Despite the condition remaining an enigma among health experts, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrine disorders affecting women of reproductive age. The global PCOS prevalence is within 5-18%, with around half of women not having a proper diagnosis. Underdiagnosis may be attributed to PCOS being a complex and multifactorial disease stemming from genetics, endocrine system imbalance, excess androgen, insulin resistance, and even lifestyle aspects like sedentary behaviors and an unhealthy diet.

PCOS can also be difficult to treat due to its wide range of symptoms, ranging from irregular menstrual cycles to chronic inflammation that can contribute to or increase the risk of developing diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. Another common symptom is unintentional weight gain and obesity. However, research shows that even a small weight loss of about 5% is clinically significant in improving hormonal balance, insulin levels, and overall quality of life for PCOS patients. So, here are some helpful weight and lifestyle management tips to address PCOS.

Adopt a nutritionally balanced diet

While you can lose weight through calorie deficit, having PCOS means you must also pay attention to nutritional balance to keep your insulin and blood sugar levels in check. Beyond reducing your daily caloric intake, adopting a PCOS diet for weight loss involves prioritizing complex carbohydrates like oats and grains, as they help stabilize blood sugar and contain fiber that slows digestion and supports gut health.

A nutritionally balanced diet fit for PCOS patients also entails eating protein from lean meats, beans, and legumes to slow down the absorption of sugar into the blood and make you feel fuller, ultimately lessening your food intake.

Exercise regularly

Exercise is one of the most common and effective ways to lose weight, as it helps shed excess body fat by burning calories. Fortunately, there are multiple other benefits of exercising when you have PCOS — from strengthening the heart to reduce the risk of cardiac disease to stretching the muscles to reduce body pain and inflammation, which are common PCOS symptoms.

You can start improving your heart health through cardio exercises like walking, cycling, and swimming, ideally 3 to 4 times a week, with each session lasting 30 to 45 minutes. Meanwhile, you can incorporate yoga poses like side stretch and child’s pose at the end of every workout to stretch and improve your flexibility.

Find ways to relieve stress

Did you know that stress is not only a risk factor for weight gain but can also contribute to or aggravate PCOS symptoms? Stress releases the hormone cortisol into the bloodstream, which then heightens the risk of gaining belly fat, increases insulin resistance, and triggers bouts of inflammation.

If you’re struggling with chronic stress, among the effective ways to reduce cortisol levels are yoga, meditation and breathing exercises, and spending time outdoors in nature.

Improve your sleep quality

Research published in BMC Women’s Health found that women with PCOS are more likely to experience sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea and insomnia, due to lower melatonin concentrations. However, the lack of sleep can hinder your weight loss efforts since it stimulates the hunger hormones ghrelin and cortisol and thus makes you eat more throughout the day.

To get the recommended 6-8 hours of sleep at night, start practicing sleep hygiene before bedtime by unplugging electronic devices like phones, computers, and television and avoiding large meals, alcohol, and caffeine.

Overall, PCOS affects many women’s health and quality of life. However, there are plenty of ways to manage your weight and overall lifestyle to address symptoms and minimize the condition’s adverse health effects.