5 common mistakes in the PCOS space 

PCOS is a common metabolic condition affecting millions of women in the UK. At present, it is believed that one in 10 women have this condition.

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Although many people will think of PCOS as a condition that can reduce a woman’s fertility potential, it is actually a syndrome that can impact more than reproduction. Symptoms include (but are not limited to):

  • acne 
  • weight struggles 
  • hirsutism 
  • skin tags 
  • Acanthosis Nigricans 
  • mood changes 
  • fatigue 
  • intense sugar cravings 
  • irregular/absent periods 
  • boils under the skin 
  • hair loss from head

In addition to the above, in the long-term, PCOS can increase the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes likely due to the underlying hormone imbalances and chronic inflammation that is frequently seen in this condition.

Due to the complexity of PCOS, lack of funding and lack of expertise from medical teams, women often have to try and figure out how to manage PCOS by themselves. With the rise of blogs and social media, women now have access to more information than ever. Unfortunately, not all information is good information and some ‘helpful’ tips can sometimes even worsen PCOS. 

So, what are the top five mistakes I see women with PCOS make? 

1. Not targeting the root cause

Many women with PCOS will have a degree of insulin resistance, high levels of male hormones and inflammation which will be the underlying cause of symptoms. Often, you will find women using topical creams, or trying to lose weight quickly to help resolve these symptoms. Ultimately, while this may provide temporary relief, by not targeting the root cause, you are opening yourself up to life-long struggles. 

In order to identify the root triggers of your PCOS symptoms, it is important to ask your GP for a comprehensive set of blood tests, some of which include a full thyroid panel, nutritional profile, a full androgen profile and a full blood sugar profile. This will then allow you to understand the underlying cause of your symptoms and better target them. 

2. Cutting out whole food groups

Many myths perpetuate the PCOS space and some of these include cutting out dairy, gluten and soy. A lot of social media accounts encourage this practice despite there being no evidence base. Furthermore, most women cut out these food groups without adequately substituting them resulting in some nutritional deficiencies that can worsen PCOS symptoms.

Granted, there are some women who may benefit from a short trial of eliminating these food groups to see if they truly do exacerbate symptoms but this is definitely not the case across the board and should be tried as a last resort once the nutritional foundations have been implemented well.

3. Imbalanced meals

Due to the underlying hormonal imbalances, it is important to have the right proportion of different food groups at every meal. This should include a balance of protein fibre, healthy fats and whole grain carbohydrates. Instead, what is often seen in a large number of refined carbs at each meal with a small amount of protein.

4. Trying to out-supplement a nutritionally inadequate diet 

Taking a supplement without getting your nutritional foundations right is kind of like trying to run before you can walk. While supplements for PCOS can be part of a structured plan, it is important to ensure that you are getting the basics right first.

5. Trying to make many changes all at the same time

Clients that come to see me are often trying a whole load of supplements, have restricted many food groups and have no symptom relief. This is understandable as due to the plethora of information online, it can all get overwhelming which makes it difficult to have a targeted strategy. PCOS is a lifelong condition and so it is important to have a steady and consistent approach to avoid burnout in the long run.

In view of this, here is some helpful advice: 

  • Keep changes small. Although this sounds underwhelming, it is always the small but steady changes that compound over time which then go on to make the biggest difference. 
  • Consistency is key. Many people often give up with the new goals after a few weeks because they haven’t seen significant results. When it comes to PCOS, most people will not see any big changes until at least the three-month mark so keep at it! 
  • Pick two to three interventions at a time. And give yourself at least 12 weeks for these to become habits. Once these are habits, you will no longer need to rely on motivation, willpower or discipline to keep at them. Rather, they will become something you do without thinking. At this point, you can then add further interventions. 
  • Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Perfection does not exist.

And there you have some common mistakes that you should avoid making when it comes to managing your PCOS. Ideally, every woman with PCOS will have access to a dietitian upon diagnosis to fine comb the diet, request the correct blood tests from the GP, interpret the results and provide the patient with an individualised diet and supplement plan.

Unfortunately, seeing a dietitian is not always accessible or affordable. This is why I have launched my PCOS survival kit which includes the following:

  • An overview of PCOS.
  • An explanation of what’s driving your PCOS symptoms.
  • The key blood tests you need to ask for to get more specific information about your symptoms.
  • The importance of these blood tests and how to interpret the results.
  • An in-depth review of the key nutrition foundations that every woman with PCOS needs to know about.
  • A discussion of popular diets perpetuated in the PCOS space and why they can often do more harm than good.
  • A review of the most effective supplements for PCOS, the correct dosages at which to take them and the conditions in which they should not be taken.

To celebrate the launch, I am giving it away at a bargain price of £9.99 up until the end of May, after which the price will increase to £39. You can grab your hands on a copy via the link on my Instagram page.

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London SW14 & E18
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Written by Rania Salman, Registered Dietitian, PgDip (Merit), BSc (Honours), MBDA
London SW14 & E18

Rania Salman is a trained dietitian who uses an evidence-based approach to support you in reaching your goals. Her areas of expertise include Fertility, PCOS, weight loss/gain in addition to general health and wellbeing. She has worked in some of the most well-known NHS trusts, in addition to working for the private sector.

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