Life with PCOS / by lee tilghman

Last year, When I first found out I had PCOS in February 2016, I cried in the lobby of my endocrinologists office as I quick googled some of the facts.

I felt so hopeless.

Alone.

Desperate for answers.

Upon googling "PCOS", I read what it can lead to "Insulin resistance, infertility, weight gain, chronic cystic acne, mood swings..."

And to only make matters worse. there was almost NO information on the internet about it, and nobody on here was speaking about it either. (Remember, this about a year ago, so a lot more awareness has been put up since them) 

Being in the health and wellness world as part of my career, I was pretty shocked I had it. But I couldn't help but realize, I was also grateful. So many of may unexplainable issues were finally solved, and I could put a name to my annoying symptoms that were holding me back from living my best life.

Before I go into it, it is important to note that I was taking birth control (the "Pill") from 2010-2014).

Now. Here is my PCOS story. 

How I found out I had PCOS:

  1.  Stress + Anxiety: I first noticed this change in my body in November 2014. It started with coffee. I had been drinking coffee since I was in high school at age 16. It had never affected me negatively, not once in my life. I could drink 1 or 2 cups a day, or even 3 or 4. I was addicted to caffeine and pretty oblivious of my coffee intake. But then, it changed. I noticed whenever I drank coffee I'd be profoundly more anxious the whole day. I'd be on-edge, moody, or short with people and impatient with myself. I also noticed how immediately after drinking coffee, I would sweat out of my armpits. And not normal stress, it was adrenal stress sweat. It smelt bad and it was my body's way of saying "AHHH! We are on overdrive!"  My friend told me that fall that she had the same issue, but had switched over to green tea and kept raving about its effects. No jitters, no crash, no nothing. She loved it. I wasn't ready to give up coffee though. I continued to drink it and come up with excuses as to why I shouldn't give it up. I I LOVED my coffee. First thing in the morning, everyday before a workout, it was me and my coffee. I loved sitting in coffee shops and sipping an americano. I loved getting up from work and walking down the block for a almond milk latte. I loved cold brew in the summer. It was my way of connecting with people and my city.  Coffee made me so jittery and jumpy, and not a good kind of way. Then, I'd CRASH at 3:00 or 4:00PM. I'd be so tired and completely unproductive at work, normally grabbing for a snack/small meal or another cup of Joe. The fatigue was so serious sometimes I'd need to take a nap after work just to make dinner. It took me a full year to eventually give up coffee. More on that in another post.
  2. Extra Weight: Although I was exercising heavily and eating "healthy", I gained about 10 lbs around my midsection that I just could not shake off. I had not changed anything in my diet, and the rest of my body had not gained fat. Normally this is hormonal (stubborn weight around the midsection)
  3. Embarassing hair growth: Ready for realness? I was growing hair in places that not many women "should" grow hair. This was definitely something I was by far the most embarrassed by, as I feel like it's a topic many women do NOT speak about...ever. Many women grow facial hair but never speak about it to each other. I was so humiliated by some of my hair growth and felt so alone and embarrassed. I also didn't feel like a woman. This was the toughest side effect of PCOS. 
  4. Uh... period? Where art thou? I wasn't getting a regular period.
  5. Stubborn Chin + Jawline Acne: I kept getting small pimples around my chin and jawline. This was strange because I had always had fairly clear skin with no issues. I thought it was from doing a lot of yoga (I was doing tons of yoga at the time) but it wasn't making sense because I wasn't breaking sweats in my yoga class, plus I was washing my face/neck after every class to get the bacteria off, but nothing was helping. I did some research and found out that jawline and chin acne is normally due to hormonal imbalance. It was starting to come together.
  6. Food Intolerances: During this time, I was eating smoothie bowls for breakfast 4x a week. I would load the smoothie bowl up with 1 1/2-2 bananas and another fruit, then top it with more fresh fruit and banana. I don't even WANT to know how many grams of sugar I was consuming, but it definitely was not helping my hormone hinderance. All that sugar was definitely disrupting my hormones. The banana-laden smoothies also led me to become intolerant to bananas, so my gut lining and digestion were wayyy off. Read my post about how I found out about my food intolerance by going here: http://www.leefromamerica.com/recipes/2016/8/22/my-experience-with-food-intolerances-part-i
  7. Adrenal fatigue: I've always been an active gal. Growing up I played sports. In NYC I ran miles at a time. But suddenly, my body was so tired and run down, when I'd show up at the gym, I could barely even do 6 minutes on the treadmill without feeling faint. I'd try to go on runs like I used to and my body was literally screaming at me to stop. I later learned that this is due to adrenal fatigue. My body was already in such a stressed out state it didn't want anymore cardio or else it would be in a bad place. 

