Dieting is harmful for PCOS? YES!

The first advice women often receive when diagnosed with PCOS is to “lose weight”, like it’s that simple. It might be accompanied with diet advice “cut back on carbs”, “try keto”, “eat less, exercise more”. If you’ve been on the receiving end of this advice, I’m so sorry. You deserve better. 

If you’re currently feeling frustrated and confused with your PCOS, your body, and food, you’re not alone. It’s all too easy to get stuck in the diet-mentality and pursuit of weight loss, especially with PCOS. 

There is another way to care for your body with PCOS!

In this blog post, you’ll find many reasons why dieting is actually harmful for PCOS to help you break away from the dieting mentality!

Reason #1: PCOS Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

PCOS is present in women with smaller bodies and larger bodies (and everything in between!). It doesn’t discriminate. If a woman with a smaller body has PCOS, would we recommend she lose weight? Of course not! She would be presented with other treatment options. The SAME should happen for women in larger bodies. It simply does not make sense to recommend weight loss as the primary treatment for PCOS when PCOS comes in all shapes and sizes. Body size is not the problem, although our diet-obsessed culture has led us to believe this. There are many other ways to care for PCOS without focusing on body size. 

Reason #2: The Human Body is Complicated

The human body is much more complicated than the “calories in and calories out” mentality that we’ve been led to believe is the way to weight loss. It has been thought that eating less and moving more or consuming less calories would result in weight loss. However, for many people, this isn’t so simple. There are so many processes and factors to be taken into account, including genetics, metabolism, environment, medical conditions, etc. With conditions such as PCOS, imbalance in hormone levels, such as insulin and sex hormones, can further complicate how the body uses energy. Many women with PCOS choose to do calorie-restricted diets and increase activity, but still see no weight loss. For these reasons, we cannot simplify our bodies to this “calories in and calories out” theory. In this way, dieting isn’t helpful for PCOS as it only takes into account this theory, whereas the body is so much more complicated. Dieting is a waste of time, energy, and money.

Reason #3: No Specific Diet Has Ever Been Proven to Work Long-Term for PCOS

How many times have you tried a new diet, tried to “cut back” or restrict yourself in some way? How long did it last? If diets worked, there would be no need to go on a diet multiple times throughout your life. Although we tend to blame ourselves and lack of willpower, it’s not our fault. Diets are a total fraud. Think about it. The companies that sell diets want you to keep spending your money. They make it seem like it’s your fault, but diets fail on purpose. There is no specific diet that has ever been proven to work long-term, and likewise for PCOS. It has been shown that of those who participated in restrictive diets, 90-95% of them regained their weight back within two years. Further, one-third to two-thirds regained even more weight. Why does this happen? First, long-term dieting can lead to decreased metabolism. Further, restriction and dieting often precedes overcompensation and binging, because your body wants to be fed. This decrease in metabolism and overcompensation can lead to weight gain, amongst other factors (especially those related to PCOS), and further cause harm to the body and PCOS symptoms.

Reason #4: Dieting Makes PCOS Worse and Vice Versa

PCOS often presents with chronic inflammation and insulin resistance. In order to improve PCOS symptoms, inflammation and insulin resistance have to be addressed. First, chronic dieting has been shown to increase cortisol levels and stress on the body, adding to the pro-inflammatory state of PCOS. To improve the inflammatory responses, we need nutrients! Dieting and restriction decrease the nutrients our bodies need and only increases inflammation. In addition, restrictive dieting does NOT necessarily address insulin levels, which most often desperately need attention with PCOS. 

PCOS also makes dieting more difficult to do. With high insulin levels comes intense cravings and hunger. Add restriction on top of this, and it’s a recipe for eventual overeating or binging. High insulin levels, high testosterone, slowed metabolism and inflammation can also contribute to weight gain. These factors make dieting feel even more burdensome and frustrating for women with PCOS. Many women with PCOS experience little to no weight loss with dieting, which makes sense considering dieting doesn’t address the root causes of PCOS. 

Reason #5: Pursuing the Perfect Body is Blinding

When we focus all our energy and mind to pursuing weight loss and our “ideal” body, we lose focus on actually caring for our body and PCOS. We give too much attention to the scale, and start to tie all our success and worth to a number. Depression and anxiety are already often a symptom of PCOS. Dieting and pursuing the “perfect body” often leads to poorer body image, only contributing to depression and anxiety. As you can probably imagine, disordered eating behaviors and development of eating disorders are often seen in women with PCOS as well. When you begin focusing on how to truly care for your current body, you open yourself up to make lasting change that actually feels good and supports your body with PCOS. 

What now? 

Now that you know how dieting is harmful to women with PCOS, you can begin to break away from it and choose to care for your current body in other ways. Utilizing intuitive eating as a tool to help you care for your body with PCOS is the next topic in this series! 

Want individualized help with PCOS? 

Visit my coaching page to learn more about how I help women with PCOS use nutrition and lifestyle changes to care for their bodies!