Dealing With Weight Gain: Understanding Your Emotions With PCOS
Once you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS – no matter how serious or painful your symptoms are, it can be extremely difficult to know what to do next. Above all, it’s important to remember that although PCOS is linked to your hormones and insulin production, it’s by no means your fault. And more often than not, the uncomfortable symptoms can be managed with simple lifestyle changes, such as fine-tuning your diet and exercise regime.
PCOS and weight gain is a catch 22 – PCOS is linked to insulin resistance in the body, which can trigger an increase in weight, and since excess body fat increases insulin production which can exacerbate PCOS symptoms. Unfortunately for some women, this is a vicious cycle - it can be a very hard rhythm to break. Such rapid changes in your body can be physically alienating, not to mention emotionally distressing. But while information online is saturated with advice on leading the textbook perfect PCOS lifestyle – with so much of it focusing on the best way to lose weight – there’s hardly any information on how to deal with the emotional implications weight gain can trigger. This, in our opinion, is just as important, which is why we want to delve into it.
How can weight gain affect your mental health?
A study, published by the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2010, found a positive link between weight gain and depression. Researchers reported that obese people have a 55% higher risk of developing depression compared to those with a normal weighti. The researchers proposed that odd eating patterns, eating disorders, and the physical discomfort of being obese could foster depression. Their conclusions also placed low self-esteem as a precursor to depression. But this isn’t surprising given ‘thinness’ is now tightly wrapped up in ideals about beauty – an elusive goal of perfection that is plastered across every social media platform, billboard and television screen. Clearly, this unrealistic beauty ideal can fuel a constant process of disappointment, longing, loathing, relapse, and self-punishment.
What may exacerbate depressive tendencies is your cocktail of hormones, which is at the heart of PCOS. Data showcases a compelling connection between insulin resistance, androgen excess, and depression. One controlled trial found that women with androgen excess (a typical characteristic of PCOS) are more likely to battle with depression than those without it.ii
Unsurprisingly, living under a cloud of depression can negatively impact many aspects of your everyday life, often making socialising, work commitments and relationships problematic. However, with the correct application, you can deal with the outpouring of pessimism weight gain can rouse. Here are a few techniques – they won’t all work for you, but hopefully one or two of them will be helpful.
How can you deal with these negative emotions?
A little disclaimer before we continue: this isn’t a section on ‘diet’ as you know it. Instead of discussing the best foods for weight loss (which you’re probably bored to tears of reading by now, right?), we want to stress that nourishment goes beyond just keeping you trim; it holds the power to elevate your mood too. And when it’s used properly, it can be a powerful way to combat feelings of depression and melancholy.
Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, is a known precursor for the production of serotonin (a.k.a. your happy hormone). Because serotonin is involved in the regulation of mood, low levels of it can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression.iii One simple (and delicious) solution to boost your natural reserves is to eat foods that are rich in tryptophan (yes – they do exist). This mood-boosting compound can be found in most protein-based foods but is especially abundant in dark chocolate, oats, turkey, eggs, fish, poultry, chickpeas, almonds and sesame. Take a look at our guide to hormone-happy foods for more mood-boosting meal ideas.
Say ‘no’ to skipping meals
To keep your blood glucose levels stable (and in turn, your mood in check) avoid skipping meals – it’s the cardinal sin. As the age-old saying goes: breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper. Recent trials have illustrated that individuals who eat more in the morning significantly improve their blood sugar levels, even when consuming the same amount of calories across the dayiv. Pretty amazing, don’t you think?
Get your blood pumping
Exercise is more than just a weight-loss tool, used for shedding the pounds and toning up. 30 to 40 minutes of cardio will unleash a torrent of endorphins – feel-good chemicals that elevate your mood and fill you with that ‘get-up-and-go’ feeling. Can you see how the term ‘runner’s high’ was coined now? Aim for some form of aerobic exercise, such as running, cycling, brisk walking or swimming, 3-4 times per week.
Moment of Zen
Did you know practicing yoga is known to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression? Yes, this traditional Buddhist practice lives up to its esteemed reputation. The practice opens your eyes to the true power, strength and beauty of your body – regardless of its weight or size, which is an immense confidence boost in itself. If you can’t make it to a class, try practising in the comfort of your own home (we find YouTube pretty helpful).
A healthy dose of this so-called ‘sunshine vitamin’ is crucial for insulin sensitivity and regulating your mood. 1000iu each day will unleash its mood-boosting benefits.
Adequate levels of DHA and EPA fatty acids are vital for optimal brain function, so it’s always wise to add a high-strength Omega 3 supplement to your diet if you’re battling with low mood or depressive tendencies.
5-HTP is the natural compound your body makes from the amino acid, tryptophan. It’s converted in the brain to serotonin – that ‘happy hormone’ we’ve spoken about before, which affects everything from sleep, to mood, to appetite. So replenishing your stocks with 5-HTP can be a useful way to improve your mood.
St John’s Wort
St John’s Wort is a traditional herbal remedy used for the relief of mild anxiety and low mood.
Clock those z’s
Getting enough shuteye is essential fuel for your mood, and will help keep depressive thoughts about weight gain at bay. Struggling with sleep stress? Make sure you establish a healthy sleeping pattern (got to bed and wake up at the same time every day); avoid drinking caffeine after 4pm – yes, even that innocent evening cuppa; and ensure your sleep sanctuary is a tech-free zone at least 30 minutes before clocking off.
Surround yourself with positive people
Having supportive friends can make the world of difference when it comes to body confidence. Being around people who are constantly fat shaming and stressing about their weight can make you feel worried about yourself. Remember: surround yourself with ‘radiators’ – people who ooze warmth and support, and avoid ‘drains’ – those who zap your energy and self-esteem.
When you’re crying out for a little TLC, making time for self-care can be just what the doctor ordered. Whether it’s having a long soak in the bath, practicing meditation, unplugging from technology, or spending time in nature, carving out time for yourself will nourish your overall wellbeing and help overcome any anxiety you have over your weight. Here are a few examples of techniques you can use to optimise your emotional wellbeing.
Weight gain can be physically and emotionally taxing for PCOS sufferers, triggering feelings of low self-esteem and despondency. But as we’ve demonstrated, there are numerous tips and tricks to elevate your mood and deal with the distress weight gain can rouse. The take home message is this: once you start showing yourself love and compassion, any negativity you feel towards weight gain and body image should slowly dissipate. Don’t expect quick fixes – it’s a process. But it gets easier if you surround yourself with things that make you feel positive, it’s harder if you don’t. We are not saying you have to love your body the whole time (that’s just setting up another pressure that you can’t realistically live up to), but what you can try to do is remember that your body doesn’t define you.
Want to discover more ways to feel emotionally and physically empowered – ready to take on your PCOS? Feel free to browse the rest of our PCOS hub.
Luppino, F.S., et al. (2010). Overweight, obesity, and depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 67(3): 220-9.
Farrell, K., et al. (2010). Insulin resistance, obesity, inflammation, and depression in polycystic ovary syndrome: biobehavioral mechanisms and interventions. Fertility and Sterility. 94 (5): 1565 -1574.
Lindseth, G., et al. (2015). The Effects of Dietary Tryptophan on Affective Disorders. Arch Psychiatr Nurs. 29 (2): 102-107.
The Telegraph (2016). )Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper to stay healthy, say scientists. Available online: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/06/22/breakfast-like-a-king-lunch-like-a-prince-and-dine-like-a-pauper