Have you ever wondered if you can practice Intuitive Eating after a Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) diagnosis? After hearing advice to lose weight and foods to cut out (hint – you typically don’t need to cut out any foods for PCOS), it may seem impossible to eat intuitively with PCOS. The truth is, you CAN incorporate intuitive eating principles into PCOS management! It just might look different than someone who does not have PCOS.
Here are 3 tips for Intuitive Eating and PCOS to get you started!
- Incorporate some gentle nutrition principles.
If you’ve looked at the Intuitive Eating principles or read the Intuitive eating book, you may notice that gentle nutrition is the last principle. You can still incorporate nutrition early in your intuitive eating journey, all while healing your relationship with food. Gentle nutrition is about honoring your health AND taste preferences – not one or the other.
Gentle nutrition can help you lower insulin levels, reduce inflammation, decrease carbohydrate cravings, have more energy, and improve your sleep. Here are some examples of ways that you can incorporate gentle nutrition with PCOS:
- Eat consistent meals and/or snacks throughout the day – Eat every 3-5 hours that you are awake, and don’t skip meals! This means that skipping breakfast isn’t the best idea. Eating consistently can also help prevent binges later in the day.
- Include fiber, fat, and protein with meals and/or snacks – This helps to keep you satisfied and prevents insulin and blood sugar spikes
- Include whole grains – Foods like whole wheat bread, quinoa, and farro can help you meet your fiber needs
- Include Omega-3s – This can help lower inflammation with PCOS. Salmon, trout, sardines, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds are all good sources. If you do not eat or enjoy any of these foods, you could consider talking to your healthcare team about starting a fish oil supplement.
- Stay hydrated – Drinking enough water is essential for absorbing nutrients, digestion, removing toxins, and plenty of other functions.
- Eat the rainbow – Try to switch up the produce that you buy to get a variety of colors on your plate. This will give you different antioxidants, which can help fight different chronic diseases.
- Honor your cravings
What foods do you crave – chocolate, chips, ice cream? Diet culture will call these foods “bad” or “toxic” and say that they should be avoided at all times unless they are low calorie or “healthified” versions.
Whether you have PCOS or not, you have the right to eat any of the foods that you crave without guilt. Cravings don’t just disappear with more “willpower” or “discipline”. Denying your cravings will probably lead to you overeating or binging the food later on – leading to even more guilt.
You might be thinking, “but what about my insulin resistance?!” and this is valid concern!
Tips for honoring cravings with PCOS:
- Eat it and carry on: Instead of being hard on yourself for eating the foods that you crave, you can eat that food until you’re satisfied and move on without feeling guilty.
- Get curious instead of feeling guilty: Dive into why that craving is there in the first place. How does it feel when you ask yourself why something happened instead of telling yourself “I’m so bad for doing that”? Hopefully you feel much better.
- Do you crave sweets often? If you’re skipping out on carbohydrates with meals (baked chicken breast and broccoli, anyone?), you may end up craving carbohydrates later on, and eat even more than you would have with the meal.
- Do you sleep enough? Lack of sleep can also lead to cravings because it affects our appetite hormones, resulting in increased cravings and feeling a lack of control when we eat.
- Eat balanced meals throughout the day: Balanced meals tend to include some fiber, fat, and protein. Doing this should help keep you satisfied and keep you from getting too hungry. If you get too hungry, you may feel more out of control around foods that you crave.
- Incorporate the foods that you tend to crave with some of your meals: Include the chips or add some chocolate to a meal!
- For example, include chips with a balanced meal like a sandwich or soup so that it’s not the only food on your plate. When it’s part of a balanced meal, you’re less likely to overeat it, and it should lessen any spike in insulin or blood sugar.
The cool part about Intuitive Eating is that after a while, you might start craving foods that you never expected – like fruits and vegetables! When you let go of guilt around certain foods and allow yourself to eat them when you crave them, you may end up craving those foods less! AND produce may become more appealing just because it makes you feel good physically.
- Say it with me – Weight does NOT equal health
Start to question the belief that weight determines your health. This belief often starts in the doctor’s office. If your weight falls into a particular Body Mass Index (BMI) category like “overweight” or “obese”, they may tell you to lose weight to improve your health. This practice is very flawed, so I wrote about the surprising history of the BMI and how BMI is not a good indicator of health in this past blog post.
More specifically with PCOS, one of my biggest frustrations with medical management is the advice to lose weight to manage PCOS. Has focusing on your weight helped you manage your PCOS in the long-term? Or has it made you feel like you’re not doing enough? If you also felt tired, hungry, and moody during a previous weight loss attempt, you’re not alone. So many of my clients come to me with a long history of trying to lose weight, which did not help them in the long run – and made them feel poorly in the short-term.
Fortunately, there are a bunch of studies that show that symptoms like insulin resistance and inflammation can improve with lifestyle factors, even when your weight stays the same. When I say lifestyle factors, I am referring to behaviors like prioritizing nutrition, movement, and sleep.
Even if you understand that weight does not equal your health – you may start to wonder, “then what does”? It’s up to you what you want to prioritize, but here are some things you can focus on instead of weight to determine your health:
- Other numbers, such as bloodwork and blood pressure
- Keeping up with regular screenings and appointments such as mammograms, pap smears, and dentist appointments
- Including a variety of food groups and nutrients on your plate
- Moving your body in ways that feel good – whether that’s in the gym, outside, or on a yoga mat
- Getting enough sleep
- Setting boundaries with coworkers, family members, or friends
- Social connections with people that fill your cup
Intuitive Eating is possible with PCOS, and your journey may look different from others. Including gentle nutrition early on, honoring cravings, and shifting your focus away from weight are helpful ways to practice Intuitive Eating. If you feel like you need support with Intuitive Eating and PCOS then my coaching program would be a great fit for you!
Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive Eating (4th ed.). St. Martin’s Essentials.