Intuitive Eating and PCOS
Have you ever gone too long without eating that your stomach starts to growl and you get “hangry” (angry, grouchy or irritable because you’re hungry)? Have you ever had cravings that are so strong that they lead to eating past the point of fullness? When we don’t provide our bodies with a regular source of energy throughout the day, our brain is hard-wired to turn to high sugar, high carbohydrate (carb), and high fat foods. Whether it’s a craving for chips, cookies, candy, or fries, these cravings are our body’s way of telling us “I need energy now.”
Think of a pendulum: the more it swings in one direction, the further it swings in the opposite direction. The same is true with hunger and fullness cues. When you get to the point of feeling extremely hungry, it’s easy to eat past the point of fullness to make up for this. Neither situation is ideal considering that being overly hungry can leave you feeling weak, cranky, and dizzy while being overly full can make you feel uncomfortable, drowsy, and sick.
What’s the alternative? Check in with your hunger and fullness more often and fuel your body throughout the day with foods that leave you feeling satisfied and energized. This is often called intuitive eating. For individuals with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), intuitive eating can be a powerful tool since blood sugar levels can fluctuate more in those with PCOS, influencing hunger and fullness cues and making cravings harder to resist. Below are a few ways that you can start putting intuitive eating into practice:
- Eat Regularly
Skipping meals not only makes it harder to recognize hunger and fullness cues but it also lowers blood sugar levels, which can cause strong sugar and carbohydrate cravings, especially in those with PCOS. Low carb diets are not the solution. Instead try to get a moderate amount of carbs throughout the day so that blood sugar levels stay in a healthy range. Ideally, aim for three meals and two to three snacks per day with a source of carbs at each meal and snack. Some sources of carbohydrates include fruit, cereal, bread, crackers, rice, pasta, beans, and potatoes.
- Build Balanced Meals and Snacks
Protein leaves us feeling full so we aren’t hungry an hour later. Fat leaves us feeling satisfied so we don’t feel the need to go back for more even when we’re full. Carbs leave us feeling energized so we aren’t tired, moody, or distracted during the day. Without a balance of these nutrients, blood sugar levels can be unpredictable and cravings can kick in. The solution? The easiest way to build balanced meals and snacks is to think in terms of food groups using MyPlate. For meals, aim for at least four food groups: protein, grain, dairy, and a fruit or vegetable (Ex. chicken, brown rice, roasted cauliflower, and milk). For snacks, pair carbohydrates with a protein, fat, or dairy (Ex. whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter).
- Focus on Fiber-Filled Foods
Some carbohydrates break down and enter the blood quickly leading to a quick rise and fall in blood sugar, often known as a “sugar crash.” People with PCOS are especially sensitive to this. Other carbohydrates that have more complex structures and fiber take longer to break down, leading to a slower rise and fall in blood sugar, providing more long-term energy. Try to choose high fiber carbohydrates when possible to keep you energized throughout the day. Examples include: fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, oats, and beans.
- Enjoy Sweets with Meals
Part of intuitive eating is eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full, and eating a balance and variety of foods that support your physical health and wellbeing. The other equally important part of intuitive eating is honoring your taste buds and allowing yourself to enjoy foods that you find truly satisfying. That means giving yourself permission to eat chocolate or cake or another food you really enjoy by (1) taking the time to savor the flavor of it, (2) listening to your body when you’re feeling full, and (3) pairing it with a balanced meal. When you start to slow down and appreciate the taste of a food, you often don’t feel the need to eat past the point of fullness. Also, by having a balanced meal or snack along with sweets, you’re blood sugar is more likely to stay in a healthy range, preventing cravings and the need to go back for more. Sounds like a win-win to me!