10 Tips for Managing PCOS Hunger

We all are born with natural hunger/fullness feelings
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One of the symptoms of having insulin resistance and excess insulin production for people with PCOS is often intense hunger! This can be because insulin is a storage hormone and having more insulin in your blood triggers your body to crave more food to store. Also, a huge side effect of restricting your calories and/or your carbohydrate intake is strong, biological hunger. Since so many people with PCOS have tried a lot of diets, this kind of hunger is really common.

Here are 10 tips to help manage both the hunger that comes from dieting and restricting food AND the hunger that happens as a result of excess insulin production in PCOS. If you have questions about carbohydrates, protein, and fat, check out this link to my blog on Nutrition Basics: Macronutrients.

1. Plan to Eat 3 Times per Day 

If you fuel your body at regular intervals around the same time each day, you can get into a pattern of eating when you are just starting to get hungry and stop before you are uncomfortably full. You body can learn to expect meals and snacks at certain times and you may find you get hungry around those times. Most importantly, eating frequently (without skipping meals) prevents you from becoming too hungry at later meals. Getting too hungry can lead to overeating or binge eating. See my blog Start with Eating Three Time a Day.

2. Have Protein with Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are broken down to glucose which all of our cells use for energy and are digested relatively quickly. Protein helps our body with growth and repair and digests more slowly than carbohydrates. People feel most satisfied with meals and snacks when they combine carbohydrates with protein because you get the quick energy from the carbohydrates and feeling of fullness that protein provides.

3. Plan for Snacks

Most people feel best when they eat something every 3-5 hours they are awake. Having snacks can be a way to make sure that you don’t get too hungry before a meal. When you get too hungry, it can lead to overeating or binging. Snacks are most effective when you plan for them, so try packing them for when you are out of the house and keep healthy snack options available for when you are at home.  

4. Increase your Fiber Intake

Fiber is found in plants and provides bulk to foods. This bulk can take up a lot of space in our stomach and provide feelings of fullness. Our bodies break down fiber but we do not absorb it. This can help keep your bowel movements regular, bind to fat and cholesterol which can reduce blood cholesterol levels, and promote the health of “good” gut bacteria. Good sources include fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, and whole grains. 

5. Decrease Refined Carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates are foods or drinks made primarily from white flour or sugar without much fiber, healthy fat, or protein. These foods digest very quickly which can cause blood sugar to spike and then drop quickly. This “drop” can lead to rebound hunger soon after you eat since the increase in blood sugar causes your body to produce a lot of insulin. When you eat or drink something that is high in refined carbohydrates, you can try having a small portion, have it as part of a meal with protein, and/or go for a walk after eating to help bring blood sugar down. 

6. Add Heart Healthy Fats to Meals and Snacks

Adding unsaturated fats such as avocado, olive oil, nuts, nut butter, seeds, or fish to meals and snacks can contribute to feelings of fullness and satisfaction. Unsaturated fats will not spike blood sugar or insulin the same way that carbohydrates alone can. Swapping these unsaturated fats for saturated or trans fats (like butter, fried foods, processed meats, or cheese) can help improve your cholesterol numbers too. 

7. Drink Plenty of Low Sugar Fluids

When we are not properly hydrated, our body can sometimes mistake hunger for thirst. Aim to drink around 64 ounces of water, tea, coffee, milk/non-dairy milk, or sparkling water each day. If you drink non-dairy milk, choose ones with the least amount of sugar (unsweetened is best). You don’t need to drink more than 24 ounces of any milk per day. Limiting caffeine to the morning can help make sure you get enough sleep. The best way to tell if you are hydrated is if your urine is a pale yellow color. 

8. Eat Slowly and Mindfully

Our brains take around 20 minutes to register fullness after we eat. Sometimes if we eat too quickly, we end up eating past the point of being comfortably full. This can sometimes happen if we let ourselves get too hungry. We also tend to eat more food if we are distracted by phones, computers, or TV. Eating slowly and without distractions is the best way to pay attention to our natural hunger and fullness cues and to tell if you have eaten the right amount of food you need at that time.   

9. Get Enough Sleep

Getting at least 7 hours of sleep at night can help reduce feelings of hunger and cravings the next day. Our bodies will often crave more food when we are tired as a way to “wake up” or  get that burst of energy that (especially refined carbs) foods can provide. 

10. Work on Stress Management and Emotional Eating

While all people eat for emotional reasons at times, if you find that you are leaning on food to manage stress or difficult feelings often, you may want to work on other strategies for managing stress. Look for other activities you can do that can provide the same feelings of calm and wellbeing that eating does. This can be talking to a friend or family member, reading, watching TV, going for a walk, taking a bath, or writing in a journal. If you need help with managing emotions and stress, consider meeting with a therapist for more support.

If you would like more help dealing with PCOS hunger or other PCOS related symptoms, click here to contact me about nutrition counseling.

The Best Diet for PCOS

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Because everyone’s situation with PCOS is different, there is not one perfect way of eating that is right for everyone. However, your PCOS symptoms can and will improve with changes to your lifestyle, including how you eat. 

