How to battle PCOS weight with dietary changes
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a disorder that affects almost 1 in every 10 women. In this condition, the ovaries develop several small cysts resulting in an abnormality of hormones leading to all sorts of problems such as (but not limited to) acne, hirsutism, weight gain, hair loss, irregular menses, infertility, etc. Even though this condition is not life threatening, it is extremely traumatic for the patient.
I was diagnosed with a severe case of PCOS when I was in my early 20s. All throughout my childhood, I suffered from a severe inferiority complex leading from all the symptoms I mentioned above but nothing was more depressing that being grossly overweight. No matter how little I ate or how much I dieted, I could not shed off those kilos and was the butt of jokes everywhere.
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Research shows that it is increasingly difficult for women with PCOS to lose weight and to keep it off. In addition to our genetic predisposition to pile on the pounds, we have multiple hormone disorders to deal with. One of these is “insulin resistance.” Insulin is best known for its ability to store blood sugar or glucose into our cells. PCOS women with weight issues usually have higher insulin levels and tend to have a condition called “insulin resistance”. This means that the insulin in our bodies cannot work efficiently requiring very high levels of insulin to get blood sugar stored in our cells. This condition leads us to retain fat weight and is related with obesity and diabetes. Weight loss has been the major recommendation for women with PCOS. Research shows that even a 5% decrease in total body weight helps in reducing the insulin levels, increase fertility rates, reduce hirsutism and acne and lower testosterone levels.
After being diagnosed with this disorder, I started to read more and more about it and found that women with PCOS especially find it extremely hard to lose weight. We cannot lax even for a couple of meals – everything we consume seems to pile up in the form of fat.
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Every time I used to visit my gynae, I was bombarded with the same advice of eating healthy and losing weight. No one seemed to understand that I was trying to but nothing seemed to work.
Since this condition cannot be cured, I knew that sticking to those rigid diets (low carbs, atkins, raw diets etc. etc.) was not going to work. Every time I got off a diet, there was a chance that all the weight I had lost would come back with a vengeance. Also, the thought of sacrificing food (one of my loves :)) was scary.
After years of struggle, I finally managed to drop quite a few kilos and today I stand at a healthy BMI of 22.5. I have stood at this weight for more than 8 years now and fortunately, I don’t feel any pressure or cravings to go back to my earlier lifestyle. This blog will list some of the ways I have used to eat healthy – without sacrificing on the flavor or the quantity of food. I must add here that losing stubborn weight and more importantly, maintaining that ideal weight is a two pronged effort. Just eating healthy without any form of exercise will not produce desired results. Besides making dietary modifications, it is also imperative that we inculcate at least some form of activity in our daily regimen.
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Here are a few tips that women like me suffering from PCOS might find useful:
• First of all, being aware that everything that we put inside our mouth has calories. We spend so much of our time in the kitchen that we don’t even know how many calories we have consumed just while nibbling on things. I think awareness is the first step to battling weight.
• Just making small modifications to the meals/drinks you have in a day will help tremendously. I used to have 2 cups of tea a day. I have substituted a cup with a mug of green tea – not only is green tea immensely beneficial but I also save on the calories of the sugar in the tea!
• Replacing refined flours, breads, pasta with their less refined versions (whole wheat breads, multi grain breads, whole wheat pasta, multi grain flours, whole wheat cereals etc.). We are fortunate enough to be living in times where whole grain versions of our favorite foods are available. Not only has their flavor improved multifold in the last few years, but also the choices are wide and varied. I remember the time when just the thought of having brown rice for lunch or dinner used to ruin my appetite. It used to be so coarse and thick but there are brands available in the market today that taste so much similar to the regular rice but fill you up quickly and are really good for us.
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• Having as many natural ingredients as possible. Replacing processed carbs with wholesome ingredients and fresh fruits and veggies can help in reducing our insulin response. Good ways to increase veggies intake is pav bhaji (with as little oil or butter as possible), pasta (you can add as many veggies as you like and chances are no one will complain much), soups, salads, etc.
• I am fortunate enough to not have a huge sweet tooth but there are times, when only something sweet will do. Try replacing sugar with sugar substitutes. I personally don’t find any difference in taste, it does the job and saves me a bunch of calories throughout the day.
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• Also try having whole fruits instead of fruit juices. Canned fruit juices are a complete no for us since they contain insane amounts of sugars and preservatives that I think these do more harm than good. As much as possible, I try to eat fruits in their natural form and refrain from juicing them even at home. Most of us add sugars in our juices and that’s piling up calories unnecessarily. Another flaw in juicing a fruit is getting rid of all its fiber.
