Top Tips for PCOS / by lee tilghman

PCOS stands for Polycistic Ovarian Syndrome. It is when the female reproductive hormones are out of balance. PCOS is the #1 cause of infertility and affects 1 in 10 women of child bearing age. PCOS-ers have high levels of androgens (the male hormones) and high levels of insulin.

I have PCOS, and I've shared my PCOS journey with you guys and talk about it often on stories and on my Instagram

Navigating PCOS and all the information is overwhelming, I know. There are so many varying opinions, recovery plans, and confusing facts. It can be disheartening. Many western doctors also tell their PCOS patients to go on birth control to handle the symptoms. But that's not what I wanted, so I took my health into my own hands and healed it naturally.

Thankfully, awareness is spreading and PCOS-ers are educating themselves, so I figured I would put together a general guide to PCOS and what has worked for me. Remember...I healed my PCOS the natural way, so I don't use prescription medication or birth control, meaning you won't find those kinds of suggestions on here.

I found out I had PCOS by a certified endocrinologist (a fancy term for a hormone specialist) and suggest that you do as well if you think you have PCOS. 

I currently do not see a nutritionist or holistic practitioner, but if you are new to PCOS, I suggest discussing these lifestyle changes with your primary care doctor just to be safe. Some of the herbs and other things should not be taken with certain diseases or when pregnant, for example.

Top Tips for PCOS

Diet

Diet is arguably one of the most important aspects of managing PCOS. Learning how to stabilize your blood sugar levels is a huge part of eliminating PCOS symptoms. Some of the biggest things that helped my PCOS symptoms was removing certain foods and incorporating others. It was just learning which foods worked for me. Below is the list of what worked for me. 

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  • cutting out:
    • coffee (yes, that's right...goodbye coffee. it burns out your adrenals and puts stress on your system. kiss that black juice goodbye and switch to matcha or remove caffeine all together)
    • gluten/white/processed bread
    • dairy
    • soy
    • corn
    • processed sugar (I mean..by now we all know that white sugar is horrible for us, but especially if you have PCOS...consuming this stuff will worsen symptoms in every way possible)
    • added sugars (even natural ones like honey, maple, etc.)*
    • alcohol
    • high carbohydrate fruits like banana, pineapple, mango, papaya, etc.**
    • meat not sourced from quality farms
    • eggs (many PCOS-ers report feeling icky after eggs. Though they are fine for some, not everyone can tolerate them so consider letting them go for a month to see how you feel)
  • incorporating:
    • healthy carbohydrates (sweet potato, squash, roasted carrots)
    • healthy fats (coconut, avocado, almond butter, olive oil, avocado oil)
    • lean proteins (salmon, seasonal fish, turkey, chicken, lamb, sometimes beef)
    • leafy greens (spinach, chard, kale, collard greens, arugula, dandelion greens, seasonal lettuce)
    • herbal teas (cinnamon, rose, licorice, turmeric and ginger teas are some of my favorites)
    • adaptogens
      • ashwagandha
      • chaga
      • reishi
      • he shou wu
  • balancing meals: leafy greens, quality protein, proper carbohydrates, and healthy fat
  • if I repeatedly feel bloated/tired/groggy/migraine-y after I eat something, I pay attention and eliminate it for a few weeks until I can safely eat it again
  • properly spreading out my carbohydrate intake throughout the day (not too many in any one sitting)
  • I rotate my foods weekly, daily even. Never eat the same thing for breakfast every day for weeks. In my opinion, this is how food intolerances can be built.
  • cycle syncing (read my blog post here)
  • on special occasion, I eat gluten and sugar-y products 'cause life is short. but in general I stay away. 
  • My meal prep guide is a good place to start for navigating the world of eating correctly for hormone health. It's a 40 page recipe + tip book filled with tons of tricks and ideas for eating healthy all week long. It's also #PCOS friendly. 

*I eat sugar on occasion but I am very careful about how often and when I consume it.

**cutting out fruits completely is not necessary for everyone, but certainly paying attention to how much sugar you are eating (even in fruits) is very important when you have PCOS. 

In the end, your diet is your own to experiment and play around with. There is truly no one diet for everyone, so be open to change, especially if you want to heal your PCOS. 

I am also a huge advocate for living a sustainable, happy life, free from food fears. When I was first diagnosed with PCOS I was so strict with this diet I took it a bit too far and didn't even let myself have maple syrup...ever. I am realizing with time that I want this to be sustainable and long-lasting so I let myself eat "treats" and even gluten and real sugar sometimes, especially when I am on vacation. I believe this keeps me from feeling deprived.

It is common to be overwhelmed and discouraged by all the foods you "can't" eat with PCOS. But chances are, if you are eating a certain way and eliminating your trigger foods that cause your symptoms to spike, you will feel so good that you will learn to love the way you eat. 

Be honest with yourself. Listen to your intuition. What is your inner child asking for?

Stress Management

Doin' yoga in my Airbnb on a work trip. Many times I just do a few asanas to get the blood flowing and my body feeling. You don't always have to go to a crazy yoga class. A little bit of yoga every day. 

Doin' yoga in my Airbnb on a work trip. Many times I just do a few asanas to get the blood flowing and my body feeling. You don't always have to go to a crazy yoga class. A little bit of yoga every day. 

Secondary to diet, stress management is huge. For a long time I overlooked this aspect of my life because I thought diet and exercise were the most important thing when it came to health and wellness. But during the height of my PCOS my body was failing me, despite my best efforts. I knew I had to try something new. So, I did my best to work on reducing my external and internal stress. 

