Jun 22, 2023 • 8 min read

How to Lose Weight With PCOS

Medically Reviewed by Kim Langdon, MD on 07.16.23
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Living with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) leads to numerous challenges, and one of the most frustrating ones is the struggle to lose weight. PCOS is a hormone disorder in women of reproductive age that includes many symptoms, including weight gain. 

This article will explore the secrets to shedding those extra pounds, providing actionable tips to manage your weight with PCOS. 

From reducing carbohydrate intake to incorporating more protein and avoiding processed foods and added sugars, this guide can help you better understand how to lose weight with PCOS.

Why weight gain happens with PCOS

Weight gain can be a frustrating and challenging aspect of living with PCOS. While not all women with PCOS experience weight gain, it is a common concern for many. 

Understanding why weight gain happens with PCOS is crucial for developing effective strategies to address this issue. In this section, we’ll explore the underlying factors contributing to weight gain in PCOS, including insulin resistance, hormonal imbalances, slow metabolism, inflammation, and genetic factors. 

By looking deeper into these mechanisms, we can gain valuable insights into managing weight with PCOS and working towards a healthier and balanced lifestyle. 

In an article published by the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Julie Tantibhedhyangkul, MD says, “PCOS itself might make women gain weight more easily than others. And, the more weight they gain, the more symptoms they’ll have.” She suggests that more than half of women with PCOS are overweight.

PCOS weight gain is typically correlated with the following:

  • Insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels, but women with PCOS often experience insulin resistance, where their cells become less responsive to insulin. This leads to higher insulin levels, which can promote weight gain. Insulin resistance also triggers the body to store more fat, particularly in the stomach area.
  • Hormonal imbalances. PCOS is characterized by hormonal imbalances, particularly elevated levels of androgens (male hormones) such as testosterone. These imbalances can affect metabolism and lead to weight gain. High androgen levels can increase appetite and cravings for carbohydrates, making it harder to maintain a healthy diet.
  • Slow metabolism. Some women with PCOS may have a slower metabolic rate, meaning their bodies burn calories slower. This can contribute to weight gain or make it more challenging to lose weight.
  • Inflammation. PCOS is associated with chronic low-grade inflammation in the body. Inflammation can interfere with normal metabolic processes and contribute to weight gain.
  • Genetic factors. Genetic factors may predispose women with PCOS to weight gain. Specific genes involved in regulating appetite, metabolism, and fat storage may play a role in the development of obesity in individuals with PCOS.

Diet changes to lose weight with PCOS

Making dietary changes is an essential component of managing weight with PCOS. Adopting a healthy and balanced eating plan can help with weight loss efforts and improve your quality of life. 

Let’s explore a PCOS diet that can help you shed those unwanted pounds while addressing the specific challenges posed by PCOS. These strategies can promote weight loss and support hormonal balance, from anti-inflammatory foods to reducing carbohydrate intake and focusing on healthy fats.

Here are some healthy foods to help with weight loss with PCOS:

  • Incorporate anti-inflammatory foods. Including foods rich in antioxidants, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fatty fish like salmon, can help reduce inflammation associated with PCOS. These foods can also support healthy weight management.
  • Eat plenty of protein. Incorporating lean sources of protein such as fish, tofu, legumes, poultry, and yogurt into your diet can contribute to prolonged satiety, help regulate cravings, and support muscle development. For reference, on average, adult women need about 46 grams of protein daily. 
  • Reduce carbs. While carbohydrates are an essential part of a balanced diet, reducing the intake of refined carbs and sugars can be beneficial for managing weight with PCOS. Focus on consuming complex carbohydrates from whole grains such as whole oats and whole-grain rye, fruits such as strawberries, and vegetables, which provide sustained energy and are fiber-rich.
  • Increase fiber. A high-fiber diet promotes satiety, regulates blood sugar levels, and aids in weight loss. Include fiber-rich foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Focus on healthy fats. Healthy fats provide satiety, support hormone production, and help control cravings. You can find them in nuts/seeds, avocados, and vegetable oils like olive oil.
  • Limit sodium intake. Reducing sodium intake can help manage water retention and bloating. Be mindful of processed foods and condiments that may contain high sodium levels.
  • Limit processed foods. Processed foods often contain additives, preservatives, and added sugars that can interfere with hormonal balance and contribute to weight gain. Opt for whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible.
  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol. Alcohol can negatively impact hormone balance, metabolism, and liver function. Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption can further weight loss efforts.
  • Hydrate. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Water helps maintain a healthy metabolism, aids digestion, and can help control appetite. As a note, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is about 11.5 cups per day for women.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Instead of large meals, opt for smaller, well-balanced meals throughout the day. This approach can help regulate blood sugar levels and prevent overeating.
  • Practice mindful eating. Practice mindful eating by savoring your meals, chewing slowly, and being aware of your body’s cues during mealtimes.

