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.

Diets, Weight Loss, and PCOS

finding peace and freedom from dieting
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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!