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Is improper treatment of PCOS causing your eating disorder?

Woman with her head down and holding her legs

Have you been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and warned by your doctor to lose weight but not instructed how?

Are you feeling hopeless about your PCOS diagnosis and symptoms?

Has your PCOS caused you to feel lethargic, depressed and experience painful periods?

Did your doctor provide any proof or evidence that PCOS is successfully managed by weight loss?

Do you fear you have developed an eating disorder (such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge/emotional eating) triggered by dieting to control your PCOS?

If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, most doctors will instruct you to lose weight, despite the lack of any evidence that weight loss eases symptoms.  

If you are also a person who emotionally eats (i.e. when you are stressed, upset or tired), this order can add to feelings of shame you may already carry with you about not being able to “control” your eating.

PCOS can cause alarming fluctuations in weight, which can lead a person to try “crash” diets to drop the excess pounds.  The condition is typically diagnosed at age 25-30 or older.  The symptoms can include difficulty getting pregnant, unwanted hair growth, debilitating fatigue.

This shame can lead to a restrict/binge cycle (dieting and falling of the diet) that actually can do more damage to your metabolism and can cause irregular weight distribution (especially around the stomach).  Even worse, the pressure to lose weight can lead a person with PCOS to develop an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or compulsive overeating.

The reverse situation can also be true!  As mirror-mirror.org reports: “ Often times, a patient will begin eating disorder treatment and it isn’t until then that the PCOS is recognized.  This can happen various ways… as a patient describes the development of the disordered eating, it becomes clear that the change in eating began in response to a mysterious weight change irrelevant of unchanging eating or exercise patterns.”

In fact, a recent international survey of over 1,300 women with PCOS showed that 50% of women saw three or more health professionals or waited for more than two years before receiving a PCOS diagnosis!

A pattern of yo-yo dieting can make PCOS symptoms worse by creating more circulating insulin in your body, causing your periods more painful and your weight to fluctuate.

Many women who are diagnosed with PCOS feel they have been given a life sentence of dealing with acne, unwanted weight gain, excessive hair growth or loss, endless cravings for carbohydrates and sweets.  Add to this fears around being able to get pregnant, poor body image, and fluctuations in mood and it can seem like a hopeless situation.

Women diagnosed with PCOS are more likely to experience mental health issues, both as result of genetics and stigma around the illness.  The Columbia School of Nursing notes: “We were surprised to find that menstrual abnormalities in women with PCOS was the strongest predictor for mental health issues, particularly when there are so many other symptoms - like beard growth and infertility- that can make a woman feel unfeminine… The study finds that we can’t treat PCOS effectively unless we pay close attention to any signs of mental distress.”

Table full of junk food

What if there was a better way to manage PCOS and it didn’t involve dieting?

By practicing an intuitive eating approach you can ease your PCOS symptoms, stop dieting forever, and end weight fluctuations.  On top of that, practicing intuitive eating and joyful movement can improve your sense of well-being, help you enjoy food and soothe negative feelings about body image.  

It can improve your periods and may increase your chances of getting pregnant with your diagnosis.  

An added plus is that intuitive eating can help prevent diabetes and heal eating disorders.

Unfortunately many well meaning doctors and medical professionals are not on board with the non-diet approach for treating PCOS, even though there is a severe lack of evidence that diets help PCOS. 

You may have to be proactive in finding medical professionals who support a non-diet approach and avoid weight stigma, but it will be well worth it.

It is also essential to work with a licensed dietitian who uses an intuitive eating approach to help symptoms of PCOS.  

You may experience resistance inside yourself about quitting diets.  

This is completely natural given we live in an eating disordered society that shames us for being fat and gaining weight.  Every other commercial seems to promote compulsive exercise routines and extreme diets, both of which are likely to magnify your PCOS symptoms.

Three woman laughing together

When these feelings of resistance arise in you, it may help to also work with a therapist with experience treating eating and body image disorders, so you can let go of all of those painful messages and get to a place of peace about food and your body.

A diagnosis of PCOS does not need to resign you to a life of  physical discomfort and hopelessness.  Our team of therapists and dietitians are specifically trained to help you manage your PCOS through intuitive eating, joyful movement, and support for anxiety and depression.

We can also support you to speak up to your doctors about the non-diet approach and find a team that does not shame you about your weight.  Receiving the diagnosis is enough, you don’t need to be judged and shamed by the people who are supposed to help you!

Contact us about more information regarding your PCOS treatment and your eating habits by calling us at 904-737-3232!

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