A woman with PCOS has a higher level of the male hormone - androgen - which causes side effects such as irregular menses, infertility, excessive hair growth and acne.
Most women with PCOS are overweight and obese because the high level of androgen hormone causes insulin resistance which means their cells are unable to effectively utilise the sugar from your blood stream. This defective mechanism makes them resistant to the effects of insulin. To counter balance this, the pancreas will then secrete more insulin. In the long run, high levels of insulin causes weight gain, increased risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
There is no permanent cure for PCOS. The symptoms may be very distressing as they lower your self-esteem and sense of positive body image. But the good news is that with the understanding of insulin resistance and how it affects the condition, you can better control it.
Apart from medication your doctor may prescribe, diet and lifestyle are an important component to counter the side effects of the condition. A dietitian too, can help, using diet and lifestyle strategies.
DROP SOME WEIGHT
Losing weight will help to improve insulin resistance.But don’t let years of failed attempts to lose weight, dishearten you.
Don’t assume that you have to drop a large amount of weight to tame symptoms of PCOS. That kind of negative thinking will only prevent you from getting started. Research shows that overweight women with PCOS stand a good chance of regulating their period and ovulating even if they lose just between five and 10 per cent of their weight.
In your haste to lose weight, don’t lose sight of eating sensibly and healthily. A balanced diet consisting of a variety of foods from the five food groups such as grains, fruit, vegetables, lean meat and dairy.
It’s important to balance out your meals and to not overeat as this will work against your weight loss efforts. Carbohydrates have an impact on raising your blood sugar levels, especially if you overeat them.
Carbohydrates are predominantly found in grains, starchy vegetables, fruit and dairy products. These foods are highly nutritious, so don’t cut them out totally.
To help control insulin resistance, avoid refined carbohydrates such as cakes, cookies, pastries and kuih but select complex carbohydrates such as rice, bread and noodles instead.
Go for foods that are high in fibre for better blood sugar control. When reading food nutrition labels on products, look for a fibre content of more than three grammes per serving. Here are some choices to consider.
Food high in fibre is good for blood sugar control.
BALANCE YOUR PLATE
Use this tip to serve yourself a balanced portion. Fill ¼ plate with your carbohydrates food (rice, noodles, breads), ¼ with protein such as chicken, meat, fish, tofu or beans. Fill the remaining half with vegetables. Eating carbohydrates in combination with proteins have a better stabilising effect on blood glucose levels than just eating a large amount of carbohydrate only.
For more accurate portions based on your individual energy needs, consult a dietitian.
QUIT SWEET CRAVINGS
Women with elevated androgen hormones often crave sweet foods. All these have to do with hormonal imbalance and insulin resistance yet again.
To counter this, try to eat small but frequent meals to keep your blood sugar levels at a constant, rather than spiking up and down when you go for hours without a meal.
Eating frequently is not an open ticket to eating more. You’re merely spreading your allocations sensibly throughout the day. This helps many women with PCOS to manage their cravings better. Your dietitian will be able to help you work out a realistic eating regiment unique to your timing for the day.
Last but not least is regular exercise. Aim for 150 minutes a week of exercise. That works out to 30 minutes five days a week or 50 minutes trice a week. All the numbers can be daunting, especially if you have never really exercised before.
My advice is don’t get hung up on all that. Just get started by going for walks for as long as you can manage.
One of my patients was initially resistant to exercising. Then she started walking for 15 minutes. Soon she was enjoying herself and, with renewed motivation and increased strength and stamina, she can now easily walk 50 minutes. We know exercise helps with insulin resistance, strengthens the heart and helps with weight loss.
Exercise goes beyond that for a woman with PCOS. It helps with stress relief and self-esteem. Look for exercises that you enjoy and which gets your body moving - dance, group aerobics, boot camp or the gym.
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