Last modified on October 20th, 2023
There are a number of PCOS losing weight challenges you may face. Losing weight in PCOS isn’t easy, but it is possible. Below, we’ll explore ways to lose weight if you have PCOS that are natural and attainable for most people.
An Overview of PCOS
Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a hormonal disorder. PCOS affects women in their reproductive years. You may experience excess male hormone levels, known as androgen levels.
If you struggle with this condition, you may experience prolonged or infrequent periods. Your ovaries could develop small collections of fluid. These fluid collections are follicles. The development of follicles could mean you don’t regularly release eggs.
We don’t currently know the exact cause of PCOS. We do, however, know that if you receive a diagnosis early on, treatment and weight loss can reduce the risk of long-term complications like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms of PCOS may include:
- Irregular periods
- Excess male hormones lead to signs like excess body hair and facial hair (hirsutism)
- Male-pattern baldness
- Severe acne
- Polycystic ovaries
The symptoms and signs of PCOS can be more severe if you are obese.
Again, we don’t know exactly what causes PCOS, but some of the factors that could play a role include:
- Excess insulin. Insulin is a hormone your pancreas produces, allowing your cells to use sugar. Sugar is your body’s primary source of energy. If your cells are insulin-resistant, then your blood sugar levels can spike and your body produces more insulin. Excess insulin may increase androgen production, leading to problems with ovulation.
- Chronic low-level inflammation is often found in women with PCOS. That low-grade, constant inflammation can stimulate your ovaries to produce androgens.
- There’s evidence genetics can play a role in the development of PCOS.
- When your ovaries produce abnormally high levels of androgen, it can lead to acne and hirsutism.
There are a number of complications that occur with PCOS, including:
- Gestational diabetes
- Miscarriage or premature birth
- Severe liver inflammation caused by fat accumulation, known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis
- Metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions including high blood sugar, high diastolic blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels. Metabolic syndrome creates cardiovascular risk factors.
- Prediabetes or type 2 diabetes
- Sleep apnea
- Depression or anxiety
- Eating disorders
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Endometrial cancer
More than half of people with PCOS are overweight. You may hear from your doctor you need to lose weight, but you know that it’s not so easy.
PCOS and Losing Weight: Why Is It So Hard?
If you have PCOS and you’re struggling with weight loss, you’re certainly not alone. You probably get advice from your doctor that you need to lose weight, but despite your best efforts, it’s not happening.
PCOS losing weight challenges occur for several different reasons, including the following:
- Your body is in fat storage mode since PCOS affects the secretion and use of insulin. Your body is resistant to insulin signals, signaling your pancreas to produce more. When you have too much insulin, it promotes weight gain and fat storage, especially in the midsection. If you can identify ways to reduce insulin levels, including supplements, exercise, and changes in diet, you may be able to lose weight more effectively.
- Insulin is a hormone that stimulates your appetite. You may experience more hunger overall and also very intense or even urgent food cravings.
- Women with PCOS may have abnormal hormone levels responsible for regulating appetite and feelings of fullness compared to non-PCOS women. Specifically, appetite-regulating hormones include ghrelin, cholecystokinin, and leptin. Research shows impairment of these hormones when you have PCOS.
- Obstructive sleep apnea can be a PCOS complication and can also affect your weight. You may not be able to sleep as well with sleep apnea, and that’s associated with weight gain and insulin resistance.
Below, we talk about some of the things you can do to overcome PCOS losing weight challenges that are natural and often proven effective in clinical trials.
Natural Tips for Losing Weight in PCOS
In general, the following are some tips for losing weight in PCOS that may be effective, although you should speak to your health care provider if you have any questions.
Reduce Your Intake of Carbs
We’re not saying it’s easy, but for losing weight in PCOS, research and randomized trials find reducing your carb intake is one of the best ways to do it. When you lower your consumption of carbs, it may help you manage PCOS because of the effects of carbs on insulin.
An estimated 70% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance.
High levels of insulin are linked to increased weight gain and body fat storage in women with PCOS.
In a study of obese women with PCOS and insulin resistance, following a three-week low-carb diet helped lower insulin levels by 30%.
A low-glycemic healthy diet can also be beneficial if you have PCOS or another endocrine disorder. The glycemic index or GI is a measure of how fast a food raises your blood sugar.
