Weight loss can be a constant struggle for women with PCOS. Read on to understand what causes weight gain in PCOS and how you can lose weight effectively.
As if PCOS wasn’t distressing enough on its own, it usually comes with extremely stubborn weight gain as well. Weight gain may be caused by a variety of factors and losing it is a tough task in PCOS. “How to lose weight with PCOS?” must be a common question on Google everyday. Read more to know how to manage weight in PCOS.
What is the Relationship Between PCOS and Weight Gain?
PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a lifelong condition that comes with a variety of troubling symptoms and weight gain is just one of them. For most women, weight loss with PCOS can be a constant struggle.
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia are considered to be major contributory factors. In insulin resistance, your body finds it difficult to use the hormone called insulin. Insulin is responsible for the uptake of glucose (from the food you eat) by your cells, where the glucose is converted into energy.
When your cells become resistant to insulin and cannot take up glucose from the blood, your blood glucose levels increase. This, in turn, triggers the pancreas to produce more insulin to stabilise the blood glucose (sugar) levels.
High insulin levels increase the production of the male hormones, androgens, which further lead to symptoms such as excessive body hair, acne, irregular periods, and most importantly, weight gain. As androgens trigger the weight gain in PCOS, it is mainly focused around the abdomen, where men tend to carry their weight.
Is Losing Weight with PCOS a Difficult Task?
It is true that women with PCOS find it difficult to lose weight. This is due to the following reasons:
- Excess insulin promotes fat storage in your midsection. As part of promoting fat storage, insulin also acts as an appetite-stimulating hormone. Thus, you may feel intensely hungry, and eat more often, if you have PCOS. This makes it difficult to keep your calorie intake and weight in check.
- PCOS can affect the functioning and levels of certain hormones. This includes insulin, ghrelin (hunger hormone), cholecystokinin (a hormone that reduces hunger and promotes digestion) and leptin (a hormone that regulates fat storage in the body). The imbalance and impaired functioning of these hormones may make you feel more hungry and lead to overeating.
- Your diet also plays a role in the difficulty of weight loss in PCOS. Studies suggest that if women with high insulin levels in PCOS consume high glycaemic index foods, they find it hard to lose weight as such foods can spike their blood sugar levels.
- Not eating enough fruits and vegetables may also impact your weight loss efforts. Fruits and vegetables are high in fibre, which can keep you feeling full for longer and slow down digestion in the body, thus preventing weight gain.
- Sleep apnoea, another symptom of PCOS, is a common sleep disorder. A lack of sleep causes increased insulin resistance and may lead to weight gain.
PCOS Weight Loss: 10 Tips to Try
The hormonal imbalance, insulin resistance, and other symptoms of PCOS make it difficult for you to lose weight. Some tips that can help you in effective weight loss in PCOS include:
1. Reduce Carb Intake
Lowering the consumption of carbs may help manage PCOS better as carbs can impact the levels of insulin in your blood. A diet made of foods that are low in the glycaemic index may be a better choice for women with PCOS as it will cause fewer spikes in blood sugar levels.
Lower blood sugar levels can further reduce the production of androgens and therefore promote weight loss.
2. Avoid Processed Foods
Processed foods and foods with added sugars may raise your blood sugar levels and increase insulin resistance, leading to an increased risk of weight gain. Research suggests that women with PCOS experience larger spikes in their blood sugar levels after consuming processed foods, as compared to women without the condition.
Processed foods include breakfast cereals, meat products, cookies, cakes, candies, chocolates, and fast food.
3. Eat Plenty of Fibre and Protein
A meal rich in fibre and protein can make your stomach feel satiated for longer, preventing any sudden cravings and overeating. Foods high in fibre such as oats, green leafy vegetables, etc. may help reduce insulin resistance and body fat and further help in managing weight.
Meanwhile, foods rich in protein such as eggs, nuts and meats (preferably seafood) may help you burn more calories and manage hunger hormone levels, thus stabilising your blood sugar levels.
4. Indulge in Mindful Eating
Women with PCOS may end up trying various kinds of diets to find what suits them the best. Mindful eating refers to being attentive while eating food as women with PCOS are more prone to developing eating disorders such as emotional eating and binge eating.
Studies suggest being aware of what and how much you eat while eating may help you get better attuned to your body’s signs, manage your hunger better, and thus promote weight loss.
5. Reduce Body Inflammation
Inflammation can be defined as your body’s response to an infection or an injury. However, in PCOS, chronic inflammation or an immune response that lasts long after infection or injury is a common symptom. Sugary and processed foods may increase inflammation in the body and also raise your blood sugar levels.
Opting for a diet that is higher in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which have anti-inflammatory properties, may protect your body against inflammation and diabetic complications.
6. Don’t Undereat
Restricting your calorie intake for a long period of time can slow down your metabolism. Although calorie restriction may help you lose weight, over time the body may adapt to this restriction by reducing the number of calories it burns. This can eventually lead to weight gain.
