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.

Can I Blame PCOS on My Lack of Energy?

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Yes! Assigning blame can be satisfying, right? Now before you hit the couch for the foreseeable future, let’s dive into how PCOS affects energy and more importantly, what can you do about it.

Not enough quality sleep

When people say they are tired all the time, the first thing I ask about is their sleep habits. Quality sleep not only makes you feel better, but also helps your metabolism function better, improves your blood sugar, prevents weight gain and food cravings, and makes your immune system stronger. So basically it helps with a lot of common PCOS problems. You may not be getting enough sleep or your sleep may be interrupted by obstructive sleep apnea or anxiety. If you suspect that you have sleep apnea (which is more common in people with PCOS), talk to your doctor about getting a sleep study. You can also talk to a doctor or therapist about managing anxiety which is also more common in those with PCOS.

A lot of people need to work on making sleep a priority. We need 7-9 hours per night. And sleep quality will improve if you turn your phone on silent and turn off the TV.

Insulin resistance

When insulin is not sticking to cells like it should and blood sugar has trouble getting into your cells, a few things happen that can make you tired. You body makes more insulin and your cells aren’t getting the energy they need to function well. If your body makes extra insulin, that can lead to a low blood sugar or “sugar crash” which can cause you to feel exhausted.

Eating meals and snacks with a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber can help keep blood sugar even throughout the day. This can help prevent ups and downs and also will slow down your body’s insulin production. Even blood sugar and less insulin can make you feel less tired.

Not enough movement

Moving your body each day can help insulin work better (improve insulin resistance), and blood sugar can get into the cells during exercise even without insulin. Adding more movement can help keep blood sugar even throughout the day. Exercise gets the heart pumping and this can “wake you up” and also help channel some anxiety to help your relax better later. A lot of people report sleeping better on days when they exercise. (Sleep better=more energy)

Any movement is good movement. If you are able to sneak in a few 10 minutes walks per day, that is awesome. Lunch time is a great time to walk since it can help prevent the afternoon slump. Do exercise that you like so that you will actually keep doing it!

Low levels of Vitamin D, Iron, or Vitamin B12

If you are deficient in any of these nutrients, your energy level is likely to suffer. You can always ask your doctor to check lab values if you suspect you have a deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency is very common with people with PCOS. You can safely add a supplement of 1000 iu or look for a multivitamin with 1000 iu.

Iron deficiency is most common in pre-menopausal women especially those that are pregnant or have heavy menstrual cycles. It is also common in people who drink a lot of milk, eat a vegetarian diet, have celiac disease, or a history of bariatric surgery. If you are deficient and having trouble tolerating the supplement, talk to your doctor or dietitian to help you find a supplement that works for you.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common in people who take the drug Metformin or acid reducing medications or in people who follow a vegan diet or who have had bariatric surgery. You can safely add a 1000 mcg supplement of Vitamin B12.

Depression

People with PCOS are more likely to suffer from depression than most people, and depression causes a serious lack of energy. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional for help managing depression.

Hypothyroid

People with PCOS may suffer from an underactive thyroid, which can cause low energy levels. Talk to your doctor about having a full thyroid panel done if you suspect you have an underactive thyroid.

Bottom line – Yes PCOS can zap your energy! But, there are things that you can do to help improve your energy and feel better. I strongly recommend talking to your doctor about energy levels since you may need to have some blood work done.

Interested in getting some individual nutrition counseling to manage your PCOS symptoms? Click here to contact me for a discovery call.