All these symptoms piled up and they were not making sense. I could tell something was off. 

making a change

In April 2016, I finally decided to go to an endocrinologist. She asked me my symptoms and ran a blood test, and diagnosed me with PCOS. 

"What can I do?" I asked her.

She told me it was completely incurable, and told me birth control was the only way to keep symptoms at bay.

I was determined not to go this route, as I really didn't want to take artificial hormones to fix a hormonal issue. This just did not make sense to me. That's when I asked a friend about PCOS who recommended the book Womancode by Alisa Vitti to me. I ordered it that night and read the whole thing in 3 days. I learned so much from that book, and followed her 4 day detox and learned so much about feminine energy and how important it is to honor our cycles and listen to our bodies when they tell us to slow down.

Most importantly, I through reading her book and experimenting with different lifestyles on my own, I have found the following lifestyle changes have helped me immensely in reducing my PCOS symptoms. 

Things I do to keep PCOS at bay:

  • incorporating stress relieving techniques into my every day life:
    • nightly baths, cups of herbal tea in the afternoon
    • journaling 3x a week
    • going for long walks when stressed
    • aromatherapy (essential oils)
    • surrounding myself with strong, supportive friends and family who respect my lifestyle and choices
    • massages every 2 months
    • making sure I am achieving a healthy work/life balance
    • yoga
    • meditation (I use the calm app)
  • limiting and cutting down my sugar consumption; even if it's from natural sources such as dates, bananas, grapefruits, green juice
  •  cutting out alcohol completely
  • once my adrenals healed, maintaining an active lifestyle through rotating LISS, cardio, HIIT, and strength training, with regular rest days
  • omitting gluten and soy. these are toxic triggers that can slowly break down our systems. Soy being especially bad for those of us with hormonal and balances.
  • watching my caffeine intake
  • eating a wide variety of foods (never eating the same thing everyday for more than a few days) this helps keep our system balanced and helps to stave off food intolerances and allergies.
  • omitting bananas and high carb fruits from my diet (this has worked for me, but may not be necessary for everyone) (I still eat blueberries and raspberries pretty regularly but only have 1 serving a day if so) as this spikes our blood sugar and produces insulin 
  • making sure my meals are balanced. I do this by watching my carbohydrate intake throughout the day, limiting my sugar (yes, even natural sugar), and making sure there is sufficient amounts of protein and healthy fats at each meal and snack
  • trying not to ingest too many carbohydrates for dinner (for instance, if I want a sweet potato, I eat it for breakfast or lunch, rarely will I eat one for dinner)
    • if I do eat a carb-heavy dinner, the next day I workout, eat higher in protein and fat, and move on with life! I don't dwell. 
  • making sure I don't go too long without eating. This causes blood sugar levels to drop and bad things can happen. (IE: HANGER!) I always come prepared with snacks when I leave the house or go somewhere. You never know!
  • LED light therapy (post coming up soon about that!)
  • doing an elimination diet once a year to re-set my system. I love Clean Program
  • following the WomanCode Protocol listed in Alisa Vitti's book. 
  • taking herbs such as Ashwagandha, cordyceps, reishi, and chaga from Sun Potion. I love adding them to my morning tea.
  • listening to and honoring my female intuition. 
  • syncing with my cycles (even if I am not getting my actual period, I still honor the natural cycle of my body)
  • ridding my home and skincare products of endocrine disruptors (or toxins) that can lead to hormone imbalance. There is a whole section about this and how to sweep your home in the book Womancode. 
  • eating breakfast within 90 minutes of waking up
  • always making sure I have food in my stomach before consuming caffeine first thing in the morning

Some of my favorite PCOS friendly meals:

going on with life

Living with PCOS can seem very daunting, lonely, and scary. However, there are ways we can help it. We DO have control. We can make a difference. And it starts with YOU.

I was so heartbroken when I found out I had PCOS. It wasn't until I I read more about it and educated myself that I felt better mentally and then physically. Once I bean taking steps toward improving my health, the more empowered I felt. The more research I did, the better I felt. Now, I feel great. I definitely still need to be weary of PCOS "flare ups" (or symptoms that creep up if I don't follow the guidelines I listed above) as I know I am susceptible, but I feel so much more on top of it. I KNOW I need to do to what's best for me.

I don't identify myself by it or let PCOS label me. I am not PCOS. This was really important in my healing process in getting past it. The things we think are more powerful than the words we speak. 

If you are dealing with PCOS, you are not alone. Talk to people. Get support. Be open and honest about your problems. And remember friends, not talking about our issues only feeds the shame/isolation game.

I hope this post was helpful, and that you feel more at ease now after reading.