PCOS and Weight Gain: What’s the Deal?

PCOS BlogWhile weight is a sensitive topic for everyone, it can be especially sensitive for teens with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) because weight gain can be a symptom of PCOS. Depending on someone’s current weight and height, 5-10% weight loss is sometimes recommended for women with PCOS to help decrease other PCOS symptoms such as extra body hair, acne, and irregular periods. Unfortunately, women with PCOS often have a harder time losing weight compared to women without PCOS. Here a few reasons why PCOS can make weight loss challenging:

  1. You May Be Insulin Resistant

Insulin is a hormone that helps move glucose (digested carbohydrates) from your blood stream into your cells for energy. Sometimes insulin doesn’t work well in someone with PCOS (also called insulin resistance), so the body makes more insulin to try to keep up. As a result, high insulin levels can cause the body to convert energy from glucose to fat for storage in the body.

  1. Your Metabolism May Be Slower

Research studies have found that women with PCOS have a slower metabolism compared to women without PCOS. This means that people with PCOS are often less efficient at burning calories (energy). Therefore, someone with PCOS may need less energy from food each day than someone who does not have PCOS.

  1. Your Food Cravings May Be Stronger

Teens with PCOS may have stronger cravings for higher fat and higher carbohydrate foods for a few reasons. First, insulin resistance can cause greater fluctuations in blood sugar so when blood sugar is low, cravings for sugary food may be stronger. Second, researchers have found that women with PCOS may have different levels of hormones that are involved in hunger and appetite, like ghrelin and leptin. This may explain why people with PCOS are more likely to have food cravings and eat larger portions in comparison to those without PCOS.

  1. Your Mental Health May Be Contributing

Studies have shown that women with PCOS have higher rates of mental health concerns, such as depression and negative body image. Both negative body image and depression can decrease motivation to eat healthy and exercise regularly and can disrupt sleep patterns. Together, these factors can contribute to extra weight gain in teens with PCOS.

  1. Your Diet May Be Too Restrictive

Diets that are very low in calories and carbohydrates may do more harm than good for teens with PCOS. Very low calorie and low carbohydrate diets can put the body in starvation mode and actually increase inflammation due to the stress they put on the body. This inflammation can increase insulin levels, which is known to contribute to weight gain.

So… what can you do to manage your weight and health when you have PCOS?

While there are many factors that may seem out of your control when you have PCOS, you can take steps to improve your health. Many lifestyle factors can help you get your blood sugar and insulin levels in a healthy range, which can decrease some PCOS symptoms including: extra body hair, irregular periods, acne, dark patches of skin, and excess weight gain.

Here are a few tips:

  • Eat small, frequent meals and snacks to keep blood glucose levels steady
  • Pair carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables with lean proteins and healthy fats to increase fullness and to curb cravings
  • Move your body in a way that feels good (whether it’s swimming, dancing, or a quick 7-minute workout) to bring down insulin levels and boost your mood
  • Make sleep a priority- Turn off screens an hour before bed and try to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night
  • Practice mindful eating– Avoid turning to food to cope with your feelings
  • Prioritize your mental health- Manage stress with therapy, meditation, yoga, etc.

It’s important to remember that working on the healthy lifestyle changes listed above can help improve mood, energy level, and overall health for teens with PCOS, regardless of your weight or body size. With small lifestyle changes, you can take charge of your PCOS and your overall health.

– Dietitian Katelyn