It is important to be an advocate for your own health: your mind, body and soul.
No one knows your body better than you do! Ladies, our bodies do so many incredible things that our counterpart’s (men’s) bodies cannot do. Women’s bodies have been intricately and uniquely created by God, and the last 15 months I have been on a journey to better understand my body after being diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome).
So, what is PCOS? PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder, or hormonal disorder, among women of child bearing age. Nearly 1 in 10 women have PCOS, and the symptoms can be commonly mistaken or disregarded as “just lady stuff”. You may be a lady, but girl, you don’t have to suffer! There is no known cause of PCOS; it is a syndrome, not a disease. PCOS is a lifelong syndrome with symptoms that can be treated, but unfortunately, not cured.
During my teenage years and early 20’s I unknowingly suffered from a variety of PCOS symptoms, one of those symptoms being missed periods. I went over two years without a single period before deciding to seek a medical explanation, because let’s be honest, being period free was actually kind of nice. I didn’t realize that PCOS had been affecting so many other parts of my body as well though.
According to the PCOS Nutrition Center common symptoms of PCOS include at least 2 of the following:
- Irregular or absent periods due to lack of ovulating.
- High androgen (testosterone and androstenedione) levels that can cause acne and abnormal or excessive hair growth.
- Polycystic ovaries- ovaries with small cysts covering the surface resulting from an imbalance in hormones. (only identifiable with an ultrasound).
I have all three symptoms, but every woman is different and the severity of these symptoms vary. As more research is being done it has been found that other issues can also be linked with PCOS, not necessarily caused, but definitely associated, in many cases.
Common issues also associated with PCOS:
- Sleep apnea and sleep disturbances.
- Eating disorders including: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.
- Higher rates of anxiety and depression.
- Easy weight gain and obesity.
- Diabetes and higher than normal blood sugar levels.
- Infertility or miscarriages.
After my diagnosis of PCOS, I felt overwhelmed, ashamed and afraid. Overwhelmed by the diagnosis and lack of answers. Ashamed that my body wasn’t doing what it was supposed to be doing as a woman, and afraid that I wouldn’t be able to have kids in the future or that I would never be “normal” again. My doctor didn’t provide a lot of information or options either, and that is not her fault, but the only option provided was to be on the pill. It wasn’t be on the pill for a little while and then stop when you want kids though, it was be on the pill until you want to have kids, do IVF and hope that works, then be on the pill again until menopause. My prescription was a life sentence of birth control pills or other contraceptive. These aren’t bad things, and they definitely are good options for women struggling with PCOS or other hormonal disorders, but it wasn’t an option I wanted to settle for.
You see I struggled with so many other issues besides the common symptoms of PCOS. I struggled with the anxiety and depression. I struggled with anorexia and still struggle with disordered eating. My weight can fluctuate quickly and my hormones always seemed to be out of whack, emotional one day and stone-cold hearted the next. I had no consistency. I continually felt like a mess.
I left the doctor’s office the day of my diagnosis with a heart filled with defeat, but my defeat motivated me to do something more than to just accept an option I didn’t really want. I began researching all I could about PCOS and endocrine disorders. I found out what types of hormones your body is responsible for producing and how much at what point. I learned the stages of my menstrual cycle and about different foods that could help regulate the normal production of my hormones. I found stories of thousands of women using food and nutrition to change their body's behaviors and reset their systems and live better with PCOS. I read books and articles, followed blogs and talked to my doctor during the entire process.
After thorough research, I began a nutrition program with specific types of foods to be eaten during the separate phases of menstruation to naturally regulate the production of hormones affected by PCOS that prevent ovulation. I also cut sugar from my diet with the exception of natural sugars, like those in fruit. I stopped using plastics that would hold my food or drinks (water bottles, sandwich bags, saran wrap, Tupperware) and began using glass containers or BPA free plastics. I swapped my makeup and hair products for vegan and chemical free alternatives, and finally cut out all caffeine. Quitting caffeine was the greatest challenge for me, because I love coffee! While changing all of these habits I struggled a lot, but I continued to stay motivated and anxiously awaited results.
I allowed myself 3-6 months to reset my body and during the 4th month I had my first period in nearly 3 years. I suddenly remembered how not fun your period can be, but was too excited that maybe this nutrition thing was actually going to work, to care. I finally felt like my body was doing something right and I was ecstatic! One year later, I am still having regular cycles each month and feel more content and like myself than I have ever felt before.
My diagnosis of PCOS took me on a journey to better understand myself and my body. It provided answers about my past struggles with depression and anorexia. It instilled confidence as I fought to have a voice over my treatment, and it taught me the importance of understanding women’s health. I encourage all women struggling with PCOS or other endocrine disorders to do their research and to find out the normal production and processes of their hormones and cycles, then to seek further information about treatments and nutrition.
I opted out of using contraceptives as my treatment for PCOS because I wanted something more than just a treatment for my symptoms. I recognize that contraceptives can be great options for some women and do not discourage their use. I just wanted to see what other options there were available for me. At first my doctor was very skeptical about me trying to treat my symptoms with nutritional foods and a more chemical and plastic free lifestyle, but after seeing results and with regular scheduled tests, I am free to follow the current plan I am on because it is working for me.
Learning that I had PCOS was discouraging, but I realized how important it is to really understand your body as a woman. I found that no one knows my body like I do, not my doctor, not the internet and not everyone else with PCOS, because we are all different. I had to stand for my own health, and I would encourage all women to stand for theirs and be advocates for themselves. It can be challenging work, and it takes a lot of research, testing and discussions, but founding out I had PCOS helped me find out who I truly was, and what my body was capable of doing with better nutrition and lifestyle habits.
*Disclaimer: I am just sharing my story and struggle with PCOS, but I am not a doctor or licensed medical professional. Birth control options can be very helpful for women, it was just an option I didn’t feel I needed to choose now. You should always seek medical attention and advise from your family doctor or OB/GYN and work with them for a solution that is best for you, and your body, because it can be different for everyone.