We already know it’s popular to demonize carbs. Society has been doing it since the ’70s when Dr Atkins published a book on the topic. The origin goes back even further than that, with reported low-carb practices in the 1860s. So, this isn’t news. In fact, it’s boring.
Recently, I was approached by a former client who was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) in her early 20s, whom we worked with a few years ago. With her excess body fat gone through her diligent work, she asked me to join a community on Facebook for other women with the condition. She wanted me to address the constant and chronic belief that women with PCOS must eliminate carbs to lose weight. So, I did.
I joined a Facebook community with 16,000 members and read dozens and dozens of weight loss threads each day and the misinformation being shared and the poor advice was actually heartbreaking. These women felt defeated and broken, convinced that outside of complete starvation and avoidance of carbs, they would be overweight forever because of their condition. I commented occasionally, offering advice and correcting the dangerous advice being given but I realized quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to educate a community that large, passively.
You see, I have PCOS as well. I was diagnosed in my early 20s and even had a rupture in my mid-20s that required surgery. I had a terrible relationship with food my entire life and had been at every extreme of the body weight spectrum. My OBGYN told me that losing weight would help but a stable and well-rounded diet would eventually bring the condition under control and unless I did, I would be unlikely to conceive children without assistance.
Well, she was right. I got my dietary shit together and BOOM – periods were regular, cysts gone, and there was a tiny 9-week old fetus growing in my uterus without any assistance. It wasn’t instant and it wasn’t easy – but it happened. When I tell people this they, of course, are sceptical. That’s because of the advice they’ve been given along the way. The thing is, no one ever told me weight loss would be harder for me with the condition – so, I had no reason to hold that belief. Obviously, too many do.
So, I decided to interview a current Musclebound Mama client who also has the condition. She, too, was told weight loss would evade her. She is happy to share her story with you in the hope that you will realize that you CAN lose the weight you fear is yours forever. Here we go! Everyone, meet Jennie!
When were you diagnosed with PCOS and how did it impact you?
“I was diagnosed when I was a teen. It was finally a name reflecting a number of symptoms that I was experiencing (e.g. weight gain, hirsutism, skewed hormonal levels) which were being treated in silos.”
Was it a GP, OBGYN or another professional who advised you on your treatment protocol?
“It was my first GP that put me on medication 25 years ago. When I moved, my new family doctor referred me to The Women’s Health Centre and an endocrinologist to see if there was anything else I should be doing. The endocrinologist told me that PCOS would disappear if I would just lose weight and dismissed me. In contrast, the Women’s Health Centre was sympathetic and said that it would be ideal to lose weight but not to be fussed about it. The medication I was on was a good combination, and I should just make an appointment to see them again if I ever wanted to get pregnant.”
How were you told to approach your body weight?
“I got conflicting advice and direction. One doctor said my symptoms would be solved with weight loss while my family doctor never really broached the subject. He just said to keep an eye on things.”
How were you told to approach your diet?
“I don’t think I ever was, weirdly. General internet advice for a PCOS diet was to eat low or very low carb…. but man, I love pasta.”
Which of the approaches/diet strategies you were given did you try and how did they go?
“I did Weight Watchers on my own at the suggestion of a co-worker. She had PCOS as well and found it worked for her. I lost about 40 lbs, hit a plateau, stopped tracking, and then maintained about a 30 lbs loss over 15 years.
After the plateau on Weight Watchers, I continued to go to the gym and maintain an active lifestyle. I was still a plus-sized person though!
In the Fall of 2019, I signed up for MBM. Not exactly to address my PCOS but my gallbladder was wonky and impacting my liver. I was told to cut down on the fat I was eating so I wouldn’t have another attack before I saw a surgeon to have it removed. I had no idea how to set myself up for success. Low fat plus the internet’s best advice for PCOS, low carb – I envisioned myself eating skinless, boneless chicken breasts for three meals a day.”
Which of the protocols did you find most helpful and why?
What made you decide to work with MBM?
“I had no idea how to eat given my gallbladder and my PCOS. I needed advice and guidance. A friend had worked with Sophie post-baby, and felt that the community was welcoming and advice was sensible.”
When you began working with MBM was any part of you concerned the process might not work given your understanding of PCOS?
“I thought things would be slower or less effective with PCOS. It has always been the wild card…or I assumed it was the wild card.”
What are the first symptoms you noticed changing as you progressed with MBM?
“My cycle became much more regular. Yay?”
How would you describe the changes overall since beginning with MBM?
“It has been very positive! I’ve learned that the weight loss plateau I experienced as well as the inability to lose weight even while being active had more to do with my food choices rather than PCOS. In short, you can eat pasta with PCOS, and lose weight.”
What would you say the most impactful dietary change you’ve made has been?
“Tracking and planning my meals have made me more thoughtful about what exactly I am putting into my body.”
How much weight did you lose in your time with MBM?
What would you say the is the worst advice you received from medical professionals regarding weight loss & PCOS?
“I’ve received so much conflicting advice. Upon reflection, the soft advice of just try to maintain your weight set me up for defeatist attitude about PCOS.”
Most women with PCOS are convinced they cannot lose weight with the condition or that calories are inferior to carbs. What would you tell someone with this opinion?
“It is possible. No really. Totally possible.”
What has been your GP’s reaction to your weight loss? Its impact on PCOS?
“His question, “What’s new since the last time I saw you?“
My answer, “I’ve lost 75 lbs.“
His response, “Oh. I’ll mark that down.“
He suspects that I will be in a position to stop my PCOS medication once my gallbladder is removed.”
As you can see, Jennie has changed not only her PCOS symptoms but also – her life! She continues to get favourable results from the monitoring of her liver and it has been her incredible effort in her relationship with food that has accomplished this. We often blame our bodies for victimizing us in one way or another, and while we don’t give ourselves PCOS, we have incredible power to heal ourselves and improve our quality of life.
If you suffer with PCOS, I hope you’ll find your own inner strength in Jennie’s story.
Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Jennie!