PCOS – Let’s Talk About It

Warning: I’m about to get all biological and anatomical when discussing lady business (like Aunt Flo), so if that makes you squeamish, I suggest you not read on. 

About two years ago, I was diagnosed with a medical condition called polycystic ovary syndrome, commonly known as PCOS.

What is PCOS?

It is an endocrine disorder that affects hormones (among other things), meaning that women who have it can produce too many androgens, (or “male” hormones) which can create all kinds of problems. It is estimated that between 5-10% of women of childbearing age have this disease.

What are the symptoms/effects of PCOS? 

The main thing that PCOS affects is ovulation and the menstrual cycle. Women who have PCOS often have cysts on their ovaries (hence the name) and often have extremely irregular or non-existent menstrual periods, which can affect fertility. Women with PCOS also have a higher chance of miscarrying or giving birth prematurely, and pregnant women with PCOS are more likely to develop gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. 

Besides affecting reproductive health and the menstrual cycle, women with PCOS can also suffer from ovarian cysts, hirsutism (increased hair growth on face, torso, feet, hands, chest, stomach and back), acne, oily skin, dandruff, weight gain (usually gaining weight around the middle), thinning hair or male-pattern baldness, thick and dark patches of skin on the neck, arms and breasts, skin tags, pelvic pain, anxiety or depression and sleep apnea. 

Women with PCOS are also more likely to have high blood pressure, to have a heart attack or to have high bad (LDL) and low good (HDL) cholesterol. Additionally, 50% of women with PCOS will develop diabetes or pre-diabetes by the age of 40. Scary, scary stuff. 

Why are you talking about this on a weight loss blog? 

Well, because polycystic ovary syndrome has lots to do with weight. It is currently not known whether being overweight or obese can cause PCOS, but it is known that having PCOS can cause a woman to gain weight (and make it much harder to lose). I accept that my life choices have caused me to struggle with my weight, but I do wonder whether having this condition has caused extra weight gain. 

The point is that PCOS is very much related to health. Reproductive health and fertility, of course, but also general health. Truthfully, not a lot is known about the causes of PCOS and, as of right now, there is no cure. Some researchers believe that it has something to do with insulin, but there really isn’t a lot known about this disorder. 

What is known, however, is that exercise and a healthy diet can help immensely. Even just a loss of 10% body weight can help to regulate the menstrual cycle. Birth control pills can help as well, but being at a healthy weight seems to be the most effective treatment at the moment. I am lucky that I have only experienced a few of the symptoms that I mentioned above (and those have been relatively mild) and that it has not affected my general health, but I am scared that in the future I might develop heart problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, or that it will affect my ability to have children or to carry a baby to term. Staying at my current weight is not an option. Unfortunately, PCOS can make it more difficult to lose weight, but I think that I have been doing very well so far and I am hoping that my journey will continue as I go forward. 

If you have PCOS and are reading this, I hope that you know that you are not alone. There are many, many women out there who suffer from this disease. Unfortunately, I find the medical community at large to be very hush hush about women’s health issues, particularly reproductive health. For example, I started having issues when I was 14. I was dismissed by several doctors (none of whom ever bothered to run tests) before I finally found my current doctor, who put me through a battery of tests so that I could finally get a proper diagnosis. It infuriates me that it took so long for someone to finally take me seriously enough to fully investigate, as opposed to telling me to just go on the pill and not addressing the root cause. 

I wanted to talk about this because it is extremely relevant to my weight loss journey and, to be honest, it’s nice to talk about it. It’s not something that I feel comfortable sharing with most people in my life, so the veil of anonymity that I have on the World Wide Web makes it easier. Thanks for listening. 

If you have PCOS and you feel comfortable, please feel free to share in the comments. Cheers. 

Progress Update – as of April 28, 2014

Height: 5’7″
Current Weight: 273.3 lbs
Loss: 1.7 lbs
Current BMI: 42.8
Loss: 0.3

As I thought it would, my loss has definitely slowed down. However, a loss is a loss is a loss, so hallelujah for that! Let’s hope that I continue on this downward slope.

What I Did Really Well This Week:

1) I have been eating very well, for the most part. As I mentioned last week, I am currently staying with my aunt and uncle and my uncle is a health nut. He has all kinds of um…interesting beliefs about nutrition and health, some of which I agree with and some of which make it very difficult for me to keep my mouth shut. But that’s another story.

Anyway, I have been eating well. Lots of salad and fresh, organic food (and he makes amazing smoothies, which he has been sharing with me every morning, yum!). And NO sugar. Sugar is persona non grata in their household. I will confess that I went to the grocery store and bought myself some sugary treats, but I only bought the “snack size” variety of some amazing cookies called Toffee Pops (and the snack size is mini cookies) and then another little snack packet of orange and chocolate cookies. So I didn’t go bananas, good job self. It made it quite obvious that I’m addicted to sugar though. Sad…

What I Can Improve On:

1) My walking routine has come to a bit of a halt this week. I have done some, but not nearly as much as I did previously. And then yesterday I was going to go outside but it was kind of grey and dreary so I didn’t, and then today I wished I had because it poured rain all day long. But oh well. I will try to make more of an effort to do more exercise this week because I don’t have a car and frankly, being cooped up inside all day today drove me a bit loopy.

