Health Insights

Why Is It Hard to Lose Weight with PCOS

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Overweight women with PCOS often struggle to lose weight. Even though you're following a diet, you're not seeing any improvement in you weight. Why so? Why is it hard to lose weight with PCOS?

It can be quite discouraging when you realise you don’t fit in your favourite pair of jeans anymore. Or when you don’t see the weight go down even after following a strict diet.  If you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and find it hard to lose weight, you are not alone. 

Weight loss is often suggested as the first line of treatment to help reduce symptoms of PCOS. But those with this syndrome know it’s not that easy. So it’s important to not blame yourself for not losing weight,  but understand the root cause of what’s stopping you from losing weight. Here are reasons that explain why it’s so much harder to lose weight with PCOS.

1. Insulin resistance

70% of women who have PCOS have insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain. Insulin is a hormone that transports glucose (your body’s main source of energy) from your bloodstream into your cells where it can be used as energy. PCOS affects your body’s release and use of insulin. Your cells stop responding to insulin, which is called insulin resistance, and this prompts your body to produce even more insulin.

Too much insulin promotes fat storage or weight gain, mostly in your midsection, resembling an apple shape. If you are gaining lots of weight or can’t lose weight without significant changes in diet or exercise routines, excess insulin could be the culprit. Overtime, if the blood glucose levels continue to stay elevated despite insulin production, it can lead to type 2 diabetes.

You can speak to your doctor for treatment options that are typically aimed at reducing insulin levels and involve diet modifications, exercise, and medications or supplements.

2. Imbalance in hunger hormones

Do you regularly get strong, intense, even urgent cravings? This could also be insulin’s doing! High levels of insulin could also explain why some people with PCOS experience more hunger. 

If not managed, these cravings can sabotage even the best eating habits, leading to higher calorie consumption and weight gain. Eating multiple small meals a day, increasing the protein content in your meals, and avoiding fried and sugary foods are all helpful ways to reduce cravings.

PCOS is a hormonal condition. But unfortunately, it affects more than just your reproductive hormones. Levels of appetite-regulating hormones such as ghrelin, cholecystokinin, and leptin have been shown to be impaired in women with PCOS. Imbalance of these hormones may cause   increased hunger in women with PCOS, resulting in increased food intake and difficulty managing weight.

3. Not following a PCOS Diet

If you’ve been watching your diet and still aren’t seeing the kilograms come off, it could be the types of foods you are eating.

A study found that those with high insulin levels may be able to lose more weight following a low glycemic index diet. A low glycemic index diet involves eating foods that don’t spike up the sugar and insulin levels in your blood — for example, choosing complex carbohydrates like bajra and jowar, instead of simple carbohydrates like wheat and maida in your meals. 

Not eating enough fruits and vegetables can also impact weight loss. A study found that women with PCOS who followed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan showed improvements in insulin resistance and abdominal fat loss. The DASH diet is a heart-healthy diet that recommends including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products while limiting high sodium, saturated fats and sugary foods.

4. Eating disorder

Since women with PCOS are often advised to follow a diet, some women develop eating disorders as a way to cope with the condition. Not just weight gain, but depression and negative body image associated with excess facial hair or acne may contribute to emotional eating. 

Weight management

For women who struggle with their weight, it is best to focus on not putting on more weight at first rather than losing weight. Over time, you will find some ways that work for you for weight loss. Even a small degree of weight loss will help improve your PCOS symptoms. Weight loss can restore the functioning of your ovaries and lead them to produce your hormones at normal levels. This can in turn lead to improvements in your PCOS symptoms, such as irregular periods, excess facial or body hair growth, acne, and scalp hair loss.

Weight loss is best achieved through a combination of lifestyle changes – a healthy diet and physical activity. It is not always easy to make these changes a regular part of your life. Learning how to set goals and develop healthy behaviours can help you maintain these lifestyle changes over time. 

You can also talk to your doctor about managing your weight. Discuss what factors tend to impact your weight. These will be different for everyone, so it is important to understand your own situation in order to work out the plan that will suit you best. So ladies, if you feel discouraged about not losing weight, speak to our care managers, who can help you with a treatment plan that can help you lose weight and manage your PCOS symptoms in the long run! 

Disclaimer: Content on Veera is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice, or as a substitute for medical advice given by a physician

Reviewed By

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Dr Iris Lee

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