Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, is one of the most common endocrine disorders in females. Women with PCOS experience hormonal imbalances, which can lead to reproductive, metabolic, and psychological consequences. PCOS affects overall health, fertility, appearance, and metabolism. Managing PCOS is complex, and the best treatment is supported by a multidisciplinary team focused on addressing your specific symptoms and concerns. 

A Challenging Diagnosis

PCOS is a syndrome, which is defined as “a condition characterized by a group of symptoms that consistently occur together,” as opposed to a disease with distinguishing signs and symptoms with a defined cause, process, and treatment. In contrast to a disease, the direct cause of symptoms related to syndromes is not necessarily understood.

The wide range of symptoms associated with PCOS has led to confusion and controversy surrounding diagnosis. Major health organizations around the world tend to disagree on how to best confirm whether or not a person has PCOS. While some women experience many of the telltale signs, others may have only two or three symptoms. Current international guidelines called the Rotterdam Criteria state that a woman may have PCOS with two out of three major symptoms: high androgen levels, polycystic ovaries, or irregular menstrual cycles. Diagnosis also requires ruling out other potential medical conditions that cause similar symptoms.

Generalized Recommendations, Distinct Experiences

No single cause or defined cure for PCOS has been identified. Though women who experience PCOS have unique sets of symptoms, the same general recommendations tend to be provided across the board: lose weight (or don’t gain weight), restrict carbohydrates, and exercise. Due to the distinct experiences of women with PCOS, guidance for managing it cannot come from an instructional pamphlet or Google search. Instead, an individualized approach that supports the whole person—physically, mentally, emotionally, socially—is crucial.

PCOS Symptom:

  • Insulin Resistance
  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Infertility
  • Pregnancy Complications
  • Excess hair growth on face and body
  • Acne
  • Mood Changes
  • Headaches
  • Sleep Problems
  • Pelvic Pain
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Darkening of Skin
  • Alopecia (hair loss from head)

Starting Afresh with Managing PCOS

It may be time for a different approach to PCOS management, and we have some suggestions for next steps…

Stop dieting.

Many women with PCOS feel their diagnosis sentences them to a lifetime of dieting. At Memphis Nutrition Group, we believe life doesn’t have to be this way and that dieting inevitably backfires with PCOS management. Studies clearly show that diets don’t work and can lead to disordered eating behaviors. Binge eating is a common and protective biological response to intensified cravings due to restriction. Sadly, approximately 86% of individuals with PCOS present with a subclinical eating disorder. Low-calorie dieting increases cortisol, which is linked to insulin resistance and weight gain. Weight cycling or yo-yo dieting is also connected to higher insulin levels, testosterone, cholesterol, and blood pressure. In other words, dieting can worsen the symptoms of PCOS.

Put the scale away.

The scale connects us to a number and disconnects us from our bodies. With weight at center stage, it can be easy to lose sight of how we feel. Putting the scale away allows the focus to shift to life-enhancing behaviors and away from weight loss at any cost. Stop tracking your weight and ignoring your quality of life! You are the expert of your body. By putting concerns about weight on the back burner, you can reconnect and say “hello” to PCOS symptoms, allowing them to signal areas that may need more focused attention.

Focus on adding, not subtracting.

Effective management of PCOS centers around working with your body…not against it. Rather than subtracting carbohydrates or obsessing about decreasing the number on the scale, focus on adding joyful movement, adequate sleep, and self care. Managing PCOS may mean ensuring you’re eating enough, being strategic with nutrition timing and protein planning, or incorporating supplements to enhance health and improve symptoms.

Registered Dietitians – Valuable Members of the Multidisciplinary Team

Since diet and lifestyle are the primary treatments for PCOS along with medication, Registered Dietitians play an important role in helping women with PCOS optimize their health and quality of life. The dietitians at Memphis Nutrition Group support women in reconnecting with their bodies, becoming their own best advocates, and living a fulfilling life despite PCOS. 

Blair Mize, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN, CEDRD-S is co-owner of Memphis Nutrition Group, a nutrition and lifestyle counseling practice offering in-person and virtual nutrition therapy specializing in a non-diet, weight-neutral approach. The Registered Dietitians at Memphis Nutrition Group help individuals reconnect with their bodies, find confidence and clarity in their everyday choices, and create a peaceful, balanced approach to food that tastes good and feels even better. Contact Memphis Nutrition Group at 901.343.6146 or visit MemphisNutritionGroup.com for more information.