Serious about your PCOS treatment? Check that you aren't making any of these fundamental errors that can hinder your recovery:
1. Wishing it would just go away
It’s a natural human tendency to do nothing, and sometimes this approach is actually exactly what you need to do. When a health problem emerges our first impulse is to wait and see if it goes away - and sometimes it does. That’s why when you visit your doctor with a health problem, he or she might prescribe nothing and ask you to come back in two weeks. They know that in some cases your symptoms may have emerged from sudden stress, a passing bug, or be something that will resolve itself in time.
Bodies naturally and automatically work constantly to remain at certain set-points, called allostasis. For instance, if your temperature rises your body will start sweating to cause evaporation that cools you down again. Once your temperature has returned to normal, the sweating process is switched off.
When you have a complex disorder like PCOS it’s tempting at first to wait to see if things get better. Your next period might be easier. Maybe you’ll lose weight if you work out harder at the gym. Maybe making the final split from a dysfunctional relationship will change your mood for the better. Your head can start to recite a long list of justifications like this for doing nothing; even more so when life is busy. But when it comes to PCOS, the problem won’t go away on its own.
Hormones tend to fall out of balance in slow motion, so it’s unlikely you’ll wake up one morning to find you’ve suddenly developed PCOS. One week passes, then another. Some good weeks, some awful weeks. You wish these problems would just go away, but they’re simply reflecting the growing imbalance in your hormones. The longer you put off taking action, the more dysfunctional your hormones are likely to become. The more amplified your symptoms become, the more treatment it will take to restore your hormonal health.
In the meantime, significant relationships can be permanently damaged by your sudden mood shifts, or you might lose your job because your boss is fed up with your mood swings impacting on your work. Your skin may become increasingly scarred from acne and now you have to shop for ‘plus size’ clothes. Your periods, if they happen at all, are more eventful each time with flooding, clots and pain.
It's natural to feel overwhelmed at this point.
There’s no getting around it. You have a big job ahead of you to treat your PCOS and this is why having the right team around you can make a difference.
PCOS is a ‘heterogeneous’ disorder, which means there are many possible contributors and many ways the symptoms can present. Like the causes, there are many changes needed to overcome the problems. At first this can seem overwhelming. You’ve visited several practitioners,
both medical and alternative, and been given different explanations for the cause of your PCOS. You’ve been prodded, stuck with needles, had blood drawn, maybe had a glucose tolerance test done, or even been put under anaesthetic for exploratory surgery. By the time you get to the official diagnosis you’re probably emotionally exhausted
. But after all that you then have to choose the best treatment for you from the smorgasbord available and make what seems like a multitude of changes to your diet and lifestyle. At this point you may feel like a rabbit in headlights, unsure which way to jump. It’s tempting to do nothing and wish it would all go away, but that won’t make you better.
The way out of this sense of overwhelm
is to sit down with the practitioner you feel most comfortable with and, together, lay all the information on the table. Your practitioner is accustomed to sorting out what seems like a mountain of information and identifying patterns, then discerning the treatment needed to get results. A good practitioner will be happy to spend as much time as you need explaining what all your information means, and summarising it for you.
Take a deep breath and resolve to do whatever it takes to get your PCOS under control. Life will be more fun when you do!
2. Buying supplements without professional guidance
The internet is a wonderful, wonderful invention. We have all the world’s information at our fingertips. Unfortunately, we have the world’s dis-information at our fingertips
too, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. A multitude of diagnostic health sites are out there waiting for you to type in your symptoms and produce the instant answer. However, a common pattern emerges when you rely completely on the internet for your health care: Firstly, you could plug your symptom details into a medical diagnosis and ten minutes later you’re convinced what you have is fatal. Or, you get sucked into buying an expensive range of supplements from overseas, or you succumb to the emotive language of a web site promoting an extreme diet as the answer to all health problems. Despite these traps the internet also contains much reliable and credible information you can digest before you visit a practitioner for assistance.
The reaction you can get from your health professional to your investigative work will vary. Some practitioners may be threatened by your initiative and dismiss your research efforts. If this happens, perhaps you should re-assess your relationship with your practitioner. A practitioner who is comfortable with your research, and the questions that come from it, will be interested to hear what you found. He or she will discuss with you how your research could fit into your treatment. This way your treatment becomes a collaboration, which is even more powerful than traditional practitioner-patient relationships and your results will be even better.
It’s important to become adept at critical analysis when you’re searching the internet for health information.
Let’s say you type ‘PCOS treatment’ into the search engine. You’ll be offered several million options. How do you choose what site is worth visiting, what’s worth reading and what’s invalid? First, check the credentials of the web site. Is it a government agency? A PCOS support association? A health writer? An online store? The more reliable the source, the more reliable the information may be - but not always. If what you’re reading doesn’t make sense, just move on. There will be plenty of other sites providing more reliable information.
Next, form an opinion on why the web site was created. Was it to genuinely provide information and guidance? (Government and association web sites often fall into this category). If there are products for sale, you can reliably conclude that the web site was created to sell you products, so move on. Be very wary if the language of the web site is emotional. Scientific facts and valid information can be presented in an interesting way without having to resort to emotive language that may distort the facts. As you visit more sites you’ll develop a keen sense of what sounds right and which sites make you feel the web site isn’t for you.
3. Trying to fix this all by yourself
Solving a problem feels great. You can feel yourself glow with a sense of achievement. Like when something you’re cooking turns out perfectly, or you have a ‘good hair’ day or you make your budget stretch successfully. But when it comes to a complex problem like treating PCOS, you will get better results when you enlist the right help.
