There are few things more demoralizing than regaining weight following a hard won diet.
Unfortunately, soul crushing frustration is almost an inevitable consequence for women with PCOS when they try to lose weight using traditional dieting techniques. People don’t fail diets – the diets fail them, and it’s a scientific fact that restricting calories is a terrible idea when you suffer from this disorder.
PCOS is a unique health condition that requires an equally unique approach to achieve effective and sustainable weight loss. Showing women how to do this the right way is exactly what my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge is all about.
During this live event, thousands of women from around the world begin a path toward lifelong wellness in spite of living with a PCOS diagnosis. Using tailored PCOS recipes like those found in this free 3 Day PCOS Meal Plan, as well as evidence based nutritional video lessons and daily activities, I’ve had the fortune of watching thousands of women lose weight with PCOS without restricting calories.
This includes women like Kendall who lost over 100 pounds after following what she learned during my free Challenge. In this article you’ll find everything you need to know about how Kendall, and many others like her beat all the odds to achieve great health outcomes.
If you’re tired of brutal diets that you find impossible to stick to, and you’d rather follow practical dietary and lifestyle principles that are backed by real science rather than old-fashioned nonsense, then here’s 15 essential steps you should take to achieve a healthy body weight that is sustainable long term.
1. Avoid Restricting Calories
Even for women without PCOS, diets that seek to restrict your energy intake have been proven not to work. Back in 2007, researchers from UCLA systematically analyzed 31 diet studies to assess their effectiveness. The result: They found that only a tiny minority of dieters sustained their weight loss with the vast majority regaining more weight than they lost within a few years (Mann et al 20071).
Sadly this is fairly old news, and yet restriction dieting is still seen as the only way to lose weight by many health professionals.
While short term weight loss of 5-10% within the first 6 months is fairly common, it’s been known for a long time now that long term relapse rates can be over 80% (Swanson & Dinello, 19702), with weight gain continuing to occur the longer you keep track of a previous diet participant (Hensrud et al. 19943).
Restriction dieting is actually one of the best predictors of future weight gain, which is why experts have recommended that weight-loss programs not be funded as a treatment for obesity. The benefits are too small and the potential harm is too large.
This was certainly the experience of Bianca, a previous participant in my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge. After struggling with her weight her entire life and hitting 240 pounds in the weeks before we met, she had a surgeon lined up and had booked an appointment for a gastric sleeve. She just didn’t think it was possible to lose weight any other way.
Fortunately, she was willing to give her relationship with food one more try so she cancelled her appointment and signed up for the free Challenge in the second half of 2016 instead. By the end of the year Bianca had lost 30 pounds, and two years later had not only continued to approach her ideal body weight, but she’d actually managed to fall pregnant naturally despite her previous infertility.
There are some fairly good biological reasons why restriction diets don’t work as a weight loss treatment:
- We’ve evolved with appetite hormones that tell us when we’re hungry. When you don’t eat enough in an attempt to lose weight, these hormones kick us in the guts in a bid to find satisfaction. Ignoring these powerful hunger cues takes enormous self-control which no one, but the toughest disciplinarians amongst us can sustain long term.
- Brain chemicals like neuropeptide Y are secreted when they sense that you’re not getting enough calories (and carbohydrates). These increase your desire to binge and literally cause cravings for carbs and sweet foods. Good luck fighting those off in the late afternoon when work is getting stressful and that vending machine seems to be calling your name…
- Our bodies get stressed by caloric restriction diets and produce high levels of cortisol and adrenaline in response. These hormones slow down our metabolism and promote fat storage as a survival response. From a biological perspective our bodies can’t tell the difference between dieting for your wedding, and a cataclysmic famine.
Then there are some pretty intense psychological barriers too. Being “on a diet” feels terrible right? You feel deprived and depressed because you can’t have this, and you can’t have that. I don’t know anyone that would want to feel this way all the time, especially when just that one little candy bar looks so perfectly cute and innocent…
The take home point here is that if you want to lose weight and sustain it over the long term, then don’t bother with diets that limit your calories. You’re likely to do yourself more harm than good.
