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Top 10 Reasons Women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight.

There are certainly more than 10 reasons women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight. But here are the top 10 as we see it. Our over-arching conclusion: Not enough is known about the condition. There needs to be more high-quality research. For now, everyone is coming at it from all angles with lots of unique approaches, ourselves included. For all the differing opinions and approaches on treating PCOS, we are truly grateful. The more we’re all talking about it and trying things out, the better off we are as a group. We’ll figure it out!

Reason #1 women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight: We eat too many high-GI crap foods.

The average diet often includes:

  • White bread
  • White potatoes
  • White rice
  • White pasta
  • White flour
  • Flour tortillas
  • Crackers
  • Sugar
  • Cookies
  • Candy
  • Cakes / Pastries
  • Ice Cream
  • Sugary sodas
  • Syrups / Honey

This isn’t a problem for many people. As long as these are now-and-then treats, most people can handle them. The body senses these sugary items in the bloodstream and releases insulin to help the cells absorb the sugar and use it as energy. But for a lot of women with PCOS and those with varying levels of insulin resistance, the process is broken. The cells essentially ignore the insulin and don’t take in the sugar and burn it for energy. That means there’s a bunch of insulin and sugar sitting in the bloodstream and your body gets rid of it another way — it turns it to fat. 

While no one seems to agree on most things PCOS-related, we can all generally agree that high sugar foods are problematic for women with PCOS. We also mostly agree that the foods that break down into sugar the fastest are the most problematic. We call these foods, High-GI, because they are ranked high on the Glycemic Index (GI). 

Reason #2 women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight: We eat too many PCOS-friendly crap foods.

The average PCOS diet often includes:

  • Rye, Sourdough, Multigrain bread
  • Sweet  potatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Wheat pasta (or other grain)
  • Alternative flours (ex. Almond flour)
  • Corn Tortillas (or low-carb)
  • Low-Carb Crackers
  • Less sugar usage
  • Low or Sugar-Free Cookies
  • Low or Sugar-Free Candy
  • Low-Carb Cakes / Pastries
  • Low-Carb Ice Cream
  • Sugar-Free sodas / fruit drinks
  • Brown Rice Sweetener

PCOS is just beginning to be understood by women who have the condition. Doctors don’t agree. Researchers don’t agree. Articles and books contradict each other. Basically, we’re still learning. But, in the beginning… after figuring out that high-GI foods made our blood sugar spike, thus causing weight gain when we over-indulged, there was a knee-jerk reaction. 

High-GI foods seemed to be the villains. So, that’s what we were encouraged to fix. The general “word on the street” was to enjoy all the foods you love, just make some lower-GI substitutions for the very sugary stuff. So, instead of white bread, eat rye. Instead of white pasta, try wheat or flax. Instead of buttery crackers, eat low-carb crackers. These foods don’t spike our sugar as much so our body has more time to use the energy and stores less fat. Right? 

Right. Except for one thing. None of these alternatives are very helpful when it comes to losing weight. They’re all basically treats. Treats do not lean bodies make.

Reason #3 women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight: We eat too much food in general.

Eating high-GI foods doesn’t make us fat. Overeating makes us fat. Continuing to overeat, even if it’s on PCOS-friendly foods, keeps us fat. So, if I stop eating all the white stuff and start eating all the “healthy” PCOS foods, I’m still not going to lose if I eat more than my body needs.

That’s a bit of an over-simplification. There’s LOTS of other things going on when it comes to PCOS, and there’s so much we don’t know yet. But for the sake of simplicity, take this away: No matter what you eat, if you overeat, you will have a hard time losing weight – PCOS-friendly foods included.

Reason #4 women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight: We make dieting harder by going gluten-free and dairy-free without sensitivity.

A lot of PCOS leaders encourage women with the condition to go dairy-free, gluten-free, low-carb, keto, and to do intermittent fasting. We’ve read more books than we can count on the topic, each one contradicting the one before. What we know for sure, is that some of these people are wrong. We’ll find out which is which in the future. 

But let’s address the dairy-free and gluten-free. It seems to be accepted by most that women with PCOS can be sensitive to dairy and gluten. That is to say that when we eat these things, they can cause some inflammation in our bodies. To be clear, inflammation is not weight gain. It’s discomfort and swelling and a reaction in your body to the food. If you’re lactose intolerant or sensitive, you’re not going to feel good eating dairy. This is old news. If you have a problem with gluten, you also aren’t going to feel great if you eat it. You may get inflamed and feel icky, but that’s different from packing on 50 lbs. Yet the first thing we see people being advised online and in doctors’ offices when they’re newly diagnosed with PCOS  is to cut out dairy and gluten. Women often misinterpret this as the key to weight loss. If you have a problem with these food items, and it makes you happy, cut them out. If you have a sensitivity you will feel better. But don’t cut them out thinking this is how you lose weight. It is not. Not eating 3 white bread grilled cheese sandwiches and a gallon of ice cream would help, but this is a calorie problem. Not a gluten and dairy issue. This topic is, like everything else, more complex than we have explained. But our message to you is that not all women with PCOS will benefit from cutting out dairy and gluten. This is not the silver bullet.

