Becoming a PCOS Diva
As a certified health coach, I often hear from women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) who are frustrated and have lost all hope because the only advice their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. For much of my life, I was one of these women. As early as 14, I wrestled with a lot of the common PCOS symptoms, such as irregular periods, hirsutism (male-patterned hair growth in places women don't generally have hair), acne, mood swings, and insulin resistance (when the body's cells do not respond normally to insulin, a hormone that controls how the food you eat is changed into energy). It seemed this was my fate. My mom dealt with this and so did my grandmother. It seemed to be the genetic fate of women in my family.
One day in college, I found myself sitting in a cold exam room scared and confused, feeling lousy, not having had a period in months and months, and not understanding why. The doctor looked me in the eye and told me they would have to "jump through hoops" for me to get pregnant one day. She renewed my prescription for the pill and sent me on my way. I felt helpless and hopeless. It was a dark moment.
Many years later, with the help of fertility drugs, I did have two sons. After the birth of my second son, I felt worse than ever. I had two beautiful children and a wonderful husband, but I was exhausted all the time, and my PCOS symptoms were at their worst. I wasn't the wife or mother I wanted to be. After years of following mainstream advice from countless doctors, I realized that nothing was helping. The medicines they offered made me sicker and more miserable.
That's when I knew that I had to empower myself and take control of my health. No one else could do it for me. I scoured the internet for information and read countless books. I went back to school to learn from experts. After hundreds of hours and tons of trial and error, I developed a system that allowed me to thrive. I changed my diet and lifestyle and, most importantly, my mindset. I started making myself a priority. As I made little changes like slowly eliminating inflammatory foods (for me, gluten and dairy), finding ways to exercise that I actually enjoyed, and regularly making time to take care of myself, my symptoms began to clear.
My husband noticed the shift and declared me a "diva." At first, I was offended, until I realized that to be my best and give my best to my family, I DID have to be a diva.
Now I am also the mother of an amazing daughter, my third child and the direct product of the lifestyle I forged. Despite what doctors warned all those years ago, I was able to conceive naturally. I just had to have the proper education, lifestyle, mindset, and tools first. Essentially, I had to become a diva.
Women with PCOS need to know that they are not a victim. PCOS is not their fate. There is no magic pill, and they can thrive with PCOS when they embrace the power of knowledge, diet, and lifestyle.
Here's where I tell people to start:
- Educate yourself. Learn about PCOS's causes, symptoms, and possible treatments. Find a doctor you're comfortable asking questions of and who will help you find treatments that work for you. With that foundation, you are ready to start healing.
- Upgrade your diet. I've found that the natural and artificial sugars in processed foods can trigger nasty symptoms, such as weight gain. Being overweight can worsen other PCOS-related symptoms. I suggest eliminating as much processed food from your diet as possible and eating whole foods such as nuts, lean meats, and organic fruits and vegetables instead. My PCOS is well controlled with diet and exercise.
- Move it every day. This isn't just for weight loss. Moving your body relieves stress and clears your mind. Take a walk at lunchtime or try yoga, swimming, gardening, or a strength training class. Any time spent moving is time well spent.
- De-stress. We all lead busy and stressful lives, and stress can wreak havoc on the hormonal system. The way we approach stress can make all the difference. Healthy women have coping mechanisms to deal with stress and manage it in healthy ways. Start by making your mental and physical health a priority. Learning to say "no" and setting priorities is your first step. Consider adding stress-relieving activities such as yoga, meditation, and regular exercise to your daily routine.
- Make time for self-care. I can't emphasize the need for self-care enough. Taking care of your mind, body, and spirit is not selfish. You are more able to give your friends, family, and coworkers your whole self when you have taken the time to refresh. Self-care means eating well and exercising, but it also means taking a few minutes to yourself every day to re-center and relax. Whatever method you choose, give yourself over to the experience wholly and see the difference it makes in your life.
Finally, remember, Rome wasn't built in a day. Diet and lifestyle changes can improve your quality of life, like they did for me, but you also have to be kind to yourself while you do it. Change takes time, but before you know it, you too can be a PCOS Diva like me!
The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.