Intuitive Eating

How to Trust Your PCOS Body in 2020

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COVID-19. Countrywide protests. Job loss or change. Quarantine. Trying to have a normal-ish summer in the midst of it all. Life is hard right now! If you have PCOS, you are likely already feeling like your body and moods are “out of control”. And the recent additional stress could be making your cycles, skin, hair, mood, GI tract, sleep, and overall PCOS body feel even more out of sync.

The truth is that the majority of us are struggling to one degree or another. With everything going on, we can feel helpless or like things are out of our control. Some of us may try to control what we can in our lives by fixating on things like diet, exercise, social distancing, and household cleanliness. Or some of us may feel completely unmotivated to do anything. Some days you may feel like you have it all figured out, and other days you may feel like you just want to lie in bed. Whichever side you fall toward, finding a balance between taking charge and trusting yourself and your body will aid in helping bring some normalcy back into your day to day.

While it may feel counter-intuitive, trusting your body (even with PCOS) is so important in order to feel your best. Only you know what’s best for you. When you pay attention to how you feel, you can eat the right amount of food, get the right amount of sleep, manage stress appropriately, and move your body in a way that feels good. And feeling good is one of the biggest factors in determining health.

So since we can’t easily fix the world right now, what can you do to support yourself? Here are a few suggestions to help on the journey to trusting your PCOS body, even when the world feels like it’s on fire.

1. Listen to your body

Incorporating something as simple as journaling into your week can help you stay connected to your thoughts and help you stay honest with yourself about how you are feeling. Here are some questions to consider while journaling:

  • How do you feel after meals? Are you hungry or full? Are you satisfied?
  • How do you feel before meals? Are you hungry before you eat? 
  • Do you have cravings? When do cravings occur?  
  • What feels good to eat? What does not?
  • Do you feel hungry when you wake up? Are you getting enough sleep?
  • Do you turn to food in times of stress or other feelings? Are emotions impacting how you eat? Do you have a healthy outlet for stress, loneliness, etc?

2. Slow down and Eat mindfully

The world is moving a bit slower for most of us lately, and there may be some benefits to this. As much as it might seem like it is wrong to, don’t feel bad to slow it down. Try to take breaks when you feel stressed, or take a nap when you’re tired. When it comes to eating, take the time to check in with yourself. Here are some simple ways to start eating more mindfully:

  • Have your morning coffee and breakfast outside
  • Take your full lunch break to relax and eat
  • Prepare and eat dinner with a friend or spouse or friend (if possible)
  • Put your phone down, eat meals at a table, and try to limit any distractions that may disrupt your meal
  • Focus on enjoying your meals listen for when your body is satisfied
  • Set up nice a eating space with nice lighting, table settings, and/or music

3. Show gratitude to your body

You have a beating heart, lungs that breathe,  and millions of other cells whose number one priority is keeping you alive. When things are working well, it can be easy to take it for granted. By focusing on the positive things your body does for you everyday, you can start to let the negative body thoughts fade away. Here are a few things to be grateful for:

  • Ability to make and taste delicious food  
  • Making, creating or fixing things with your hands
  • Showing and feeling physical touch and affection
  • Your ability to move, walk, and do joyful movement
  • Your capacity to physically care for others around you, like family, children, or animals
  • If you’d had children, the fact your body created, carried, and/or fed another human
  • Making music or signing
  • Recovering from or preventing illness

4. Write down wins

We have all been through a lot and it’s not over, unfortunately. Reflecting on what you have achieved will help you stay motivated to continue to make positive changes. Seeing things written down can be a powerful reminder for how far you have come.  Here are a few examples to consider:

  • Cooking more meals at home
  • Trying a new recipe or experimenting with new foods
  • Getting enough sleep and letting yourself rest when you need to
  • Going for regular walks
  • Planting a garden
  • Honoring your body when you feel hungry or full
  • Starting a yoga or meditation practice
  • Connecting with family and friends from a distance 
  • Keeping you and your family fed, alive, and safe in a crazy time (some days this is going to be it!)

