Best Nutrition for PCOS Patients Wanting to Lose Weight

Kim Yawitz, RDN

Best Nutrition for PCOS Patients Wanting to Lose Weight

If you’re curious about the best nutrition for people with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) wanting to lose weight, you’re not alone!

By some estimates, up to 88% of women with PCOS have overweight or obesity.

Losing even a few pounds can help improve PCOS symptoms and lower your risk for chronic health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

But unfortunately, many PCOS patients report struggling to lose weight.

In this post, we’ll give you some evidence-based diet strategies that could help you shed some pounds and keep them off.

What’s the Best Nutrition Plan for PCOS Patients Wanting to Lose Weight?

For PCOS patients wanting to lose weight, the best nutrition plan is a nutrient-rich diet you can follow long-term without feeling deprived.

Contrary to online testimonials claiming that certain diets (like keto or Paleo) can melt away fat and cure PCOS symptoms, no specific diet has been scientifically proven to be the best weight loss plan for PCOS.

A diet is only effective if you can stick with it, and many of the popular diets that have gained traction with PCOS patients are so restrictive that they’re nearly impossible to follow forever. This makes it more likely to regain any weight that was lost, and it also means that any symptoms that improved as a result of your weight loss are likely to return.  

So what is the best nutrition plan for PCOS patients wanting to lose weight?

Most women with PCOS can lose weight by implementing a few simple but evidence-based daily nutrition habits.

Here are a few habits we recommend adopting.

Eat Fewer Calories

To lose weight, you need to consistently eat fewer calories than you burn - essentially this is creating a calorie deficit. 

That can feel easier said than done, but we have a few simple methods to help reduce your calorie intake.

  1. Eat more lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and less processed foods - these typically have fewer calories while providing more healthy nutrients. 
  2. Swap some complex carbohydrates and whole grains for your starch. They have more fiber and nutrients and tend to be more satisfying, even in smaller portions.
  3. Reduce your intake of high-fat foods and high-fat cooking methods, which can be a source of significant calories. Examples include creamy soups and sauces, breaded and fried foods, fatty meat (red meat, salami, skin-on poultry), cheese in large quantities, and butter or cream based dishes. 
  4. Pay attention to your portions. Start with a small 7” dinner plate and fill it up with 50% vegetables, 25% protein, and 25% carbohydrates. We refer to this as the Balanced Plate Method. 
  5. Practice mindful snacking. Have healthy snacks conveniently available (an apple, a pack of almonds, a cheese stick), and portion your snack from the start. It’s much easier to eat too many chips out of a large bag than a small one. 
  6. Reduce your beverage calories. Beverages typically don’t satisfy hunger the way solid food does, which makes it very easy to consume a lot of calories without noticing. Replace sodas and juices with seltzers, tea, and water infusions; instead of having a smoothie or green juice, have a salad or a piece of fruit.

These changes shouldn’t leave you feeling deprived or hungry, and they make a big impact over time. Because these changes aren’t extreme, weight loss will be slower and steady, which has been shown to promote sustained long-term weight loss.

Keep Your Blood Sugar Steady

Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. It allows sugar in the bloodstream to enter the body’s cells to be utilized for energy.

Lots of women with PCOS are less sensitive to the effects of insulin. In people who have this condition (which is called insulin resistance), the pancreas compensates by making more and more insulin.

Avoiding insulin spikes may help with some of the PCOS symptoms if you have insulin resistance. And the best way to keep your insulin levels in check is to keep your blood sugar within normal range.

Let’s talk about how to do that.

Limit Added Sugar

Sugary foods and drinks increase blood glucose levels more rapidly than other foods, which only leads to more insulin production.

Limiting added sugars will help keep your blood sugar and insulin levels under control (and cut out some low-nutrient calories in the process!).

You can find out how much sugar is in packaged foods by looking at added sugars on the food labels. It’s also safe to assume that most baked goods contain sugar, so it’s best to save those for special occasions.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 6% of your daily calories, or about 25 grams per day, for the average female, for weight loss and optimal health.

