Aug 31, 2022 | BY: Kacie Shrock, RN, BSN
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age. This hormonal imbalance can lead to problems with the ovaries – delaying or completely missing ovulation – causing irregular periods or no periods at all.
Many women may not know they have PCOS until they start trying to conceive. Due to the higher levels of androgens (male sex hormones), problems with ovulation may occur, causing delayed ovulation or missed ovulation altogether. Although many conversations around PCOS are about irregular cycles and missed ovulation, there are other problems women with PCOS face, one of which is weight gain.
Why Does PCOS Cause Weight Gain?
The hormonal changes that occur with women who have PCOS involve more than just the reproductive hormones, it can also affect insulin levels, which is the hormone that helps the body to regulate sugar levels and when imbalanced can contribute to the weight gain and hormonal changes often seen with PCOS.
PCOS is often associated with insulin resistance, which means that the cells in muscles, organs and other tissues do not respond to insulin well. This means they do not absorb blood sugar well which leads to higher glucose levels in the bloodstream. Over time the body starts to develop higher levels of insulin, which can lead to complications such as diabetes.
Weight Loss Benefits with PCOS
If you have PCOS and are overweight, considering weight loss can be the most beneficial first step in improving many of the symptoms you may be experiencing such as irregular cycles, which can greatly improve your chances for overall conception. Even a small weight loss can improve the symptoms of PCOS.
Following a healthy diet and exercise routine can help your body’s natural response to insulin which in turn may regulate your cycles and ovulation, making it easier to conceive. Reducing weight helps improve insulin levels, which can help some women resume normal ovulation and improve pregnancy rates.
Maintaining a healthy BMI while trying to conceive will also prepare you for pregnancy. Weight reduction can help decrease many risks involved with being overweight during pregnancy such as hypertension (preeclampsia) and gestational diabetes.
Where Do I Start with Weight Loss?
Healthy weight loss is best achieved by a combination of lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise. Here are three steps you could follow:
- Visit a provider to set a healthy while attainable goal.
- Outline a nutrition plan or consider working with a nutritionist.
- Find an exercise routine that works for you.
The first step on your weight loss journey should be to schedule a visit with your provider for an evaluation. You want to know what a healthy body mass index (BMI) is for you, so you can set healthy attainable goals. Your doctor may also want to prescribe a medication to help with PCOS while on your weight loss journey.
Visiting your provider will also be a great time to ask if they know of any PCOS friendly nutritionists who can work with you. Proper nutrition is key to weight loss and it may be helpful to work with a professional who can help you build a meal plan. It is important to focus on blood sugar balance. You can include more protein, fruits, veggies and healthy fats while decreasing refined carbohydrates, sugars and processed foods that spike your blood sugar.
Physical activity is all around great for your overall health and well-being. Finding a good exercise routine that works for you and your schedule is also a great step in the right direction. Try to find some activities you enjoy that get your body moving and develop a routine to stick to. Any movement counts, even if it is 10-15 minutes.
If your cycles are not regular and you think you may not be ovulating, talk with your doctor to discuss testing for PCOS. If you have already been diagnosed with PCOS and want to get pregnant, discuss your options with your OB/GYN or fertility specialists. Maintaining a healthy BMI may be just what you need to help jump start ovulation and can help decrease potential risks during pregnancy.
It is important to remember that all women are different and what may be a healthy weight for you, may be completely different from a healthy weight for someone else. You should discuss what a healthy BMI range is for you with your healthcare provider and work with them to set small attainable goals. Weight loss is a journey, it does not happen overnight, so it is important to be patient with yourself and allow yourself time to see results.
Wondering if your cycles are irregular or looking to get your fertility chart interpreted? Head over to Ask An Expert in the Premom app and one of our fertility experts will get back to you within 1 business day.
Kacie Shrock is a registered nurse who specializes in fertility and reproductive health. She has always had a passion for women's health and she supports women and couples virtually across the world while on their journey to their dream families!