Do you ever find yourself wishing your clothes fit better? Muffin tops, #amiright?!
I spent years counting my calories and eating low fat foods. And you know what? I was always hungry and bloated. It. Was. The. Worst.
After I began my PCOS journey to health I was relieved to learn it wasn't fat in my diet that was causing weight gain, it was SUGAR! Once I cut down my sugar consumption and incorporated healthy fats into my diet not only did the bloating go away, but I lost weight and significantly reduced my PCOS symptoms.
Yup, I became one of those people who had regular cycles, clear skin, and consistent digestion. And it all started once I understood the connection between sugar and PCOS.
SUGAR & PCOS
"Insulin resistance is one of the root physiological imbalances in most, if not all, PCOS. This is where your pancreas needs to pump out more and more insulin in response to high blood sugar levels." (Cleveland Clinic). When our bodies start producing too much insulin to keep up with all the sugar in our bloodstream, our cells become resistant, meaning they’re not able to effectively convert insulin into energy. This can lead to weight gain, irregular periods, and excess androgen, which can cause facial hair and acne.
It's also important to note the more sugar you eat, the more you crave it. I love this diagram that illustrates the sugar cycle. Have you experienced this before? I know I have, especially mid-afternoon.
So let's put this all together: women with PCOS have a difficult time processing sugar, which in turn, leads to weight gain and an imbalance of other hormone controlled functions, such as menstruation and ovulation. Therefore, if women with PCOS decrease their sugar consumption, their body is more aligned and PCOS symptoms decrease. Sounds pretty good, right?
A QUICK GUIDE TO KICKING YOUR SUGAR HABIT
Now that we know just how bad sugar is impacting our PCOS symptoms, let's walk through some key steps in decreasing sugar consumption.
It can be difficult to navigate PCOS alone, which is why I created the Mending Together support group. Mending Together is an online community for women with PCOS. Together we learn to nourish our bodies, calm our minds, detox our homes, and support our hearts. Taking care of your body is more than a diet, it is healing from the inside out. I hope you will join us and begin your own journey towards PCOS freedom!
Get a baseline
If you are anything like me, you know you're eating some sugar here and there. But you're also eating some whole grains, fruit, and maybe even a side salad with dinner. So, it can't be that bad...right?!
A few years ago I started to wonder if I was eating more sugar than I realized. I logged my calories for the day and was FLOORED! In just an ordinary day I logged over....
ONE HUNDRED TWENTY TWO GRAMS OF SUGAR ! ! !
For reference, the American Heart Association recommends 25 grams per day for women. Yikes. Get a baseline of your current sugar consumption so you can track your progress. You can use any number of online tools [I've used MyFitnessPal] to log what you eat in a typical day.
Look for challenges
When thinking about cutting down on sugar what do you think will be the hardest transition? Opting for coffee with cream instead your regular caramel latte? Going for a walk instead of an afternoon treat? Think through your day and identify when you normally crave something sweet. Then identify how you can make other choices. My favorite is sipping a cup of herbal tea. THIS one is my favorite.
Look for sneaky sugar
Okay, so we know soda has a TON of sugar... but what about salad dressing? Let’s talk about all of the sneaky places sugar likes to hide.
Have you ever looked at the back of a BBQ sauce bottle? Did you know that 2 tablespoons has as much sugar as a fun size Snickers?!
Start paying attention to the items you have in your home. Read the labels and see if there are any added sugars [alternatives names for sugar are: corn syrup, fructose, & sucrose]. Here are some common places sugar may be sneaking into your life:
> Instant oatmeal
> Pasta sauce
> Flavored yogurt
> Canned soup
> Granola bars
> Peanut butter
The Fruit Debate
Although the exact amounts differ by variety, all fruits have a significant amount of sugar. Some people argue that fruit is okay to include in a low sugar diet, because it is naturally occurring and not as bad as added sugar.
Other people argue that your body processes all sugars the same, therefore, fruit should be avoided as it contributes to the sugar cycle we reviewed above.
I suggest one to two servings of fruit per day. Berries are always a great choice as they have the least amount of sugar per ounce.
Set yourself up for success by creating a mantra that summarizes why you want to change your diet and improve your health. A mantra is simply a word or phrase of encouragement that you repeat to help you remain focused on a goal. Personally I love this:
✨ Every Day is a Brand New Chance to Start Taking Care of Myself ✨
Say that out loud. Doesn't it feel awesome?! Let your positive thinking propel you forward as you seek to make meaningful habit changes.
Have you ever grabbed a bag of chips, plopped on the couch, turned on a show ... only to realize 10 minutes later the entire bag is gone?!
Mindlessly eating is when we consume food without being present with the process of eating. It can look like eating while working at your desk, scrolling on your phone, watching tv or even driving. Mindful eating will help you enjoy the experience of eating and help you stop when you are full, which will in turn help with weight management.
Maybe you've tried cutting down on sugar in the past and it just hasn't worked. The cravings were too strong and you couldn't resist. That was me for years until I did ONE thing that toned down my sugar cravings ten fold...
I added healthy fat into my diet. The combination of reducing sugar and adding healthy fat - such as olive oil or coconut oil - helps stabilize your blood sugar and decreases your cravings.
This can look like...
> Adding avocado to your meal
> Using an olive oil based salad dressing
> Generously tossing my veggies in olive oil before roasting
> Eating nuts and seeds
> Dipping veggies in pesto
I know we have been told a low fat diet is best, but most low fat foods have added sugar to make up for the removed fat. As we just learned, sugar makes PCOS symptoms much worse. As backwards as it may sound, fat doesn't make you gain weight, it helps you LOSE weight.
At this point you may be wondering, so what DO I eat? I have put together a list of my favorite PCOS friendly pantry staples. You can download your copy at www.MendingPCOS.com.
Emily Hawkes is a certified Health & Wellness coach specializing in women with PCOS. She lives in Southern California with her husband and son. When she's not working with clients one on one or blogging you can find her out for a walk or watching BBC nature documentaries.