When I was 17 I was diagnosed with PCOS. Polycystic ovarian syndrome. I had never had a regular menstrual cycle and was plagued by the anxiety of not knowing when that time of the month would arrive.
With this as my biggest concern, my mother took me to my first gynea visit. They did blood tests and confirmed that I had PCOS. The solution? To go onto oral contraception that would regulate my hormones and let me know when my period was going to arrive.
PCOS is a disease that is confirmed with blood result and visiting an endocrinologist. It is when the ovary doesn’t ovulate correctly due to a lack of progesterone and elevated oestrogen. The side effects include acne, male pattern hair growth - yes hair on your chin, weight gain, insulin resistance and early heart disease to name a few.
At the age of 17 getting this as a diagnosis left me in shock. It was then topped off with the fact that I would not be able to naturally conceive a child. Not that I wanted children at that age but I wanted a choice!
Scared and confused at my bodies betrayal I accepted my fate of a lifetime of oral contraception. The only problem was that my intuition hated the idea. At a tender age, I hushed my inner voice and did what the doctor said. Surely doctors know best?
I spent the next 12 years of my life dealing with whatever came up with another pill that was the so-called solution to what I was experiencing. I was put into roacutane for my skin and Glucophage for my insulin. I took the pills as I was told. Why? Because having diabetes and acne is scary. I lost trust in my bodies ability to function.
I did laser for my hair growth (and still do) and attempted every fad diet under the sun to move my stubborn weight. It was this constant dance between binge eating and starving myself of all carbs under the sun. I ate sugar and didn’t give the connection between food and body much thought.
Some of it worked and mostly none of it worked. I felt confused and angry at my body. Why couldn’t it just work like everyone else’s? Why did I have to take a pill every day like I was broken?
Fast forward to the present. My career moved into food and my life in the direction of becoming a certified holistic health coach. As the universe would have it I started to do research on my internal health (especially when I wrote WHOLE - bowl food for balance) and started realising that there is another way. I discovered The Women Code by Alisa Vitti along with mindful eating and balance. The book is centred around female reproductive organs and endocrine health. All of a sudden the pieces of the puzzle started to come together.
The penny dropped. If I focused on getting healthy; If I focused on balancing my blood sugar, making sure my liver was healthy and not overloaded if I healed my gut and made sure my digestion was good then all the inflammation in my system would go down. And if I supported my body from the outside with chemical-free friendly products then my endocrine system wouldn’t be inflamed. And if it wasn’t inflamed I could go into remission with PCOS. What? Yes, you read it correctly. Remission. This means no heart disease, weight trouble, acne and vanished periods. And for those out there trying to fall pregnant - the possibility of conceiving a beautiful miracle - naturally without any drugs!
I had to do it, and so I did.
I changed my diet. I changed my lifestyle and I changed my outlook. Every little bit of change not only made me feel better but helped me toward my goal. My goal of balanced hormones, clear skin and regular periods.
I can proudly say that I have just finished my 11th natural menstrual cycle where I can feel my body and it feels amazing. I’m not saying birth control is bad. It has its place and is a women’s right whether she chooses it or not. However, for me, it never felt right. My intuition warned me that there was another way and there is. My body has the ability to heal itself. The question is how far are you willing to go to heal?
So what did I change? What did I do? What would I recommend?
These are the questions I get the most. So I thought I would share the top points here.
It was a dedicated long journey that’s taken almost a year to feel normal. To break past my acne and irregular cycles. I am not a doctor; I am simply sharing my story in the hope that it will make you question yours. The one thing I can tell you is that it has been the single biggest act of self-love. To take my life, my health and my period back. You don’t have to get all the below perfect by tomorrow. It’s a journey. Healthy eating and living takes practice. It’s like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets. Be patient and kind to yourself. You aren’t going to get it all right and just come off the pill and be cured. I also did what I did in the knowledge of my Gynea. Who fully supported it under supervision.
Top Tips to heal Pcos
Cleaning up my diet.
Whether you like it or not changing your health means changing your diet. By changing it - I mean taking it seriously and under your control and making sure that everything that you eat is aiding you.
You can choose to view it as a negative diet or you can choose to look at it as medicine that is healing you from the inside out. I chose the latter and it made the journey so much easier. The journey is about taking the time to listen to your body and find out what works for you. Each of us is bio individually unique and what works for one person might not work for the next. I will share below what I cut out and what I focused on eating. These are the foods that helped my healing journey.
Coffee - yes you read correctly. So many people seem utterly shocked when I share this fact.
