Guest post by Taryn Oesch
I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) in fall 2018 after years of taking the birth control pill for symptoms no one had ever tried to explain to me. To help treat it, my gynecologist recommended taking myo-inositol every day; taking progesterone after ovulation; and (horror of horrors) going off dairy, gluten, and processed sugar and moving to an anti-inflammatory diet.
Upgrading to an Anti-Inflammatory Diet for PCOS
I fought it at first. I didn’t eat much dairy, so that one seemed fairly easy. Could I just give up dairy? But my doctor said that if I were going to try this anti-inflammatory diet for PCOS, I should go all the way. So, I did. Right before Christmas. No better time to test my sugar-free, gluten-free resolve than a season full of cookies and other baked goods, right?
Christmas 2019 marked one year since I’d been on this diet, and I have seen some surprising results. I’ve not only lost weight, but I’m less tired, and my cycles are even usually a normal length. These changes have seemed so dramatic, but what we eat affects every part of our health. Gluten, dairy, and processed sugar may be fine for many people (although I’d question whether that last one is fine for anyone), but they can each be insidious for someone with a chronic health condition, like PCOS, that involves inflammation.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It can cause inflammation and carbohydrate cravings — both of which are especially problematic for women with PCOS. People with celiac disease are gluten-intolerant, but you can have an intolerance for gluten without having celiac disease (I tested negative for celiac, in fact).
Going off gluten is difficult at first. You have to read the ingredients of everything, even if you don’t think it would have any kind of grain in it. Deli meat, soups and sauces, and even scrambled eggs are unexpected sources of gluten that I’ve learned to avoid (or at least be wary of).
When it comes to PCOS, there are several potential problems with dairy, not least of which is the fact that most cow milk products come from pregnant cows (meaning that when you’re eating your favorite ice cream, you’re also potentially ingesting extra-high levels of hormones like estrogen and progesterone, in addition to growth hormones). Additionally, it contains casein which causes brain fog and inflammation in many people.
I had an allergy to dairy as a child, and my fiancé is lactose-intolerant, so eliminating dairy from my diet was easier for me than gluten. Just watch out for words like whey and casein, in addition to “milk.”
This was the really difficult one but not because I have a sweet tooth (I don’t, though I do love good chocolate) but because, in America at least, we add sugar to just about everything. But from our insulin resistance to our inflammation, processed sugar can exacerbate PCOS pretty significantly.
I’ve been hypoglycemic since I was 17 (one of several clues for the ob-gyn who diagnosed me with PCOS), and I thought I was fairly good when it came to sugar. I didn’t realize just how much sugar I consumed on a daily basis, though. It was hard to find foods without processed sugar, at first — and I’m still experimenting and learning. But after a while, the cravings (mostly) stopped.
It’s Worth It
I do miss things like bread and chocolate, and occasionally, I give myself a treat. But what I’ve learned from being on this diet for a year now is that giving up foods is easier than we think. It takes a while, but that day you realize your last couple cycles have been around 28 days each and you haven’t felt that groggy, hazy fatigue in months … well, that’s the day that you realize that bread isn’t all that important, after all.
Taryn Oesch is the owner of Everyday Roses Editorial, an agency specializing in content for Catholic women, and a FEMM fertility teacher in training. When not writing or editing, Taryn is typically reading Jane Austen, drinking Earl Grey, and spending time with her fiancé and their families and friends. She is the managing editor at Catholic Women in Business, a contributing writer and assistant editor at FemCatholic.com, and a board member at The Power of the Dream. You can follow Taryn on Twitter; on Instagram; on Facebook; and on her blog, Everyday Roses.