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Tag: PCOS management

In Which I Figure a Few Things Out

I’m on a never-ending quest to make my life easier, as are we all, I’m sure. Which is why when I have some “A-ha!” moments I feel like I should share them, just in case there’s someone reading this who struggles in the same area(s) I do and who might benefit from my discoveries.

(The rest of y’all probably figured this stuff out a long time ago and are shaking your heads wondering why I’m so slow on the uptake.)

Anyway. These probably could have waited for my next “What I Learned” post but that won’t happen until winter and I want to get these things down while they’re fresh. And mind you, there’s nothing particularly mind-blowing or groundbreaking happening here… but still, it might help someone. So here we go.

1. Smaller, more frequent meals are better for me. Probably.

Writing that recent post on PCOS motivated me to bring myself up to speed on the latest research and re-examine my eating habits in light of the most up-to-date information, and I realized that the way I’ve been eating hasn’t been good at regulating my insulin. I mostly follow the Zone diet, and a properly zoned meal should keep me satiated for five to six hours, but this hasn’t been happening. Instead I’ve been getting hungry after about three hours, and since I can’t stand to be hungry AT ALL, I go ahead and eat a snack, thinking that I need to elevate my blood sugar. I did not realize that probably the reason I’m hungry is because my insulin is too low, which means I’ve not been managing my insulin resistance.

One reason for this is probably that I eat too much bread. I thought I was doing pretty good about eating bread and grains in moderation, but then Aldi stopped carrying their gluten-free bread. Which meant I had to stop buying gluten-free bread, because all the other brands cost more than I’m willing to pay. And not having it made me realize exactly how much I’d been depending on it to make up a meal.

At any rate, I read on a number of nutritionist websites that women with Type 1 PCOS (which includes insulin resistance) sometimes do better eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. So I’m giving that a try. Specifically, I’m eating a meal consisting of two Zone blocks (that means roughly 14 grams of protein, 18 of carbs and 6 to 8 of healthy fat) every three hours, until my last meal of the evening, which is the normal three blocks. I’m just starting this today, so whether this is actually the right thing for me is yet to be determined. But so far I’ve been more satisfied, more energetic and more clear-headed. Also, while planning out a couple of days’ worth of meals (I don’t think I’ll need to meal plan once I get used to eating this way, but right now not knowing what I’ll be eating for all those scheduled meals makes me too anxious not to plan ahead), I realized that this is going to make it a lot easier to avoid bread and grains*, since I won’t need to eat as many carbs at each meal. So this might just solve two problems at once. Win!

*By grains I mainly mean wheat and anything with gluten. I do okay with oats, corn, rice, etc. as long as I have them in moderation.

2. It’s better to focus on one big task per day.

I thought I was doing pretty well with a daily rhythm that allowed a little room to do a little bit each day on several projects. It made me feel like at least each thing on my project plate was getting attention and making a little bit of progress every day. Sounds good, right?

But this week, since I’m still fighting off this cold or whatever it is, I cut myself some slack and only scheduled one big project task per day. This week that means blogging on Monday and Tuesday, pitching articles and freelance work on Wednesday and Thursday, with Friday set aside for working on my novel. And you know, I think this is actually a lot more effective. I’m only a few days in but I’m making major progress and actually finishing things ahead of schedule, leaving me more time for things like researching what I should be doing for my health and loving on my home and family. I think I’m going to keep this up for a while and see how it goes.

One tweak I’m going to make is to try and front load each weak with the projects that energize me and give me life, and save the more draining stuff for the back half of the week. I used to think it was best to get the draining stuff out of the way first, but then I’d be too drained for anything else. So for me this means book writing on Monday, blogging on Tuesday and Wednesday, and article pitching/writing on Thursday and Friday. Which brings me to…

3. I can schedule time for freelance writing and pitching every week.

Y’all, this has been a revelation. I am SO, SO grateful for my freelance writing work, but one of my biggest frustrations is that it’s sporadic and unpredictable, which makes it difficult to plan. Currently I write regularly for three corporate blogs through two different agencies. One of these agencies just posts assignments in batches once or twice a month, and there’s no regularity for when this happens. The other one will have a monthly idea pitching window for each client–again without much regularity–and whether or not you’re assigned work depends on whether any of your ideas are accepted.