Even a cup of coffee in the morning. Coffee fires the adrenal glands and can cause your cortisol to elevate. This is an inflammatory hormone that can wreak havoc on your internal system. With busy stressful lives, most of us reach for coffee in the morning. This just aids the cycle and causes us to be tired again later on. I decided to address the cause of my tiredness and stress rather than reaching for coffee giving my adrenal glands space to heal and rest. This needs to be a top priority in the healing journey. Resting the adrenal glands and nourishing them.
Gluten, white/processed bread - the only gluten I incorporated was the occasional slice of artisanal sourdough bread in the morning with smashed avocado because it worked for me. For others it might not.. Processed food is unhealthy and filled with chemicals. Gluten can cause stomach pains and bloat. How does it sit with your body? If you want to heal, cut it out for a month and see how you feel. It made a huge difference to my body and to my blood sugar/insulin levels. Insulin can spike if you eat white processed bread and spiked insulin contributes to PCOS.
Soy + Corn - Soy can interfere with your hormone levels and corn can spike your insulin.
Sugar - we all know the awful truth about sugar. Sugar causes inflammation in the system contributing to PCOS. It will worsen your symptoms in every way possible and can cause bloat and an array of negative symptoms. Pay attention to hidden sugars and always read your labels and check the ingredients. Sugar, dextrose and fructose are just some of the ways they hide sugar in store-bought food. If you have to read the label you probably shouldn’t eat it. An apple doesn’t come with a health claim or label.
Alcohol - yes that includes the glass of wine when you get home. Remember that this doesn’t mean forever and it is also not about perfection. If you happen to have one glass of wine release the guilt and move on. Focus on healing. Once your body has healed it is more primed to handle alcohol from a position of health. Now that I have healed I focus on never more than two drinks and I stay away from sugary sodas and mixes.
High sugar fruits such as mango and banana. I steamed sweet potato and zucchini for my smoothies and then froze the pieces. They made my smoothies thick and creamy without the use of banana etc.
Added sugars (yes, even honey)
Meat not sourced from quality suppliers. I also cut red meat for the better part.
If I eat a lot of red meat I feel sluggish and heavy. Lean meat can be included in a PCOS friendly diet. It is up to your body. Just make sure you are buying top quality meat and not mass produced store bought meat. Ethical and free range is the only way. Eating meat is a personal journey and each individual is unique.
Egg - this comes down to your bio-individuality. Some people report feeling foggy after eggs. As for me? I have about 1-2 free-range eggs a week and it worked perfectly for my body.
Dairy - Yes that means cheese. Again I was very strict in the beginning of the journey and now I follow a 90/10% rule. Dairy has added hormones and mass produced dairy is not good for you. The chemicals and hormones are endocrine disruptors and aren’t good for you. Cut it out and see how you feel. personally, I have never felt better and don’t miss dairy in my diet.
Foods to include and focus on:
Dark leafy greens - as many and as much as possible. I find that dark leafy greens really supported good gut health and regular bowel movements. This is important as excess oestrogen is expelled via elimination.
If your stomach does not work with ease every morning after you wake without coffee then look at incorporating a hand full of greens into every meal. I blend kale in my smoothies and add baby spinach to almost everything. raw and cooked! Pay attention to if raw works for you or causes bloat. If it does then try steaming or sautéing your greens.
Healthy carbs - carbs are not the devil (contrary to popular belief)
Your body needs complex carbohydrates to function properly and your brain needs complex carbs to concentrate. Focus on including sweet potato, butternut, carrots etc. These are real whole foods and when included in a diet (in moderation) can aid healing.
Healthy fats - coconut oil, avocado oil, almond butter and nut butter, avocado, and whole raw nuts.
These are some of the ways I add healthy fats into my diet. Adding healthy fats also aids my digestive system when combined with fibre and hydration.
Herbal teas - I fell in love with herbal teas when I stopped drinking coffee and if I’m honest herbals teas were more my flavour than coffee anyway. I have dandelion, mint, green, chamomile and cinnamon tea to name a few. Each tea can offer a different aspect of healing to your body - so get to know your teas and experiment on what works for you. Make it fun because it really can be!
Adaptogens - adaptogens are herbs and I have used several on my healing journey. I suggest when incorporating herbs/supplements into your daily routine; that you take one at a time and see how you feel or if you have the means visit your local homeopath. Each brand and person is different so it can take experimenting to figure out what works for you. Here are some that worked for me - Reishi, Ashwagandha, Chinese chaste berry and sceletium. I take them daily along with a probiotic and warm lemon water with apple cider vinegar everyday.
Focusing on balanced meals - this means that I focus on eating a balance between a lean or plant-based protein, a complex carb, dark leafy greens/veggies and healthy fats. I also focus on drinking at least 2 litres of fresh plain water a day.
I focus on how I feel after I eat something. Does it cause me to have a headache? Feel sluggish? Or perhaps cause me to bloat? If it does then I stop eating it for a few weeks - see how I feel, then try eating it again. If the feeling persists then I remove it from my diet or seldom indulge in it.
