The endocrine condition affects one in ten women and everyone has a different experience with it. Here's how to manage
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a very common endocrine condition that affects one in every ten women and those assigned female at birth in the UK from puberty age. It manifests differently in each individual and can have a profound impact on an individual's self-esteem and quality of life.
Unfortunately there is no guide book when dealing with PCOS from hormonal changes, fatigue, cystic acne, excessive hair growth or hair loss and more.
Before I was diagnosed with PCOS, I had little to no understanding as to what PCOS is. I was told by doctors that periods are irregular due to my size and stress. I tried fad diets, shakes, cutting down on food portions and restricting what I ate.
My weight fluctuated, my moods were all over the place and, I was growing hair in places that were not normal, and I became insecure with my appearance.
Everyone’s PCOS is different
It differentiates between individuals due to genetics and other factors. PCOS is a syndrome which means there's no one specific set of symptoms—that means everyone's PCOS is different.
“Stop comparing your PCOS journey to others. Everyone’s experience with PCOS looks different and that’s OK. Move at your own pace,” says Leila Martyn, a PCOS expert and the founder of MyOva.
Aim to have a balanced meal
While many people with PCOS have successfully lost weight and reversed their symptoms, weight loss doesn't work for everyone. Having a balanced diet full of nutritious foods can help manage PCOS symptoms. However, keep in mind that no single diet will suit everyone. It's also worth noting that people with PCOS tend to be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, and iron, so consult your doctor or a dietitian or nutritionist before making any major dietary changes.
Nutritionist Milena Kaler suggests starting small: “Trying to change too much too fast can be overwhelming. Start with what you like the most. Start adding that to your diet daily.”
Prioritising sleep is essential
The reasons for not getting enough sleep can vary and may include hormone changes, sleep environment, diet, stress levels or mood. Many women with PCOS struggle with fatigue even after what feels like a good night's sleep and waking up exhausted.
Jodie Relf, a registered dietitian says, “A good place to start is to reduce the inflammation. This can be done by consuming anti-inflammatory foods such as berries, oily fish, leafy green vegetables, olive oil and nuts. Next, is balancing those insulin and glucose levels by aiming to have a source of protein with most meals and choosing carbohydrates that are digested slowly, such as wholegrains.”
Getting into a routine will help our sleeping patterns and getting a good night's sleep: “Try to avoid all screens at least half an hour before going to bed. Use this time to create a calming bedtime routine which might involve reading, lighting a candle, listening to some relaxing music or even just lying in bed quietly reflecting on your day,” she adds.
"The reasons for not getting enough sleep can vary and may include hormone changes, sleep environment, diet, stress levels or mood"
Don’t beat yourself up
If you have PCOS, you are probably aware that you are approximately three times more likely to experience depression and anxiety than people who do not have PCOS. According to research, PCOS symptoms such as excessive hair growth, hair loss, acne, weight changes, and fertility issues can have a negative impact on mood, self-confidence, and body image.
Leila Martyn says it's important to take care of yourself on difficult days and to remember that, “PCOS is not caused by poor lifestyle choices. It is never your fault,” and adding, “Surround yourself with people you love, talk out your anxieties with friends and family you trust and remember it’s just a day.”
Practise self care
During the down days of PCOS it’s important to look after your emotional wellbeing and make sure you have a good support network around you—remember it is not selfish to look after yourself. When you are dealing with chronic pain due to PCOS it can be difficult to be positive but building a good support network could be the first step in your journey. Listen to your favourite songs, take your needed vitamins, do things that make you happy and try to be around in nature.”
The options in self care are endless, and it all depends on your personal preferences and what you feel needs to be focused on most—your physical or emotional self, or both. Remember to be kind to yourself.
It’s not about overcoming PCOS, it is about managing PCOS.
Verity is a UK-based self-help group for women suffering from polycystic ovaries. The site has an active discussion board and social media community for women who want to connect with others.
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