Eating fewer calories may also cause a negative impact on your hunger hormones (such as leptin and ghrelin). Instead of restricting your calorie intake, it will be better to focus on listening to your body’s cues, eating more whole and fresh foods, and avoiding eating processed food.
7. Exercise Regularly
Exercise is the most widely taken and effective path to achieving a healthy weight. Women with PCOS may find it difficult to lose weight even with regular exercise. However, studies suggest that there can be a significant decrease in belly fat and improvement in insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS by doing about 45 to 60 minutes of cardio 3 times per week.
Weight training may also help reduce the belly fat caused by the rise in androgen levels in PCOS. Thus, exercise is irreplaceable if you want to lose weight in PCOS.
8. Get Plenty of Sleep
Getting enough sleep is extremely important for your body’s overall health. PCOS may disturb your sleeping patterns causing increased daytime sleepiness, sleep apnoea, and even insomnia.
Lack of sleep is also known to hike the activity of hunger hormones such as ghrelin and cortisol (stress hormone), which may make you want to eat more throughout the day. Also, insufficient sleep is associated with a higher risk of developing obesity. Studies suggest that increasing your sleeping time may reduce body fat and promote weight loss.
9. Manage Your Stress
Stress is a major risk factor for weight gain and thus it is important to manage your stress levels to keep your weight in a healthy range. The more the stress, the more the levels of stress hormone cortisol. In the long-term, high cortisol levels can lead to insulin resistance and cause further weight gain.
To manage stress better, you should indulge in regular mind-calming practices such as meditation and yoga as these can help lower your cortisol levels, further reducing stress and weight gain.
10. Consider Taking Supplements
In PCOS, several supplements can help manage your body weight and other symptoms. Myo-inositol and carnitine are two supplements that can be taken. Myo-inositol is a specific form of inositol (a compound related to vitamin B) that can help improve your body’s insulin sensitivity.
Meanwhile, carnitine, an amino acid often found in meat, may also aid in weight loss. Studies suggest that the cellular mechanism of carnitine, by which it moves more fatty acids into your cells to be burned for energy, may increase your ability to burn fat and lose weight.
However, it is important to consult a doctor or healthcare professional before adding supplements to your routine.
Don’t Have Time To Read?
- Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia are considered to be major contributory factors to PCOS. When your cells become resistant to insulin and cannot take up glucose from the blood, your blood glucose (sugar) levels increase. This, in turn, triggers the pancreas to produce more insulin to stabilise the blood sugar levels.
- High insulin levels increase the production of the male hormones, androgens, which leads to symptoms such as weight gain.
- It is true that women with PCOS find it difficult to lose weight. This is due to reasons such as excess insulin which promotes fat storage and acts as an appetite-stimulating hormone, imbalance in the functioning of certain hormones (insulin, ghrelin, etc.), spikes in your blood sugar levels, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, and a lack of sleep, all of which promote weight gain.
- Some of the tips that can help you in effective weight loss in PCOS include exercising, reducing your carb intake, avoiding processed foods, eating plenty of fibre and protein, indulging in mindful eating, and getting enough sleep.
- Start your PCOS management journey with Phable. Use the Phable Care App to consult India’s leading gynaecologists, endocrinologists, nutritionists, and dieticians; order medicines; book lab tests; and get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Check out our store to order healthy treats, weighing scales, fitness bands, and more! We also have a PCOS Management program that provides 360º care.
Friendly Asked Questions
In PCOS, you will most likely gain weight mainly in the abdomen area. This is because weight gain in PCOS is due to increased levels of male hormones or androgens, and the abdomen is the main area of weight gain in men.
Women with PCOS tend to gain weight more easily as compared to women without the condition. PCOS not only leads to weight gain but also affects your weight loss efforts. This is due to reasons such as increased insulin resistance and lack of sleep, which can make you feel more hungry.
Yes, you can have PCOS without any significant weight gain. It is a condition called lean PCOS. In this situation, women can have a normal weight and still have PCOS. It might sometimes be difficult to diagnose lean PCOS.
No, PCOS does not cause weight loss, instead it can cause weight gain and a pronounced difficulty in losing weight. This happens due to increased insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia in the body of women with PCOS that results in increased production of androgens (male hormones), which causes weight gain.
No, it is not possible to cure or reverse PCOS, even with weight loss. However, weight loss can reduce the intensity of several symptoms related to PCOS, and help you manage the condition better.
Yes, it is difficult for women with PCOS to lose weight. This is due to reasons such as excess insulin which promotes fat storage and acts as an appetite-stimulating hormone, an imbalance in the functioning of certain hormones (insulin, ghrelin, etc.), spikes in your blood sugar levels, and a lack of sleep, all of which promote weight gain and make weight loss difficult.
Weight loss exercises such as cardio (aerobic) workouts and weight training may help in relieving symptoms of PCOS. They can help reduce belly fat and improve insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS. Try to perform about 45 to 60 minutes of cardio 3 times per week. Weight training may also help reduce the belly fat caused by the rise in androgen levels in PCOS. Now if you ever come across this question – “How to lose weight with PCOS?”, you know the answer is an exercise with other lifestyle changes.