2) I should get more sleep. I have been staying up later than I normally would, mostly because I have been engrossed in reading some good books lately and so often I’ll read into the late hours of the night (or sometimes the wee hours of the morning) and thus, my sleep is being compromised.

How I Feel:

Pretty good, in general. I am super happy about the loss so far (although I need to buy more pants now, because mine are practically falling off even with a belt) but I am conscious that it could easily creep back up again, so I can’t slack off just because I’ve had a great couple of weeks. Onwards and upwards!

Progress Update – as of April 21, 2014

Height: 5’7″
Current Weight: 275.0 lbs
Loss: 9.4 lbs
Current BMI: 43.1
Loss: 3.0

Holy guacamole!!! I figured that I would see another loss this week, but to lose almost 10 lbs in a week is crazy! I don’t anticipate that this trend will continue for long (and I don’t want it to, as it’s not healthy) but hey, a loss is a loss!! And it’s possible that this isn’t totally accurate anyway, the scale that I weighed myself on last week is a different one from this week, so it’s highly unlikely that they are exactly the same, I find that most scales tend not to be.

What I Did Really Well This Week:

1) Getting lots of sleep, once again. I did a lot this week, sight-seeing and such, and I prefer to get up early and start my day so that I make sure that I take advantage of being in a foreign city. Plus, I didn’t know anybody in Wellington (where I was) so it wasn’t as though I was out and about socializing into the wee hours.

2) I did a fair amount of walking this week as well, sightseeing and the like. I have never had trouble just walking around on flat surfaces, but hills and stairs (not to mention running) are the death of me! I think it’s getting easier though. There is less cursing under my breath when I have to climb a big hill or walk long distances, so yay me!

What I Can Improve On:

1) I didn’t really eat that well this week. I tried to make healthier choices, like choosing a sandwich and milk for lunch instead of a burger, but I was still rather lacking in fruits and vegetables intake. However, I am now at my uncle’s house for the next week or two. He is a health maniac and so I think that I will be eating very well for the time that I stay with his family. He bikes 15 km every morning, for example, and then has a fruit smoothie for breakfast, chock full of healthy stuff. So I think I will do well this week…

How I Feel:

I feel really good! I am feeling a lot better mentally (although travelling is fun, being by yourself in a strange city can be very lonely) and so I think that just being with family and kind of feeling more at home here, as opposed to living out of a suitcase, will be good for me. I don’t anticipate losing 10 lbs again next week – and I wouldn’t be surprised if I gained some soon, as it’s possible that some of this weight is water weight – but I’m on the right track and that’s all that matters.

Cheers, happy losing!

Progress Update – as of April 14, 2014

Height: 5’7″
Current Weight: 284.4 lbs
Loss: 9.9 lbs
Current BMI: 46.1
Loss: 1.6

WOOHOO!!! As you can probably tell, I am super ecstatic at this number. I haven’t actually been able to weigh myself for 3 weeks, but boy it is nice to get on the scale and see that! Since the beginning of this journey, over 5 months, I have lost 18.8 lbs. I am disappointed that it isn’t more overall but I haven’t been consistent with my efforts over these 5 months, so that’s to be expected. At the end of the day, I am thrilled to be down almost 20 lbs and it makes me want to go more more more!!!

What I Did Really Well This Week:

1) Well, over the past several weeks, I have been walking a lot. I do take public transportation, but most of that doesn’t drop you off exactly where you need to be, so I’ve had to hoof it around a lot. I’ve also chosen to walk for monetary reasons. For example, the hostel that I was staying at for a while did not have free wifi, so I opted to go to the library instead. Walking there, a 15 minute walk, saved me the bus fare and meant that I could come and go as I pleased, instead of waiting on a bus schedule.

2) I have also been eating as well as I can. I have been staying at hostels and due to my intense germophobia the thought of actually cooking in a hostel repulses me (I don’t trust anyone to clean dishes properly, especially not with the dish brushes that appear to have been sitting out since 1993, gross), so I have been relying on staples like PB&J sandwiches and ramen noodles. Ramen are not that nutritious, I know, and neither is PB&J (although I have only been using good, whole-wheat bread, natural peanut butter and no sugar added jam) but I have had access to a fridge, so I’ve also been eating fruit, yogurt, veggies and milk. It’s not an ideal diet, but I’m attempting to make it work anyway. And when I go out to eat (which I have been trying to avoid doing, because it’s ridiculously expensive) I have been trying to make better choices, like having sushi or a sandwich over a cheeseburger.

