01 January 2008

How I Beat My PCOS Weight Gain

Here on I'm Not a Doctor, I tend to not get very personal. This post will deviate from that; it is entirely personal. I found success at conquering PCOS weight gain, and if I can perhaps help others to gain control of their PCOS weight problems, then I don't mind revealing a bit of myself.

I was diagnosed with PCOS 8 years ago, but had shown symptoms since my late teens or early 20's. The early symptoms were hair related, graphic detail won't be given to avoid attracting googling deviants, but if you have PCOS you know what I'm talking about.

It wasn't until 10 years ago that I started to have problems with my weight. Until then, I could control my weight with reasonable measures. Suddenly, I started to gain weight and it didn't seem to matter how much I ate (or didn't). This period lasted about 2 years - I gained probably 25 pounds and no matter what I did, I couldn't stop the gain.

When I was diagnosed with PCOS, I was told that the difficulty controlling my weight was part and parcel and would likely always be a problem. That was disappointing to say the least. For a while I thought they were right - it didn't seem to matter what I ate (or how little) or how much I exercised, that PCOS weight stubbornly clung to me.

But they were wrong - it isn't a problem any more. I'm happy to report that controlling my PCOS weight is no more difficult than it was before the problem began. But it was a few years of trial and error - success and failure - before I came upon the combination of success factors.

Following are the factors that I consider vital in my success at beating my PCOS weight:

  • I quit eating boxed cereal and jelly beans. These were two staples of my pre-PCOS diet. I read the New Glucose Revolution** which really changed how I relate to food. I still eat dessert! In fact, I eat without a lot of thought. It was very important to me that I not develop an obsessive or strict relationship with food, because that's not natural or sustainable. That book changed my life, for sure. These days, the same writers publish a book specifically for PCOSers. Either of these books is VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
  • I made friends with fat. I came of age in the Susan Powter era, when we were told that fat was our enemy and carbs were our friends. I love carbs, and they are essential to human health- but so is fat! It's vital! It is necessary for the absorption of vital nutrients and sustaining energy. To avoid fat is to deny millenia of human dietary evolution. I lived in Crete for 2 years - they are the world leaders in consumption of olive oil and the basis for the highly recommended 'Mediterranean diet.' Fat is not our enemy, even if we have a PCOS weight problem. In fact, many 'fat free' or 'low fat' foods one finds in grocery stores are loaded with fast carbs - it's much better and more practical to worry more about eating a balanced, natural diet full of vital nutrients than obsess over natural fats, carbs, or protein.
  • I increased my fruit and vegetable eating. I love fruit, so this is no hardship. I do not drink juice (except the occasional cranberry juice) because juices are too easy to overdo and they lack much of the fiber of the whole fruit.
  • I started to walk a bit. There is no way I'm going to run unless someone is chasing me holding a weapon. Our bodies were built to cover distances. I walk for between 15 minutes and 2 hours daily (usually closer to 15 minutes except during the summer when I like to walk around and look at stuff.) Everyone has 15 minutes.
  • The second most important change (the most important was eating better) was building upper body muscle. I did this by digging and planting a garden by hand - but anything that builds muscle mass will do it. I call this the second most important change because while the other changes stopped me from gaining more PCOS weight, I didn't lose any. But when I started building muscle, the weight disappeared. Within a month, my clothes were getting loose and within 3 months I'd shrunk very noticeably. Two years later, I am still reaping the benefits and haven't regained any weight.
That's it - I have study data to back up these steps, but that'll be for another time. I don't give numbers (weight lost in pounds) because I haven't weighed myself in years. I am at least 3 sizes smaller than I was two years ago. I could probably stand to lose another 10-15 pounds (I'm 5'10", so that's not a lot) but I don't worry about it - I could cut out my beloved desserts and up the exercise to 30 minutes per day and I know I would lose it. That was my biggest frustration with the PCOS weight - it seemed impossible to control and that's really discouraging.

So, there it is - my personal formula for success at losing and controlling PCOS weight.

**The New Glucose Revolution is more than just a glycemic index diet book, it explains how foods affect our insulin and glucose levels, as well as giving an overview of implementing a low glycemic index eating plan. I don't follow the prescribed 'meal plans' but used the information to make lower glycemic index choices when I eat. For me, this was important because adhering to a strictly controlled diet is not easy when there are other (picky) mouths to feed. That said, if you're thinking of getting a glycemic index diet book, I highly recommend it - it has meal plans, recipes, and charts.


Victoria said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story. I've been struggling with weight loss as well for the same reasons. I really hate when doctors tell you there's no hope and prescribe pills. BTW, could you elaborate more on your weight lifting regime?

Syd said...

I don't have a weight lifting regime. I just try to pick up heavy stuff when it's possible. Recently, I've been trying to do a push-up. I know that sounds absurd but there's something about my physiology that makes a push hard but picking up a 130 pound woman easy.

If I were going to go to a gym, I would probably do a 2-3X per week circuit of the Nautilus or other similar machines, with medium reps at medium weights, concentrating mostly on the upper body. Biceps, triceps, deltoids, abs, pecs, lats, and trapezius. But I would say that any building of muscle is better than none, so any regime 'you' (or anyone) will do is better than none.