If you work on this problem alone you have to learn all about PCOS, devise an effective treatment plan and monitor your progress. It’s going to take a lot of time, effort and possibly quite a few failed treatment experiments. Besides, if you go it alone you miss out on the emotional support of having a practitioner behind you.
Becoming well informed about PCOS can give you a real sense of empowerment and knowing about PCOS and the treatments available may enable you to select the treatment approach that’s right for you. But while you’re doing that you need to engage the help of a practitioner who is experienced in treating PCOS who understands the human body and your symptoms.
4. Not considering other treatments
There are many different treatments available for PCOS, all with the same aim - to get you back to your real self, and reduce the likelihood of developing long term chronic disorders from uncontrolled PCOS. Generally, there are two approaches to PCOS treatment: orthodox and alternative, and sometimes they can work together. When you talk to your doctor about your PCOS, they will think about what they know to help treat you effectively. This can include medication or surgery, but also diet and lifestyle considerations.
When you talk to your naturopath they work from what they know as well. It will be a different treatment from the doctor’s because naturopaths use some different tools. Instead of medications or surgery they will consider herbal remedies, homoeopathy and nutrients. Just like the doctor, they consider diet and lifestyle changes as an important part of your treatment. Sometimes though, when you’ve chosen one style of treatment you can’t apply the other as well. For example, if you choose to utilise the oral contraceptive pill to manage your hormones, your naturopath will not be able to use some of their herbal remedies. If they did the two treatments could clash, bringing on unpleasant and possibly dangerous side effects.
What’s important to realise is that you have a choice about which treatment best suits you. When you’re sitting in a practitioner’s office it’s easy to feel intimidated, or that you have to go along with what they suggest. You don’t. There’s no need to make a decision about the type of PCOS treatment you want until you have the different treatment plans to consider. If you feel intimidated or pressured by your practitioner (whether orthodox or alternative) or feel they disapprove of the choice you make, it’s time to seek out a new practitioner. After all, your treatment is going to be a long term project. You want to feel comfortable and supported with every member of your health care team.
When you have chosen your preferred treatment (orthodox, alternative, or a combination), you can expect plenty of unsolicited advice from other people. Comments like “my sister’s friend’s cousin tried that and it didn’t work” or “that therapy doesn’t work” or “you’re being sucked into their system”. “My friend read on the internet about this great product that cured her”. Really unhelpful stuff and especially discouraging if you are feeling nervous about your choice of treatment anyway. The people who make these comments mean well but keep in mind that it’s your body and your decision about how you get better.
5. Refusing to change what you eat
Here’s one of the trade secrets: what naturopaths do to assess the motivation level of a client. When considering diet changes your practitioner may suggest you drop a particular food from your diet to see what effect this has on your health. If the response is “but I love my [insert name of food]” then your practitioner knows you have very little motivation to make real change in your diet and that your treatment progress will be hindered by your reluctance to change. It’s going to be tough, sure, but you’ll have good support backing you up.
Human bodies are incredibly resilient and adaptive. Consider that throughout the world there are many different countries with different diets that reflect their culture and geographic location. A Mediterranean meal looks different to a Japanese meal, or a central African meal, and western meals are different again. And yet our bodies manage to grow and thrive despite different food inputs.
Women with PCOS are more susceptible to the influence of certain nutritional components than the rest of the population. They generally don’t handle sugar well, or fast-release (high GI) carbohydrate foods like white bread. They need to check dietary fibre intake regularly. In practical terms, that means if you have PCOS and you’re eating mostly take-away, soft drinks and sweets, you can expect your body to develop unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms in return. But if you nourish your body with high quality protein, vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts, you can expect your PCOS symptoms will recede. What you choose to put in your mouth makes a difference, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat fun foods ever again.
Making changes to what you eat can be easier than you think and you don’t have to spend the rest of your life deprived of treats. After assessing how motivated you are for change and your food preferences your practitioner will design meal plans that move you closer to your goal of eradicating PCOS and its symptoms. If despite talking with your practitioner you’re still feeling resistant to changing what you eat, take time to ponder what you would gain from changing your diet and what you would lose. Then ask yourself if it’s worth the change.
6. Believing you don’t have to exercise
From time to time you’ll come across diets or supplements that promise amazing weight loss results without exercise. Indeed, they pledge to make you lose numbers on the scale without exercising but what will happen is exactly what you don’t want to happen.
There are two types of weight loss: losing muscle and losing fat. Losing muscle is what sets you up to regain the weight, plus a little more, when you stop dieting. You want to lose fat instead, because muscle cells and fat cells behave differently and have different appetites. Muscle cells are active cells. They use energy 24/7, even when you’re not moving, and use even more energy when you are moving. The right amount of muscle cells gives you a toned, healthy look and keeps your metabolism ticking over nicely. Fat cells, however, behave differently. They’re lazy and don’t do much except store fat – rather like that cupboard under the stairs filled with stuff you haven’t looked at for years. Fat cells don’t use any energy, they just sit around. In excess, too many fat cells give you a blobby look. Worse, fat cells emit chemical messengers and hormones that perpetuate the fat accumulation cycle.
When you embark on one of these magic ‘no-exercise-needed’ diets, what you want to happen doesn’t always happen. Instead of reaching for the excess fat cells to make up the calorie deficit, your body will burn up muscle cells instead. The numbers on the scale will go down, certainly, but when you return to a normal diet, or go on a food splurge, the weight can bounce back on plus more. Your metabolism is now running slower because you have fewer muscle cells, so you don’t need as many calories to maintain your body. The extra fuel just gets shoved into fat cells, making you look flabby as well as fat.
This is why exercise is an important aspect of your treatment. It builds muscle cells and these speed up your metabolism, improve your sensitivity to insulin, and burn off stress hormones.
So - what has been holding YOU back in your PCOS treatment?