Guest post by Martha McKittrick, RD, CDN, CHWC
I have specialized in nutrition and lifestyle for PCOS for 15 years. Most of the women I work with have hectic lives and find it really difficult to stick to the optimal nutrition plan for PCOS. When you work long hours and try to juggle family/social obligations, good nutrition, sleep and exercise takes a back seat to life! Most meals and snacks on the run are carb laden or highly processed. Combine this with inadequate sleep and stress, and you have the perfect storm for carb cravings, mood swings, and weight gain. The good news is that with a little planning, you can stick to your healthy diet and lifestyle and take charge of your PCOS.
A healthy diet for PCOS includes lean protein, healthy fats, plenty of veggies, low glycemic carbs and minimal processed foods. An important part of the PCOS treatment plan also includes regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress management. Unfortunately, knowing what the plan “should” be and actually being able to implement it are two different things. It’s even more difficult when you have PCOS as your body is very sensitive to what you eat. If you could only wave a magic wand and make this happen!
There is no magic wand, but you can take control.
Step 1: Determine Your Problem Areas
First you’ll need to be aware of the areas that are most problematic for YOU before you can strategize solutions. Here are some of the common problem areas I see in my patients with hectic schedules:
- No time to plan meals
- Eating foods on the run
- Waiting too long to eat lunch or dinner
- Lack of shopping and prep time
- Mid-afternoon sugar cravings
- Inadequate sleep
All of these problem areas can trigger poor choices and ultimately cause carb cravings, worsened insulin resistance, weight gain and long-term health issues.
Step 2: Identify Solutions
The trick is to analyze your current work/life/eating situation and come up with a plan. We problem solve in many other areas in our lives – why not this one?
First, collect data. Keep a food log including the time and what you eat/drink for a week or two. I suggest a good old-fashioned paper food log versus an app because you’re more likely to record more data. Record any physical or emotional feelings before and after eating. For example, record if you are tired after breakfast or having craving carbs at 4 pm. Include where your meals came from.
Second, analyze data. Notice patterns as well as how various foods make you feel. Do you go too long without eating? What does a poor night’s sleep do to your appetite the next day? Does that bowl of cereal in the morning lead to hunger two hours later?
Now you’re ready to make little changes based on your challenges. Here are some of my favorite tips:
#1. Make yourself a priority! You’re probably thinking, “I don’t have time” to make myself a priority, but it’s time to find time. Change your mindset. It’s time to start taking care of YOU! Focus on one tip at a time, so you won’t feel overwhelmed.
#2. Plan your meals & snacks. This will take a little work, but it is really the key to eating healthier! Plan a few meals for the week. Put together a shopping list so you’ll be prepared once you get to the store. Include plenty of proteins (poultry, fish, canned salmon, eggs, lean beef), vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Portion out the protein into single servings and freeze. This will defrost more quickly so you can make a fast dinner. Frozen vegetables are a good back up in case your fresh veggies go bad!
#3. Stock up your “PCOS- Friendly Kitchen.” Take a thorough look in your kitchen and clean house! This means to get the sugary, processed, or trigger foods out of the kitchen and replace them with some of the healthier options.
#4. Cook meals on weekends so you’ll have options for the beginning of the week.
#5. Cook extra food for dinner and freeze leftovers in individual containers for an easy meal later on.
#6. Take advantage of supermarket pre-washed salad greens and veggies that have already been sliced, diced, or spiralized. I’m also a fan of frozen veggies – they’ve come a long way from frozen peas and corn! You can even find frozen cauliflower rice.
#7. Invest in a crockpot. Throw a few ingredients in, and you’ll have dinner ready when you get home.
#8. Eat breakfast at home or pack it to bring to work. Most breakfast on the run choices are loaded with carbs. Studies have shown that a high protein breakfast can help control cravings later in the day. Some healthy choices include: eggs, nut butter on an apple, steel cut oats with nuts and seeds, protein shake made with your favorite protein powder, almond milk, ground flaxseeds, spinach, and berries.
