“Don’t let PCOS define who are you. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a norm. I have PCOS, but I’m not PCOS. It’s just a part of me. I think that they shouldn’t focus so much on having PCOS, just how they can benefit from it and really embrace who they are, even though they have PCOS.” -Sarah Kochiu
My daughter, Lila, is 9 years old, and I am starting to think more about whether she too will have PCOS. I hear from distraught mothers almost every day. Their daughter has been diagnosed, they are not sure how to help. My podcast guest today was in the same situation not long ago. I had the privilege to coach Linda Kochiu and her daughter, Sarah, through the initial stages of healing her PCOS. Sarah is now a thriving college student. Listen in (or read the transcript) and hear about their journey, learn from their story, and know there is hope and you’re not alone. Among other things, we discuss:
- Talking to friends about PCOS and lifestyle changes
- The mindset shift that changed everything
- Tricks for eating PCOS friendly foods at restaurants and college
- How lifestyle and diet changes affected the family
- Supplements that work for Sarah
- Finding the right exercise balance
- Managing stress
- The importance of having a supportive partner/mother
Full Transcript Follows
Linda Kochiu‘s daughter, Sarah, was diagnosed with PCOS when she was 14. She struggled with weight gain, low self-esteem, insulin resistance, and irregular menstrual cycles. She was taking birth control pills that the doctor had prescribed to treat her PCOS, and thought that it was the magic pill to a cure. No such luck – the pill made Sarah feel depressed and her friends were asking her what was wrong. Linda felt lost – not knowing what to do as she watched her daughter struggle and withdraw from her friends.
The pair began researching for better answers to living with PCOS, and through that research found Amy Medling and PCOS Diva. Amy provided the life changing support they needed.
Linda was inspired by her daughter’s healing to help other women and young adults experience the same life changing journey that Sarah did. She went back to school to become a Health Coach. As a mother and Health Coach, she is dedicated to helping women and young adults get their PCOS under control.
Amy: Today, I have two very special guests that are very near and dear to my heart, Linda and Sarah Kochiu. They are a mother and daughter who have been on this PCOS journey now for many years. Sarah was a client of mine, gosh, way back when, when she was 15 going on 16. Linda, her mom, had reached out to me because Sarah had just been diagnosed with PCOS and was really trying to navigate the healing process and I am just so thrilled to be talking to both of them today so many years later. Sarah is now really thriving and flourishing as a college student and Linda had her own journey and she went, actually, throughout this process, really learned to love a holistic, healing lifestyle and is now a holistic health coach. She’s helping other mothers navigate this PCOS journey with their daughters. So thrilled to have you both here.
Linda: Thank you.
Sarah: Thank you.
Amy: As a mother of a daughter myself and my daughter Lila is going to be nine in a couple weeks and she’s kind of entering that age when I’m really starting to wonder if she’s going to have PCOS. I hear from so many mothers just really kind of distraught about a PCOS diagnosis for their daughters and really wanting to do the best for them and help kind of lead them through, navigate the doctor’s visits and changing the diet and the lifestyle. I know that it’s not an easy process, but Linda, you have been able to really help Sarah get to a place where she’s no longer really suffering with PCOS. I would love for you both to share your point of view, kind of where you were several years ago when you got that initial diagnosis.
Linda: Right. Thank you. Yes, it wasn’t an easy time for us. Sarah was very athletic and was very involved in sports at the time and had an injury. That injury took her out of sports and at that point, she just started gaining weight, to the point where she was very uncomfortable, wasn’t really interacting with friends as much because she was very self-conscious. We went to the doctor and in this time, too, she only menstruated every six months, about once every six months. We went to our pediatrician, and he said, “Enough is enough, so I’m going to send you to an endocrinologist, and we’re going to figure this out.” We were given the diagnosis. She had an elevated androgen level, and we went, then, to a pediatric gynecologist.
The protocol was right away to go on birth control and then go off and have a happy life, and so Sarah went on birth control. Her friends started telling her that she seemed sad and withdrawn and the pill really made her depressed. We went back and they continued on wanting to try different ones and in the meantime, she was seeing a nutritionist and still gaining weight. She joined the swim team, was following this very low carb diet, and gained five pounds that week, so very frustrated. Went back to the gynecologist and she said even though Sarah was borderline not being at proper BMI, the doctor told her, “Well, I work with gastric bypass patients and you are nowhere near that,” and my thought is, “Well, so are we going to wait until she’s that before we start addressing the fact that she’s gained about 20 pounds?” Then she asked Sarah who she was trying to look like. What model or actress was she trying to look like? I think you remember that, Sarah, right?
