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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

PCOS And Weight Gain: What’s The Connection?

Sep 7, 2017

If you suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), you probably know that PCOS and weight gain are closely related. No matter what you do, the numbers on the scale seem to only tick up! You’ve tried a bunch of new diets, and given up on all seemingly ‘bad’ foods. Perhaps you are waking at 5am to fit a morning jog into your schedule. And yet, every time you go in for your check-up, your gynaecologist tells you to lose weight. What the hell is happening here?!

Sadly, weight gain and PCOS often go hand-in-hand. Scientists are not yet sure of whether it’s the weight gain that led to PCOS in the first place, or if the unexplained weight gain was a result of undiagnosed PCOS.

There’s no ONE reason why PCOS and weight gain often co-exist. And it’s often really hard for women with PCOS to lose weight. But what’s the connection? Why is PCOS making it seem virtually impossible for you to lose that weight? Below, we discuss 5 reasons why PCOS and weight gain may be interconnected, and how you need to treat them together as a whole to see improvements.

You’re Probably Insulin Resistant

About 64% of the women diagnosed with PCOS also have insulin resistance. This happens when the beta (β) cells in the pancreas produce insulin (which is necessary to turn sugars into energy). However the insulin can’t be efficiently used, leading to high levels of sugar in your blood. This causes your body to store the excess sugars as fat, leading to weight gain. Meanwhile, excess insulin in your body triggers the ovaries to produce more androgens like testosterone, worsening the symptoms of PCOS.

At the same time, the weight gain worsens your insulin resistance (IR). And that leads to even more production of testosterone, making this a vicious cycle. This is what makes women with PCOS more susceptible to Type 2 diabetes, if they aren’t careful.

Researchers have tried to evaluate insulin sensitivity and β-cell function in lean and obese women with PCOS. They found significantly higher waist-to-hip ratio in both lean and obese test subjects with PCOS. Increased β-cell function was found even in lean individuals with PCOS. Based on this research, it was concluded that insulin hypersecretion is connected to the development of PCOS.

What can you do? Treat the insulin resistance, and you may just find that you start to shed those excess pounds. It’s important for women with PCOS + IR to get their blood glucose levels tested regularly. This will give them a clearer idea of how their diet and exercise regimen is affecting their insulin and sugar levels. Dietary supplements like Aloe Vera, Fenugreek and Fish Oils can also improve insulin sensitivity.

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Struggling with PCOD symptoms?

Your Body Is Storing More Fat, Especially Around The Abdomen

Thanks to insulin resistance, your body starts to store more sugars circulating in the blood stream as fats, which quickly adds to weight gain. But even if you are not insulin resistant, scientists have found many patients with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have belly fat.

Studies have revealed PCOS is associated with higher central abdominal fat deposits independent of BMI. These alterations are present among mostly non-obese women and could represent mechanisms for insulin resistance.

In simple words – your body stores more fat when compared to women without PCOS. And this means you have to work twice as hard to shed that extra weight too.

What can you do? Change your diet and lifestyle. We do highly recommend the LCHF or Low Carb-High Fat diet to bring those blood sugar levels under control.  If you are braver, a Keto Diet along with Intermittent Fasting is known to bring about improvements in a variety of PCOS symptoms.  If you have changed your diet and lifestyle, we recommend that you stick to it for a few months. Be patient; it may take time, but you will begin to notice positive changes soon enough. It’s advisable to steer clear of very-low-fat and low-calorie diet plans as these will further mess up with your hormones, appetite response and insulin levels.

Your Metabolism Could Be Sluggish

Research has shown that women with PCOs have a reduce BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), with or without insulin resistance. Yikes! What they found was that an average woman without PCOS needed roughly 1868 Kcals/day, whereas women with PCOS needed only around 1445 Kcals/day on an average. Women with insulin resistance needed just 1116 Kcals/day.

