How To Lose Weight When You Have PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight. This condition is also a risk factor for obesity due to its effects on energy metabolism, according to recent evidence published in the British Medical Bulletin. As the researchers note, about 38% to 88% of women with PCOS are overweight or obese, and up to 90% of sufferers have insulin resistance. Hyperinsulinemia can throw your hormones out of balance and affect your body's ability to use energy, leading to weight gain.

A large-scale study found that those diagnosed with PCOS by age 46 had the highest body mass index, reports The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Scientists say PCOS promotes abdominal obesity and visceral fat gain, causing metabolic disturbances. Visceral fat, or belly fat, wraps around the liver and other internal organs, which may increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.

PCOS is a chronic condition — one that can drain your energy and make it difficult to lose the extra weight, explains the organization Voices of Youth. You may feel too tired to exercise, plan your meals, and stay physically active. Insulin resistance and other complications only make things worse. But even so, there are steps you can take to manage your weight and enjoy better health. 

Fill up on high-fiber, low-sugar foods

When you have PCOS, losing just 5% of your weight can improve insulin sensitivity and ease some of your symptoms, according to the South Warwickshire University NHS Foundation Trust (SWFT). For starters, steer clear of crash diets and focus on changing your eating habits. A restrictive diet and overtraining can affect glucose control, making it harder to keep your insulin levels within normal limits, explained dietician Tallene Hacatoryan in an interview with Insider. Ideally, try to lose no more than two pounds per week and get your calories from whole foods, recommends SWFT.

For starters, increase your fiber intake and cut back on sugar. Fruits, vegetables, lean meat, fish, eggs, legumes, and low-fat dairy products are all excellent choices. SWFT also recommends choosing foods with a low or medium glycemic index (GI), such as apples, whole grains, multigrain bread, sweet potatoes, and legumes. The glycemic index measures the impact of carbohydrate-containing foods on blood sugar. The lower this number, the better.

Go one step further and add more protein to your diet, suggest the experts interviewed by Insider. This nutrient not only builds and preserves lean mass but also keeps your metabolism up and increases satiety, according to clinical research presented in the British Journal of Nutrition. Aim for 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day to fully reap the benefits. 

Cut calories to reduce your energy intake

Some older studies suggest that each pound of fat equals 3,500 calories, but these findings are questionable, notes the Mayo Clinic. Different people will lose weight at different rates, depending on their gender, activity level, body composition, and other factors. However, you still need to create an energy deficit to get leaner — and this can be done by cutting calories, exercising more, or both.

"Women with PCOS need an average of 400 fewer calories a day than women who don't have PCOS — and any excess calories go to fat storage," endocrinologist Lori B. Sweeney told Women's Health. That's the equivalent of a brownie, a small serving of Pringles Cheddar Cheese Crisps, or a handful of Cheez-It crackers, explains nutritionist Heather Mangieri. Therefore, you can cut calories just by swapping soda for lemon water, brownies for low-carb pancakes, or breakfast cereals for whole grains.

Another option is to downsize your portions and avoid foods with hidden sugars, such as dried fruit, agave syrup, flavored yogurt, granola bars, and salad dressings. Each teaspoon of sugar has about 20 calories, according to the University of California, San Francisco. Energy bars, breakfast cereals, and other processed foods are chock-full of sugar, and the calories can add up quickly. As a starting point, try not to exceed 9 teaspoons of sugar per day if you're a man or 6 teaspoons per day if you're a woman, recommends the American Heart Association

Commit to regular exercise, but don't overdo it

Physical activity can improve insulin sensitivity and make your body more efficient at using glucose, notes a 2011 review published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal. Resistance training is particularly beneficial due to its ability to build lean mass, which can further improve these markers. Similarly, high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, may reduce insulin levels. Researchers recommend four to seven hours of exercise per week for weight loss. 

Other studies found that regular exercise may help prevent PCOS complications, including heart disease, according to clinical research presented in the journal Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. Moreover, working out for at least 150 minutes per week can improve the mental well-being of those living with this disease. "It can also help regulate your hormones and lower the increase you have in testosterone, which will soothe symptoms, such as acne and [body] hair growth, both of which are rooted in higher testosterone," said Dr. Rebecca Robinson, a Consultant in Sports and Exercise Medicine, in an interview with Women's Health.

PCOS can cause problems like painful periods and other symptoms that may affect your ability to stay active. But despite these challenges, you can still exercise on most days or adjust your workouts based on how you feel. For example, you may keep the intensity down when dealing with pelvic pain, suggests Dr. Robinson. As a general rule, start small in building your workout routine and use a mix of cardiovascular training, strength exercises, and HIIT.