Linda: What did you say?
Sarah: “Well, I just want to look like myself and how I looked a year ago. I’m not trying to be anyone. I just want to be me.”
Linda: Right, so at that point, we were very frustrated and we went back to our pediatrician and we found out that the gynecologist told the pediatrician that Sarah had a poor body image of herself. Our pediatrician said, “I’ve known you since you were born, Sarah. I know that’s not true and I will work with you.” We started on metformin. That stabilized her weight, but at that time, it still wasn’t good enough. Sarah was very sad and we were trying to work through things and as a mother, you feel helpless. “What am I to do?” The PCOS Diva popped up as some kind of, I don’t even know, Amy, how I found you. I can’t remember, but it was obviously meant to be. Right away, I called and talked with you and you were willing to coach Sarah and I together and that was life-changing.
Sarah was given the tools that she needed to be where she’s at today. Her and I went to a coffee shop yesterday just to reminisce and some of those earlier things, she doesn’t remember, but the major things were going into a fitting room and trying to find clothes to fit and crying and not wanting to buy anything and coming back home and not having any clothes for her to wear because she wouldn’t buy any of them because they were bigger sizes. Then I’d have to go back and buy them and leave them on her bed so she would have clothes to wear. It was just a very emotional time and it did, it took about nine months. Six months working with you, but being very steady and purposeful in how we introduced things over time. It took about nine months for her hormones to balance out and she lost all the 20 pounds that she had gained.
Amy: Wow. It’s such a hopeful story for, I think, so many moms and young women listening, that there is a lot of hope that you can … through lifestyle change, because that’s what it was for you. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that, Sarah, about how you did change your lifestyle, but there is a tremendous amount of hope. But like you said, Linda, it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not a couple weeks and this is all going to change. It takes a while for our hormones to come back in balance. Sarah, can you kind of tell us, can you walk us through some of the things that you did back when you were changing your lifestyle?
Sarah: Yeah. I remember when I was 15 just coming into high school and you are trying to understand who you are, fit in with your friends. For me, it was really hard because I just kept gaining weight, and I didn’t feel comfortable with myself. Then when finding the PCOS Diva, it really did help me because I got to learn more about myself and how I can really make better lifestyle changes. I think one of the hardest things for me was trying to explain to my friends that I couldn’t always eat the same things that they were eating. It’s like I understand what PCOS is, but not everyone understands what PCOS is. You want to explain it to them, but there’s just more to it than what they are willing to know, I guess. For me, it was going to hang out with friends but bringing my own snacks or if they want to go out for dinner, it would be finding the healthy option that I can eat while going out.
If my friends want to go to Noodles, I would get rice noodles with a protein, or Jimmy John’s, I’d get the Unwich because I’m trying to make healthy options that I can have and better myself. I don’t like to call it a “diet” because it’s just the norm for me now. When I’m saying I can’t fully remember how I felt a couple years ago, it’s because I guess I don’t really dwell on it that much anymore because it’s just who I am. Now, being in college, it just kind of … Instead of thinking about what I can’t eat, I just think about all the better ways and healthier options. I can help myself. I guess it’s bringing lunches to colleges or going to the local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s that’s right by my school instead of eating the unhealthy options, I guess. I don’t know.
Amy: I mean, I love that mindset shift about focusing on the things that you can have rather than the things that you can’t. I think that’s where a lot of women and young girls sort of stay stuck, that “I can’t have the pizza and the fries and the ice cream and all of the stuff that my friends are eating.” I’ve been trying to train my daughter to kind of think that way too. Even though she’s really little, boy, kids bring in a lot of crap for lunch snacks and trying to teach her why she needs to eat healthfully. But I think, and I’m sure you can speak to this, Sarah, that it’s not about denying yourself all of the time. I’m sure you’ve figured out a way to bring in, I call it a “mindful indulgence” every now and then. You can have that piece of pizza every now and then, just knowing how it’s going to affect your body and being willing to make that choice.
