By Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
There it is again – that maddening hunger, causing you to make yet another trip to the fridge, often at night when everyone else is winding down or sleeping. If you are hungry all the time, it’s important to explore how PCOS-related hunger could be to blame and what to do about managing your appetite.
Read on to learn how hormones and emotional eating directly affect your hunger and what to do about it.
Before we get started, let’s quickly review what PCOS is:
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a disorder of the endocrine system that affects your health and appearance from a hormonal level.
Common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Disordered appetite control
- Unexplained weight gain
- Irregular or no periods
- Hirsutism or excessive hair growth
- Hair loss
Hormones & PCOS Related Hunger
When it comes to hunger, there are four main hormones of concern for those with PCOS: Insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and thyroid.
Eating allows the body to get its share of blood sugar. Your pancreas then secretes insulin to tell your cells to “let sugar in” to be converted into energy. This results in bringing blood sugar levels back to normal. Simply, the process goes like this:
Eat food > blood sugar increase> pancreas > insulin > cells > energy conversion/storage
Insulin also acts as a signal that tells your brain that it no longer needs to stock up on food sources, acting as an anorexigenic or a substance that promotes loss of appetite or a feeling of fullness after a meal.
When you have PCOS, your body’s ability to control your blood sugar levels may be impaired which is called insulin resistance. If your body has difficulty resisting the right amounts of insulin, you may have a tendency to overeat as the signal that’s supposed to tell the brain to stop eating is not in full force.
The problem is, you’re not really “hungry” or in need of energy; your sugar just dropped to a low enough level to trigger physiological hunger. This leads to “unnecessary” eating, although you may feel terribly hungry anyway. If this pattern persists, this leads to obesity and other symptoms and diseases related to metabolic disorders.
Ghrelin & Leptin
Ghrelin and Leptin are always mentioned together because these two hormones are the ones that directly tell your body to start and stop eating.
Ghrelin is secreted when the body needs sustenance. Your stomach releases it to increase food intake and promote fat storage.
On the other hand, Leptin is a hormone released by fat cells that tells your brain that it no longer needs to eat.
Because leptin is released by fat cells, people with higher fat percentages naturally have higher levels of leptin as well. It makes sense; you eat to store fat for energy, and if you have an abundance of fat, it should be that you shouldn’t be eating as much. However, some people have problems responding to leptin.
Obese people have a lot of leptin (due to the amount of fat stored), but they have problems controlling food intake because their brains do not respond well to leptin. When the brain does not respond to leptin despite the abundance of fat in the body, it’s called leptin resistance.
Hormones act like signals that tell your body when you should feel certain things, one of them being hunger. Since your thyroid is responsible for secreting hormones (and keeping them as balanced as possible), you can then say your thyroid decides when you feel hungry and just how hungry or full you are.
Many women with PCOS also have thyroid problems. When the thyroid is experiencing problems, this affects the hormones it secretes, which can snowball into appetite control problems.
You eat to make sure you have enough healthy nutrients and energy for the day. However, you can have “unnecessary” cravings due to boredom, loneliness, or stress which can cause you to eat more than what the body needs. This is what we call emotional eating. However, some studies also suggest positive emotions can lead to emotional eating as well.
PCOS is a stressful condition, and for some, eating is seen as the fastest way to feel good by the brain. The result: emotional eating.
When you’re bored, you also have the tendency to want to snack on something. This can be boredom at work, a boring live event, or watching a boring movie or show. Similar to stress eating, boredom eating also happens when the brain wants a “feel good” release, and food just happens to be the easiest way to secrete happy hormones.
How to Resist PCOS-related Hunger
#1 Manage Your Insulin Levels
The first step is to upgrade your diet and lifestyle. All research indicated that this is the first line of treatment for insulin resistance as well as PCOS. That means crowding out inflammatory foods that spike your insulin with ones that nourish and tame the flames of your inflammation.
The PCOS Diva protocol that I teach in my Jumpstart Program is specifically designed to get your insulin resistance under control, your hormones balanced, and your health on track. The next step may be to add natural supplements such as berberine or Ovasitol to your regimen.
#2 Overcome Leptin Resistance
Again, the first step in mitigating the “damages” done by leptin resistance is to upgrade your lifestyle, including:
Avoiding processed food: If you cannot overcome your body’s signals to eat, try to choose whole foods which are not processed. Avoid “foods” that come in boxes or packets. Stick to real fruits and veggies if you’re craving something sweet or complete meals if you’re craving something filling. I love smoothies here at PCOS Diva!
Watch this video to see how easy it is to create a delicious breakfast smoothie:
High fiber diet: Diet plays a huge role in keeping your body healthy, and it’s the same with leptin resistance. Fibrous foods contain many vitamins and minerals, plus some antioxidants that just enable you to live a healthier lifestyle. Fiber helps you feel full and aids in digestion and much more.
Better sleep habits: Sleep is the body’s time to recover, and it can help maintain hormonal balance if you have healthy sleeping habits. Studies also indicate poor sleep is linked to leptin signaling problems.
Exercising is generally good for everyone as it helps build a strong body, keeps fat percentages low, and helps improve immunity. From a hormonal standpoint, exercising also helps release happy hormones and balance blood sugar. Whenever you feel like you’re craving food even though you’re not hungry at all, do the exact opposite and move your body instead.
#4 Escape boredom without food
There are many ways to entertain yourself when you’re bored. It just so happens that eating is the most accessible way for all of us, especially sweet or salty foods. Try to find entertainment or distraction instead. This can be by simply going for a short walk, playing puzzle games, reading, or talking to a friend you haven’t seen for a while.
#5 Healthy Snacking
There are times where you are actually hungry and need to eat. Prepare for those moments by stocking up on healthy snacks like berries, nut butter, hummus, green tea, and even dark chocolate counts. This way, you crowd out processed foods with nutrient-rich whole foods.
I know how frustrating it can be when hunger dominates your life, but you can find relief naturally with diet and lifestyle upgrades. Listen to your body for guidance on where to start. And let us know what works for you.
If you’re ready to start managing your PCOS-related hunger with dietary changes but are overwhelmed and don’t know what to eat, you are in luck. PCOS Meal Plans can help.
Amy Medling, the 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 them gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health, and happiness
Basu, R. What is Diabetes/Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes. NIH/NIDDK. May 2018.
Austin J, Marks D. Hormonal regulators of appetite. Int J Pediatr Endocrinol. 2009
Chakrabarti J. Serum leptin level in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: correlation with adiposity, insulin, and circulating testosterone. Ann Med Health Sci Res. 2013;3(2):191-196.
Krug I, Giles S, Paganini C. Binge eating in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome: prevalence, causes, and management strategies. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. May 2019.