• Try using as little oil as possible. Just as an experiment, I cut down my use of oil by 2/3rds while preparing the usual meal of sabzi and dal and to my pleasant surprise, no one in my family complained about the taste at all. I just feel that we use way more oil and ghee than is actually required. Try using less and less everytime you prepare the dishes and I am sure it will not taste too different.
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• As with sugar, we can also replace the full fat butter with a healthier alternative. I avoid using butter too much but if it’s absolutely necessary, I opt for Nutralite rather than the regular butter. The one great thing about healthier alternatives is that they taste quite similar to the original versions.
• Replace full fat dairy products with skimmed versions. A cup of whole milk contains about 150 calories compared to 85 calories of the non fat milk. Apart for the taste (for some people who might like the richer, creamier flavor of whole milk), even the calcium content is similar in both. Just remember that especially for us with PCOS, every little bit helps!
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• There are a lot of recipes that call for cheese. You might leave it out completely but there are times, when you need to have cheese. For such times, I go for the low calorie cheese slices available in the market. I like Britannia’s Slimz Cheese Slices which have 33% less fat than regular cheeses.
• Do not fry veggies before preparing them in gravies. One of the most common ones I see is frying paneer before putting in the gravy. Not only are we consuming too many calories, frying robs the vegetables of their natural goodness as well.
• Frying is not a friend in our quest to lose weight. Instead, try sautéing, baking, roasting and other alternatives for frying. For e.g.: Instead of a regular deep fried bhatura to along my chhole, I cook the bhatura as I would a regular chapatti. To add flavor, I add dhaniya leaves, salt, red chilly powder to the dough and it actually tastes really good!
• One of the main ways we tend to pile up calories is by snacking. To quell those hunger pangs, opt for healthier, tastier alternatives such as making a bowl of soup. I feel light clear soups are the best ways to fill myself up until the main meal is served. Another word of caution is to stay far away as possible from creamy or heavy soups. They contain insane amounts of calories and fat. I prefer making my soups at home. They hardly take more than a few minutes and I know what’s going in them rather than having something from a packet or a can where I have absolutely no control over the ingredients. One of my favorites is a simple Chinese soup with the goodness of different vegetables. The best part, however is that is takes almost no time to make at all.
• Another trick to infuse more flavor in our food without adding on the calories in using veg/chicken stock. The thing that makes me stay motivated to my diet is if I know what I am eating is going to be tasty. I prefer to make my stocks at home. These are super simple to make and are absolutely delicious with almost no calories. A bowl of soup goes to a whole different level when you add a cup of stock instead of the regular water!
• Get rid of all biscuits, cookies, other snacks. These have no nutrition and contain too many calories. It is also very easy to have a whole packet of Kurkure’s without even realizing that you’ve just consumed more calories than your whole lunch/dinner! I follow the simple mantra: if I don’t see something in front of my eyes, I won’t be tempted to dig into it.
• For snacking purposes, keep nuts on hand. Again, be very discrete with how much you are consuming. A handful of nuts (8-10 pcs, either raw or slightly roasted) are great to tie one up before the meal. They are really filling and very good for you. I like almonds as they are considered to be the natural fat burning food. Not only are they good for skin and hair, but are also amazing in fighting cholesterol and for brain development. Even though nuts are great for us, they contain high amounts of calories so no more than 8-10 a day!
• Another tip is the choice of cookware. A non stick pan is great for cooking everyday meals. It uses very little oil inspite of which there’s no risk of burning your food. I have noticed that my use of cooking fat has reduced drastically ever since I switched to non stick cookware!
• This list can go on and on but I think to wrap it up here, the most important way to cut down those calories is to reduce the number of times you eat out. Every time, I come back from a restaurant, I feel extremely guilty that all my hard work of the week has gone down the drain due to one meal laden in oil, butter, cream and not so good for you ingredients. Having said that, once in a while, we do need to go out for a change. For those times, I would suggest choosing healthier dishes from the menu. A plain tandoori roti is a much better option than choosing a butter naan. Similarly avoid dishes with “butter” or “makhani” in them! I normally order a salad (not the creamy ones though) before my main meal so that I don’t consume too much of that gravy or bread. In a lot of restaurants today, you can actually ask the waiters to suggest low fat or low oil recipes or even modify the recipes according to your preference.
I hope some of these tips help you stay motivated to lose all that weight without having to resort to strict, tasteless diets. Not only for us who have PCOS but for all women who are in charge of the kitchens at home, I feel it’s our duty to make sure our families are eating healthy. Incorporating a few dietary changes goes a long way in ensuring a much healthier lifestyle.