Sarah: Yeah, for sure. When I do sometimes have a piece of pizza or a dessert, I know that it’ll feel good in the moment, but after, I don’t always feel the best, so it’s just kind of how I want to feel afterwards. Yeah, I can go out and eat what my friends are eating, but most of the time, they feel great after it. I don’t always feel the best, so it’s like if I want to still feel good and have a fun time, then I’m going to respect my body and love my body and do what I need to do to feel great and not just eat what they’re eating to fit in, I guess, which is the main thing.
I feel like in high school, girls just want to fit in because it’s just you’re growing and you’re trying to, I don’t know, be with a group, I guess, but I really think I found myself through having PCOS and I’m grateful that I do have it because it really helped me learn who I am and know that, I don’t know, being different is good, I guess.
Amy: No. You know what? I love that because that’s really what I try to teach, is that PCOS can be a blessing because it sort of leads us on that kind of journey of self-discovery, which it definitely was for me and it’s so happy for me to hear that it was the same for you. I wanted to ask you, Linda, when you knew that you had to change the way that Sarah was eating, how did you approach that as a family?
Linda: Well, I did it right along with her because it’s such a great way to eat. It’s healthy living. It’s eating food that everyone should be eating. I always remember telling Sarah when she would come back and sometimes cry or whatever, feeling sad that, “It isn’t fair,” or, “Why can’t I eat what everyone else eats?” I would tell her, “Things catch up with people over time. When you’re young, you can get away with eating all that bad stuff, all the processed foods, and not gain weight.” I would always tell her, “But you already know how to eat healthy and you won’t have that adjustment” and she has seen that now, with the college 15 and what that can do.
The whole family, we just started cooking together, and I eat right along with her. I can’t say that the guys, my son and husband, got on track right away. They’ve taken awhile, but Sarah and I have … It’s a partnership. I eat right alongside her and I have a lot of food allergies, so it makes sense for me too, because a lot of the things that we don’t engage in with the wheat and processed sugar and little dairy, that’s just all great stuff to avoid. We have read labels together. We go shopping together. Actually, it’s kind of fun. We just take our time and we love looking at Whole Foods, even though it can be expensive to shop there for everything. We just love walking the aisles and finding new things and just trying stuff that’s good for us. It’s not that hard. I’m a very simplistic cook because if you have a protein and a vegetable and a salad and some healthy fats, it’s all good.
Amy: I love that you brought that up, that it doesn’t have to be complex. It can be really simple. I know in my house, just putting a simple rub on some protein and grilling it or baking it and steaming some vegetables with some real butter on top and salt and pepper, I mean, it’s just really simple. Then I have a salad with a really simple homemade vinaigrette because like you said, you have to be really careful and make sure you’re consuming healthy fats, so the soybean-based salad dressings from the grocery store are just … that’s not a great alternative, but it can be super simple.
Linda: Yeah, and I have to say, Amy, I mean, we did buy all your meal plans and that was so helpful because the shopping lists are already there for us. That helped so much at the beginning for us and the smoothies. Every morning, when Sarah was in high school, she had a smoothie every morning. Now, she’ll take stuff to school, some protein powder if she’s … She’s in architecture and she puts in these very long hours at school, so even just whipping up some protein for her to have to keep her going. I think it’s so important that we don’t skip meals and that we make sure we eat three balanced meals and some snacks just because there was a time when Sarah was feeling dizzy at work from low blood sugar and this is, again, when those very beginning years when we were learning.
She would call me and say, “Mom, I feel like I’m going to pass out,” and so those times are behind us, but they did happen. The other thing, Amy, I would say is supplementation. You started us on a great supplement program and now you have your great supplement line. That is a big part of your life because you can eat as healthy as you can and still, I don’t think we get everything that we need for PCOS and to keep us healthy, and especially the DeFlame and the DeStress. That’s one thing that I think is so important for younger people. It just seems that everybody’s so busy and so stressed and those cortisol levels are rising. Sarah can talk to that. She feels that anxiety and stress at times and just to keep that inflammation down in the body and even for the exercise. I mean, Sarah, you can talk to that.
