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For many women, going to the gynaecologist isn’t always a pleasant experience. I should know – I’ve had to schedule a doctor’s appointment every three months for the last two years because, like in 10 women around the world, I live with a condition that often feels out of my control.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is a common hormonal, reproductive, and metabolic condition among women of reproductive age. It’s not curable, and when I noticed my own symptoms like acne breakouts, mood swings, difficulty in losing weight, and skipped periods, I was petrified. In fact, I found myself actively dodging doctors for almost a year to avoid getting tested.
Eventually, sitting across the gynaecologist going through my ultrasounds and bloodwork, I was told that I had to make some important lifestyle changes to get ahead of my condition, especially because it put me at an increased risk of developing diabetes, cholesterol issues, and cardiovascular diseases in the long run.
At 22 years old, all this was difficult to take in. What am I supposed to eat? What medicines should I be taking? Should I change my work out? It seemed like I had to overhaul my entire lifestyle, but I didn’t know where to begin.
Since joining the ‘cysterhood’ in 2019, I’ve developed a routine that works for me and helps me feel in control. There are still good and bad periods (no pun intended) but in case you’re in the same boat I was in, hopefully these tips and tricks help.
Read, read, read
I’m someone who likes to do my research and have all the information in hand, so I often find myself reading articles and studies about PCOS. It helps to understand what’s happening in my body, but more importantly, it helps me remember that this is normal, and it is not my fault.
I also follow a lot of Instagram pages for women with PCOS to see their success stories. It’s a lovely reminder that this may not be curable, but it is definitely treatable.
While exercise and an active lifestyle are some of the best ways to improve our symptoms, the hormone imbalance linked to PCOS can often cause lethargy and fatigue. Who wants to work out when they wake up tired?
During lockdown, I’ve taken to hour-long walks, listening to music or chatting with friends over the phone. For more intensive workouts, I opt for weight training and pilates with some cardio. I’ve landed on these exercises through trial and error, having spent hours on the elliptical with seemingly no results while strength training improved my metabolism and helped burn fat faster.
Figure out a sustainable healthy diet
Based on advice from my doctor, I turned to a dairy-free diet in 2019 and more recently tried to cut out gluten. A typical meal now consists of lean protein (think chicken, fish, tofu, and lentils) along with plenty of vegetables. I’ve found that limiting my carb intake, rather than cutting out items like rice and bread, has also worked wonders. Desserts are part of my palate too, taken in stride with my generally healthy lifestyle. No more feeling guilty for my sweet tooth!
While most nutritional requirements can come from your diet, I’ve found certain supplements, like probiotics, to be helpful with hormone regulation and improving gut health.
Take time for self-care and relaxation
Women with PCOS often struggle with cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, which disrupts our menstrual cycle, impairs our immunity, and is often the reason we crave sugary treats when we’re stressed. In fact, some women may find that high intensity exercises work against them because it only boosts these cortisol levels.
The typical advice of yoga and meditation to relax doesn’t really work for me, so I turn instead to activities that make me happy and keep me away from a screen. I’ve started to enjoy a nightly routine of mint tea alongside some journaling, and it’s helped to shed the stress from the day. What matters here, really, is carving out a little ‘me-time’ every day.
Find medical professionals you trust
Because of the nature of PCOS, proper treatment can mean consulting with specialists like endocrinologists and dieticians. Unfortunately, too many cysters have felt dismissed by their doctors before getting to that stage, told to simply lose weight or come back when they want to get pregnant. In my case, my friends warned me against hormone regulating pills and birth control, but I trusted my doctor, and the treatment made such a difference for my condition. Each case is unique, after all, so it’s crucial to find a doctor you feel comfortable with.
According to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RAGCP), up to 70% of women with PCOS remain undiagnosed. And for those who are, there are significant healthcare costs (approximately $400 million per year in Australia). As an international student in Australia, I’m well aware of how the cost of these necessary medical treatments can really add up.
Living with PCOS hasn’t been easy. There are many days when I’ve had terribly low self-confidence from acne breakouts, bloating, facial hair, and other symptoms that oppose society’s traditional idea of ‘femininity’. Mix that in with the ebb and flow of understanding your body in your 20s, and it can feel like there’s no beating this.
But recently, a friend shared some great advice that’s helped put my PCOS journey in perspective: having self-confidence is much easier said than done, but you have to believe this is not a broken problem to fix. It’s more like tuning, finding the right frequency that works for you.
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