I downloaded the floliving app on my phone, you can download it by clicking here. This app was created by Alisa Vitti - Author of the woman code. The app helps me track and anticipate my hormonal needs in what is called cycle syncing. Cycle syncing is where I eat, exercise, work and play according to where I am at hormonally. Woman have been tracking their cycles for years and it isn’t as crazy as it might sound. I basically sync my life around my menstrual cycle. If you don’t have one then try syncing around the cycles of the moon. Many of us actually get our period around the full or new moon. As the ocean has its ebb and flows so do we. This has taken time and is a continual work in progress. If you want to know more I highly suggest reading The Woman Code or clicking here to visit FloLiving.
At the end of the day, your diet is completely in your hands. I personally don't eat a lot of fruit and when I do I focus on berries and low GI fruits in a smoothie in the morning. This journey is about getting to know your body and what works for you. There is also no quick fix solution. This is a commitment to yourself and your healing. Healthy eating isn’t about perfection - I have days where I do eat sugary foods and don’t eat clean, however, I focus on a 90/10 rule. 90% of the time I eat clean the other 10% is where life happens such as a birthday or I chose to indulge! The chances of you falling in love with the way you eat are high because you will feel better - why not give it a try and see? It's worth the healing.
Stress is something that we all have. The truth is that it really isn’t good for your health. It causes our adrenal glands to release cortisol. Cortisol is the nasty hormone that makes you gain weight around your middle or have that second surge of energy at 11 pm at night. The problem is that dropping the kids, waking up early for that run, getting that deadline in on time or the anxiety around your weight are probably causing you to be in a stressed state without you even knowing it. As I mentioned before coffee and alcohol don't help.
Here are some of my top tips for managing stress. I would love to hear yours in the comments below. Reducing internal and external stress can help support you to get your menstrual cycle back. Some times it's not about doing more but doing less.
Go for a long walk 3 times a week. Walking for an hour a day minimum three times a week was a game changer for me. I have a blog post here about how moving my body changed my life. If your body is stressed it will respond better to gentle exercise. Moving your body can help move excess oestrogen.
Managing your stress is critical to healthy living. It could be the thing that is stopping you from losing weight, having your menstrual cycle or affecting your sleep.
Movement - this is what my weeks look like. Again I don't always get it right and what works for my body might not work for yours. Mix it up and experiment. Exercise is something you should love doing not dread.
Mix it up with HIIT. The high intensity gets your heart rate up, your body sweating (detox) and helps a loaded liver get rid of excess oestrogen. Excess oestrogen can cause acne, period pain, endometriosis and of course PCOS. Listen to your body - if you are exhausted rather mix it up with a hike, yoga or a lighter workout. Moving your body is critical if you want to have a healthy life, let alone healthy hormones. So get up and move - even if it is just a walk.
Yoga 3-4 x per week
Walking 3-4 x per week (preferably in nature)
HIIT training 1-2 x per week
Consistency is key! Focus on trying to move your body as much and as often as possible! I rest during my period and toward the end of my period, I do Pilates or my walks. I even mix it up with Yin yoga. A much more feminine connected yoga than a power flow class.
Listen to your intuition. If you feel what you are doing is not working for you then try something else. Never push yourself into pain.
I would love to say that I did the beautiful self-care baths that you are seeing all over the internet but the reality is that Cape Town is in a drought. If you are able to then I do suggest doing this (Unless you’re in the Western Cape). Draw yourself a beautiful bath instead of going out with friends. Take some you time. You deserve it! Read a book and focus on relaxing.
Journalling - try journalling 3 x per week. This will help you process how you are feeling and is a wonderful way to look back on your healing journey. This isn’t to shame you if you don’t get it right but rather an amazing tool to use to reflect. Use it for exactly that.
Connecting to nature. This might sound crazy but the truth is that nature heals. Studies are now showing that you can reduce inflammation just by walking outside on the grass barefoot for 20 minutes a day. When last did you hug a tree or feel the sand/grass between your toes? Go outside and get grounded!
Meditation and breath work. This is a very special tool that I use. It allows me space to breathe into my thoughts and sit with things and gain a clearer perspective. Headspace is a wonderful app if you are new to meditation or I use the Calm app.
Treat yo’self. When last did you take yourself for a massage or a facial? If you have the means then why not take yourself on a date? Or even better just give yourself a pedicure at home. Take the time for yourself and honour the date. Don't let yourself off the hook just because something better comes along. You wouldn’t be flaky and cancel on a friend last minute so don’t do it to yourself!
