This article was written by Christina Roggenkamp, a dietetics student, and reviewed by Kourtney Johnson, RD, LD.
If you are living with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and struggling to find nutrition advice that allows you to enjoy your favorite foods, including snacks, for PCOS, look no further! Read on to learn nutrition tips from an Intuitive Eating perspective.
What is PCOS?
This is an endocrine and reproductive disorder that, according to the CDC, affects more than 5 million women in the US alone. More than half of those women will likely be diagnosed with type ll diabetes by the age of 40.
PCOS is an often-misunderstood disorder because it affects so many areas in a woman’s body, such as the endocrine, cardiovascular and immune systems, as well as mental health. There are risk factors when it comes to PCOS that are a concern including diabetes, heart disease, infertility, chronic inflammation, hormone/gut imbalances, and psychological impacts.
A person with PCOS can go through their day dealing with general discomfort because this syndrome is an auto-immune disorder. Because there are so many symptoms and side effects, it is extremely important to focus on a well-balanced lifestyle.
This is where the nutrition concept of Intuitive Eating comes into play! Continue reading to learn how you can overcome food guilt, use Intuitive Eating, and incorporate appropriate, delicious snacks for PCOS into your eating pattern.
Nutrition Tips and Snacks for PCOS
When it comes to nutritional needs for PCOS, there are a few areas to focus on.
The first focus should be on incorporating non-inflammatory foods to help relieve gastrointestinal distress. Try adding fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha or yogurt to your eating pattern, as they are known to help with gut bacteria.
Another area to focus on is carbohydrate-containing foods that are associated with a low glycemic index. However, remember that carbs are NOT bad; in fact, they are our bodies’ preferred source of energy.
People who have PCOS should focus on carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index such as lentils, fruits, leafy greens, vegetables and hummus. All of these are great snacks for PCOS!
The reason why it’s important to focus on carbs with a low-glycemic index is because they don’t promote blood sugar spikes, which can be especially helpful for people who have insulin resistance.
Keep in mind, though, that part of life is finding a balance. You will eat a variety of foods, including carbs that don’t fall under the low glycemic index category, and that’s ok!
Ditch the Diet Mentality with Intuitive Eating
Often in our society, there are stigmas around weight and dieting. Most people are guilty of quick fixes and fall victim to crash diets because it’s a widely accepted part of our communities.
Body shame is real, no matter what size you are, and therefore, it’s important to break those stigmas and spread awareness the possibility of being healthy regardless of body size.
In an effort to control weight, many people cut out entire food groups. However, this is detrimental, especially for someone with PCOS who is already dealing with a number of chronic conditions. You should never exclude entire food groups!
And here’s a radical idea: You can enjoy a variety of snacks for PCOS! Focus on foods that make you feel full and satisfied while giving your body the energy it needs & deserves.
Intuitive Eating (IE) was first developed by two dietitians in 1995, Evelyn Tribole (MS, RDN, CEDRD-S) and Elyse Resch (Ms, RDN, CEDRD-S, FAND). At the time, the idea of ditching diet mentality was unconventional, but these two registered dietitians blazed their own trail. Now, almost 30 years later, over 100 scientific studies have proven its success and benefits.
Intuitive Eating has a lot to do with mindset and ultimately healing your relationship with food, self-talk, and body image. Being able to listen and trust our internal cues for satiety and hunger allows us to lean into our body’s needs and wants through self-awareness.
It allows us to trust our gut, so to speak. Listening to our bodies is an important factor that takes patience and practice. You can learn more about the ten principles of Intuitive Eating here.
Focus on your Relationship with Food
When we look at Diet Culture, we see an industry that continues to grow financially. As mentioned in the book “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach,” the global weight loss market is expected to reach almost $300 billion by the year 2023!
Yet, it is clear that many diets often fail! Eating intuitively guides you by taking the diet mentality and tossing it to the curb. Health is not determined by numbers like calorie counting or numbers on the scale. It is more important to make peace with your decisions and choices around food or sense of self.
PCOS affects women of all body types and it’s clear that everyone has individual nutritional needs. One person may be struggling with infertility, and they will have different needs than those with insulin resistance. Focusing on your body’s internal cues and how food choices make you feel is a great place to start.
When you eat, think closely about how food makes you feel before, during, and after. Are you eating because you are bored, or because of stress? Is the meal you ate causing indigestion?
Start with focusing on what your relationship with food is like and take note of your behaviors in how you feel physically and mentally. Do you feel guilty after a meal?
Use this time to reflect on your relationship with food and think about what your body needs or wants to make you feel good. Making peace with food and your body are some of the first and most important steps of Intuitive Eating.
Resources and Next Steps
Focusing on our body’s internal cues is so important with PCOS. When there are many symptoms, you need to focus on putting out one fire at a time. The foods we eat have healing properties and in addition to medical treatments and supportive advice from your medical team, you can focus on a nutrition plan that helps you feel good.
One great resource to learn more about nutrition and PCOS is a book called “A Balanced Approach to PCOS: 16 Weeks of Meal Prep & Recipes for Women Managing Polycystic Ovary Syndrome” by Melissa Groves Azzaro, RDN, LD. This book has great ideas for meals and snacks for PCOS, including recipes for trail mix, Green Goddess hummus, and protein balls!
If you are someone who struggles with PCOS, consider meeting with an RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) who specializes in Intuitive Eating. You can find Certified Intuitive Eating Counselors in your area here.
Deswal R, Narwal V, Dang A, Pundir CS. The prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome: A brief systematic review. Journal of human reproductive sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7879843. Published 2020. Accessed September 25, 2022.
Centers for DC. PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/pcos.html. Published March 24, 2020. Accessed September 25, 2022.
Tribole E; Resch E. Intuitive eating a revolutionary anti-diet approach. 4th Edition. 2020;1:316-329.
Groves-Azzaro, M. A balanced approach to PCOS 16 weeks of meal prep & recipes for women managing polycystic ovary syndrome. 2020;291-303.