Keto Diet For PCOS
For some people, the keto diet for PCOS can be extremely beneficial in losing weight and reducing metabolic symptoms. When you follow a keto diet for PCOS, it targets the relationships between high-carb foods, increased insulin, and chronic inflammation. Carbohydrates are thought to be closely associated with disturbances in hormones and inflammation and can make it harder to maintain a healthy weight.
Keto is a diet where you eat high amounts of healthy fat and low carbs. When you cut carbs dramatically, it can reduce your blood glucose levels.
In one study of women with PCOS who went keto for six months, participants lost an average of 12% of their body weight and dropped insulin levels by 54%.
A review in 2017 looking at studies of low-carb diets found that reducing carbohydrates helped lower circulating insulin levels, improve hormonal imbalance and help resume ovulation.
Even if you don’t go full keto, eating healthy fats can help with weight loss and other PCOS symptoms.
Healthy fats include avocado, nut butter, and coconut oil.
Get Adequate Protein
Following a low-carb or keto diet can help you with this tip for weight loss with PCOS—get enough protein. Protein stabilizes your blood sugar and increases your feelings of fullness after you eat. Protein can help reduce cravings and manage hunger hormones.
For example, in a study of women with PCOS, 57 were given a high-protein diet, and then the remainder were given a standard diet. Women in the high-protein diet lost significantly more weight than the control group in the outcome measure.
Include Fermented Foods In Your Diet
When you have a healthy balance of gut bacteria, it can help with weight maintenance and metabolism.
Studies show women with PCOS have fewer healthy gut bacteria than women who don’t have the condition.
Foods naturally high in probiotics include kefir, sauerkraut, and yogurt. They can increase your beneficial gut bacteria and may aid in weight loss. You can also try a probiotic supplement.
Follow a Mediterranean Diet
Another diet that could be helpful if you have PCOS as opposed to keto is the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet helps reduce inflammation. The focus of the diet is on fatty fish and other items rich in omega-3s, as well as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil. The Mediterranean diet eliminates most sugar and also processed foods.
Don’t Eat Too Little
When you want to lose weight with PCOS, you may try crash dieting and this is one of the worst things you can do not just for your weight loss efforts but for your health in general. Excessive caloric restriction will hinder your efforts to reduce weight and body mass in almost all cases.
If you restrict your calories too much, it actually slows down your metabolism, even if in the short-term you might lose weight. When you eat too few calories, it can also negatively affect the hormones controlling appetite.
For example, a restrictive diet in one study changed the hormones leptin, peptide, insulin, and ghrelin. The result was increased appetite and weight gain.
Try Intermittent Fasting
Another option that may help if you have PCOS and struggle with symptoms including obesity is to try intermittent fasting. There are different ways you can incorporate intermittent fasting into your life.
You can start by waiting 12 hours between your dinner in the evening and your first meal the next day.
When you practice intermittent fasting, your body enters a fasted state. Then, you begin to burn fat as fuel automatically. If you can make it to 12 hours between meals, you might eventually consider extending it to 16.
The upside of intermittent fasting, along with the health benefits, is that when you’re in your eating period, you don’t have to count calories.
Along with potential weight loss, benefits of intermittent fasting include insulin sensitivity, mental health improvements, reduced inflammation, and the starvation of harmful bacteria in the gut.
Find Ways to Manage Your Stress
We often don’t understand the critical link between stress and weight gain. While it can take time to find what works for you, managing your stress can help you lose weight with PCOS.
There are physiological reasons stress impacts your weight. For example, stress increases cortisol. Your adrenal glands make cortisol. Consistently high levels of cortisol are associated with weight gain and insulin resistance. Stress also increases belly fat. Belly fat increases inflammation, and the inflammation triggers the production of more cortisol.
It’s a negative cycle, but if you can identify stress reduction strategies that you enjoy, you can end the cycle and progress your weight loss goals.
Get Physically Active
Exercising when you have PCOS can be challenging for a number of reasons. We want to emphasize that you don’t have to start out doing super challenging workouts for them to be effective. It also doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. We tend to get caught in a cycle of thinking that if we can’t go all-out with every workout, it’s not valuable. Even minimal behavioral modifications and lifestyle modifications can have significant benefits in ovarian syndrome.
The reality is even moving for five minutes in a meaningful way is much more beneficial than not doing so.
If you have PCOS, try to start with 30 minutes a day. You can walk, cycle or swim.