Acupuncture - this is a wonderful tool that can be used to get your menstrual cycle back. It also calms me and helped me deal with deeper emotional issues that came to the surface. With a holistic approach, I was open to the fact that my emotional state could manifest in the physical. What is going on for you emotionally?
Less technology. I don't always get it right but I do my utmost to make sure I am on my phone less. Technology allows for stress to creep in. Constantly checking emails or comparing yourself on Instagram can add to stress and minimising your interaction with technology will free up time. Why not phone a friend or journal and catch up with your emotional internal landscape.
Getting enough sleep. Yup, I said it. 8 hours of sleep a night is critical to the recovery from PCOS and aiding the body heal. The hours before 12 are also the best hours for this. Getting to bed at the same time every night and including a healthy sleep hygiene practice is a game changer. I include flossing, brushing my teeth, washing my face and using my skin care products as part of my sleep hygiene. I have even included dry brushing into my regime which aids blood flow and lymph drainage. It prepares me for bed and lets my body know its time to rest. Lying on your phone in bed doesn’t aid the brain to switch off and prevents you from falling asleep. It can wait until morning - put the phone down!
Watering my plants. If you guys follow me on social media you might know that I have a plant obsession. Spending time with my plants is an act of self-love and care. Maybe buying yourself a house plant will do the same for you?
My thoughts on birth control:
At the end of the day, each and every woman has the right to decide what and how she would like to give her body. If birth control is your choice then you have the right. Be it for your skin or as contraception. My goal is to share the information so you can make an informed decision and not put a plaster solution over a deeper problem.
If you would like to explore other birth control methods why not open the discussion with your partner? Condoms are an option and perhaps something that suits you better? That is your right to choose.
I had several symptoms coming off the pill. The biggest and most prominent was hormonal acne. It was so difficult to not just go back on the pill when it hit. It peaked about 3 months after I had come off the pill and it got to the point where I did cave and went onto a course of roaccutane. And I owe it to you guys to share this. The path of my skin wasn’t smooth sailing. I was put on a low dosage for a month and then decided it was time to be brave and move off it completely. I wanted the dependance to stop. I don’t think that anyone can judge someone else’s journey. I chose to do it because I didn’t want to have scarring which would have been inevitable. I know that roaccutane is a liver loading drug and that good skin health starts in the liver. So it is ironic that I took it and if you can avoid it please do. However, it did help me and since coming off all mediation my skin has been much better because I have done the constant work that it takes to clear it. I still get breakouts around my menstrual cycle but now I feel the rhythm of my body rather than panicking and wanting the drug to correct it. I trust my body more and correct from the inside out. It is a difficult long road but I can see a difference almost a year later. It also makes a huge difference in the quality of skin products that you use. Did you know that what you put on your skin is absorbed within 3 minutes into the blood? I choose to use products such as Esse which are natural and chemical free. I focus on the same with my make up and don't wear a lot of makeup. The same applies to deodorants and skin products. I have made an effort over time to slowly but surely weed out chemical-rich products and replace them with natural chemical free ones. Chemicals are called endocrine disruptors and they can affect your hormone balance. Again this isn’t about perfection and throwing out all your products. Slowly Slowly catch the monkey.
Weight gain is something I have battled with my whole life and is one of the main symptoms of PCOS. With clean eating and moving my body the weight slowly fell off. I focused on getting healthy and not on getting thin. They are not the same thing! This journey was so much deeper for me than losing weight. Yes, it had a part to play because I was tired of being in my skin the way I was but truth be told I was so tired of my body feeling “broken” and I had to find out if it could heal itself and it can. Your body is this beautiful machine that never skips a heartbeat and lets you do all that you do. It is something to be nourished and celebrated. All you have to do is learn to listen to your body, focus on eating more fresh vegetables and fruits, drink plenty of water and you will already start to feel better. My journey has taken two years, I didn’t arrive here overnight. Be patient with yourself and take the time to learn!
Hair loss - this is something I am currently exploring and working on. Since coming off the pill my hair has thinned a substantial amount. It is emotionally difficult for me however I am on a journey to find what works for my body. I am currently trying the JS health hair vitamins and I have also tried Biotin. The reality is that both my parents have very thin hair so there is an element of genetics - however, I am focusing on finding out how far I can heal to have thicker healthy hair. The journey continues and if you have any tips I would love to hear them!
This has been my journey. My journey to healing. Can it be done? Yes, I have done it. I hope that in some small way this inspires you to know you can do the same. I work now as a certified integrative nutrition health coach and I am determined to help woman find their health, balanced weight and hormonal balance. If you would love to know more then please head on over to my contact page here and drop me a line. A health history consult is free and will only take an hour of your time. I would love to meet you. I will explain my 6 month program to recovery, balanced weight and working together to help you achieve hormonal health and well being!
Much love always