But if the most traditional tool for losing weight is off the table, where then does that leave us?
As I explain in my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge, food is still the best PCOS weight loss treatment. But rather than starve participants thin, during this live event I show women how to eat in a way that works WITH your PCOS to achieve lasting weight loss.
To understand how this works, there are three things you need know about PCOS and how this unique condition causes unfair weight gain. The first is that PCOS is characterized by abnormally high androgen levels and chronic low grade inflammation. The second is that insulin resistance is a common co-occurring disorder. And third, that elevated cortisol levels are a key cause of PCOS weight gain.
I know these can sound like fairly obscure and unrelated ideas, but understanding these three core concepts provides a massive advantage to anyone with PCOS that wants to lose weight for good.
To set you up for serious success, we are going to take a quick look at each of these concepts in the following 3 steps.
2. Take High Androgens & Inflammation Seriously
To understand how to lose weight with PCOS, you first need to have a working understanding of how PCOS weight gain happens in the first place.
Any women with PCOS who’s having trouble with weight loss is almost certain to have elevated levels of androgens (male sex hormones such as testosterone) and chronic low grade inflammation. This menacing pair are far more threatening to that button on your jeans than any amount of double chocolate ice-cream.
Inflammation triggers our ovaries to over-produce androgens (Gonzalez 20124), while our excess androgens promote further inflammation in a vicious loop (Gonzalez et al. 20125). This problem is made worse if you’re overweight (Lindholm et al. 20116), but it’s actually one of the defining aspects of a PCOS diagnosis as it occurs in women of normal body weight too (Gonzalez et al. 20117).
Since elevated androgen levels and chronic inflammation are the root cause of our PCOS, addressing these issues through better food and lifestyle choices is the most effective way to not only lose weight, but to also improve fertility, reduce acne, and get rid of unwanted hair.
Everything included in the steps below has to be about addressing these two problems, and this is why my next point is especially important.
3. Be Aware Of How Insulin Resistance Causes PCOS Weight Gain
Insulin resistance is a common feature of PCOS affecting between 50 – 70% of women depending on who you ask. If high androgen levels and inflammation are the head honchos at the PCOS weight gain factory, insulin resistance is the work-horse because it causes our bodies to store, rather than burn, energy.
Insulin resistance, along with its partner in crime cortisol, is responsible for the excess body fat that accumulates around our waist and is so powerful that roughly 30% of normal weight women with PCOS also struggle with stomach fat (Carmina et al. 20078).
I can attest to this as someone with the leaner type of PCOS. While I never had any issues with body weight in the past, even as a teenager I struggled with excess stomach fat. I can remember missing out on pool parties because I was afraid of people seeing me in a swimsuit.
For some weird reason, the link between PCOS, insulin resistance, and weight gain seems to have passed over the heads of many health professionals. It’s heart-breaking to meet so many women through my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge that have been berated for not being able to lose weight with dieting.
The reality is though, that without the right information and support just eating less and doing more exercise simply doesn’t help you overcome PCOS weight gain.
Insulin is the hormone that tells your body to store glucose as fat. The higher your insulin levels, the more body fat you’re likely to accumulate independent of your caloric intake. This relationship has been well documented in countless studies that show reducing insulin, rather than limiting calories, is the key to weight loss (Holman et al. 20079).
This is why insulin resistance really sucks for women with PCOS.
When we eat, our blood glucose levels rise as the foods get broken down by our gut. Insulin is then produced to transport the glucose out of our blood and into our various cells. When we’re insulin resistant this process doesn’t happen efficiently causing us to have high insulin levels across the day and this means more body fat.
Once you understand this mechanism, the next step is to make diet and lifestyle changes that lower your insulin levels. This is a key part of many of the powerful PCOS weight loss steps that I talk about below.
