Tips for How to Lose Weight with PCOS

Medically Reviewed By Ami Patel PharmD, BCPS
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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) involves insulin resistance, inflammation, and hormone imbalances. It can be difficult to lose weight due to various factors, but it’s not impossible. Dietary and lifestyle changes can aid in weight loss.

Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. This article uses the terms “female” and/or “male” to refer to sex that was assigned at birth. 

Learn more about the difference between sex and gender here.

PCOS is also known as polycystic ovarian syndrome. It affects around 1 in 10 people who were assigned female at birth and who are between the ages of 15 and 44. There are many factors that cause PCOS, making it difficult to lose weight.

However, even a weight loss of just 10% of your body weight can help relieve some symptoms. It may help with insulin resistance, menstrual cycles, and hormone levels. Not everyone with PCOS will be able to lose weight using the same methods. However, certain changes to what you eat and other lifestyle changes may help you begin your journey to weight loss. Keep in mind, however, PCOS is a lifelong condition, therefore it is important to make lifestyle changes that can be maintained.

Read on for tips on how to lose weight with PCOS.

Try not to undereat

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For many who desire to lose weight, the first thing that comes to mind is restricting your caloric intake. However, this may not always be an effective way to lose weight with PCOS.

It is possible that long-term caloric restriction can actually slow your metabolism. It may be effective for short-term weight loss. However, long-term caloric restriction can cause your metabolism to adapt to the restriction and actually burn fewer calories. It can also add stress to your body. This can lead to weight gain.

Eating regular meals that are healthy and balanced may be more effective in long-term weight loss than greatly restricting calories. One study in 2018 showed that diets low in fats or carbohydrates may also be more effective for weight loss. This is because diets low in carbohydrates can improve insulin resistance, leading to weight loss.

Skipping meals can also have a counter effect on weight loss. This can cause you to eat more later in the day. Eating smaller meals regularly throughout the day may be more effective for weight loss.

Read more about PCOS.

Reduce your carb intake

Reducing your carbohydrate, or carb, intake may help manage certain symptoms of PCOS. This may be due to the way carbs impact insulin levels.

According to a 2016 study, approximately 70% of females with PCOS are insulin resistant. This is believed to play a role in weight gain for many people. This can include those with PCOS.

Reducing your carbohydrate intake and replacing them with poly and mono unsaturated fats may help manage your insulin resistance, according to a 2017 study. Managing your insulin resistance can, in turn, help with weight loss.

Not all low carb approaches are the same. A reduction of carbs that works for one person may not work the same for someone else. Some examples of low carb approaches include:

  • Very low carbohydrate: less than 10% carbohydrates
  • Low carbohydrate: less than 26% carbohydrates
  • Moderate carbohydrate: 26%–44% carbohydrates

A high level of carbohydrates may be more than 45% per day.

Read more about a low carb diet.

Eat plenty of fiber

According to a 2017 study, the recommended fiber intake for adults in the United States is between 25–35 grams (g) per day. However, the study also states that only around 3% of U.S. adults actually consume that much fiber. Most consume far less than the recommended amount.

Increasing the amount of fiber you eat is important because fiber intake is generally inversely related to:

  • weight
  • cardiovascular disease risk factors
  • certain cancers
  • type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases

Fiber can also make you feel fuller for longer. This then makes you feel like you do not need to eat as much during the day. Vegetables are one of the best sources of fiber.

Read more about high fiber foods.

Be sure to eat enough protein and non-starchy vegetables

There is evidence to show that higher protein diets have been successful in preventing and treating obesity. A diet that is higher in protein than in carbohydrates may also be useful for weight loss in those with PCOS.

A small 6-month study in 2012 showed that a high protein diet may be more effective in the weight loss of females with PCOS than a standard protein diet. In study participants, it was found that those eating a high protein diet showed a greater loss of weight and waist circumference than those eating a standard protein diet.

Protein can also help you to feel fuller between meals. It can help curb cravings throughout the day as well.

The word “diet” can have many meanings. This article uses the term “diet” to refer to an eating lifestyle rather than a temporary change in how you eat.

Limit processed foods and added sugars

Eating highly processed foods can cause weight gain. To lose weight or maintain a moderate weight, it is important for you to eat a healthy and balanced diet.

A healthy and balanced diet includes:

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • whole grains
  • healthy, unsaturated fats
  • lean meats
  • poultry
  • fish
  • beans
  • eggs
  • nuts
  • complex carbs

A healthy and balanced diet limits:

  • highly processed foods
  • saturated and trans fats
  • sodium
  • added sugars

Learning and maintaining healthy eating habits can help you lose weight and maintain it afterward. It can also act as an anti-inflammatory, helping to reduce inflammation in your body.

Practice mindful eating

Mindful eating is a way to approach food that focuses on your sensual awareness of food and your experience of it. It has little to do with carbohydrates, calories, and fat. Mindful eating encourages you to purposely pay attention to the food you are eating, moment by moment, without judgment.

The goal of mindful eating is not necessarily to lose weight, though this is often a side effect of the practice. Mindful eating has the intention of helping you to savor the moments of eating and the food you are consuming. It also encourages you to be fully present in the moment as you eat. This can help to prevent overeating and lead you to feel satisfied with your meals. It can also reduce sugar cravings, which is a common symptom of insulin resistance.

Get regular exercise

Regular exercise and physical activity can not only help you to lose weight, but they can also increase your overall health. Finding the time in your day to be physically active is an important part of weight loss, stress reduction, and mental and physical health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that adults need to get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week on average. This may seem like a lot. However, 150 minutes per week equals only around 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. You can spread those 150 minutes out during the week however works best for you. The important thing is you are getting that physical activity.

Read about 12 exercises for weight loss.

Get your thyroid checked

PCOS and thyroid disorders are the most common endocrine disorders in the general population. Hypothyroidism and PCOS share many of the same features. It has also been shown that there is an increasing relationship between the two conditions. Thyroid disorders appear to be more common in females with PCOS than in those in the general population.

If you have PCOS and are finding it difficult to lose weight, ask your doctor about checking your thyroid levels. Sometimes, getting treatment for a thyroid condition can help jump-start your weight loss.

Read more about hypothyroidism.

Summary

Excess weight is a symptom of PCOS. There are many factors that contribute to PCOS, such as insulin resistance, inflammation, and hormone imbalances. Due to the complexity of the condition, sometimes weight loss tips that work for others may not work for someone with PCOS.

You may have to try multiple things or combinations of things in order to lose weight. It is important to find what works best for you and your individual needs. Weight loss cannot cure PCOS. However, even a 10% drop in weight can help to improve many of the symptoms you may experience. PCOS is a lifelong condition. However, if you make sustainable lifestyle modifications, underlying factors such as insulin resistance and inflammation can be improved.

Making changes to your diet, the way you eat, and your physical activity can have a positive effect on your weight and overall health.

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Medical Reviewer: Ami Patel PharmD, BCPS
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 22
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