Reason #5 women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight: We make dieting harder by cutting out or severely limiting the carbs our bodies need.

We see women online cutting out carbs completely or cutting them crazy low thinking this will be the magic change that’s going to make all the weight fall off. Did you know your brain needs carbs to think and your growing muscles crave carbs? Ever heard of PCOS ladies talking about brain fog? We bet you they’re eating low carb. So, there is some merit to cutting out or significantly lowering useless carbs. Flours, breads, cookies, crackers, and all the other processed carby-garbage serves zero nutritional purpose. But what do you think vegetables are? Vegetables are carbs. Broccoli, cabbage, green beans, cauliflower, okra, and all the rest are PCOS-friendly carbohydrates and they are your best weight-loss friends. 

Cutting out food groups makes sticking to a diet harder. We do not want to make our nutrition harder. We want to make it smarter. So, cutting carbs is not the answer. Cutting useless carbs and eating healthy carbs in their place will help. Part of this is because useless carbs tend to be higher in calories. You could eat 3 crackers and get the same calorie count you get in a huge bowl of green beans. Which one do you think will keep you full longer?

Reason #6 women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight: We make dieting harder with extreme, unsustainable nutrition plans.

Intermittent fasting is all the rage. We’ve read the books. We’ve got the t-shirt. And we have to say, we’re not fans. Longer periods of time between meals will make your body burn more fat… blah bah blah. We don’t buy it. We don’t think we’re going to trick our bodies into burning more fat over the long term. We think if you feed your body 2,500 calories, it’s going to burn about 2,000 calories and store the other 500 as fat no matter when you stuff them in. The research jury is still out. We’ll see. But we bet you not very many people will be doing intermittent fasting in 10 years. That said, we believe there is more than one way to skin a PCOS cat. Our way is not the only way. We just think it’s a very delicious, rewarding, and sustainable way. 

We believe diets that are too complicated and restrictive lead to binging. Any diet that includes extended periods of hunger is a loser, in our book. Any diet that completely cuts out foods you crave is a loser. Hunger leads to bad choices. They say, ‘the best diet is the one you can stick to.’ If you enjoy fasting or eating a fat-based diet and plan to do it forever, Godspeed. If it helps you to keep from overeating, it may be the one for you. But if it is a struggle, leads to binging and even more weight gain, it’s a no-go.

Reason #7 women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight: We waste time looking for the magic weight loss pill.

We see post after post after post where women diagnosed with PCOS are debating this drug vs. that drug. They are hoping to find the perfect cocktail of pills that will help to quickly shed the 80-100 lbs they can’t lose ‘because they have PCOS.’ 

Some of us grew up in the US and we are one heck of a pill-popping nation. There’s a pill for everything and doctors are all too willing to write that ‘scrip. Several times each day we see newly-diagnosed women posting online, so full of hope that the metformin their doctor just prescribed will magically melt the pounds. We were also that girl. All we got was diarrhea and stomach pain.

We’re not going to talk to you a lot about PCOS drugs. Yes, there are some very interesting new medications on the market and we, like you, are hopeful. They have their place. In most cases, we don’t recommend you look into a bottle to solve your weight problems. Not as a first resort. But whether you’re medicated or not, you’ll always need proper diet and exercise. 

Reason #8 women with PCOS have a hard time losing weight: We waste time overanalyzing every detailed aspect of the condition.

We make it so, so complicated. We want to know what kind of PCOS we have. We want to see our blood tests. We want to see another round of blood tests a week later. We want to get this checked and that checked. What’s our testosterone? How’s our insulin sensitivity? How much weight did we lose from last night to this morning? What did we eat to cause that? We believe that we are super-special, unique PCOS snowflakes and if we can just understand what makes our case special, we will know what extra special solution to apply. This is analysis paralysis. Because there’s a lot more education going on than action.

For the record, you are a special snowflake to us. But it doesn’t have anything to do with your PCOS. Because what we’ve come to believe is the optimal way to lose weight with PCOS would actually work for almost anyone. No research required. No blood tests. Just the willingness to let go of your desire to make this complicated.

Reason #9 women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight: We cut calories to such an extreme level, we binge eat.