4. Manage Your Cortisol Levels
So far I’ve explained how high androgens, chronic inflammation, and insulin resistance are the key causes of PCOS weight gain. But there’s just one piece missing to complete the puzzle and that piece is cortisol.
Cortisol is commonly referred to as the stress hormone, and in collaboration with the other causes I’ve mentioned already, this powerful steroid has a massive effect on our body weight. Particularly when it comes to stomach fat.
Coming back to my own experience with having excess stomach fat despite being otherwise fairly slim, I now realize that this phenomenon was largely driven by high cortisol levels. This also explains why I used to always feel stressed and anxious all the time. I experienced this again recently after the birth of my son where the stress and anxiety of having a baby packed the pounds back onto my stomach.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands in response to a stressor and from a biochemical perspective our bodies care little whether that stress is caused by a tiger chasing you, or is based on the psychological demands of a normal busy life.
Repeated elevation of cortisol has three pathways for making you gain weight when you have PCOS:
- Promoting fat storage around the mid-section.
- Increasing your blood glucose levels which raises insulin (see step 3 above)
- Increasing cravings particularly for sugar and carbs which raises your insulin further!
Cortisol also has the unfortunate feature of creating a positive feedback loop in relation to body fat. Not only does cortisol cause stomach fat accumulation, but the more abdominal fat you accumulate the more cortisol you produce. This is thanks to the release of inflammatory compounds from fatty cell tissues that make our PCOS worse while also calling for more cortisol.
This is why I say that a good PCOS weight loss plan has to include the management of cortisol levels, which you’ll see me mention throughout many of the following weight loss steps below.
Possibly one of the best examples I’ve seen where managing cortisol levels really makes a difference was with a woman named Hanna. As an active athlete and dancer, Hanna had always been thin, but she still struggled with excess stomach fat like I did.
During my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge, Hanna followed my anti-inflammatory, insulin conscious meal plans (like the one included in this free 3 Day PCOS Meal Plan). She then continued her progress during my 10 Week Program and completed the exercise module included within it – the perfect combination for reducing cortisol levels.
While falling pregnant naturally a few weeks after the program had ended was by far her biggest accomplishment (she’d previously never gotten her period), she also managed to lose all her excess stomach fat and build great functional muscle tone.
5. Get In Synch With Your Fullness Hormones
One of the biggest concerns I hear from people when I tell them they don’t need to watch how much they eat is that they’re worried they’ll eat too much instead.
This just simply isn’t a real risk when you eat healthy whole foods and follow the right PCOS diet.
Every time I run my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge I become more convinced of this fact as I hear from numerous women saying they’re finding my serving sizes too large, only to hear from them a few weeks later telling me how much weight they’ve lost.
It’s not that I’m making people eat more calories with my recipes. They often don’t. The reason they feel so satisfied after making one of my meals is that the ingredients I use collaborate closely with our diverse set of fullness hormones. Here’s a few examples that describe what I mean:
- Leptin is a satiety hormone that reduces appetite and makes you feel full. By making yourself satisfying recipes like those I use in this free 3 Day PCOS Meal Plan you increase your sensitivity to leptin by avoiding inflammatory foods especially sugar and trans fats, and by adding anti-inflammatory foods like salmon and walnuts instead.
- Cholecystokinin (CCK) is another satiety hormone that has been shown to reduce food intake in both lean and overweight people (Perry and Wang 201210). Food that increases CCK includes protein (Foltz et al. 200811), healthy fats (McLaughlin et al. 199812), and beans (Bourdon et al. 200113).
- Ghrelin is a hunger hormone that tells your brain when it’s time to eat. The less ghrelin in your system, the less you feel like eating. There are two main ways in which you can promote this natural calorie control phenomenon with better food choices: you can avoid sugar which acts to increase ghrelin levels (Teff at al. 200414; Ma et al. 201315), and you can eat foods that provide adequate protein which helps suppress this hormone (Blom et al. 200616; Lejeune et al. 200617; Gannon et al. 201118).