5. Ask for help if you need it

Sometimes you can’t do it alone and you need some help. When it comes to managing PCOS, you are not alone. Reaching out for help is a sign of strength. There are plenty of people who can support you in different ways such as:

  • Doctors (PCP, OB/GYN, Reproductive Endocrinologist)
  • Therapists – many are doing telehealth appointments now, and some take insurance
  • Physical therapist – insurance often covers this if you have pain or injuries. Don’t wait until you “lose the weight” to feel better!
  • Dietitians – many are also doing telehealth now, and many take insurance
  • Friends or family – sometimes just connecting with your support network will help you get through a difficult time

6. Be patient with yourself

This is a journey and there will be ups and downs along the way. You may feel like you aren’t making progress because results aren’t happening quickly. But fast results are not usually lasting results. Changing habits takes time and when done right will actually feel pretty seamless and less like a burden.

Remember many of us are feeling a little “out of control” right now with the state of the world. This won’t last forever. Many of the answers to feeling your best even with PCOS are within you and not from an external diet program. 

If you would like additional nutrition support and are ready to make peace with food, I am seeing clients virtually now. Click on nutrition counseling to contact me!

New Year’s Resolution Idea: Stop Dieting

New Year's Resolution Idea: Stop Dieting
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We are almost through January and are you tired of New Year’s resolutions yet?  How do you feel when you hear people talk about the latest diet they are on? I’m overhearing a lot of conversations about people saying they are “starving” on their new diet. How can we as a culture think that “starving” yourself is the key to health? 

I know that so many people (including those with PCOS) are trying to lose weight to improve their health and fertility. And I know that your doctor may be telling you to lose weight. So what is the problem with dieting?

1. Weight loss doesn’t equal health

I know that many people think it does, including many health care providers. You can lose weight in a lot of ways that harm your health. By restricting your intake of certain foods you can miss out on essential nutrients. For simplistic examples, if you only eat green vegetables, you will be deficient in protein and fat. If you only eat meat, you are missing out on fiber and a lot of vitamins. If you don’t eat carbs, you will crave carbs.

Some people lose weight by purging, using illicit drugs, smoking cigarettes, overexercising, and/or “starving” themselves. I think we all know these actions cause a lot more harm than carrying extra weight does.   

Also, medications to promote weight loss may harm your health. Remember fen-Phen? People experienced damage to their hearts and lunch from this prescription drug before it was pulled from the market. See this link to a new study on the weight loss drug Beliq and possible link to cancer. 

Even if you add more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your diet and cut out sweet drinks, fried foods, and refined grains and you lose weight, it’s hard to tell if the benefit to your health is the weight loss itself or the changes to your diet. Plenty of people can make positive changes to how they eat, improve their health, and still not see weight loss. I know this can be frustrating, but it’s an important point that is often overlooked.

2. Dieting is stressful, and extra stress is unhealthy

Following strict plans, cooking separate meals for you and your family, tracking numbers, reading labels, cutting out favorite foods, and feeling HUNGRY is stressful! You don’t want to mess up. You don’t want to “ruin” a day or week by eating the wrong thing. When you are following a strict diet, you are walking through a minefield of ways you can “mess up”. And if you don’t follow the plan exactly, it’s YOUR fault that you didn’t lose weight. Harsh.

Most people have plenty of things to be stressed about before making their lives so much harder by following a diet. Stress can cause headaches, hypertension, sleep problems, weaken your immune system, and upset your stomach. If you have PCOS, excess stress can affect your hormones by making cycles more irregular and increasing androgren levels.

Health is more than what you eat or what you weigh. Managing stress is an important part of staying healthy! 

3. Dieting can isolate you from social situations

When you are following a strict diet, you may end up avoiding parties, restaurants, and other social situations where food is involved. This may be because you don’t want to be tempted by food that is not allowed on your plan or you may not want to hear people commenting on what you eat. 

Being social with people is important for your health. When you feel like you can’t hang out with people in eating situations, you miss out on a major way that we as humans connect with each other. 

4. Diets don’t work

You know this. I know this. Unfortunately, the diet industry also knows this and uses this knowledge to rope people into purchasing another diet plan. The diet failure rate is somewhere between 80-95%, yet people talk about all of the diets that “worked” for them before. If it worked, why did the weight come back? 

Most people feel like the weight came back because they weren’t disciplined enough. When in reality, your body was protecting itself from starvation. Biology kicks in when you aren’t taking in enough calories. Hunger increases and metabolism slows down in order for your body to protect itself.

So if diets don’t work, should I just give up on trying to be healthy?

Of course you shouldn’t give up on being healthy, but you may need to be honest about what being healthy means to you. Healthy can mean normal blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, but it can also mean having energy, feeling good, and enjoying life. 