We see social posts every day about women eating 1200 calories or less. Once as low as 700 calories per day for “really fast results.” This is not sustainable because your body does not enjoy starving and it will come with the hunger pangs to get you to start eating again. Problem is, you’ll be so hungry, you’ll binge and eat 2500 – 3000 calories of the worst possible foods. Your body will say thank you and store all the excess as fat. As they say in Star Wars, IT’S A TRAP! Some of us can remember thinking 1200 was the optimal calorie budget and we’d count our grams of everything every day to be sure we didn’t go over. We remember thinking, ‘This is seriously not enough food. How can anyone live on this?’ Well once we increased our calories, our stubborn weight had a much easier time disappearing and we weren’t spending copious amounts of time counting everything and being miserable. 

Some will say that your body goes into starvation mode holding on to every ounce of food you give it and not dropping anything. We think there’s something to that. The instinct to survive is a strong one. But we think the most likely problem is that you’ll get too hungry and overeat anyway, canceling out any progress you killed yourself for. Don’t eat too little. Be nice to your body.

Reason #10 women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight: We cut out the food groups that would help us the most.

We’ve seen women switching to plant-based nutrition to treat their PCOS. We always think, yay for the planet. But we feel a little sorry for the woman because she’s already got a tough hand dealt with the PCOS. She’s already limiting her carbs and now, she’s voluntarily dropping the most readily available sources of protein too? Which leaves what? Fat and alcohol? 

Don’t believe all the propaganda you read or watch on TV. A lot of money is spent every year selling products. A lot of documentaries are made to make people rich. If there is a product attached in any way to nutrition recommendations or someone is getting rich from changing your lifestyle to something extreme, tread with caution. Especially switching to a plant-based diet.

Now if it is your ethics that prevents you from eating meat, we respect that decision. If not, and you think a plant-based diet will suck off the weight, you may be in for a difficult road. We’ll say it again here so you don’t think we’re preaching — We don’t know enough. There needs to be a lot more good, expensive research. Not cheap bad research designed to sell products. Telling the difference is difficult. But for our part, some of us have gained fat on plant-based diets. And we were REALLY careful what we ate. In our experience and the experiences of all the women we’ve trained with over the years, eating protein helps us get lean. It builds our muscles and takes the place of all the garbage we could be eating that is going to increase our calories too high and make us fat.

Yes, you can be vegan and vegetarian and get your protein from other sources. It’s easier now than it has ever been and the vegetarian section of the grocery store is gleaming with brand new processed foods to get you on your way. But don’t mistake vegan or vegetarian for healthy. It wouldn’t take us too many days of pasta and fake chicken slathered with fake butter to tip the scales. Unless you’re trying to save animals or the planet, eat your meat. You can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat. 😉

Reasons women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight.

  1. We eat too many high-GI crap foods.
  2. We eat too many PCOS-friendly crap foods.
  3. We eat too much food in general.
  4. We make dieting harder by going gluten-free and dairy-free without sensitivity.
  5. We make dieting harder by cutting out or severely limiting the carbs our bodies need.
  6. We make dieting harder with extreme, unsustainable nutrition plans.
  7. We waste time looking for the magic weight loss pill.
  8. We waste time overanalyzing every detailed aspect of the condition.
  9. We cut calories to such an extreme level, we binge eat.
  10. We cut out the food groups that would help us the most.

There are a lot more reasons women with PCOS have a hard time losing weight. The condition is not well understood. Everyone contradicts each other. No one wants to change. And the industry is trying to make money off of your misery, so there will be plenty of new ways to sabotage your progress coming to a store and bookshelf soon.

It takes a leap of faith to make the decision to do the things that will ultimately help you get healthy, a strong attitude and a lot of gumption. But we have it. And we can do it. 

Helpful PCOS-managing resources:

Wondering how many calories is a healthy deficit? Have a look at our very general guidelines in our article, ‘How many calories are best for PCOS fat loss.’ Want to straighten up your nutrition replacing PCOS-friendly crap foods with PCOS-friendly foods that lend themselves to fat loss? Have a look at our PCOS nutrition food lists where you’ll find Daily Foods, Sometimes Foods, and Treat Meal Foods. Have you been mostly eating Treat Meal Foods or Sometimes Foods too often? This could be causing you to plateau.

Would you like to see a tried and tested method for food structuring? Our method is detailed in How to Structure your meals for PCOS weight loss. After you read that, you’ll probably want to give it a try. So, have a look at our Recipes.

Check out our YouTube Channel for supportive videos weekly on PCOS Nutrition, PCOS Inspiration, PCOS Training, PCOS Mental Health, and PCOS Accountability.

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