When you exercise, it increases your insulin sensitivity. Regular exercise can also help you manage your weight and symptoms of depression and anxiety. You may find that once you’re in a more regular routine of exercising, you’ll have an improvement in the frequency of your menstrual cycles and ovulation.
Incorporate strength training a couple of times a week along with aerobic exercise to make more of a difference in weight loss and reducing excess weight. Bodyweight exercises like squats are a good starting point. If you’re overweight, you may worry strength training will cause you to be bulky, but it won’t. Strength training in women helps build lean muscles.
Supplements for PCOS Losing Weight Challenges
Some supplements can help reduce PCOS symptoms in general and also for helping you with weight loss.
If you’re a woman with PCOS, a myo-inositol supplement can be one of the most powerful things you ad to your health routine and a highly effective first-line treatment and weight loss intervention.
Myo-inositol has been studied clinically, and it may help with hormonal and reproductive symptoms.
Inositols are a type of sugar your body makes. Inositols balance chemicals that control mood swings, metabolism, blood sugar, and fertility. Inositols make molecules involved in your insulin response.
Most people tolerate inositol as a supplement well, and it has effects similar to Metformin, without the drug’s side effects.
There are nine types of inositol. For women with PCOS, myo- and d-chiro seem to be the most beneficial types. Both play a role in improving your insulin response. Myo-inositol also helps with hormone control for egg production. DCI helps control male hormone levels in women with PCOS.
Since inositol can help regulate insulin and cholesterol, it can help you lose weight. Taking inositol supplements can also help restore fertility in some women with PCOS.
If you’re going to take any supplement to help with PCOS, we’d recommend inositol, and more specifically, Ovasitol. We have a full review on Ovasitol that you can check out. It’s the ideal ratio of inositols specifically designed to help correct hormonal balances and reduce symptoms of PCOS.
Spearmint tea has powerful anti-androgen effects in polycystic ovary syndrome, and it’s easy to add to your health and wellness routine. In one study comparing the benefits of spearmint tea to chamomile tea in women with PCOS and hirsutism, at the end of 30 days, the spearmint tea group had significantly lower LH and FSH levels.
In another animal study using spearmint oil, rats had significant weight reduction and lower ovarian cysts and testosterone levels after 20 days.
N-Acetyl-Cysteine or NAC is something your body can use to create antioxidants, and it’s a treatment that’s an alternative for weight loss. Antioxidants protect and repair cell damage. By repairing cell damage, NAC can combat inflammation and oxidative stress.
NAC can reduce insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS. NAC may help lower testosterone levels and regulate ovulation. There’s also evidence NAC can improve fertility. Researchers have found NAC can significantly improve your chances of getting pregnant if you have PCOS.
Alpha-lipoic acid or ALA is an antioxidant that is also an enzyme cofactor. As an enzyme cofactor, ALA can help produce energy and improve glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes. As an antioxidant, ALA can help protect your cells from oxidative stress.
In a study of women with PCOS, ALA showed improvements in insulin, glucose, and BMI after 12 weeks of supplementing with it.
In another study, women with PCOS took either one gram of Myo-inositol, 400 mg of alpha-lipoic acid, or a combination of two each day. The Myo-inositol group had better hormonal profiles and insulin. The alpha-lipoic acid group had better metabolic parameters and insulin. The combined treatment group saw improvements both hormonally and metabolically based on statistical analysis over several weeks of treatment.
Finally, another one of the supplement treatment options to consider for PCOS weight loss challenges is L-carnitine. L-carnitine is an amino acid. The amino acid increases your energy levels by moving fatty acids into your cell’s mitochondria. There they can be burned as fuel, so your body is better able to burn fat.
If you combine L-carnitine with dietary changes and regular exercise, you’re likely to see even more significant benefits.
Along with weight loss, L-carnitine may help regulate menstrual cycles in women with PCOS.
Carnitine plays an important role in glucose metabolism, and research shows women with PCOS tend to have lower levels.
Final Thoughts—PCOS Weight Loss Challenges
PCOS is inherently linked to weight in many women. The majority of women with PCOS are overweight or obese. There are things you can do to lose weight in PCOS, however. These weight loss strategies include considering a keto or low-carb diet, increasing physical activity, reducing stress, and taking certain supplements.
Many of the natural common treatments we discuss above may also benefit infertility in women with PCOS including ovulation rates and improvements in birth rates.