Wednesday, 5 April 2017

My PCOS Story: All About Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

"Live less out of habit and more out of intent."

I've been putting off writing this post for a long while, mostly out of fear that someone I know will read it (which retrospectively is really not a big deal, since I'm usually quite open about having PCOS). Despite being generally open with my loved ones about my PCOS and body image struggles, it is a touchy subject for me. That said, I feel it's important to address these issues as a vent for myself and hopefully something that others can relate to. A note first, though: everything I discuss here is unique to my experiences with PCOS, and other women dealing with it will have variations on this experience. So I'm not making generalizations, I'm just explaining as best I can the way that it has impacted my life and how I have dealt with it. I'd also mention how fortunate I've been to have a wonderful doctor who diagnosed me so early in my life, as well as a fantastic support system of incredible people who lift me up and help me get through the tough times that come with PCOS and life in general.

I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome in 2013, when I was fifteen years old. Here is a good link to more information about the condition, to summarize, PCOS affects around 10-15% of women, and the variety of symptoms affect everyone differently.

  • Ovarian cysts: I had an ultrasound shortly before my diagnosis, which revealed cysts on both of my ovaries. The risk with cysts is that they can rupture, which leaves scarring on the ovaries, which in turn can lead to infertility. I've experienced a number of cyst ruptures, and can say with certainty that it is a horribly painful experience. 
  • Irregular periods: I had my first at age fourteen and didn't get the next for almost a year. I've been on the pill since I was sixteen, which means that I now get a period most months *cheer!!*
  • Hirsutism (excessive hair growth): this is different for everyone and while mine isn't too severe, I find myself plucking a chin or nose hair from time-to-time.
  • Acne: I'm turning 21 this year and still deal with regular bouts of inflammation on my face.
  • Chronic fatigue: since my diagnosis, I've had two iron infusions and still haven't been able to get my energy levels back to the way they were five years ago. I often lie awake for hours at night, which as a busy college student (or anyone, for that matter) is a total pain.
  • Mood changes: I'm thankful that this hasn't been a huge symptom, but I've struggled quite a bit with anxiety in the last year or so in particular.
  • Weight gain: this is the big one for me. Women with PCOS typically have two major issues affecting weight: higher levels of male hormones, and insulin resistance. Let me tell you, insulin resistance is a pain in my ass. It puts me at greater risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, breast cancer, and high cholesterol (which I do have and will expand on further below).


The big take-away when I was diagnosed was losing weight will help alleviate all of the other symptoms. Everything is linked. But for me, weight management has always been the hardest part of PCOS. As a child I dealt with an illness that left me bedridden and out of school for months, and I ended up severely underweight and unhealthy. I gained the weight back in time, and as I entered high school my weight kept creeping up, despite the fact that I was playing various sports 3-4 days every week. When I was seventeen I saw a dietician for a year and managed to lose 20 lbs.

As I finished high school and headed off to college, the sports finished, but my late-night snacking habits did not finish with them. For the first two years, I put my health on the back-burner and gradually gained a lot more than just the 'standard' fifteen pounds that comes with dorm life.

The summer following sophomore year, I lost about 15 lbs through extra walking and consuming less sugar. Then I gained it all back again, and some more.

This is the pattern that it has tended to follow, and from what I can tell from my research, this is very common among women with PCOS. There are all sorts of diets recommended for weight loss success, but the only one I have found to be successful for myself, is a dairy-free, refined-sugar free (or light) and low-GI diet. I'd also mention that I've been a pescatarian for about 10 years, so no meat for me.

Having high cholesterol means I need to watch my saturated fats and keep them to a minimum, as well as limiting sugar intake. I cannot stress to you how hard this is for me. I have such a sweet tooth that some days it feels near impossible. The only solution I have found is sticking it out for one week, and then it gets easier. But that week is basically hell for me. I'll expand on my diet staples for balancing cholesterol and satisfying my sweet tooth below.

As I previously mentioned, the diet that works for me is low-GI as well as dairy-free and refined-sugar free. A few of my favourite foods to balance my cholesterol are: salmon, chia seeds (these little guys are so versatile!!), flax seeds, oats, almonds, the list goes on...

As far as low-GI goes, the biggest change for me is switching white carbs for wholegrains and complex carbohydrates. White pasta and flour do very little for you nutritionally speaking. Loading up on fibre is so key with PCOS. It balances the sugar in food, so that the energy is released more slowly and lasts longer, keeping you fuller for longer. Simple carbs, like cakes and pastries as well as white pasta, acts as a sugar burst and you'll end up feeling a crash and then you'll just be hungry again. It's a toxic cycle and I find it frustrating all. the. damn. time.

I also love to walk. I aim for 45-60 minutes every day. Sometimes this feels ridiculous and I just climb into bed at 4pm when classes finish, but it's another thing that is a great habit to have. Once you can do it for a week, it'll be much easier to do from then on out.

I also want to mention something that I feel is important to acknowledge: I have dealt with emotional eating for a good ten years or so. It can be really shitty and gets me feeling down regularly. I'll have one good day and then the next I'm feeling stressed out and deprived, so I'll stop at the store and buy everything sweet in sight. And regret it approximately five seconds after I've eaten every last morsel. I just feel that it's important to acknowledge that a journey to health and a balanced lifestyle is really tough. I've found that everyone deals with this on some level, so just be kind to yourself and treat your body with the respect it deserves. Living with PCOS is life long, so quick diets and solutions just won't work. Take your time to figure out what works for you.


I'd like to end this post by sharing some of my favourite quote when it comes to fighting PCOS.
"A little progress each day adds up to big results." Some days it is so bloody hard just to make small changes, but even the tiniest change each day can amount to something wonderful over time. So take your time, find your balance, and smile big!

If you also have PCOS, I hope this post has helped you to feel that you are not alone in your struggle!

x B
© The North Wind. All rights reserved.
Blogger Template Designed by pipdig