Lifestyle changes beat dieting for managing PCOS
The management of PCOS usually requires lifestyle changes including following a healthy eating plan and increasing physical activity, which help with weight loss and improving insulin sensitivity.
While following a strict diet with the promise of getting weight off quickly might be tempting, unless you can sustain these changes your results are likely to be short-lived. It’s much better to focus on making long-term sustainable changes to your eating and exercise habits – changes you can see yourself sticking to in the long term.
It is also worth keeping in mind that you don’t have to lose large amounts of weight to see a benefit – research has shown that losing just 5-10% of your weight (4-8kgs if you weight 80kgs) is enough to significantly improve many of the symptoms of PCOS, including fertility.
‘Dieting’ is Not the Answer
- Diets may help you lose ‘weight’ (on the scales), but they don’t necessarily help you lose body fat, which is what you are aiming for.
- When you go on a strict diet that starves the body of carbohydrate, the carbohydrate stores in your muscles (glycogen) are used up. As every gram of glycogen is stored along with 3 grams of water, the initial fast drop in weight you see on the scales is mostly water.
- Once the muscles own glycogen stores are used up, the body breaks down some of its own muscle tissue for energy, which is exactly what you don’t want. Lean muscle tissue, unlike fat, is active – it uses up energy even when you are not active. Losing muscle tissue reduces your metabolism, meaning your body needs less energy to do the same work it used to.
- Your body is also good at adapting to the amount of energy you provide it with. If you starve your body, it tries to conserve energy, slowing down your metabolism. This is something you want to avoid at all costs.
- If you go off the diet, which most people do because it is too hard to stick to, you will generally put the weight you have lost back on, plus a bit extra, because your body needs less energy to survive than it used to. If you go on and off diets, your body ends up with less and less muscle and more and more fat.
- Many strict diets are nutritionally unbalanced and may not provide all the essential nutrients you need for good health – this is particularly important if you are trying to conceive. And you should never follow a strict weight loss diet when pregnant.
- Many restrictive diets leave you lacking in energy, making exercise difficult. This is counterproductive as regular exercise is an important part of losing weight and can help to maintain muscle mass as you lose weight.
- Finally, most diets don’t work because they are too hard to stick to. If your eating plan is not something you can stick to forever, if you don’t enjoy what you eat, if you’re hungry all the time and if what you eat doesn’t fit in with your family and social life, it is unlikely to work.
So, how do I lose weight?
- Don’t focus on the scales You want to lose body fat rather than weight, so you can use the scales as a guide but it’s better to go by how your clothes fit or use a tape measure instead. You want to be smaller, not a number on the scales! If your body is fit and toned, who cares what it weighs?
- Don’t think about going on a ‘diet’. The only way to lose weight permanently is to change your eating habits and include some regular physical activity. The key is to make gradual changes that will fit in with your lifestyle and that you can continue for a lifetime.
- Be patient and realistic. Think about how long it took to put the weight on – you can’t expect to lose it overnight. Loss of body fat is slower but more likely to be permanent.
- Recognise and reward your achievements. And feel good about yourself now – don’t think “when I lose weight…”
- Learn to enjoy healthy food. Think about food as fuel for your body – if you want your body to perform at its best you need to provide it with quality fuel. Buy some healthy cookbooks or recipe magazines and experiment with new foods to find those that satisfy your appetite and taste buds
- Moderation is the key. There is no need to avoid any foods totally if you enjoy them – all foods can be included as part of a healthy eating plan. Obviously you need to set some limits, but cutting out all your favourite foods and feeling guilty about eating is not the way to go. Remember, your new eating plan needs to be for life. It should mean eating better, not necessarily less.
The key to long-term weight management is a healthy eating plan combined with regular physical activity and other healthy lifestyle habits.