by Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
It’s true; food is medicine. It has the power to heal and the potential to harm. All research indicates that, when it comes to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and diet, there is no substitute, pill, or supplement that is more effective than diet and lifestyle for relieving symptoms. In my own PCOS journey to healing and founding PCOS Diva, as well as in my experience with thousands of women with PCOS, I have found this to be true without fail.
Mindset is where I began my PCOS journey. I had to decide to take my health into my own hands and decide that I was worthy of healing. Food was the second upgrade.
I quickly discovered that certain foods are inflammatory for me (and most women with PCOS), and when I eliminated them, my symptoms began to clear. My brain fog and fatigue lifted, my acne cleared, and my cycles began to return. Now, inflammation is universally recognized as a factor contributing to the development of cancers, dementia, cardiovascular disease, depression, arthritis, autoimmune disease, and more. Most importantly for women with PCOS, it is at the root of almost all our symptoms!
So, if everyone agrees that diet and lifestyle are the key and that limiting inflammation is absolutely necessary, what do we do? We search out an anti-inflammatory diet which is high in protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Simple, right? Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there about the “best” PCOS diet. Here are just 8 of the PCOS diet and food myths I hear all the time.
1. I can’t eat carbs.
Many of us are told to go on a low-carb diet and sent on our way from the doctor or nutritionist’s office. While well-meaning, this advice is vague and, frankly, “throws the baby out with the bath water.” The idea is that limiting carbs cuts calories (don’t get me started on calorie counting) and limits inflammation. The fact is, there is a huge difference between eating a bowl of pasta and a serving of quinoa. The first is loaded with gluten and inflammatory ingredients. The latter is anti-inflammatory and a terrific source of protein and fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E, and various beneficial antioxidants. See the difference? The body needs carbohydrates to function; we just need to choose carefully. Start by eliminating heavily processed carbohydrates and gluten.
2. All dairy is bad.
Yes, dairy is inflammatory for many women with PCOS, and eliminating it is a great first step toward eliminating foods that fan the flames of our PCOS. Cow’s milk and cheese are inflammatory for most. Occasionally, a little full fat fermented dairy yogurt or kefir or a bit of goat or sheep’s milk cheese can be okay. Occasional dairy in limited quantities is fine- think garnish not ingredient. If you struggle with acne, eliminating dairy can often make a huge difference.
3. I can’t eat “fun” foods like cake, fries, and chips.
Let’s be clear: There is no food that you can never eat again. Choosing to live the PCOS Diva lifestyle does not mean that you will never eat another slice of cake or pizza. Deprivation and denial lead to binging and feelings of failure. Instead, choose indulgences wisely. Ask yourself if a food indulgence is worth it. Plan for them. Savor them. Eat them while being mindful that you will likely feel pretty lousy again if you eat more than a few bites or with frequency. Some find it helpful to think, “I can eat this. I just choose not to eat it right now.”
4. If I just eat the perfect diet, all my symptoms will clear up.
Diet and lifestyle can go a loooong way to ridding you of PCOS symptoms. However, there is no “perfect” diet. We are humans. We need to indulge occasionally. There are environmental toxins in our food. Our bodies may not all process nutrients as intended. There are countless reasons that a “perfect diet” is elusive. Do your best, choose high quality supplements, and occasionally help your body to cleanse itself of toxins.
5. I have to be on a keto, vegetarian, or paleo diet.
There is no universally “best diet” for PCOS. No diet is for everyone. Keto and paleo work for many women with PCOS, and here is why. They are most often focused on eating low-sugar, whole non-processed foods. The problem is, they are both difficult to sustain for a lifetime, and PCOS is a life-long syndrome. So, yes, these diets (or whatever fad is currently) may work for a while. Also, keep in mind that everyone’s dietary needs are a little different. When you are searching for a diet framework, look for one that can be tailored to your specific needs.
6. Healthy food is boring.
If healthy food is boring, you are doing it wrong! The array of possible flavors and textures is mind-blowing. The real story may be that you are used to a lot of processed sugar, so now naturally sweetened things don’t taste very sweet. You are also likely conditioned to crave the salt and fat in processed foods. As you transition to a healthy PCOS diet, those things will become less appealing, not only because they won’t taste as good, but because you will realize how lousy they make you feel when you eat them! For delicious, POCS-friendly (and family approved) meal plans, visit: https://pcosdiva.com/programs/meal-plans/
7. Fat makes me fat.
The wrong fat (and sugar) makes you fat. Your body requires healthy fats to keep everything functioning including hormone production, vitamin absorption, brain function, heart health, skin, and hair. Eliminate trans-fats and replace them with natural, healthy fats such as avocado, virgin coconut oil, olive oil, or grass-fed butter. Here are some more healthy fat suggestions.
8. Sugar-free diet foods (crystal light, diet soda, things with artificial sweeteners) are healthy or at least a better choice.
When it comes time to lose weight, many women swap from regular sodas to diet varieties hoping to save some calories. Little do they know, the swap does them no good. Tasting these very sweet beverages just increases sugar cravings. In addition, NutraSweet, Splenda, aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Saccharin and sucralose can cause real damage. These zero-calorie artificial sweeteners are highly-processed and chemically-derived and are found in diet foods and diet products to reduce calories per serving. They can really mess with and slow down your metabolism and mess up your gut microbiome. Many have been shown to cause an increase in cancer. Most artificial sweeteners have side effects, and their chemical breakdown in the body can be toxic. In addition, in combination with other food additives like artificial colors, artificial sweeteners can have a much more potent effect on nerve cells. Artificial sweeteners link to over 90 side effects. Here are some suggestions for alternative sweeteners that will help instead of making things worse.
The Last Word
While there is no “PCOS Diet,” there are PCOS diet principles to follow and tons of resources at your disposal. The Discover Your PCOS Diva Jumpstart program is a good place to start. Thousands of women have built their foundation on this 7-Day course in diet, lifestyle and mindset. It effectively lays out the basics and teaches you to tailor the PCOS Diva lifestyle to suit your needs while you heal and thrive with PCOS!
Amy Medling, best-selling author of Healing PCOS and certified health coach, specializes in working with women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. In response, Amy founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet, and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health, and happiness.