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10 lifestyle changes you can make to lose weight with PCOS

One of the challenges faced by women with PCOS can be weight gain and obesity.

10 Lifestyle Changes You Can Make to Lose Weight With PCOS | Juniper

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex yet common hormonal condition that impacts up to 1 in 10 women and girls during the reproductive years [1].

PCOS symptoms include missing or irregular periods as well as high levels of insulin, acne and excess body hair growth. A staggering 80% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance.

One of the challenges faced by women with PCOS can be weight gain and obesity. In fact, an estimated 60% of women with PCOS have unhealthy weight [2].

Fortunately, there are some changes that may help people with polycystic ovary syndrome both lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. We've rounded up the best tips for lifestyle changes to help you on your weight loss journey in a way that is both steady and sustainable.

What is PCOS?

The term polycystic literally means 'many cysts' which is what grows on the ovaries of women with PCOS. The cause of PCOS is still unknown, although it's suspected to have something to do with high levels of insulin or high levels of androgens (male hormones) that impact how the ovaries work [3].

The ovaries are there to create and release an egg each month through your menstrual cycle, but for women with PCOS, the egg may not develop or be released during ovulation which can result in infertility.

There's also a strong genetic component, meaning if your mum or aunty has PCOS symptoms, there's a good chance you could have it too.

Why is losing weight with PCOS so hard?

Having PCOS is linked to a number of other chronic health conditions including type 2 diabetes, glucose intolerance, sleep apnoea, and PCOS belly fat. We know that sleep problems can also impact weight loss by causing daytime sleepiness, affecting your motivation to move and leading to weight gain.

It can be really tough to lose weight with PCOS as excess insulin can cause weight gain. Some psychological symptoms associated with PCOS include depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem which can all make losing weight a challenge.

What causes PCOS-related weight gain?

Women with PCOS may have excess insulin in their bodies, which can cause intense cravings for carbohydrates and make them feel hungrier sooner [4]. The hormone ghrelin, which helps regulate your satiety or feeling of being full has been found to malfunction in women with PCOS, making you hungrier quicker.

Women with PCOS might also crave high-fat foods (like chocolate, fast food, and sugary snacks) due to the high levels of male hormones we talked about earlier [5]. This can cause them to eat a higher calorie intake which can cause weight gain.

How to lose weight with PCOS

Losing weight with PCOS isn't easy, but there are things you can do to help with weight loss, which will help improve the symptoms of PCOS. In fact, reducing your body weight by 5-10% can help reduce insulin resistance by half and regulate your menstrual cycle which improves your fertility.

Here are 10 ways you can get started even if you have had a hard time losing weight in the past.

1. Balancing your hormones

Some women with PCOS will need medication like hormonal birth control to help balance hormones.

Other women find that a particular way of eating can help, with many dieticians touting the low glycemic diet (also known as a low GI diet) can help. A chat with your healthcare provider can help determine what strategy is best for you.

2. Investigate sleeping issues

Sleep is so important to our overall health, but especially for people with PCOS who need quality sleep to increase insulin sensitivity, reduce those high-carb cravings, and balance out their blood sugar.

Try to practise good sleep hygiene by starting a calming, pre-bed routine that limits using devices with blue-light exposure to prepare you for deep rest. If you are concerned you might have sleep apnoea it's best to chat with a medical professional like your GP.

3. Keep stress in check

Stress can lead to increased cortisol and adrenaline, which isn't great news for women with PCOS, who are prone to have higher cortisol levels.

It can be helpful to find an approach that works for you to de-stress — it might be walking, breath work, yoga or meditation.

4. Approach weight loss holistically

To sustain a healthy weight long-term you need to take a holistic approach. Juniper's Weight Reset Programme is designed by medical experts and health coaches to give you a medical pathway to long-term weight loss.

Juniper's Weight Reset Programme includes prescription weight loss medication, unlimited follow-up consultations with your Juniper clinician, health coaching, 1:1 health tracking, and access to our supportive and like-minded Juniper community. We help you make the lifestyle changes that help you not only lose weight but keep it off.

5. Move your body

Moving your body is great for your physical and mental health. Cardiovascular exercise regimens like running or HIIT workouts can improve insulin resistance and be beneficial in preventing high blood pressure and heart disease — both of which women with PCOS are at higher risk of developing.

Weight training has been shown to reduce male hormone levels, improving PCOS symptoms while also positively impacting mental health.

6. Eat more protein

Upping your protein can help you feel fuller for longer by reducing cravings and stabilising your blood sugar levels. One study of women with PCOS found that those who ate a high-protein diet lost much more weight over a 6-month period than those in the control group.

Generally, you want to aim for up to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Look for protein sources that suit a lower-fat diet like chicken, tofu, salmon or beans.

If you're still struggling to get enough protein, Juniper's Nourish Shakes are high-protein meal replacement shakes that give you 20 minerals and nutrients, almost 30 grams of protein, and a meagre 205 calories per serving.

7. Up your fibre and add healthy fats to your plate

Research has found that a high-fibre diet can help lower insulin resistance and lower overall body fat (and body mass index) in people with PCOS.

One study showed that women with PCOS who consumed the same calories but lower overall fibre and magnesium compared to women without PCOS seemed to have insulin resistance and increased body mass index [6].

Women are recommended to aim for about 25 grams of fibre per day. Don't focus on taking away but instead adding to your plate. Some high-fibre foods include berries, kiwi fruit, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, chia seeds, oats, and lentils.

Adding a small amount of healthy fats to your plate will help you feel fuller whilst hitting your nutritional needs. Foods like avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil are excellent sources of healthy fats. Using small amounts of healthy fats will help you stick to an overall low-fat diet and go into a calorie deficit for weight loss.

8. Reduce processed foods

Overly processed foods like refined flour, deli meats, and fried foods can contribute to inflammation in the body, and leave you not feeling great.

By swapping out some processed foods for less processed alternatives (for example, picking wholegrain bread over white bread) you'll reduce inflammation, avoid spiking blood sugar, and improve your overall nutrition.

As an added bonus you'll also naturally consume fewer calories, which will help with gradual weight loss.

9. Reduce your caffeine intake

Overconsumption of caffeine can affect your blood sugar which can negatively impact both PCOS symptoms and fertility.

Try reducing or swapping coffee for decaf, matcha or chai. It's also worth trying to keep hydrated by increasing your water intake.

10. Don't undereat

Women with PCOS have a high prevalence of disordered eating and poor body image. It is critical to ensure you are maintaining good eating habits and eating enough. Eating disorders affect a range of body types and people at different ends of the weight spectrum.

Eating too few calories or long-term calorie restriction is an unsustainable approach to weight maintenance or weight management. If you are struggling to fit in enough calories consider adding in something like Juniper's Nourish Shakes to boost your protein intake and help build muscle.

It's important to have a positive support system to help you on your PCOS weight loss journey to ensure a slow, safe, and long-term approach to weight regulation. The impact of a long-term sustainable diet has many health benefits beyond your body weight.

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