Losing weight with PCOS

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is infamous for making weight hard to shift, particularly fat around the waist – the apple shape. This weight is not only very frustrating, but actually makes your PCOS symptoms worse because fatty tissue promotes insulin resistance. Excess release of insulin promotes fat storage, and the cycle goes on and on.

First things first when losing weight with PCOS – check your thyroid

Women with PCOS experience higher rates of hypothyroidism (under-functioning). Your thyroid gland controls your metabolism, and low thyroid function promotes fat storage too. If you feel tired a lot (which low thyroid function causes), you also want to exercise less. This makes everything worse.

Your doctor can check you for thyroid function with a blood test. If your thyroid blood test result is normal, but you still have weight gain/hard-to-shift weight, feel tired, have hair loss, are constipated, your periods are irregular or heavy, you are depressed, your hair and nails are brittle, or you are really sensitive to the cold, you could have a mild version of hypothyroidism (subclinical hypothyroidism) that doesn’t show up on tests. This may be due to a nutrient deficiency, so see a different practitioner for more comprehensive advice.

Your diet matters the most when it comes to weight loss: calories in, calories out

Do not underestimate the power of your caloric intake and output when trying to lose weight. Check your portion sizes, don’t eat too close to bedtime, keep your blood sugar stable during the day, and stick to a low-glycaemic diet. Avoid crash-dieting – it just sends your body into greedy calorie-absorbing mode, which is counterproductive.

Control your blood sugar religiously

Find recipe books aimed at the low-glycaemic diet (you’ll find a lot specifically for diabetics, but it’s the same diet) that have healthy, delicious meals. Learn more about managing insulin resistance. 

Exercise, but do more weights

Exercise is required in PCOS for solid weight loss results, because muscles use glucose (even at rest) and increase your resting metabolic rate. Cardio is important for overall health but too much can cause an increase in stress hormones, which inhibits weight loss. Build muscle for best benefits. From half an hour to an hour five days per week is ideal, but do what you can.

Consider your stress triggers and manage them

Stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline – send a direct message to your body to promote fat storage over energy expenditure. Weight can be hard to move if you are chronically stressed. Find a way to relax your body and mind, and your weight will be easier to move.

What size is healthy?

Your body mass index should be in the normal, healthy range (unless you have a body that is healthy outside of this! We know you are all shapes and sizes). Even losing 5-10 per cent of your body weight causes a benefit to your system in PCOS.

Keeping the weight off slowly and sustainably will be key to keeping it off for life. It bears noting that dropping below a healthy BMI stop you ovulating, because you need a certain amount of fat for your reproductive system to function properly.

Be supported – ask for help

Changes to diet and exercise are much easier when you have someone to do them with, so ask for help and support from friends, family or work colleagues. Arrange long walks, going out dancing, and arrange meals that suit your needs. Additionally, having solid professional help can make everything smoother, because you can ask questions and get the most out of your supplements and herbs.

Don’t go it alone – The PCOS Solution – our evidence-based naturopathic treatment program for PCOS

Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)