Amy: Yeah. I mean, I was going to say to Sarah, I think you’ve done a great job. When I think about sort of the pillars in my new book that’s coming out, “Thinking Like a PCOS Diva,” which we kind of talked about shifting that mindset, eating like a PCOS Diva, but moving like a diva. What type of exercise have you found to be really helpful for you? I know you were an athlete when you were younger and a dancer. What is working for you now?
Sarah: I do a lot of lifting at the gym. I find that lifting helps me relieve stress and anxiety and I also do the stair climber. I don’t do really intensive cardio workouts. I just find that they … I stress my body more than I want, so I do the stair climber. Sometimes I’ll do the elliptical I feel like that really helps me.
Amy: I’m sorry. Do you mind repeating that? I think my internet connection went out for a second. You do the stair climber and then what else do you do?
Sarah: I do the stair climber. I do the elliptical and then I just lift a lot.
Amy: I mean, I think that’s just … really parallels or it reinforces what I try to teach with really increasing muscle strength. I mean, I think anything that increases muscle strength really helps women with PCOS and then the high intensity interval training, but not … When you think high intensity interval training, it kind of, to me, brings to mind killing yourself at the gym, but that’s not really what it … It’s just bringing your heart rate up and down and doing intervals on the stairs is great. What do you do to help relieve your stress? I know being an architecture major is … You have project deadlines and you’re up late and it can be really stressful. What do you do to kind of help your adrenals recover, I guess?
Sarah: Throughout the semester, I do pull a lot of all-nighters for school and it’s just really intense. I use a lot of essential oils to kind of calm my, I guess, emotions. I also meditate and do yoga when I can or just deep breathing because I find that I overthink a lot or have really high anxiety, so I just try to do yoga as often as I can. I use a lot of essential oils. I bring them to school a lot, just to kind of-
Amy: Can you talk about that a little bit more? What oils do you like and what seems to help with the anxiety?
Sarah: I use the DoTerra essential oils and my favorite one is Balance. It is for relieving anxiety and stress. I also use lavender a lot too and I just kind of pour the oils in my hands and cup and breathe them in or when I’m at home, I’ll diffuse them, but mostly when I’m at school, like before a huge presentation or something, I’ll just put a couple drops in my hand and breathe them in. I feel like that’s the quickest way to relieve anxiety. That’s what I find to work.
Amy: That’s a great tip. I bought myself and my mom and mother-in-law, all the ladies in my family, for Christmas, the Lava essential oil diffuser bracelets with the lava rock.
Sarah: Oh, cool.
Amy: And other beads. That’s a really nice way to kind of carry the oils with you during the day on the bracelet.
Linda: And they have necklaces now where they-
Amy: Right, right.
Linda: The other thing that I know Sarah just started using is frankincense because it’s very anti-inflammatory and it is very calming and it’s good for meditation and things like that. I know they always say, “When in doubt, use Frank.”
Amy: You’re doing it the same sort of method, just putting a drop or two on your palm and kind of inhaling?
Sarah: Yeah. Sometimes I put a drop under my tongue every morning and at night. I do that too, take it internally.
Linda: I know there is some controversy. People are not all comfortable about using oils internally, so that’s definitely a personal preference.
Amy: Right, right. I think you’ve given us some really good tips, Sarah, about kind of thriving with PCOS as a young woman in college. I’m just kind of going to repeat what I’m hearing you say, and let me know if you have any other tips. Making sure that you have snacks with you with protein to keep your blood sugar balanced and I think the packing and planning is so important. My husband’s actually doing my “Sparkle Cleanse.” We’re actually both doing it, and he’s been packing up his little lunch cooler every day for work and he says, “That’s the key to success, is just making sure I’ll do it as long as I have the food with me.” I think that’s true for all of us. If you pack and plan, it really works. Then having some stress-reducing techniques in your toolkit, which you shared with us, and moving your body. That’s a great stress-reducer as well. Then just shifting your mindset, having these little mindset shifts. Is there anything else that you think is helpful for a young woman listening that’s in high school, college with PCOS?
Sarah: I would just say don’t let PCOS define who are you. I mean, it’s a lifestyle. It’s a norm. I have PCOS, but I’m not PCOS. It’s just a part of me. I think that it shouldn’t focus so much on having PCOS, just how they can benefit from it and really embrace who they are, even though they have PCOS.
