Is Weight Loss Possible With PCOS? A Nutritionist Explains
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If you are an Indian woman on a weight loss journey, then you know just how complicated losing weight can get if you have a health issue like PCOS. For those who don’t know, PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, a common hormonal disorder that affects people with ovaries. It is characterized by a combination of hormonal imbalances and a range of symptoms, which can vary from person to person. PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders among women of reproductive age. 

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Cureus, in 2022 says that the prevalence rate of PCOS among Indian women is very high and estimated to be between 5.8% to 10% depending on the diagnostic criteria for screening. We know that some of the major symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods, infertility, weight gain and metabolic issues. Given that so many Indian women suffer from PCOS, does this also mean that successful weight loss is impossible for them? 

We asked Avantii Deshpaande, a clinical nutritionist, if women who suffer from PCOS can lose weight successfully. Here is everything she had to say. 

Video Credit: YouTube/Banglar Rannaghor

Understanding The PCOS-Weight Link 

“PCOS and weight gain are connected to each other and it’s a vicious cycle,” Deshpaande explains. “Sedentary lifestyle, increased calorie intake, consuming processed foods, stress or lack of sleep could lead to PCOS condition. In turn, PCOS leads to weight gain as the hormones are disrupted especially there is insulin resistance and increased testosterone levels. These two hormones are primarily responsible for weight gain and worsening the condition.” 

So, how difficult is it to lose weight with PCOS? “It’s easy as long as you focus on balancing the hormones rather than just cutting out calories without making mindful changes in the food combinations,” she explains. 

The question then is, what is the right way to lose weight when you have PCOS? Deshpaande recommends going to a gynecologist and endocrinologist to first understand the reasons behind your individual case and what factors may be responsible for the related weight gain. Then, you should consult a nutritionist with the findings at hand and figure out what weight loss dietary approaches would work best for you. The thing you shouldn’t do is go on a fad diet without consulting any experts.  

“It’s best to make changes in the existing lifestyle to see best results in the PCOS management,” she says. “Incorporating vegetable juices along proper eating pattern, keeping the protein high, along with good fats and complex carbs is a better idea than going on a juice diet alone. Similarly intermittent fasting is a good idea to help the body heal better. If IF is done right, it will work in the favour to support PCOS and better insulin control. It’s important to nourish well in the feeding window, and not following a low-calorie diet then. Always do the intermittent fasting under the expert supervision.”  

Safe Weight Loss Methods For Women With PCOS 

“As a clinical and PCOS nutritionist, I recommend the following as the line of treatment,” Deshpaande says. “We have seen the symptoms reverse in the early stages or better management along with or without the use of medications in the management of the condition in the advanced stages.” And if weight loss is your goal, then curing the root cause can only speed up the entire process in a more holistic and sustainable way. The key here is to focus on weight management and PCOS management rather than rapid and unhealthy weight loss. The following are the steps recommended by Deshpaande.  

Step 1: Identify the root cause of PCOS, which could be unhealthy gut, wrong food habits or inflammation—and these will help you determine how to change dietary habits for better weight management. “Once we identify the root cause, the treatment is decided accordingly,” Deshpaande says. “Usually there is an overlap of conditions and the treatment then changes.”  

Step 2: “Improve the gut health,” she says. “Metabolic disorders like PCOS are caused due to unhealthy gut and therefore, including foods that will heal the gut and excluding foods that trigger the dysbiosis of the gut.” 

Step 3: Adopting an alkaline or acid-ash diet is a good way to go since it focuses on anti-inflammatory foods. "It is important to include anti-inflammatory foods in the diet like fruits and vegetables,” she says. “Certain herbs, and spices like ashwagandha, turmeric or cinnamon will help the body to reduce inflammation. At the same time alkaline foods will help to balance the hormones better. So, including foods like amla, vegetable juices, apple cider vinegar will balance the hormones better.”  

Step 4: The next step is to make healthy lifestyle changes that can not only boost your overall health and manage PCOS, but also lead to weight loss naturally. "Obesity leads to PCOS, hence it’s important to have a weight reduction if the person is overweight or obese,” she says. “Keeping in mind the lifestyle and making the necessary changes in the food groups will help any woman lose weight in a healthy way. Adding a physical activity like cardio workouts for 20-30 mins like running, brisk walking, swimming, step climbing, etc. along with some own body weight exercises like Surya namaskar or light weight training works wonders.”  

Step 5: Underlining all the dietary changes and to make it all effective for weight loss, any woman with PCOS needs to focus on two more factors: managing stress and good sleep. "It’s important to manage stress to reduce the cortisol levels in the body,” Deshpaande says. “Practising Suryanamaskar and body weight exercises will help you to manage stress better while also helping with weight management.” 

This apart, what are some of the foods to eat and avoid if you are a woman with PCOS on a weight loss journey? “It’s always best to nourish the body for balancing the hormones and healing the body by reducing inflammation,” Deshpaande says. “Following a balanced diet which will include all the foods groups like proteins, fruits and vegetables, good fats from almonds, walnuts, seeds, fish etc and complex carbs like millets, rice, oats will help the body to heal well. Make sure ghee is also included in the diet.” 

And as for foods to avoid, Deshpaande’s recommendations are simple. “Processed foods which are high in trans fats and saturated fats, high sugar foods or foods containing high fructose corn syrup should be avoided,” she says. “Dairy and wheat are not restricted unless these are triggers for inflammation.”