What this means is that if you have PCOS, you need around 400 lesser calories per day when compared to other women, lesser if you have insulin resistance. This is why creating a new PCOS-friendly diet becomes all the more important.

What can you do? A low-carb diet will truly help with keeping your daily caloric intake under control. Consult a dietician to create a diet plan that truly works for you, keeping in mind your age, weight, and lifestyle. Eliminate all refined sugars and carbs from your diet to curb those cravings. Instead, add plenty of wholesome fruits and vegetables to your diet because these are full of fiber that helps fill you up without being calorie bombs. Also, start working out in earnest. Exercise helps rev up your metabolism and raises BMR so that your body can start to use some of those stored fats as energy. And don’t just focus on cardio workouts —- weight training is a great way to use all that extra glucose in your body.

You Could Be Suffering From Depression and Mood Disorders

PCOS and weight gain - Depression and Mood Swings.
PCOS and weight gain – Depression and Mood Swings.

As if living life with PCOS isn’t hard enough, this condition also significantly raises risk for depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. A study conducted by Carver College of Medicine, Iowa in conjunction with University of Pennsylvania, found that 56.6% of all their test subjects with PCOS suffered from mood disorders. These disorders included anxiety, depression and binge eating disorder.

You may think that depression or mood disorders have nothing to do with your weight — but they do. Feeling crappy all day doesn’t make the most ideal scenario for healthy meal-prepping or gym session, right?!

Women suffering from any kind of mood disorder are less likely to take good care of themselves. They have less motivation to stick to their healthy diet and exercise routine. Also, they are more likely to indulge in ‘comfort foods’ that may seem like a temporary-fix.

What can you do? Take your mental health more seriously. If you suspect you might be suffering from depression, anxiety or other mood disorders, make an appointment with a psychologist pronto. Mental health is not always given enough attention, but it should be. There’s no shame in seeking treatment for depression or anxiety. After all, it’s quite common in women with PCOS who have to struggle with cystic acne, obesity, eating disorders, hirsutism, and poor self-image, to name just a few things.

Your Hormones May Be Messing With Your Appetite

Now eating a healthy diet is all well and dandy, but what when you also have to battle with disturbed appetite regulation? At the end of the day, a calorie is a calorie…and you will gain weight even if you eat too many calories from all-healthy foods.

Research has found that women with PCOS have reduced post-meal secretions of cholecystokinin (or CCK). CCK is a ‘satiety peptide’ along-with an unbalanced appetite associated with increased levels of testosterone.

That means you may not be able to feel satiated after a good meal, and become more prone to binge eating and weight gain. Obviously, this poses a problem when you’re trying to lose weight.

What can you do? A lot of doctors will tell you that Metformin and other similar meds that are often prescribed for PCOS will help you lose weight. This may or may not always happen. However, by improving your insulin resistance, you will find that your appetite becomes more regulated. A diet plan really helps here, especially one that gives you set 5-6 small meals throughout the day so you never feel like you’re starving. If you find yourself reaching for an additional snack, remind yourself that you don’t need those extra calories; it’s just the hormones talking. Also, staying hydrated goes a long way towards combating phantom hunger pangs. Every time you feel like cheating on your diet, pour yourself a tall drink of water with some lime wedges and mint sprigs. And sip on this drink slowly till the cravings pass.

So you see, there are several reasons contributing to your weight gain when you’re a woman with PCOS. That doesn’t mean you stop trying. It just means that you will need to work twice as hard as others to lose weight and then maintain a healthy weight. If you’re lacking motivation – don’t just do it because it’ll make you look good. Do it for great health and well-being that will improve your quality of life.

Want To Explore More? Checkout Sepalika Polycystic Ovary Disorder (PCOD) Program

Maneera Saxena Behl
Maneera is a health and fitness enthusiast who is also a firm believer in the power of dietary supplements. A health buff, she likes to help others improve their overall well-being by achieving the right balance between nutrition, exercise and mindfulness.