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A Guide to PCOS, Nutrition, and Body Image

PCOS can have a significant impact on your life. This guide will help you to recognise and understand the symptoms, get the right treatment, and manage it effectively.

PCOS written on a notebook

What is PCOS? 

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that affects how the ovaries work. The ovaries produce hormones that are needed for menstruation and fertility. PCOS disrupts this process and can cause menstrual problems, infertility, and other health issues

The most common physical symptoms of PCOS include irregular or absent periods, heavy periods, acne or oily skin, hair loss, dark patches of skin on the neck or armpits, trouble getting pregnant (infertility), high blood pressure, and high insulin levels or insulin resistance.

The psychological impacts of PCOS are substantial also and are a vital part of PCOS treatment. Research has shown a high incidence of developing a negative body image, depression, anxiety, which affect quality of life. 

PCOS: What to Expect

If you suspect PCOS go and have a checkup with your doctor. PCOS diagnosis usually involves a physical exam, blood tests, and imaging studies. A pelvic ultrasound may also be used to examine the ovaries and other reproductive organs. Women who have irregular periods or excessive hair growth may undergo a blood test for hormone levels.

There are a lot of treatments available that can help with the symptoms of PCOS. These will vary based on your symptoms but can include anything from birth control pills, medication for insulin, fertility, or dietary supplements. Your doctor may also refer you to a dietitian to assist with nutrition support to manage PCOS symptoms. 

Working with A Dietitian

Working with a dietitian can help you manage PCOS symptoms from a nutrition perspective. A dietitian works with you to set goals to help manage your PCOS symptoms, identify enjoyable foods while supporting cholesterol, blood sugar, and improved mood. Nutritional supplementation may also be suggested based on your needs. 

Nutrition plays a central role in PCOS management, but with body image and mental health being so intertwined, the dietitian you work with is an important consideration— you should feel empowered and supported. 

For example, A non-diet dietitian is a dietitian who does not advocate for dieting or weight loss. They work with people who have conditions such as PCOS by focusing on gentle nutritional approaches to alleviate symptoms while building a positive relationship with food, movement and your body. This means they will not employ restrictive dieting practices (i.e., cutting out foods, dieting, or weight-loss) that can negatively impact long-term eating habits and body image. 

9 Strategies for Nutrition, Movement, & Body Image in the Face of PCOS

If you've been struggling with PCOS or PCOS-related symptoms, take a visit to see your doctor. In the meantime, here are some general suggestions that can help.

  1. Get comfortable with your body by wearing clothes that you feel good in—not worrying about what other people think of you.
  2. Practice self-care by doing activities such as yoga or meditation that make you feel more connected to your body and give you a sense of calmness and peace.
  3. Be open with others about how they can help support you, whether friends, family members, even medical professionals who can provide advice on dealing with PCOS symptoms.
  4. Find a hobby to help you take your mind off of the symptoms and stress of PCOS
  5. Get out in the sun for a few minutes every day and drink plenty of water; this will help with keeping moods stable and regulating vital body functions
  6. Remember that everyone gets through PCOS, just in their way. If you have any friends or family members who might be going through it, they're probably feeling the same uncertain, ambivalent feelings that you are.
  7. Enjoy a variety of nourishing foods, including veggies, whole grains, dairy or dairy alternatives.
  8. Steer clear of Dr Google, crash diets, or miracle cures suggested by your manicurist (get PCOS advice from licensed professionals).    
  9. Move your body in ways you enjoy, walking, hip hop dancing, swimming, roller skating— anything that brings joy. 


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