  • I ceased all high intensity interval training and traded my hardcore workouts in for light walking, yoga, and hikes. 
  • I began cultivating healthier coping mechanisms
    • yoga (single handedly the biggest stress reducer of all for me)
    • nightly baths, cups of herbal tea in the afternoon
    • journaling 3x a week
    • going for long walks outside when stressed (nature heals)
    • aromatherapy (essential oils)
    • surrounding myself with strong, supportive friends and family who respect my lifestyle and choices and keeping in good touch with them all
    • sound baths
    • breath work
    • alone time
    • massages every 2 months
    • making sure I am achieving a healthy work/life balance
    • meditation (I use the calm app)
    • acupuncture

If you are not putting your stress management at the forefront of your PCOS recovery plan, I suggest you start doing so immediately. Stress can be the thing that is stopping you from losing the excess weight, causing anxiety/insomnia, depression, fatigue, and other symptoms of PCOS. 

It is impossible to remove all stress from our lives. Some stuff is just out of our control. If you live in the modern world, stress is unavoidable. I am convinced even if we all moved to the woods and lived in nature without technology we'd still stress about something. It's not about removing all stress, but learning how to handle it in a healthy way. Learn to set yourself up for success so you can handle the inevitable stress.

Movement

Like I mentioned above, my whole life I had thought that exercise was SO important for staying at a healthy weight. And don't get me wrong, it IS. But stressing your body out with 5 Soulcycle classes or going on runs 6 days a week is actually doing your body a disfavor when you have PCOS. 

  • cutting out HIIT/cardio/loud music workouts
  • yoga 3-4x a week (this is great for gaining strength and flexibility)
  • hikes
  • 20 minute post breakfast or post dinner walks
  • once my adrenals healed, maintaining an active lifestyle through rotating LISS, cardio, HIIT, and strength training, with regular rest days spread throughout.
  • consistency is key. view it as a journey, not a destination. consistently working out is important with PCOS. I definitely feel crappy if I don't workout for 3 or more days in a row and feel off.
  • I rest during my period.
  • listen to your body. motivate but do not push yourself. listen to your inner wisdom. trust it. better to rest than to injure. 

Self Care

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Self care isn't selfish. It is not a trend. It is not narcissism. Self care is knowing yourself enough so that you can you be the best possible version of yourself for your friends, family, loved ones and the world. Taking 5 minutes a day and doing one of the simple acts below shows yourself that you are WORTHY OF LOVE and teaches others how to love you as well. Once you believe that you deserve care, love and respect you'll find that other people will catch onto it too. 

  • coconut oil hair masks (also called..le cocobun! learn how I do it here)
  • dry brushing (learn how I do it here)
  • meal prepping (you can buy my guide to meal prep here)
  • flossing (yep-flossing)
  • adapting cleaner home habits
  • getting enough sleep
  • face masks (here's a favorite)
  • buying a plant (they improve air quality and your brain releases endorphins every time you see one)

Birth Control+Periods

There is a lot of apprehension about going off birth control pills for naturally tackling PCOS. I believe each woman has the right to decide what's right for her and her body. When my doctor told me to go back on BC when I was diagnosed with PCOS I was like, "Hell no," and I'm so glad I stood by my intuition. Fake hormones be gone. 

  • I have been off "The Pill" for 2 years and believe it was important for me to make this decision for my body
  • I use condoms during sex to abstain from getting pregnant. I love the brand Sustain
  • I never had issues going off the pill- but trust me, your body will adjust. if you are on BC to keep acne at bay or get a regular period, it's not your real body doing the work and your hormones will stay imbalanced. do your research.
  • My cycle returned after 8 months of eating right, working on stress, exercising at more healthy levels and learning to properly manage my new Post-PCOS lifestyle. It's been regular ever since. 

PCOS Symptoms

  • HAIR GROWTH I have received 10+ electrolysis treatments over the years for hirsutism or excess hair growth from my PCOS. I tried waxing, shaving, plucking, but none of it was working. I definitely suggest looking into an electrolysis center near you and going in for an initial consultation.
    • be warned: it hurts. it can cause scarring, dryness and redness. but it is a permanent solution. 
  • HAIR LOSS luckily I have never dealt with this symptom, but many people who have say aloe vera hair masks help with hair re-growth. Also taking collagen is wonderful for growing stronger hair.
  • WEIGHT GAIN I definitely struggled with this. Eliminating stress, coffee, alcohol, gluten, dairy, soy, processed foods and most sugars helped immensely.  I also stick to the 12 hour window each night, meaning I eat dinner at 7pm and don't have my matcha till 7am, then breakfast around 10am. Intermittent fasting has been very helpful for me. 
  • HORMONAL ACNE that cleared up as soon as I cleaned up my diet. Like I mentioned above, I cut out all the foods above and my acne almost went away completely. every now and then I indulge in coffee and I swear I get a pimple the next day. 😆

RESOURCES

  • I learned pretty much everything I know from the book Womancode by Alisa Vitti. I highly, highly recommend it.
  • My meal prep guide is a good place to start for ideas on how to eat healthy.
  • I love tracking my cycle with the MyFlo app on iTunes
  • Listen to my latest guest podcast episode on Glowing Up where I talk a lot about PCOS
  • My favorite period cup is here 

What are some of your favorite PCOS top tips? Share them below!