#9. Don’t let too much time go between meals. Pay attention to your schedule and try not to let more than 4-5 hours at the most go by between meals or snacks. Getting over-hungry will only backfire and lead to overeating at the next meal as well as exacerbate carb cravings.
#10. Bring snacks for during the day. Some of the snacks I recommend are: nuts (buy mini bags or make your own), healthy jerky, nut butter on ½ apple, hummus + veggies, mini guacamole + veggies. Keep them in your office and non-perishable ones in your car or bag.
#11. Bring lunch from home. Add leftover protein and vegetables to greens make a tasty salad. Limit the carbs (chick peas, quinoa, sweet potato, brown rice) to ½ cup.
#12. Survey your surrounding take-out options. There will be days that you just don’t have time to cook and need a back-up. While most take-out food is not ideal, you can probably find something that is moderately healthy. Examples:
-Chinese steamed protein + veg + sauce on side + ½ cup brown rice
-sushi – one roll with brown rice + sashimi + miso soup
-rotisserie chicken, green beans, salad
Many people with hectic schedules eat out or order in at least once a day. Often, restaurants list the nutritional content of menu items online. Preview the menus of local places so you will know what to order ahead of time.
BONUS TIPS: There are important habits that will benefit a busy woman beyond how you eat on the go.
- Get adequate sleep. Being sleep deprived can worsen insulin resistance[i],[ii],[iii], make weight loss more difficult and intensify your carb cravings. Inadequate sleep decreases the satiety hormone leptin and can increase in appetite-stimulating ghrelin[iv].
- Stress management. Try not to overbook yourself. Use a meditation app, or find an activity to do that relaxes you.
- Build exercise into your schedule. This doesn’t mean you must join a gym. Walking is a great way to start, but prioritize exercise and put it in your calendar like any other appointment.
- Write a weekly goal list. Don’t feel that you have to accomplish everything on your list. Pick one or two goals that you really want to work on and write them down in a notebook. Stay focused on these 1-2 goals. At the end of the week, check off if you were able to meet them. Pick another goal for the next week. Baby steps add up!
The bottom line is that making changes in your eating habits isn’t easy, but it is important and can be done. This doesn’t have to be done overnight. Working on one little change each week will eventually add up to big changes. The trick is to start with small goals. As you meet them, you’ll gain confidence and momentum and will be able to add more changes. Focus on how healthy eating makes you feel!
Feel free to contact me on my Facebook page PCOS Nutritionist Martha McKittrick to share the changes you’ve made! https://www.facebook.com/PCOSnutritionist/
And make sure to sign up for my blog PCOS Nutrition & Lifestyle Solutions http://marthamckittricknutrition.com/pcos-blog/ to get my latest blog posts and free downloads on how to help manage your PCOS.
Martha McKittrick, RD, CDN, CHWC
Martha McKittrick is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, Wellcoach®-Certified Health and Wellness Coach with a private practice in NYC. With over 25 years’ experience in the field of nutrition, Martha specializes in PCOS, weight management, cardiovascular health, diabetes, IBS, and preventive nutrition. Martha was the nutrition editor for Dr. Walter Futterweit’s book: A Patient’s Guide to PCOS – Understanding and Reversing Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. She has lectured across the country on PCOS to both health professionals as well as women with PCOS. She is currently on the Health Advisory Board for PCOS Challenge.
Martha is passionate about helping women take charge of their PCOS with healthy diet and lifestyle. She does not believe in a “one-size-fits-all” plan and provides individually tailored recommendations for her patients. She takes an integrative approach and focuses on sleep, stress, physical activity, supplements in addition to diet. Living in NYC, Martha specializes in helping women with PCOS find practical ways to incorporate healthy nutrition and lifestyle into their hectic schedules! Martha blogs at PCOS Nutrition & Lifestyle Solutions http://marthamckittricknutrition.com/pcos-blog/ Like her Facebook page PCOS Nutritionist Martha McKittrick https://www.facebook.com/PCOSnutritionist/
To learn more about Martha:
Website: Martha McKittrick Nutrition