One in 10 women struggle to lose weight because of THIS common condition – expert reveals her top tips to shift body fat fast
And up until relatively recently, the condition simply wasn't spoken about, despite the fact that it can have a real effect on many aspects of women's lives – including weight.
Women who have PCOS find themselves prone to putting on weight, and it can be a lot more difficult to lose it.
We spoke to Clare Goodwin, the PCOS Nutritionist, about why women with the condition find it so hard to shift body fat – and what to do about it.
Why do women with PCOS tend to gain weight?
"Weight gain in PCOS is usually caused by something called insulin resistance (or pre-type 2 diabetes), and up to 80 per cent of women with PCOS have some insulin resistance," she told The Sun.
Failing to regulate blood sugar is what causes intense sugar cravings.
"Insulin is your ‘storage’ hormone. When you eat, your body releases insulin to store that food (glucose) in your cells for later use.
"Insulin acts like a key in a lock, to let the glucose in. But insulin resistance is when the key doesn’t fit into the lock properly anymore. In response, your body produces more and more insulin – hoping that more insulin will be the key that finally fits the lock."
Clare says that the consequence is two-fold: Your body stores food as fat rather than energy, and insulin stays high – stopping the body from burning fat as energy.
And that's why it's so hard to get rid of body fat – because your body is actively working against you to store up any food you consume, rather than burning it.
That high insulin can also cause the body to over-produce testosterone, and it's that which is responsible for PCOS sufferers to have irregular periods, acne, hair growth or loss, and also makes the insulin resistance worse.
"The problem is," Clare explained, "most women with PCOS don’t know they have some insulin resistance, because the correct tests aren’t being done.
"The NHS will only cover basic tests like fasting and non-fasted blood glucose levels which are not sensitive to pick up the early changes in insulin in PCOS. They’ll only pick it up when it gets closer to Type 2 diabetes."
In her youth, Clare was a competitive triathlete who represented New Zealand at the World Championships.
"I was training up to 25 hours a week and recording every calorie," she said.
"Yet my weight was gradually increasing. I was continuously sprouting volcanoes out of my face, I was bone tired all the time and I hadn't had a period for two years."
Losing weight can help ease the symptoms of the condition…
When they're diagnosed with PCOS, many women are told by doctors to lose weight in a bid to calm symptoms – a message that Clare says is "so unhelpful" because most of them will have been trying to do so for years.
"Our body fat is not just a piece of flesh, it’s actually an organ in itself. Our fat produces more testosterone, so it creates a vicious cycle in PCOS. Some research does show that losing about 5 per cent of body fat can help.
"But the message to just ‘lose weight’ when you have PCOS, is SO unhelpful.
"If you’re anything like me you’ve been trying this with healthy eating and exercise for years without success! So you don’t need to be told to lose weight, you need a specific diet and exercise strategy to reverse the insulin resistance that’s causing the weight gain, or inhibiting the weight loss.
"I developed insulin resistance and I was a qualified nutritionist and an international athlete competing at world championships in triathlon and running, which completely defied the picture of someone who develops Type 2 diabetes as being a doughnut-loving couch potato.".
…but the condition makes it much harder to shift body fat
For effective results, women with PCOS need to work with professionals who have some knowledge of the condition and insulin resistance – exercise and healthy eating just won't work.
So, what's Clare's advice?
"If you’ve been ‘eating healthy’ and working out, but aren’t seeing any results, then trust your own intuition and go to your doctor and ask them to do a test for PCOS," she recommended.
"One of the other symptoms that most women with PCOS have is irregular periods, so if this sounds like you then head to your doctor.
Start by going to your GP and asking to have your hormone levels tested
"When you go to your GP, ask them to not just do a scan of your ovaries, but also to test your hormone levels. One of the defining characteristics of PCOS is that we have higher levels of the ‘male’ hormones or Androgens, like testosterone, and also your insulin and blood glucose levels."
While there's no cure for PCOS, you can reverse the symptoms. That means reducing the androgen hormone levels so that periods can come back.
Symptoms of PCOS
According to the NHS, symptoms are often be experienced in early twenties or late teens.
However, in many cases doctors can struggle to diagnose the condition.
Symptoms can include:
- irregular periods, or no periods at all
- excess body hair, including facial hair
- difficulty getting pregnant
- weight gain
- oily skin or acne
- thinning hair or hair loss
Having polycystic ovaries also increases a woman's chance of developing type 2 diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and high cholesterol and sleep apnoea later in life, the NHS warned.
Irregular periods can also increase the risk of developing womb cancer.
Nutrition plays a huge role but because there's no one PCOS; it's a syndrome which means it's a series of symptoms rather than one solid illness.
There's something called the Rotterdam Criteria which says that to be diagnosed with PCOS you have to have two out of three of the following: high androgen levels, no period and cysts on the ovaries.
"That's why it can be confusing when you see that someone has tried a diet that's worked for them but it doesn't work for another person with PCOS. We're not all the same," said Clare.
And try cutting sugar where possible
Her most simple advice, as dished out regularly on her Instagram, is to concentrate on eating real food.
By that, she means food that you can get directly from nature – fruit, veg, nuts, oils, fish, grass-fed meats.
And it also means removing sugar and sweeteners (including natural stuff like dates and honey), because they make insulin resistance worse.
"The problem is that the daily sweet treats just trigger the blood sugar rollercoaster, so we’re just fuelling the fire," Clare explained.
"But instead of just expecting you to just ‘quit sugar’, you need the right nutrition to stabilise your blood sugar and then the cravings literally disappear within a matter of days."
So the best place to start is by cutting out the sugar and focusing on health, home-cooked grub.
Clare also has a 90-day programme is called the PCOS Protocol. It's both an online community of women working to reverse their symptoms and an individual nutritional and exercise plan designed around the individual's symptoms.
You can find out more about the plan here.
If you haven't yet been diagnosed but are worried about missing periods, weight gain, acne or any other symptoms, pop along to your GP who can test you for PCOS and then they can help you receive the support you need.
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