Since I’m someone who thrives on steady rhythms and a certain degree of predictability and regularity in my schedule, this unpredictability has been driving me crazy. There are few things that drive me up the wall more than having to drop everything and change my plans at the last minute.

Y’all. I don’t know why this never occurred to me before, but I finally figured out that I can schedule time for pitching and writing articles into every week–AND that I don’t have to wait for a pitch window or writing assignment from my current clients. I can pitch and submit articles to prospective clients, too. This really should be obvious, because this is how most freelance writers make their living, and I’m kind of an idiot.  But now that I’ve remembered this very basic thing about being a freelancer, not only will my schedule be more predictable and sane, but maybe I’ll also make some more of the monies. One can hope.

If you’re wondering how this last thing might apply to your life, since it’s pretty specific to mine, here’s the main point: if there’s an unpredictable thing in your schedule that’s driving you crazy, then schedule time for that thing every week, or every day if that’s what it takes. Maybe when that thing isn’t actually in play, you can spend that time doing something adjacent to that thing to help you be ready when the thing crops up. Or just consider that time free time to use however you want when you’re not having to actively do the thing. Either way, when it comes time to do the actual thing, then it won’t be a big deal because you won’t have to drop everything and adjust your plans around it. There will already be room for it in your week.

So I hope that helps.

Is there anything you’ve recently figured out that’s made life a little easier or more sane? In the spirit of sharing and helping, tell us about it in the comments!

PCOS 101

September is PCOS Awareness Month. You might not have been aware of that, which is exactly why such a month is needed. PCOS — Polycystic Ovary Syndrome — is a disease that’s known to affect roughly five million women in the U.S. alone–nearly 10% of the population, including yours truly. But not a lot was understood about this disease until fairly recently, and unfortunately the diagnostic criteria relied on by most medical professionals is seriously outdated, which means that countless more women who suffer from PCOS aren’t being properly diagnosed.

It might astonish you to learn that a disease affecting so many women is so underdiagnosed, but it’s really not surprising. Despite the fact that I presented with classic symptoms from the time I started puberty, it took two miscarriages in my mid-thirties before a doctor finally suggested that I might have it, and then it took another year for me to be officially diagnosed. And then each time I spoke to a different doctor they each told me something different. One believed it could have played a part in my miscarriages. Another said that PCOS absolutely does not cause miscarriages and that the only way to treat it was with the birth control pill. Yet another said that it causes infertility and that I needed to watch my weight and keep my blood sugar down. She, at least, was right (Doctor #2, by the way, was completely wrong), but that was only part of the story. Honestly, apart from the infertility and what it does to your health, the most frustrating thing about having PCOS is simply finding a doctor who is actually knowledgeable about it.

The good news is that a lot of strides have been made in PCOS research in recent years, and today a lot more is known about it than back when I was first diagnosed. Where it was once thought to be a reproductive disorder, we now know that it’s actually an endocrine disorder affecting almost every system in the body, not just the reproductive system. PCOS also affects the digestive system, the immune system and, of course, the endocrine system, among others. When it comes to the havoc it can wreak on overall health, PCOS can politely be called a cluster mess. Here is just a partial list of the things that PCOS either causes or places you at a higher risk for:

• Infertility and pregnancy loss
• Gestational diabetes and preterm delivery
• Irregular and painful periods
• Elevated insulin and insulin resistance
• Diabetes and metabolic syndrome (aka pre-diabetes)
• Thyroid disease
• Autoimmune diseases
• Chronic inflammation
• Inflammatory illnesses, including chronic pain disorders
• Heart disease
• Losing hair in places where you want it and growing it in places where you don’t
• IBS and leaky gut
• Gluten intolerance
• Acne
• Anxiety and depression
• Sleep apnea
• Fatigue
• Brain fog
• Difficulty losing weight

Often, women will seek treatment for one or more of the above issues, having no idea that PCOS is the underlying cause, and leaving with their health professional making them none the wiser. This is sad and frustrating because PCOS is a manageable condition, and proper management is the key to treating all of the symptoms and resulting conditions. I’ll get to more of that in a minute, but first let’s talk about what PCOS is, exactly.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome, at its core, is a hormonal imbalance in which the body produces too many male hormones and not enough female hormones. Additionally, the liver doesn’t clean the excess male hormones out of the body like it should. This imbalance wreaks havoc on the female body. The disease gets its name from one symptom in which the ovaries produce small cysts in place of eggs, but in spite of that, this particular symptom is not always present. As I said earlier, research into understanding this disease is only just getting off the ground, but here, so far, is what is actually known about PCOS:

• It’s linked to both high blood sugar and chronic inflammation, but it’s not known whether either of these cause PCOS or whether they result from it.
• Either way, managing blood sugar and inflammation through nutrition and exercise is the best way to treat PCOS and most of the conditions that stem from it.

How do you know if you have PCOS?

The diagnostic criteria for PCOS is that you have at least two of the following:
• Irregular or absent periods
• A blood test showing excessive male hormones in the blood, or physical signs such as hirsutism (i.e., whisker-like hair grown on the face and neck), hair loss and/or acne
• Polycystic ovaries
However, diagnosing PCOS this way fails to take into account insulin resistance, which is a far more common occurrence in women with PCOS than polycystic ovaries.

If you suspect you might have PCOS, you should bring it up with your doctor, but if possible it’s also a good idea to seek out an endocrinologist who specializes in, or is at least knowledgeable about, treating PCOS. You should also be prepared to do a lot of research, be your own health advocate, and possibly even design your own treatment plan with the help of a knowledgeable nutrition expert.

What to do if you have PCOS

PCOS is not a one-size-fits-all disease. It affects everyone differently, and there is no cure or no one-size-fits-all treatment. While for decades the common wisdom has been to prescribe the pill in order to regulate periods and help control acne, that only treats two out of many symptoms and does absolutely nothing to treat the underlying cause or help the additional health issues linked to PCOS.

The best treatment is a diet that’s designed to control both blood sugar and inflammation, and that incorporates foods known to reduce androgens and improve liver function. There are a number of good low glycemic index, anti-inflammatory diets that can be adapted to effectively treat PCOS, including the Zone diet, Paleo and Whole 30. There are also diets geared specifically toward PCOS, which I’ll link to below.

You should also get used to the idea of avoiding gluten and dairy, both of which contribute to inflammation. There are a number of reasons to give up dairy, or at least cut way back on it. Besides the inflammation factor, cow’s milk also contains natural hormones designed to help growing baby cows, which are not conducive to helping a hormonal imbalance. Women with PCOS are also more susceptible to leaky gut and IBS, neither of which are helped by dairy.

Regular exercise is also an important part of an effective treatment plan. That doesn’t mean you have to become a gym bunny, but regular movement and strength training help to control your body’s insulin response, as well as helping to keep depression at bay.

If you want to know more about the link between nutrition and PCOS and how to manage this disease, check out the following links:

PCOS Diva

PCOS Diet Support

PCOS Nutrition Center

Also, be sure to check out the PCOS Awareness Association for even more info.

Do you have any experience with this disorder? Have you got any questions I might be able to answer? I’d love to discuss it with you in the comments! ♥

Sources:
https://www.healthstatus.com/health_blog/pcos/pcos-20-facts-may-surprise/

http://www.pcosnutrition.com/facts/