- Cortisol levels are also reduced by providing a balanced diet that doesn’t restrict your calories and as I mentioned in Step 4, less cortisol means less cravings for sugar and carbs.
- Neuropeptide Y stimulates appetite particularly for carbohydrates as I mentioned earlier in Step 1. Two of the best ways to lower Neuropeptide Y are to eat enough protein (White et al. 199419), and to feed healthy gut bacteria with prebiotic foods (Holzer and Farzi 201520).
- Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 (GLP-1) is a hormone produced in your gut that keeps blood glucose levels stable and helps you feel full. Increasing GLP-1 is understood to be one of the mechanisms by which gastric bypass surgery works so well for weight loss (Osto et al. 201521). Any easier way to increase GLP-1 though is to eat plenty of fish (Madani et al. 201522) and leafy greens like spinach and kale (Montelius et al. 201423). Taking every opportunity to reduce inflammation (Gagnon et al 201524) and promoting a healthy gut microbiome with probiotics (Yadav et al. 201325) have also been shown to help.
- Peptide YY is another gut hormone that controls appetite and reduces food intake (Arora et al. 200626). Recipes like those included in my free 3 Day PCOS Meal Plan increase peptide YY by providing appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber from whole food sources.
As you’ll soon see, a lot of the remaining steps below are all about putting this useful theory into practice and why you’ll find all of the above-mentioned foods in my popular free PCOS Diet Cheat Sheet and this free 3 Day PCOS Meal Plan.
6. Ditch The Sugar
I’m all about reducing body fat in a healthy sustainable manner, but nothing helps you lose weight with PCOS faster than quitting sugar. During my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge it’s not uncommon for people to lose 10 – 15 pounds within a few short weeks with high achievers like Ashley losing more than 20 pounds in 30 days.
But just telling someone to quit sugar is not as straight forward as it may seem so if you’ll bear with me, I’ll give you the quick explanation on how to do it correctly.
Fructose and glucose are the two simple sugars that make up just about every kind of sugary food. Eating significant amounts of glucose is unhelpful for both PCOS and weight loss because your body needs to produce more insulin in order to process it. The glucose found in sugar also provides cortisol the extra energy it needs to sabotage the hard work you’ve been doing at the gym.
But while glucose is unhelpful, fructose is simply harmful. Unlike glucose which is used by every cell in your body, fructose can only be metabolized via the liver leading some experts to call it alcohol without the buzz (Lustig 201327).
Once in the liver, intermediate fructose metabolites overwhelm the cells energy centers leading to the creation of excess liver fat and the development of insulin resistance. This not only exacerbates our already elevated risk of many chronic diseases, but it also makes all of our PCOS symptoms worse.
From atherosclerosis to the inability to form a healthy zygote with your partner, fructose causes the A-Z of PCOS symptoms and is the mother load of bad ideas when it comes to food choices.
So how do we go about quitting sugar? Here are a few simple tips that can make a big difference to your long term success:
- Get really good at spotting all the different sources of sugar in your diet. I discuss this in detail in my foods to avoid blog where I also provide a helpful checklist of the most common problem foods.
- Remember that even natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar are best avoided because they still contain 50% fructose despite being marketed as “healthier”.
- When absolutely needed, choose glucose only sweeteners like brown rice syrup or dextrose. Stevia is another suitable alternative as this herb derived sweetener has a slightly positive effect on your blood glucose levels and appears to be generally safe (Carrera-Lanestosa et al. 201728; Mathur et al. 201729).
- Minimize the risk of cravings by following the right PCOS diet. This should include plenty of healthy proteins and fats that leave you full and not reaching for that candy bar.
- Avoid all sources of dietary fructose beyond what you’ll find in 1-2 modest servings of fruit each day.
