Does Losing Weight Help PCOS?

One in every 10 women of child-bearing age is likely to be affected by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). When a condition is that common, we would expect to have a lot of information around it. However, the reason behind the occurrence of PCOS in women is still only speculative. A clear relationship has been observed between weight gain and PCOS. One of the most common complaints received from women with PCOS is about their difficulty with losing weight. There are a lot of theories that explain why particular symptoms of PCOS can arise.

One theory that can help explain weight gain because of PCOS points towards insulin resistance as the root of the condition. Insulin helps in the conversion of starch and sugar into energy which further gets used by the body. When the body becomes insulin resistant, this act of conversion does not happen and the sugar levels in the bloodstream increase, thereby making the patient prediabetic. As insulin is a growth hormone, its production in high quantities in an attempt to tackle sugar in a body that is resistant to insulin can lead to rapid weight gain.

High insulin levels are further known to increase the synthesis of male sex hormones known as androgens. Generally, female reproductive systems produce androgens in low quantities. However, when the quantity of these hormones increases, the symptoms of increased body weight, increased facial hair growth, irregularity in periods and acne may be observed. Since the weight gain can be triggered by androgen, the male sex hormone, the weight gain typically is noticed in the abdomen area.

Given that weight gain is one of the major symptoms of PCOS and shedding weight becomes difficult with this condition, one major question that comes up is “does losing weight help PCOS?”

Diet and exercise are suggested to help a multitude of conditions. However, in the case of a condition like PCOS, which majorly affects the hormones to a great extent, a different approach may be required. To understand if losing weight can help with PCOS, it is important to understand the relation between, weight and diet, insulin resistance, and PCOS.

One of the major factors that contribute to the process of weight loss is the management of diet. A partnership between the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), the Centre for Research Excellence in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (CREPCOS) in Australia, and American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) gave rise to a set of guidelines on the assessment and management of PCOS on the basis of a large amount of evidence.

While it has been found that avoiding particular types of food and trying out different types of special diets do not have any specific effect on weight loss, maintaining a properly-balanced diet and consuming foods that are deemed healthy in general could improve the symptoms caused by PCOS significantly. A balanced diet is one that would include oils; proteins such as eggs, seafood, poultry, and lean meats; grains (particularly whole grains); fruits; different types of vegetables; legumes such as peas and beans; and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

Some scientifically proven weight loss plans have little chance of helping women reduce weight despite PCOS. Please consult your dietician and figure out the best weight loss plan for you. The following three are common weight loss plans:

  • Paleo diet
    Studies indicate that the people executing the paleo diet plan consume 300-900 calories less per day and eat fewer carbs and more protein. This diet plan focuses on consuming whole food, lean protein, vegetables, nuts, and seeds while discouraging processed food, sugar, dairy, and grains.
  • Vegan diet
    A vegan diet plan makes you feel fuller for longer since it has low fat and high fiber content. People who follow this diet are required to eliminate the consumption of all animal products, especially meat. One is also required to strictly refrain from dairy products, eggs, and animal-derived products like honey, whey, gelatin, and some form of vitamin D3. 
  • Low-carb diet
    People following a low-carb diet are allowed to consume a large amount of protein and fat; however, their carbohydrate intake has to be cut down severely. The extra fats collected during this diet are used as the main source of energy. Studies indicate that a low-carb diet is extremely helpful for reducing belly fat, especially in overweight and obese individuals. 

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The logic behind a balanced diet being helpful to improve the symptoms of PCOS arises from the deduction that a balanced diet would include foods with a low glycemic index (GI). Low GI foods are generally high in fiber and take a longer time to digest. Some examples of low GI foods include bulgur wheat, lentils, quinoa, beans, whole-grain bread, and rolled oats. As these take a longer time to digest, they would raise the blood sugar levels at a slower pace, thereby allowing the insulin in the body to function more effectively. Another theory suggests that including these types of food in one’s diet can also help in calming down any kind of systemic inflammation. While inflammation, in general, is a natural immune reaction, inflammation in its chronic state can cause the ovaries to produce high quantities of androgens.

While clearly there is no one type of low-GI or anti-inflammatory diet that people with PCOS can follow, it has been found through the reproductive outcomes as seen in patients with PCOS that cutting trans fat and eating more plant-based sources of protein, low GI carbs, or fatty fish such as salmon could help in fighting inflammation which further would work towards alleviate PCOS symptoms.

Another major contributor to weight loss is exercise. It has been observed by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) that working out helps in increasing the response of the cells in the body to insulin. Based on the evidence-based guidelines and the American Heart Association, every adult can include a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise every single week. Some examples of moderate exercises could include yoga, brisk walking, tennis, golf, hiking, and even low-impact aerobics. If the intensity of the workouts is to be increased, workouts such as high-impact aerobics, mountain climbing, and running for at least 75 minutes should be included every week. A combination of moderate and high-impact workouts can also be planned. In any of the workouts planned, muscle-strengthening exercises should be included either on alternative days of a week or twice a week.

Losing weight safely is capable of making the cells in one’s body more sensitive to insulin, thereby helping with PCOS. This can help in relieving the symptoms of PCOS to a certain extent. However, it should be considered that each one’s metabolism differs from one another. Eating healthy and exercising may or may not always help in weight loss for every person suffering from PCOS. So, can losing weight help with PCOS? This is dependant on so many other factors such as medication, sleep, stress, and any other medical conditions that the individual might be suffering from. While the answer to how does weight loss help PCOS is known to an extent, losing weight should be planned only after a thorough consideration of all the factors faced by the individual and thorough consultation with a doctor.

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