What is the best diet for PCOS?

Women with PCOS often struggle to lose weight…

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome affects about 1 in 10 women and can lead to a long list of problems including irregular periods, acne, excess hair, infertility and weight gain.  PCOS comes with insulin resistance and, although we don’t fully understand the cause of PCOS just yet, this insulin resistance may be the underlying cause.


Losing weight can have a big impact on symptoms in women with PCOS as it helps to reduce the insulin resistance.  Losing weight is the first line of therapy for overweight women with PCOS who are having trouble becoming pregnant. Losing weight also helps to improve other symptoms of PCOS including reducing facial hair and acne and helping periods be more regular.


A big problem is that women with PCOS often find it much harder to lose weight than other women.  Insulin resistance is probably at least partly to blame for this as insulin reduces fat burning, increases the amount of food we store after meals and can trigger intense food cravings.  Any woman with PCOS will know all about the food cravings!  This means that women with PCOS tend to struggle more with reducing calories and actually lose weight at a slower pace.


It’s not surprising, then, that eating disorders (such as bulimia) are much more common among women with PCOS. We see a lot of very frustrated women who have been fighting with weight for years and getting nowhere or even gaining weight on some plans.  There are also plenty of women with PCOS who are not overweight but still show signs of insulin resistance.  These women can also benefit from a diet that helps to manage insulin.


So what is the best diet for PCOS?  Overall, reducing calories is the main aim if someone is overweight.  However, diets that reduce (but not cut out) carbohydrate or which increase protein seem to be the most effective for women who are a healthy weight as well as those who are overweight.  A low glycaemic index diet can be very helpful as it works to reduce insulin resistance.  At the core, women with PCOS do need to look at the overall amount of carbs that they eat as well as the type.  However, they also need to have a well-balanced plan that includes enough fibre and calcium and other micronutrients, especially if they are trying to become pregnant.


It is also important to remember that women with PCOS can still put on weight from all the usual places and we need to look at exercise, stress, sleep and emotional eating too.


The good news is that with the right support and the right advice, weight loss is possible for women PCOS.  And even if you are not overweight, a good, balanced plan can bring a reduction in the PCOS symptoms that have such an impact in women with this condition.