Keep Your Carb Intake Consistent

Just as sugary foods can lead to blood sugar spikes, so can eating lots of carbs in one sitting — even if they’re healthy carbs like fruit and whole grains.

This might happen if, for example, you avoid carbs all day only to indulge in all-you-can-eat pasta and breadsticks at dinner.

Or, if you eat two donuts for breakfast and then stick to protein and fat for the rest of your meals.

Spreading your carb intake evenly throughout the day facilitates weight loss by keeping your blood sugar and insulin levels steady.

A good rule of thumb is to stick with a small-to-moderate portion (or about 1 cup or 1 fistful) of complex carbohydrates at each meal, rather than eating large portions of carbs sporadically throughout the day.

Fill Up on Fiber

Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that passes through your digestive tract mostly undigested.

Unlike sugary carbs, fiber has a stabilizing effect on blood sugar and insulin levels.  

It’s also more filling than other types of carbs, so adding more of it to your diet can help you to eat less food overall.

If you’re like most women with PCOS, you probably aren’t getting the recommended 25 grams per day!

You can boost your fiber intake by eating more beans, sweet potato, whole grains, fruit, artichokes, avocado, oats, almonds, and other fiber-rich foods.

Eat Protein at Every Meal and Snack

Protein helps you feel fuller and more satisfied at meals and snacks, and it also helps slow down the absorption of sugar into the blood.

Current dietary guidelines call for just 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, which is just 72 grams for a person who weighs 200 pounds.

But several clinical trials have found that protein intakes higher than the recommended daily allowance are optimal for weight loss in adults with obesity.

There aren’t many studies that have looked at high-protein diets for weight loss with PCOS, specifically. But in one small study, PCOS patients who followed a high-protein diet lost more weight and more belly fat after six months than women who ate less protein.

This is to say that eating more protein is worth a try if you’re trying to lose weight with PCOS.

Be sure to include a high-protein food—like chicken, fish, mycoprotein, tofu, beans, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, nuts, and seeds—at every meal and snack.

Move Your Body

Exercise can support weight loss by increasing your daily calorie burn, of course. But there’s another reason why PCOS patients who want to lose weight should work out more.

Once again, it comes down to insulin.

Your muscles need energy to fuel your workouts. And exercise makes your body more sensitive to the effects of insulin, allowing your muscles to pull more sugar from the blood for energy.

The insulin-sensitizing benefits of exercise appear to last long after your workout ends. By some estimates, your body uses insulin more effectively for 16 hours or more after intense exercise!

If you don’t already work out, build up to at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. For best results, you’ll also want to incorporate  at least two resistance training sessions per week.

Medications Might Help

Staying in a calorie deficit is challenging, and obstacles like food cravings and hunger certainly don’t make it easier!

A handful of studies have linked PCOS with hormone imbalances that can increase food cravings and hunger levels while decreasing satisfaction after meals.

Medications like GLP-1s can help lower the appetite and reduce food cravings, making weight loss easier and more attainable for those with PCOS.  

Need Help Losing Weight with PCOS?

The hormone changes that occur with PCOS can make weight loss feel even more overwhelming and challenging.

Staying in a calorie deficit is important, and other approaches like keeping the blood sugar stable, eating plenty of protein, moving your body, and medications can help.

But having a support system also increases the odds of successful and sustainable weight loss, and we’d love to help with that!

Our program includes an app, a community to support you, and a team of physicians, trainers, and registered dietitians committed to helping you reach your weight loss goal.

Click here to learn more about losing weight with Sequence.  

 

Kim Yawitz, RDN

About the Author

Kim Yawitz, RDN, is a registered dietitian and gym owner in St. Louis, Mo. In addition to coaching nutrition and fitness clients individually and in small groups, Kim has been featured as a nutrition expert for Men's Health, Food Network, Elite Daily, FOX News, Readers' Digest, SHAPE, MyFitnessPal, Elite Daily, Everyday Health, Vitamin Shoppe, Martha Stewart, Healthline, and Eat This, Not That!

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