My doctor, Dr. Lina Shammas DO., spent over an hour talking to me about how PCOS affects female hormones and fertility. She had discovered that I was not ovulating. Dr. Richard Sherbahn MD. states, “The basic difference between polycystic and normal ovaries is that although the polycystic ovaries contain many small antral follicles with eggs in them, the follicles do not develop and mature properly - so there is no ovulation.” (1) I felt very educated in a short amount of time, but the question remained, so I asked… “Does that mean I cannot have children?”
Dr. Shammas said, “Not right now, but if you make a change, you will.” I started to cry because that was the last thing I was expecting to hear when I walked into the doctor that day. Motherhood is in my life’s plan, not at this exact moment but at the right moment, and I need to make sure my body is ready for it. She told me what I can and cannot eat and how much I should be working out. It seemed so simple, just follow the plan and it will get better. Then she told me something that has stuck with me ever since my diagnosis 2+ years ago, she said “All you must do is ask yourself; do you want ice cream, or do you want a child of your own?”
I lost 30 pounds in 6 months by asking myself that question, and it was a great feeling! But even with such high motivation, sometimes the change was too much too soon, and I would eat the ice cream. That was then followed by an extreme amount of guilt about wanting ice cream more than kids one day. The answer was to find a balance, a progression of change that I worked at every day and maybe if I do a little at a time, eventually I would find the right formula for a healthy and full life.
Change always comes with challenges, especially when you feel like you are faced with so much that you want, or need, to change. When you have more symptoms from your condition than the side effects listed on a pharmaceutical ad, it is normal to want to fix everything as soon as possible, to go full-force, be super strict, and try for a “perfect” day… every day. When you feel like there is so much wrong, you feel like there is so much to fix. It can be overwhelming to try and change everything at once, eventually you will fall back to your old habits, or become too hard on yourself if you slip up or feel deprived of the joys in life… and who wants that!?! This is how I continuously work on improving my healthy PCOS lifestyle.
I keep a list of things that I would like to start, or stop, doing. I try to keep them mostly positive, like “eat more vegetables” and “exercise more,” rather than negative, such as “cut out sugar” or “no more potato chips.” Introducing more things to my life makes me feel like I am getting more, not less, out of my life changes. Rather than feeling deprived, I feel accomplished after doing something on my list (although I always say, “no more soda!” and I am still working on that one!) Here are some things on my list.
Eat 4 servings of green veggies every day
Stick to my running plan
Take my supplements every day
Exchange one sweet for one piece of fruit every day
Drink tea instead of soda every day
Then I focus on one thing at a time. Just one. Once you feel like you have confidently incorporated that one thing into your daily lifestyle, then pick the next goal to focus on, and so on.
So where do you start? Well thankfully I prioritize tasks for a living, so I know a little something about deciding on where to start.
Make a doctor’s appointment: It is so important to stay up to date on your routine blood work and screenings. “Women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D) and are diagnosed at an earlier age with the condition, according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.” (2) Therefore, your blood work and doctor will tell you the most important area of your lifestyle that you need to improve on. If you are at risk, or have a serious health condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, make that a top priority.
Separate the life-threatening things with the cosmetic things. If your A1C number is through the roof but you also have excess hair growth, make your sugar intake your top focus no matter how self-conscious you are about your hair. I am not saying you should not shave or wax. I am saying that you should not neglect your sugar management while paying attention to your 5 o’clock shadow. If you must choose between spending extra money to buy sugar free organic food items or an expensive hair laser treatment, get yourself a razor instead and some high quality organic produce.
Do not be too hard on yourself. I am very guilty of this one and it does not do me any good as it just causes stress which releases the stress hormone cortisol. Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD. states, “This disruption of cortisol secretion may not only promote weight gain, but it can also affect where you put on the weight in the body.” (3) So, if you fail, try again tomorrow. And if you keep failing, find help. I talked to my doctor to find nutritionists and sought out PCOS support groups to keep me on track while also staying positive.
Change is difficult, but I always have felt that change leads to better things whether it feels like it at the moment or not. When it comes to improving your health in regards PCOS, the only thing that a positive change can lead to is life… in more ways than one.
Writer, Artist, PCOS Warrior
Jennifer is not a medical professional. Jennifer’s writing is an expression of her own personal experiences. Please contact your health provider for medical advice.