If you have PCOS, you’ve probably heard that losing weight can help improve your symptoms, but weight loss with PCOS can be easier said than done for the majority of people who experience symptoms.
The key to losing weight with PCOS often begins with diet–but not in the way you might think. Since hormone and metabolic dysregulation are at the center of PCOS, the foods you eat play an important role in healing the metabolic component, so that issues with hormone imbalance follow suit.
In simple terms, losing weight with PCOS isn’t about eating less and moving more.
Keep reading for actionable steps you can start today that can help you lose weight with PCOS.
To lose weight with PCOS, you need to:
- Keep insulin levels in a healthy range
- Decrease inflammation with diet and by lowering toxic burden
- Manage stress
How do we do this? First, it’s important to understand the basics of how insulin dysregulation is at the center of weight loss with PCOS.
Insulin + Inflammation
Insulin dysregulation is one of the hallmarks of PCOS symptoms, and this can lead to weight gain, and increase your risk for diabetes and heart disease down the road (1).
It’s important to keep insulin levels within a healthy range not only by eating a balanced diet, but by reducing inflammation levels to allow your cells to use insulin effectively.
In simple terms, high insulin keeps your body storing excess calories as fat–instead of using them for fuel.
This is why I formulated Hormone Helper to support a healthy blood sugar and insulin balance, in addition to promoting normal hormone function.
To decrease inflammation, and keep insulin levels in a healthy range, follow a PCOS-friendly diet. It’s important to personalize foods to your daily needs, but the basics are as follows:
PCOS Diet to Lose Weight
A healthy PCOS diet often drastically reduces or eliminates refined carbohydrates, and balances insulin and blood sugar levels with plenty of quality proteins and healthy fats.
It’s also helpful to increase fiber from nutrient-dense, low-starch vegetables, and eat more anti-inflammatory foods.
Most of my patients with PCOS also notice success with weight loss when they eliminate gluten, dairy, and alcohol.
Omit Sugar & Refined Carbohydrates
Processed carbs like bread, pasta, cereal and others contribute to high insulin levels and inflammation, which makes them one of the most problematic foods for people with PCOS.
Sugars and carbohydrates also contribute to two common problems I see in PCOS patients, which are:
- Candida overgrowth
- Gluten intolerance
Women with PCOS are often insulin resistant, which means your body can make insulin but can’t use it effectively. This increases the risk for type 2 diabetes, and makes it very hard to lose weight (1).
Avoiding, or at least drastically reducing, refined carbohydrates is one of the best ways to control your insulin levels and lose weight.
Women with PCOS who ate a higher-fat, lower-carb diet saw a more than 30% decrease in their insulin levels, compared to those who ate a higher-carb, lower-fat diet (2).
Increase Your Protein
Calorie for calorie, protein is the most filling macronutrient, even more so than fat or carbs (3).
Protein satisfies your appetite, makes you less likely to overeat, and helps keep insulin levels in a healthy range.
When women come to my practice, one of the most common things I find is that they aren’t eating enough protein.
Aim for at least 0.8 grams of protein (though some studies suggest up to 1 gram) per pound of body weight. This adds up to about 120 grams per day for a 150-lb. person. Adequate protein can make a big difference in how you look and feel, especially if you have PCOS.
Eat More Healthy Fats
In a 2015 study, women who switched to a low-carb, high-fat diet lost significantly more weight than women eating a higher-carb, low-fat diet (4).
A significant portion of their weight loss was belly fat, and they also maintained muscle mass better than women in the high-carb, low-fat group did. Plus, the low-carb, high-fat group enjoyed more balanced metabolic hormones, which help with both weight loss and PCOS symptoms.
Examples of healthy fats include:
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Grass-fed butter or ghee
- Wild-caught salmon, oysters, and sardines
- Grass-fed red meat
- Nuts and seeds, and their butters (sunflower, macadamia, pumpkin, etc.)
Healthy fats, like avocado, coconut, fish, butter, and egg yolks build healthy cells, modulate inflammation in the body, AND keep insulin levels low.
Increase Fiber from Nutrient-Dense Veggies
Women with PCOS who ate more fiber had lower body fat (especially belly fat) and more stable insulin levels than those who ate less fiber (5).
The same correlation didn’t show up for women without PCOS, which suggests that fiber may be particularly helpful if you have PCOS.
Vegetables and low-sugar fruits are the best sources of fiber. They’re also packed with anti-inflammatory compounds and micronutrients. Some of the higher-fiber fruits and veggies include:
- Greens like kale, chard, and spinach
- Cabbage, red and green
10 Tips to Lose Weight with PCOS
1. Eat protein and fat at every meal
Keep fat-burning high and appetite low by including quality protein and fat at each meal. This modulates blood sugar spikes from carbohydrates and supports healthy weight loss.
2. Avoid refined carbohydrates
White bread, cereals, pasta, and other processed grains quickly spike blood sugar and contribute to insulin resistance and weight gain over time.
3. Try intermittent fasting
Research supports intermittent fasting helps support healthy insulin levels, and the reduction of body fat (6).
It’s important to try intermittent fasting safely and effectively. Read this guide to get started with effective fasting.
4. Avoid large servings of starchy vegetables
This includes potatoes, squash, peas, or corn. If you do eat a starchy vegetable, include a healthy serving of protein or fat to blunt the spike in blood sugar.
5. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
Plenty of nutrient-dense veggies, healthy omega-3 fats, and quality protein will serve your blood sugar and hormone balance best. Try these quick and easy anti-inflammatory recipes.
Thirty minutes or more of moderate exercise not only supports insulin sensitivity, but helps build muscle as well, which can help your metabolism burn fat long after your workout has ended.
7. Eat fermented foods.
Studies show certain gut bacteria influence blood sugar balance, weight, and metabolism. Support a diverse microbiome by eating a variety of fermented foods like kefir, kraut, dairy-free yogurt, or other fermented vegetables.
8. Consider supplements.
- Berberine supports a healthy response to insulin, keeping blood sugar balanced and healthy (7).
- Magnesium promotes metabolic health, blood sugar balance, and can help you lose more weight around your belly (8).
- Myo-inositol reduces androgens, supports ovarian function, and insulin sensitivity (9,10,11)
9. Don’t Skip Meals
Skipping meals when your body is sending you hunger signals increases stress hormones and can contribute to weight gain. This is different, however, than practicing safe and effective intermittent fasting.
Behind a healthy gut, the aspect most people neglect on their weight loss journey is consistent and adequate sleep. Hunger and fullness hormones normalize while we sleep, and cells are allowed to rebuild, replenish, and repair.
The Best Way to Lose Weight with PCOS
Losing weight when you have PCOS isn’t just about eating less and moving more. There’s a complex underlying cause of inflammation and blood sugar balance that’s at the root cause of weight loss and PCOS patients.
Follow a PCOS-friendly diet to lose weight with PCOS, which will help you balance blood sugar while adequately fueling your metabolism and hormones.
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