Goals you might want to consider instead of dieting include: 

  1. Eat a variety of all kinds of foods
  2. Learn to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness feelings
  3. Eat most meals and snacks without electronic distractions
  4. Plan to prepare most meals at home
  5. Plan to eat three meals a day
  6. Plan for and have snacks with you (so you don’t get too hungry)
  7. Do some movement that you enjoy
  8. Get at least 7 hours of sleep 
  9. Eat food that you like and try to enjoy it when you eat it

If you would like some help learning how to make peace with food and ending the diet cycle, contact me for nutrition counseling!

Diets, Weight Loss, and PCOS

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Most people I talk to who have PCOS are interested in losing weight. That is why they are looking to talk to a dietitian. They may have been told by a doctor to lose weight. They probably have tried many different diets to lose weight. 

I understand the desire to lose weight. We live in a culture where dieting and being a certain size or weight is seen as the answer to all of our mental and physical problems. People with PCOS are particularly vulnerable to these messages since weight is blamed as a root cause for PCOS and losing weight is seen as a solution. Many women in larger bodies who have trouble with fertility, even beyond PCOS, are told to lose weight. 

What’s the problem with dieting to lose weight? It doesn’t work 80-95% of the time. The biggest predictor of weight gain over time is dieting. You may say that a certain diet “worked” for you, but if you ended up gaining the weight back and more, how did this diet work for you? 

We also know that weight cycling or “yo-yo dieting” puts you at greater risk for heart disease and diabetes than if you had never lost the initial weight. Stress from body dissatisfaction, food restriction, overexercise, and weight stigma can also increase your risk for these metabolic conditions.

So if dieting is not the answer to improving PCOS symptoms, what is the answer?

The answer is learning how to be an intuitive eater. The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, have been around since 1995 and can help improve your health by learning how to listen to your body’s messages about what to eat and how much to eat. It is the answer to ending the diet cycle and making peace with food. Over 60 research studies have shown that Intuitive Eating helps people have lower rates of disordered eating including binge eating, increased well-being, improved blood sugar and cholesterol, reduced stress, and higher self esteem. Click here for a link to Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch’s website devoted to Intuitive eating.

With PCOS, you can learn how to eat intuitively, give yourself permission to eat all foods, and still work in some food strategies (gentle nutrition) to improve the metabolic and physical symptoms of PCOS. 

Learning to become an intuitive eater can take some time, especially if you have been dieting for a long time. Getting support can be crucial as you take this journey since you will still be bombarded by diet culture in your everyday life. However, the rewards to making peace with food are immense. You will learn to truly enjoy food, notice how your body adjusts your intake based on what it needs, and feel like you don’t have to spend so much time being worried about what to eat. And this huge reduction in stress alone can help your symptoms of PCOS. 

What are the Intuitive Eating Principles?

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
  2. Honor Your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Feel Your Fullness
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  7. Cope with Your Feelings Without Using Food
  8. Respect Your Body
  9. Exercise: Feel the Difference
  10. Honor Your Health: Gentle Nutrition

Will I lose weight if I eat intuitively? 

When you start to eat intuitively, you will either lose weight, have no weight change, or you may even gain weight. You have to fully nourish your body on a consistent basis before seeing if and how weight is impacted. Your body has a set point that it likes to be at and it is hard to know what your natural weight is before you let your body adjust with intuitive eating. The goal for learning to eat intuitively is not weight loss. The goal is to learn to trust your body to make food decisions without judgement. When you let your body be your guide, you will likely enjoy a large variety of foods and eat enough to satisfy your hunger without letting yourself get too uncomfortably hungry or full. 

That sounds great, but what if I still want to lose weight?

It’s okay that you still want to lose weight. Most people can not undo a lifetime of negative thoughts about weight with the “flip of a switch”. 

You can still start working on becoming an intuitive eater, even if you haven’t fully embraced it. This is a process, and for many people it’s a long process. Starting to work through the principles will likely benefit you. It’s not another diet where you have follow a set a rules. You can and probably should take baby steps.  

As you know, PCOS can impact your whole body including mental health. It affects you throughout your entire life, not just when you are trying to get pregnant. It’s best to think about improving your physical and mental health for the long term. Quick fixes (diets for weight loss) will not serve you in the long run if they are leaving you hungry, tired, bored, and stressed. 

If you would like some help with learning how intuitive eating can improve your PCOS symptoms, contact me to set up a time to talk and see if nutrition counseling is right for you!

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