While I know how impossible this might sound at first, there really is light at the end of the tunnel. Once you’ve avoided sugar for a few months, your taste buds change so much that you’ll find foods you used to love become too sweet and you no longer want them.
A woman named Karina, who I had the pleasure of working with in early 2017 is a great example of someone who had dramatic weight loss results from quitting sugar.
When we first met, Karina was struggling with PCOS and at her all time highest weight. She had tried dieting on many occasions but it never took her long to fall back into old habits and regain any weight that she managed to lose. She had bad acne, her hair was thinning, she had a lot of male hair growth, and she hardly ever got her period.
The number one reason for this was she suffered intense sugar cravings that she simply couldn’t reason with. None of this was Karina’s fault. If anything should be apparent from my earlier explanation, Karina’s food choices were predominantly influenced by the powerful hormones that control our cravings.
When she started my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge she was 187 pounds. And then she discovered how to work with her PCOS.
Karina began eating a diet rich in whole foods and vegetables like the meals provided in my free 3 Day Meal Plan and this gave her the opportunity to quit sugar without suffering from withdrawals. She lost 12 pounds in one month, and nine months later she was down 60 – just two pounds short of her goal weight. She actually said to me that she doesn’t really think about sweets anymore because she’s no longer getting cravings. Amazing!
Maybe this is the first time you’ve really considered quitting sugar seriously? If it is, and your nervous then let me assure you that if committed addicts like Karina and me can do it, you can too.
7. Eat Carbohydrates Wisely
All carbohydrate foods are broken down by digestion into the simple sugar glucose. Given that glucose is both a key ingredient in PCOS inflammation (see Step 2 above), and also directly increases insulin levels (Step 3) any good PCOS diet plan for weight loss is going to pay attention to this food group.
It doesn’t take much of a search when trying to learn how to lose weight with PCOS naturally to discover that low carb diets are a great idea. But this popular idea can lead to adverse outcomes if you’re not careful with some of the most common mistakes I see people make including:
- Reducing your carbohydrate intake too low which then triggers intense carb cravings (see Step 5) or flu-like symptoms.
- Not getting enough dietary fiber leading to poor gut health, and discomfort.
- Re-directing your restriction diet mentality to a subset of foods in the form of ‘macro counting’. This promotes and sustains an unhealthy relationship with food, rather than dealing with our emotional connection to food or learning to trust our bodies more (see Step 5).
When it comes to carbs, my advice for anyone wanting a healthy, simple, and sustainable PCOS diet plan for weight loss is to eat low carb, and slow carb, from whole food sources.
As I describe in more detail here, eating low carb to me means getting around 20 – 30% of your energy intake from carbohydrate sources, while slow carbs are foods that have less impact on your blood glucose levels (aka. “Low GI”). The whole food sources constraint means we’re choosing foods that are perfectly packaged with the full array of nutrients, just as nature intended.
When put into practice my low carb, slow carb, whole food sources principle means every meal has either:
- 3 – 8 oz (85 – 230 g) of starchy vegetables like sweet potato, yam, taro, corn, parsnip and squash. The serving size depends a little on how starchy the vegetable is.
- 3 oz (85 g) per meal of gluten free grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and black rice.
- Or approximately 5 oz (140 g) per meal of beans, lentils or peas.
For a comprehensive list of my recommended low GI carbohydrate foods make sure to download this free PCOS Diet Cheat Sheet.
8. Make Peace With Fat
If there’s one thing that mainstream “nutrition experts” have clearly gotten wrong it’s the view that people need to eat less fat.
Wholefood sources of fat – even saturated fats, do not make you fat.
They do not give you heart disease (Siri-Tarino et. al 201030), and they should be embraced as part of any healthy and sustainable PCOS weight loss diet.
Anyone who tells you otherwise, regardless of their qualifications, is simply not keeping up with the scientific research. Even the creators of the dietary guidelines are wrestling with how to roll back decades of bad advice as Nina Teicholz so eloquently describes here.
