I Have PCOS: I tried Every Diet Under the Sun

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

As a PCOS dietitian, many of my clients approach me asking for the “best diet” or can they do “keto” or “gluten free” to “lose the weight” or “improve symptoms”.

I saw clients who tried “every diet under the sun” to end up confused about food, hating their bodies, and with more weight than they started with!!”

My dietitian colleague, Sarah Crawford, wrote me this beautiful blog piece on diets. It didn’t just touch my mind, but also my heart! Please read it to the end.

Here's what she wrote:

"Coming out of the holiday season and the season of “New Year New You”, diet fads have been abundantly thrown in our face. Bus ads, grocery line magazines, targeted social media ads, and those oh so lovely family remarks on changes our bodies have undergone this past year.

Diets are sneaky little buggers that can wear a variety of disguises making them difficult to detect. They can range from limiting entire food groups (think Keto or Atkins diets), to ones that piggy-back off allergen science (Gluten Free diet anyone?), or encourage other major lifestyle factors like over-exercising paired with limited food intake. These are just some types I see as a dietitian that clients bring to our meetings. There are many, many others!

Generally, if something is drastically changing your food habits or lifestyle it could be a diet, especially if a promise of weight loss is attached to that. Once foods become “good” or “bad” become skeptical and dig deeper to find out if it is a diet or not.

The biggest question or complaint I get is diet x did not work long term or at all and why?

And how this new diet will work better.

If diets did work we would not have $72 billion dollar industry that is growing every year. If a diet worked we would have one and this industry would be essentially non-existent, yet every year new and old ones get revamped and sold to us in cute packages, endorsed by our favorite celebrities, and a really appealing promise of better/happier lives.

I get it, I TOTALLY get it, avoiding diet culture is comparable to avoiding skin contact on a completely full bus – unavoidable but still so frustrating. It comes at us from all aspects of our lives, despite our best efforts, and eventually just gets to you – like that other bus rider’s sweaty arm on your arm that is irritating. You can go a few minutes, then get annoyed, and then just give in to the contact because you just cannot avoid it.

Because diets have a very minimal success rate we keep going back to them hoping for a better outcome but unfortunately you probably won’t find that, and thus a cyclic pattern, or yo-yo dieting as we call it, continues.

Every diet you try you have hope and promise of a better life because you will be skinnier, fitter, or what other term for the appearance/health factor you are going for. Each time you are unsuccessful (because they are designed to make you unsuccessful) you feel more defeated, growing less happy with yourself, and your relationship with your body and food gets more damaged.

So what is the risk of diets?

Your health and happiness. You can have short term effects and long term effects when you restrict those calories, cut out that food group, or over exercise. What does this pattern mean to me as a professional? The introduction of the spectrum of disordered eating patterns which can ultimately end up in a diagnosed eating disorder.

Mostly working with women, and being a woman myself, I have strong feelings towards the diet industry and its purposeful targeting of women, (and people), of all age ranges – it shows no shame of who it’s messages effect.

Based on the ads we see and the messages we are taught thinness equals health equals beauty equals desire of others to be with you. When did we stop being 5 year olds who played in trees, scraped our knees, played out the dramas between our toys and learnt to value thinness over our joy?

I remember the first time when I was told I was fat, as I am sure many women (and again, people in general) do who are reading this. Our value and worthiness becomes valued against our appearance in that moment. The innocent nature of moving our bodies with freedom and taking up the space we deserve ceases and we question the spaces we take, the values we have according to others, and our worthiness of all the things we deserve in this world. And for what? A constructed idea of beauty that realistically only 5% of us could actually achieve without developing disordered eating/eating disorders? Seems a bit backwards to me.

I am not trying to create a comparative culture of body shaming, I am trying to point out that we all come in a variety of shapes, and sizes and did not mind when we were younger so why do we now? I could go on for too many sentences about the patriarchal framework the diet industry was built on and thrives on but I need to move on for my blood pressures sake!

Those who live with PCOS live in a very interesting world wedged between scientific evidence and diet culture. The evidence does show that weight loss can support side effects of PCOS and can improve fertility in those wanting to get pregnant and as discussed above there are oodles of diets to “help” you along the way.

The problem? That whole equation. Yes, weight loss can improve symptoms but those diets do not help you. They hinder you and can actually lead to weight gain. Also, quality of life.

Do you want to spend your valuable time consumed with the idea of food (and not in the way we get excited for holiday feasts) and fretting over everything you put into your body?

Probably not. This is where your trusty medical team comes in handy – and looking for a medical team that support your decisions about your body and your health and advocate for you.

Part of this team should be dietitians who work with those living with PCOS. They can work with you to create a lifestyle plan that supports your best health which may or may not end in weight loss. The end of the day your overall health is what we take into perspective and not just that number on the scale because you are so much more than that."

Sarah Crawford is a Saskatoon based dietitian, with professional roots in disordered eating, allergies, and re-creating the positive bond between food and body. Sarah works at Alison Friesen Nutrition.

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