If You Have PCOS: Look Before You Leap
Updated: May 12
by Batsheva Herzka, RDN
If you have been diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), you are actually among the lucky ones! Many people with this condition wait many years for an accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, even those who know what they’re dealing with often receive unhelpful, outdated, or conflicting information on how to manage their condition.
PCOS is a hormonal disorder in which a patient may experience irregular periods, excess androgens (male hormones) and cysts on the ovaries. Here’s a short list of common lifestyle changes that are commonly recommended to those with PCOS and why they are not fully accurate.
1. Avoid carbs.
Those with PCOS often have strong cravings for sweets and carbohydrate-rich foods. The body needs carbohydrates for energy and to maintain blood sugar levels. Some carbohydrates include helpful nutrients, and they can even prevent cravings and binge eating. It is best to eat regular meals throughout the day with moderate amounts of high-fiber carbohydrates.
2. Take oral contraceptives.
Yes, there are proven benefits to this traditional treatment option for PCOS. It can help improve hirsutism (excess hair growth) and alopecia (hair loss), as well as improve acne. It can also reduce the risk of endometrial cancer. However, there are risks involved, such as causing glucose intolerance and increasing triglycerides. When a patient goes off oral contraceptives to try to conceive, she may find that she has fertility issues. To find out more, speak to a knowledgeable doctor about the different treatment options.
3. Pursue weight loss.
Many of those who have PCOS are in larger bodies. In fact, studies have shown that it is not weight loss that helps with PCOS symptoms; rather, it is the lifestyle changes (which may or may not result in weight loss) that are beneficial. The HAES (Health At Every Size) and IE (Intuitive Eating) approaches are sustainable ways to support health in those with PCOS.
Speaking with a registered dietitian who is experienced in treating PCOS can be helpful in navigating lifestyle changes.