3) I have been getting lots of sleep. I don’t drink or smoke and I find that a lot of the activity that goes on at hostels later at night tends to be of that variety, so instead of participating, I will usually read and go to bed early. I like going to bed early when I’m travelling, actually, because I like getting up in the morning and doing stuff, instead of sleeping until noon like I often do when I’m out really late. And bonus, it’s good for you!

What I Can Improve On:

1) Getting in more fruits and veggies. I was really good for awhile about eating apples and carrots and veggies that don’t need prep, but I’ve slacked off a little in the last week or so and not done that well, so I’m hoping to get back to my earlier, better habits.

How I Feel:

Pretty awesome!!! I have been feeling really down lately, to be honest, because I have kind of been stuck in one city for awhile and I was really missing home. However, this weigh-in certainly boosted my spirits (as well as Skype sessions from home, I love you Skype!) and I am hoping that it continues!

Progress Update – as of April 7, 2014

Height: 5’7″
Bust: 52 in.
Waist: 56 in.
Hips: 54 in.

HA. So much for updating on Monday. Ah well, that’s life.

I’m baffled by these measurements, to be honest. I am certain that I haven’t gained weight since I’ve been away, so I can only assume that I took them in a slightly different spot back in March. If my pants are falling down without a belt, then it doesn’t make any sense that I would have gained inches in the hips. Odd. Anyway…

What I Did Really Well This Week:

1) Well, unfortunately, this week I got sick. Before I got sick I was doing a lot of walking around (including climbing a ridiculously massive hill every day to get back to my hostel from the library) so that was good, but I wasn’t eating all that well. I have serious problems with germs and I am finding that the hostel life doesn’t appeal to me so much, so much of the food I was eating was to-go stuff: pb & j sandwiches, soup, that kind of thing. I tried to get healthy snacks, but it didn’t always work out. And then I got ill so for the past 3 days I have basically been resting and drinking lots of water. But, bonus, I got a lot of sleep!

What I Can Improve On:

1) I have a place in town now, which is nice in theory, but I don’t think that it’s the right place for me. (But that’s another story). In theory, I’ll be able to start eating healthier since I won’t be living in a hostel in fear of germs, but we’ll see. I don’t know if I’ll stay where I’m at.

2) I am just going to keep up the walking and try to get as much exercise in as possible. However, it is windy and rainy here, so walking outside is not always the most pleasant experience. We’ll see.

How I Feel:

Kind of depressed, to be honest. I am really homesick. I have enjoyed travelling around and seeing things, but I haven’t enjoyed staying in one place and I kind of want to finish here and just go home. It’s not really very motivating for weight loss, I must say.

Progress Update re: change in posting and something embarrassing (again)

Hello dear readers!

I have decided, once again, to change the day that I post every week. For the past several weeks it has been Wednesday (erm, well it’s supposed to be Wednesday but I haven’t always been so good about that) but I have now decided to make it Mondays. However, I do mean Mondays in New Zealand, so if you’re in North America, that means Sunday. Anyway.

I also wanted to talk about my progress. I have not yet taken my April measurements (that will happen on Monday) but I think I have been making progress. I don’t have a scale, so I can’t judge, but since I no longer have access to a car and since I’m currently staying in a place that is quite central, I have been walking basically everywhere I want to go, which has meant at least 20 minutes every day for the last 3 weeks, which is pretty good. Some days it has been way more than that, like 1, 2, 3 hours of walking, much of it uphill. Which means that I’m perpetually sweaty, but I digress.

Anyway, on to the embarrassing thing. Yesterday I was on my way to go see a house (I’m currently looking for a room to rent) and I went to the wrong end of the bus terminal. By the time I figured it out, my bus had already left. However, I decided to go find the correct bus stop anyway, so that I would know for next time. When it comes in sight, I realize that the bus I needed actually had not left yet, I guess it was running late. I am still a block away at this point and the bus looks like it’s about to pull out, so I run pell mell down the street to try to catch the bus. As I was running, my pants fell down.

They didn’t fall all the way down, thank goodness, but they were certainly slipping enough that I had to grab them and keep running. (And I’m quite certain that anybody behind me at the bus terminal got a delightful view of my underwear, but oh well.) I was wearing a belt with said pants but I guess I have lost enough weight that moving around that quickly, even with a belt, makes my pants too loose. Thankfully, I was able to pull them up properly and tighten my belt before boarding the bus to avoid further embarrassment, but after it all went down I was kind of pleased, to be honest. I have had the misfortune of having to bolt for the bus in those pants before, but I have never had an issue with them falling down, so I’m pleased as punch that I’ve gotten to a point where they’re just about too big to even stay up.

It would have been nice if I had discovered this in private, but oh well…