Fatty cuts of meat, oily fish, butter, and anything made from coconuts should all be eaten liberally without self-consciousness or concern about your weight. These foods are actually good for your PCOS and can help you weight (see my PCOS Diet Cheat Sheet for a list of healthy fats and oils).
Here are a few of my favorite reasons why:
- The medium chain triglycerides (found predominantly in coconut oil) help us lose weight particularly from around our stomach and thighs (Mumme and Stonehouse 201531).
- Certain fats found in beef and butter are good for your arteries (Mooney and McCarthy 201232), help with glucose tolerance and insulin action (Ryder et al. 200133; Castro-Webb et al. 201234), and reduce body fat (Blankson et al. 200035; Kennedy et al. 201036).
- Saturated fats improve your cholesterol as countless studies have shown (Fattore et al. 201437, Schwingshackl and Hoffmann 201438; Dreon et al. 199839; Krauss et al. 200540).
- Eating fats with carbs lowers the glycemic index. The presence of fat slows the rise in your blood glucose levels after a meal, which means less insulin, and less fat storage.
- Fatty food is super-duper filling. This is because of the effect fat has on our fullness hormones leptin and CCK (see Step 5). If you find yourself snacking a lot in the morning, try having steak and eggs for breakfast and then see how you feel.
- Eating a high fat diet is the best way to quit sugar. Again this comes back to our satiety hormones. If we can apply this logic and have more fat throughout the day, then it’s far less likely you’ll think about sweets.
- Cooking with lots of butter, ghee, or lard makes eating vegetables easier which most of us need to do more of to lose weight healthily. We all know vegetables are good for us, but getting them down can feel like a chore if they’re bland and boring. Nothing helped me go from a vegetable hater to an ardent fan more than discovering how much better they taste when cooked in plenty of fat.
This is why both my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge as well as my free 3 Day PCOS Meal Plan include plenty of healthy fats in all of the recipes. Fat is your friend, and the sooner the two of you can get your relationship back in order the better off you’ll be. Plain and simple.
9. Eat Plenty Of Fish, Meat And Eggs
While I’ll possibly never fully grasp the molecular biology behind it, it’s well known amongst biochemists that when we have inadequate nutrition, the energy status of our cells switches to promote fat storage. These switches work off nutrients and not calories which means you can be eating plenty of calories, and gaining weight but still be undernourished.
When you get into the intracellular processes at play, nutrition is a ridiculously complicated field that gets more confusing the more I try to learn about it. At the end of the day though, the practical advice of every expert I follow always seems to be that if we want to be adequately nourished in order to lose weight, then we should eat plenty of whole foods, particularly fish, meat, and eggs.
The advantage of animal derived foods is that they’re super nutrient dense and not only provide us with the right combination of all the essential amino acids, but they also deliver a wide range of micronutrients that signal to our cells that all is well. This means that rather than worrying if they’ll have enough resources to make it through the day, our cellular fat storage processes can relax in the knowledge that they have everything they need to keep our various organs functioning properly.
I know that plant based diets, are popular amongst many PCOS circles, but as I explain here, I don’t think these are optimal for anyone wanting to achieve meaningful PCOS weight loss.
If you’re like me, and you feel bad about eating animal derived foods (I was once a vegetarian for this very reason), then choosing the best quality sources you can afford may provide some consolation. While the ethics of “happy meat” is a bit of a slam-dunk, there seems to be consistent evidence showing its better nutritionally too.
For example, on a gram for gram basis, grass fed beef has been shown to be much higher in omega 3 fats, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than its grain fed counter parts (Daley et al. 201041). While the antioxidant properties of omega 3 fats seem to be fairly universally appreciated, what few people seem to be aware of is that CLA is the ultimate weight loss fat.
