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PCOS and Body Image: Embracing These Lifestyle Changes Helped Me Feel Empowered

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I was in my late twenties when I was finally diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) — a hormonal imbalance where the ovaries produce an excess of male hormones. After nearly two decades of irregular, painful periods, chronic inflammation, and rapidly increasing weight, I was equally relieved and overwhelmed to know what was wrong.

Years have flown by since I learned I had PCOS, and while I’ve endured several challenges along the way — and seen many specialists — I believe I’ve found my footing with simple PCOS lifestyle modifications.

Does it mean I’ve found the cure? Certainly not — no FDA-approved treatment or cure currently exists. However, embracing various lifestyle changes and improving my body image have significantly enhanced my outlook and well-being.

Before adopting a healthier regimen, I had to look in the mirror and remind myself of my resilience. Second, like any of life’s other challenges, I had to find my group — caring, trustworthy people I could lean on for support and camaraderie. This has made my journey all the more easier to cope with.

Although my experience with PCOS is personal, I want to share what’s worked for me. I know the more knowledge I’ve had about the condition, the more equipped and empowered I’ve felt facing it head-on.

5 Lifestyle Changes I Made to Make Living With PCOS Easier

Navigating PCOS has been a bumpy ride. Despite limited medication options, I’ve managed to get my condition under control with a few lifestyle changes.

However, these changes are a whole-body experience beyond simply switching up my diet and exercise routine. Here are five ways I’ve learned to empower myself on my PCOS journey.

1.   Eat Healthy

PCOS and self-esteem issues go hand in hand — and I’ve felt my share of it. I started dealing with weight gain and chronic inflammation when I hit my mid-twenties and have watched the scale fluctuate since.

When I first tried changing my eating habits, I made the mistake of restricting myself from everything — gluten, dairy, fried foods, sugar, and caffeine. Needless to say, I had a difficult time sticking to it.

What’s worked best for me is a well-rounded diet with some moderation. For instance, I feel good nourishing my body with fresh produce, lean protein, and whole grains. However, I no longer punish myself for ordering crème brulée if it’s on the menu.

Learning to cook at home has been especially helpful as I’ve begun eating healthier. It’s also been fun learning new techniques and PCOS-friendly recipes. For anything I’ve yet to figure out how to do in the kitchen, I ask friends and family or watch tutorials online.

Diet is something you have control over, but avoid looking at it in terms of dieting. Embracing nutrition as medicine and consciously making wiser food choices is better for your long-term health. Additionally, you must discover which foods make you feel better or worse.

2.   Stay Active

I’ve never been overly enthusiastic about exercise — and my PCOS and self-esteem issues have usually prevented me from going to the gym. As a nature lover, I’ve found my flow outdoors instead.

The truth is, any exercise benefits you if you have PCOS. Some people enjoy resistance training, while others prefer gentle yoga.

I fell in love with walking at least 30 minutes a day, sometimes more. I’ve even taken my walking regimen to new environments, such as my local riverwalk and the beach.

Setting easy and achievable fitness goals has also motivated me to move my body more — and helped me manage some of my PCOS symptoms. After building my fitness, I’m currently gearing up to run a marathon in a few months.

3.   Follow Up With Appointments

I’ve lost count of how many primary physicians, gynecologists, and endocrinologists I’ve seen over the years. There’s also the never-ending list of medications, supplements, screenings, and procedures I’ve tried to monitor and manage my symptoms.

Although staying on top of my medical care can feel exhausting, I know it’s necessary for disease prevention and life satisfaction.

There is an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even gynecological cancers when you have PCOS. As such, I’ve made it a priority to check in with my specialists yearly.

I schedule an annual ultrasound and pap smear to ensure everything is status quo. I also advocate for myself and ask questions when I need clarification or guidance. This alone has empowered me to stay on top of my health — and hold my doctors accountable for proper care.

4.   Improve My Mental Health

As I’ve embarked on a PCOS lifestyle modification, I’ve paid particular attention to my mental health. Studies show 38.6% and 25.7% of people with PCOS have anxiety and depression, respectively — I am one of them.

I have no shame admitting mental health has been one of my most significant hurdles with PCOS. However, it’s not exactly surprising. Poor body image, hirsutism (excessive facial or body hair), mood swings, medical trauma, and infertility are enough to damper anyone’s day.

For years, I’ve embraced therapy to identify my emotional triggers and develop coping strategies. Facing my feelings can be challenging and somewhat scary, but speaking about my experiences living with PCOS has helped me immensely.

5.   Stay Connected

One of the most empowering lifestyle changes I’ve embraced is connecting with others on similar PCOS journeys. While no two stories are the same, reaching out to my fellow “cysters” has helped me achieve a sense of solidarity.

I’ve always been shy and introverted, making it difficult for me to connect with others. Yet, PCOS can feel particularly isolating — if you’ve experienced it yourself, you’ll probably understand. Fortunately, numerous resources are available online to help you find your PCOS support system.

The PCOS Awareness Association is an excellent place to start. Social media platforms and “PCOS” hashtags are other ways to find people in similar situations.

Discover the latest research, communicate with others, and learn helpful tips for managing your PCOS symptoms. Getting involved in PCOS advocacy is also a way to empower yourself and maintain control in your life.

Embrace Your PCOS and Self-Esteem on Your Journey

Although complex, PCOS lifestyle modifications are possible. It takes trial and error to adopt changes you can stick with. Always show yourself grace no matter where you are on the PCOS journey. A healthier, happier you is possible.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Beth Rush is the mental health editor at Body+Mind. She writes about coping with PCOS, c-PTSD, addiction, and anxiety disorders through yoga and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.   

Photo by Blue Bird: https://www.pexels.com/photo/smiling-black-sportswoman-running-in-park-7242890/

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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