How to articles abound in the blogosphere so I typically resist writing them. But every once in a while someone (or multiple someones in this case) will ask me how I do or did something and I think “hmm, maybe I ought to write that…”
By now my journey from PCOS hell to PCOS remission is well known. What I’ve never really done is chronicle how I did it. I think my reservation in doing so stemmed largely from the fact that how I did it isn’t necessarily the way someone else should do it nor might it be the right way for them to do it. The steps I took were based on my research, my living in my own body, and 4 years of self-experimentation. That said, reading other women’s accounts of how THEY did it was something I found helpful because it gave me both hope and a reference point, especially because my doctor insisted that it wasn’t possible.
I’m his one success story.
Step 1: Clean up your diet
I may or may not have mentioned before that in the early part of 2014 I weighed 200lbs. I’d already completed an elimination diet and found that gluten and dairy were not my friends. I actually fought this for months, eliminating both for a few weeks then succumbing to the siren song of pasta or a burrito or a sandwich, only to pay for it pretty instantly. A burrito was actually the thing that did me in, the thing that made me FINALLY just accept that I could not eat wheat.
So I went gluten-free. And I ate all the gluten-free things, most of which were not worth it and tasted awful.
And I ballooned.
Weighing in at 200lbs was my come to Jesus moment. I knew it was coming and I was unsurprised. What struck me though was the intense anger I had towards myself, the instant acceptance of responsibility, knowing and understanding that I was the one shoveling all the foods into my mouth. There was no “poor me”, no depression, no tears, and no wallowing. Just instantaneous pulling myself up by my bootstraps, acceptance of what was, and an unwavering commitment to fix it.
To be clear, my anger wasn’t self-hatred. For the first time in my life, I was angry because I knew I deserved better. I was angry because I’d hated myself to that point and it was clear that was getting me nowhere. No, this anger was because I LOVED (and still do, obv) myself.
From there I jumped into Paleo and in the last year or so switched to a more ketogenic diet. I’m finding that as long as I stick within these boundaries, I continue to move my way to where I want to be. I’ve lost 25% body fat and 60 lbs over the last 4 years and I’m working on losing another 5% body fat and improving my carbohydrate tolerance which is still quite low. But I know that those are things that improve with time.
Step 2: Remove/reduce endocrine disrupters
Hormones are generated in the endocrine glands. PCOS is a hormone disorder. So when I really got serious with reversing this, one of the first things that jumped out at me was all the chatter about endocrine disrupters in our lives. Don’t know about them? Google “endocrine disrupters” and be prepared to utter “WTF”.
I started by replacing household cleaners and personal hygiene products with safer options as I ran out. As much as I just wanted to throw everything away and start with a clean slate, safer products cost more. They cost more because they have to be processed differently and, with personal hygiene products, they have a MUCH shorter shelf life.
I have seriously questioned this move more than once due to the cost and some performance issues but I always come back to this: if you want your hormones to come back into balance, don’t introduce something into your system that’s going to block you from doing that.
Step 3: Supplementation
I do a lot of research. I’m constantly listening to summits and podcasts and reading emerging research. Supplementation was the next thing I jumped into. I’ve tried many, many different supplements (see my Resources page to see what I recommend). There have been many I tried that I didn’t find any benefit to me and a handful that I’ve tried that, with time, have definitely had the desired effect.
The key to this experimentation has been this: time. You HAVE to give anything you try at least 6 months before you write it off. The other thing to note is that your hormone balance is different than mine, so you have to be willing to experiment knowing that not everything is going to work.
Step 4: Move
For me, insulin resistance was a major issue. As a matter of fact, PCOS is CAUSED by insulin resistance. I’ve probably been insulin resistant since I hit puberty to varying degrees. This is why my attempt at veganism actually made me sicker – I just substituted grains for the animal protein. While diet is powerful, certain types of exercise can help change your body composition.
Body composition is far more important than body weight when it comes to insulin resistance. I’ve always preferred some form of strength training, mostly because I find cardio BORING. I did really cool things with strength training when I was 17 and that’s stayed with me. Knowing what works for you and what you like is important.
Here’s the thing: straight cardio isn’t your friend when it comes to insulin resistance. And there’s plenty of research on this. Hypertrophy did some really cool things for me. But it’s important to remember that you cannot out exercise a bad diet. No amount of strength training is going to help you change your body composition if you continue to feed the insulin resistance. This is a do not pass Go, do not collect $200 issue.
Step 5: Natural Deodorant
Okay, shouldn’t this be in the endocrine disrupters? Well, yes but…
Deodorant is typically the last thing people change and for good reason. None of us want to stink! I finally switched in October 2017 and yes, there was an adjustment period.
For starters, they aren’t antiperspirants. I now sweat and I’ve had to get used to that. But since I eat quite clean, all the gross standard American diet smells don’t come out of my pores so I don’t STINK. I smell like me. Stress can be a little aromatic but that’s nothing a quick trip to the ladies room for a pat down and reapplication can’t fix.
Yes, I sometimes carry deodorant around with me. Call it an anti-stink insurance policy.
Did you see the underlying theme through all this?
I didn’t get sick overnight. I didn’t get well overnight. Neither did nor will you.
The asterisk to all these steps is that I came to this from love and compassion. No amount of self-hatred or self-abuse could have done this for me. That’s why I haven’t kicked back and said: “I’m well, I can coast now.”
I’m working on improving my carb tolerance (I still get food coma if I eat potatoes or any simple carbohydrates) and losing another 5% body fat because I’d prefer to be on the lower end of the healthy range than at the top.
But make no mistake: this isn’t a walk in the park. It’s hard work. It’s often isolating. Sometimes it involves legitimate suffering.
Being pharmaceutical free, menstruating on a NORMAL schedule (menstruating AT ALL), being comfortable in my body and acne free – those things make the work worth it.