Amy: And I just have to put this out there because this happened to me when I was your age going to the college clinic and a doctor telling me, never really said I had PCOS, but said that it would be very difficult for me to get pregnant. For the girls listening out there, if a doctor has told you that at a very young age, that isn’t your truth and most women with PCOS can get pregnant. Hopefully, that’s never happened to you, Sarah, but if anybody’s listening and they’ve been told that, there’s plenty of other opinions out there as well.
Linda: Yes. We’ve never had anyone tell Sarah that, so I feel grateful for that. I think the most important thing is the earlier you can find out that you have PCOS, the better. I guess we feel so fortunate that our doctor was proactive and helped us to … I just feel so bad for women that don’t find out and they do have anxiety, or they can’t lose weight and they start judging themselves over things that they don’t have control over because their hormones are not in balance. This is when we start doubting ourselves, when people are like, “Well, just don’t eat that much” or there’s kind of these judgments that are put upon people and I find that to be so sad that that happens, but it does happen. That is why I became so passionate around helping mothers and daughters with PCOS because I want them to have the toolkit as early as possible in their lives so that they don’t have to suffer, I guess, by not knowing and doubting themselves, and then having to recover from that. It’s just another added component.
Amy: I’ve sent many moms and daughters your way, Linda. Maybe you could take a moment and just tell folks who are listening how you work with women with PCOS in your practice.
Linda: Yes. Well, first of all, I start with the mother because even though I coach with the daughter, if she doesn’t have support by her mother, that can be very difficult. I have to make sure that everybody’s on the same page and just really want to make sure that the mother’s comfortable with how I’m going to go about coaching and working with them. I don’t usually coach a daughter without the mother. I make sure that we do it together and I think it’s great if a mother does reach out, like I reached out to you to be Sarah’s health coach because I don’t want to be a nag to my daughter. I don’t want our relationship to be negative that way because I’m constantly on her and for her to hear, through you, from an outsider.
Of course, we loved working with you and just how calming you are. Your personality was perfect for us. It just really made a difference and it didn’t put that on me as a mother. I had you telling her and I what to do and then we did it together, so it really is a mother-daughter kind of thing. I hate to say it. Fathers can get involved, too. I’ve already coached with a mom and dad and the daughter because the dad wanted to be involved, so it’s not about saying that dads are not involved and it’s only about the mother and daughter. It really is about family support and we do. We go and we add things in gradually. We’re not abrupt and I try and do things so that it seems more natural.
Even after working with you, Amy, our pantry changed in nine months and we weren’t even conscious that it happened, so that’s how I like to coach and make things seem natural. This was your philosophy too, Amy, I believe, is that we add things to the plate and the other stuff falls off. The other thing is, is I’m really big on we don’t weigh our daughters. That happens at the doctor’s office. We do not weigh ourselves. It’s not a good thing to, I don’t believe, start your daughter weighing herself and dictating how she should feel by the numbers on the scale. That happened at the doctor’s office and just really talk about being open and honest about if we do feel anxiety and what we can do and how we can talk through those things with our daughter. I sometimes coach with the mother alone and then we bring the daughter in at the end. It just depends on the age. Sometimes we do everything together. I leave that up to the mother.
Amy: If somebody’s listening and wants to work with you, how can they find out more about your program?
Linda: They would just go to my website, lindakochiu.com, and I do have a spot there where I do a 20-minute free consult to talk to them and decide if we’re a good match to work together.
Amy: I will put that link in the podcast notes as well for anyone listening. You can find that at pcosdiva.com. Well, I can’t … This is actually where we’re talking. You’re only hearing the audio version, but we’re actually talking via a Zoom tele-call, so it’s the first time that I’ve actually been able to talk to you face to face. We didn’t have this technology when we were coaching years ago, but I can tell you it’s just so wonderful to see Sarah. She’s beautiful-
Sarah: Thank you.
Amy: And radiant and just really thriving. I’m just so happy to be talking to you both and just so grateful that you shared your stories with the PCOS Diva podcast today.
Linda: Thank you, Amy, and you’ve been a life-changer to our family.
Sarah: Yeah. Thank you so much, Amy.
Amy: Oh, gosh. It’s just been a joy for me. Well, thank you to both of you and to everyone listening.