This fat, which comes primarily from beef, lamb, butter, and ghee has been well documented to improve body composition (Blankson et al. 200042; Kennedy et al. 201043). CLA is such a great weight loss agent that people try (somewhat unsuccessfully) to use it as a weight loss supplement. As irony would have it, CLA’s effects seem to work best when eaten as a whole food rather than taken as a pill…
Several studies suggest that grass fed beef also has higher amounts of vitamin A and E, as well as cancer fight antioxidants such as glutathione (Descalzo et al. 200744) and superoxide dismutase (Gatellier et al. 200445).
These are the kind of facts that you can really use to convince your family to switch to a PCOS friendly diet with you. When they start to object to you changing the menu, just tell them that Prime Rib counts as a health food now!
10. Heal Your Gut For Long Term PCOS Weight Loss
Everyone’s gut is populated by a ridiculous number of bacterial cells that together make up our microbiome. There are so many of those little-guys in there that if I had a dollar for each of mine, I could pay off the US national debt, and still afford a long overdue cut and color.
As the gatekeepers of our digestive system the microbiome has a massive influence on our body composition. While researchers have only recently begun to unravel the mysteries of the microbiome so far we know that it affects how much we eat (Fetissov et al. 200846), our metabolism and fat storage mechanisms (Ramakrishna 201347; Backhed 201148; Backhed et al. 200449), and even the way in which we absorb nutrients (Jumpertz et al. 201150).
It’s also now known that the bacteria in our gut has a causal effect on both insulin resistance and obesity (Saad et al. 201651; Rabot et al. 201052) which is particularly salient for women with PCOS, especially those that are struggling with their weight.
Supporting our microbiome is one of the simplest ways we can treat our PCOS diagnosis and here’s a few simple ways we can achieve this:
- Quit sugar. Our microbiome was never designed to run on a high sugar diet so it’s no surprise that doing so messes with the balance of these microbes.
- Eat more prebiotic foods. Prebiotics are foods that feed our microbiome and include things like Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onion, leek, shallots, spring onion, asparagus, beetroot, fennel bulb, green peas, snow peas, sweet corn, and savoy cabbage (Monash University 201653).
- Make probiotic foods a regular habit. Probiotic foods are foods that actually contain live strains of healthy gut bacteria. They also make for great snacks in many cases. Some of my favorites include things like coconut yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh.
- Consider taking probiotic supplements. While the research is still in its infancy, there are a lot of promising studies showing the efficacy of probiotic supplements for the treatment of insulin resistance (Kim et al. 201854). For women wanting to lose weight with PCOS and especially those that have trouble with their digestive systems, I recommend considering probiotic products such as VSL#3, Visibiome, and Custom Probiotics. I have no affiliation with these brands but I recommend them because they are exceptionally potent, they’ve had independent studies that have assessed their effectiveness, and I’ve personally had great results with them too. Most over-the-counter probiotics only have tens of billions of bacteria per dose and are far less likely to be beneficial compared to these products which count their microbes by the hundreds of billions. They might cost more, but they’re definitely worth it in my experience.
- Be judicious with antibiotics. Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria and they do so indiscriminately. This means the good guys get taken out, as well as those that may be making you sick. Obviously if you really need them then you really need them, but I always recommend avoiding antibiotics as much as is humanly possible.
- Stress less. Both acute and chronic stress are well known to affect various functions of our gastrointestinal tracts (Konturek et al. 201155) – this will seem fairly obvious if you’ve ever experienced nervous “butterflies” or anxiety-induced nausea. As our knowledge base grows, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the neurotransmitters and hormones we produce when we’re stressed have a direct effect on our microbiota and that these changes in turn have a direct adverse effect on our health (Lyte et al. 201156; Bailey et al. 201157; Bailey et al. 201058).
Achieving improvements in gut health is an easy win that a lot of women comment on during my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge. Not only does this help with weight loss, but women also report sleeping better, and feeling happier. These results make perfect sense in light of the close relationship between our microbiome and the gut-brain axis.
11. Know Which Foods To Avoid
If you’ve gotten this far through the list, then you’ll be down with the idea of reducing inflammation to achieve meaningful weight loss.