As I’ve mentioned before, the majority of people with PCOS have insulin resistance. It is this insulin resistance that causes ovaries to make more androgens and can lead to weight gain. Doing what you can to reduce insulin resistance can help improve your PCOS symptoms, which is why I’m saying that eating a diet to lower insulin resistance is the best diet for PCOS. Here are some strategies: 

  1. Eat carbohydrates with protein. It’s even better to add fiber and healthy fat! Simple carbs on their own raise blood sugar really quickly. Protein, fiber, and healthy fat don’t raise blood sugar as much and will slow down how quickly the sugar from the carbs hits your bloodstream. When blood sugar spikes, your body makes more insulin which can lead to weight gain and cause your ovaries to make more androgens. Check out this blog post for a review of carbs, protein, and fat: Nutrition Basics: Macronutrients
  2. Add more non-starchy veggies to each meal. Non-starchy veggies are low in calories and carbohydrates so your blood sugar will not be affected much by them. They are also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Some tips – buy convenience vegetables. Frozen veggies are just as good as fresh and just need to be microwaved, which is the best way to preserve vitamins since it’s a fast cooking method. Also consider buying pre-washed and chopped veggies or salads that you can throw on your plate, in a salad, on a sandwich, or in a wrap.
  3. This may sound redundant, but add foods that are high in fiber to your meals and snacks. This includes veggies, but also fruit, beans, and whole grains. High fiber foods digest slower and are more filling, which is helpful if you find that you are hungry a lot.
  4. Choose unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats most of the time. Eating foods high in saturated fat can cause an increase in insulin resistance, even shortly after eating a fatty meal. Unsaturated fats can actually help improve insulin resistance.
  5. Limit sugary drinks. This includes juice, drinks with honey, and sugary coffee drinks. Liquid sugar makes our blood sugar spike the fastest since our body does not have to break down the food to be absorbed. The sugar hits your blood quickly. My suggestion is to save your sugar for desserts instead of drinks.
  6. And the final tip of the day – work in those treat foods. That’s right. Don’t aim to eat a perfect diet all of the time because you are very likely going to feel deprived if you never eat sweets or chips again. You are much better off allowing yourself to eat these foods when you really want them so that you won’t feel the need to eat a lot of them all at once when you “fall off” your diet plan.

Changing what you eat is not the only way to improve insulin resistance. Stay tuned for more ways to improve insulin resistance with other lifestyle changes.

Click on PCOS nutrition counseling to learn more about working with me for individual nutrition counseling!

Just Tell Me What To Eat

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I get it, I get it. We are so busy with all of the obligations we have, whether it’s work, kids, chores, traffic, school, or all of the above. Sometimes it feels like, as women, we have more demands on our time and more pressure on ourselves than ever before.

So you have PCOS, and you just want someone to tell you what to do because you don’t have room in your brain to make more decisions. Perhaps you’ve done some research online, but found confusing, contradictory information. You tried to follow diets but you didn’t like the food, you missed out on your favorite foods, or it was too complicated. Maybe you tried a diet for PCOS, but you didn’t lose weight, or you lost weight and regained it. Perhaps you feel like you failed or you didn’t have the discipline to do what you “needed” to do.

You are not alone. There is a reason why there is a diet industry with new diets to try every year⁠—there is no one diet that is the answer for long term health and weight loss. If there was, everyone would follow it and the diet industry would disappear.

The problem isn’t you, it’s the diets.

If someone just tells you what to eat, there’s a good chance you won’t like everything in the plan or someone in your family won’t want to eat it. Some plans might tell you to eat complicated meals that you don’t know how to prepare, or food that is too boring, or meals that leave you hungry or too full after you eat it. The problem with someone telling you exactly what to eat is that it doesn’t take into account your unique preferences and lifestyle. And if you don’t like the food or feel deprived, you are not going to stick with it.

So what’s a busy lady with PCOS supposed to do?

First take a deep breath. To use a cliche, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Making lasting changes to your lifestyle takes time. We can’t just flip a switch and suddenly do everything differently for the rest of our lives. When making changes to how you eat and your relationship with food, it’s best to go slowly and just make a few changes at a time.

The first step is to get off of the diet train. Diets are often damaging psychologically and physically, especially if you have PCOS, because they teach you not to trust your body’s hunger and fullness feelings. We feel our best when we listen to our bodies. Listening to and trusting your body can take practice if you are not used to it.

Here are a few other tips to get you on the right track to improve your PCOS symptoms. While there is no PCOS-specific diet, you can improve your symptoms by making some changes to how and what you eat. I recommend that you start with one or two goals and then add a new goal only after you feel comfortable with previous changes.

  • Eat something with carbohydrates and protein every 3-5 hours you are awake. Click here for snack ideas.
  • Try to make half of your plate fruits and especially vegetables at lunch and dinner. (Bonus if you can do breakfast, too!)
  • Limit regular consumption of sugary drinks since they cause your insulin to spike, make symptoms worse, and lead to sugar crashes.
  • Work in some splurge foods so you don’t feel deprived.
  • Start paying attention to how hungry and full you are.
  • Start working in some movement that you enjoy, regularly.

In future blogs, I will share more ways to help manage your PCOS symptoms, improve fertility and your overall health with nutrition and lifestyle changes.

If you would like to work with me for individual nutrition counseling, I would love to help you!

Click here to contact me.