One “trendy” diet that has been studied in people with PCOS is the keto diet. It was shown to improve many of the symptoms of PCOS, including infertility, emotional disturbances, excessive hair growth, obesity, and menstrual irregularity. 

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Other tips for losing weight with PCOS

In addition to dietary changes, other lifestyle factors can further enhance your success in managing PCOS. Exercise, sleep, stress management, and medical support are vital in promoting weight loss and overall well-being.

Other tips for losing weight with PCOS:

  • Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity helps with weight loss, improves insulin sensitivity, and promotes overall health. Aim for cardiovascular exercises, strength training, and movement you enjoy. 
  • Get enough sleep. There is a relationship between sleep and PCOS, as obtaining sufficient, high-quality sleep for seven to eight hours per night is highly recommended to alleviate PCOS symptoms. Restful sleep plays a crucial role in improving well-being and managing the challenges posed by PCOS.
  • Manage stress. High-stress levels can impact hormone balance and contribute to weight gain. Incorporate stress management techniques into your daily routine, such as meditation, breathing practices, yoga, or hobbies that bring you joy. Find what works best for you in reducing stress and make it a regular practice.
  • Talk to your doctor about medication. Medication may be prescribed to manage certain aspects of PCOS, such as insulin resistance or hormonal imbalances. Discuss with your healthcare provider about potential medications that can help with PCOS weight loss. Some people with PCOS are finding success with Ozempic to help with weight loss.
  • Get regular checkups. Regular checkups with your healthcare provider are important to monitor your progress, assess any underlying health conditions, and make necessary adjustments to your weight loss plan. They can provide guidance and support and monitor any potential complications related to PCOS.

By incorporating these additional tips into your weight loss efforts, you can create a comprehensive approach that addresses the physical and emotional aspects of living with PCOS. Remember that every individual is unique. 

Is it possible to lose weight with PCOS fast?

If you’ve been gaining weight with PCOS, you may wonder if losing weight quickly, such as within a month, is possible. With PCOS, fast weight loss can be challenging, but it’s still possible to achieve healthy weight loss if you adopt the right approach. 

It’s important to note that aiming for rapid weight loss can be counterproductive and potentially harmful to your overall health. Crash diets, extreme fasting, and other unsafe strategies to lose weight quickly should be avoided, especially for individuals with PCOS. 

These approaches can lead to nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and a slower metabolism, making it harder to sustain weight loss in the long term. Instead, focus on making lifestyle changes you can stick with that promote gradual and steady weight loss.

Implementing a well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and healthy habits can yield significant long-term results. Incorporating the dietary and lifestyle changes mentioned in this article, such as reducing carbohydrate intake, eating plenty of protein, and managing stress, can contribute to sustainable weight loss with PCOS. 

Additionally, it’s essential to talk to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian specializing in PCOS to develop a personalized plan that considers your individual needs and challenges.

Focusing on gradual, healthy weight loss can optimize your chances of achieving lasting success while managing PCOS effectively.

>> Find a PCOS Nutritionist That Accepts Your Insurance

Supplements that can help with PCOS weight loss

Knowing the best supplements for PCOS weight loss can be valuable to a comprehensive approach to weight loss. Be sure, however, to review your plans with your healthcare provider before incorporating new supplements into your routine.

This section will explore some supplements studied for their potential benefits in PCOS weight loss. 

The Journal of Preventive Medicine and Hygiene has listed these supplements as those that can help with PCOS weight loss:

  • Myo-inositol. Myo-inositol is a naturally occurring compound that belongs to the B-vitamin family. Research suggests that Myo-inositol supplementation may improve insulin sensitivity and hormone levels and promote weight loss in women with PCOS.
  • Carnitine. Carnitine is an amino-acid-like compound that plays a role in energy production. Studies have shown that carnitine supplementation may enhance insulin sensitivity, reduce body weight, and improve metabolic parameters in individuals with PCOS.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is common in individuals with PCOS, and supplementation may positively impact insulin resistance, weight loss, and other metabolic parameters.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil and specific plant sources, possess anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce insulin resistance and strengthen weight management for those with PCOS.
  • Chromium. Chromium is a mineral studied for its potential effects on insulin sensitivity. While research results are mixed, some studies suggest chromium supplementation may benefit individuals with PCOS in relation to insulin resistance and weight loss.
  • Berberine. Berberine is a compound found in certain plants and has been studied for its effects on insulin resistance and weight loss in PCOS. Research suggests that berberine supplementation may improve insulin sensitivity and reduce weight.

How a nutritionist can help you lose weight with PCOS

A PCOS nutritionist is a healthcare professional with expertise in nutrition that understands the unique challenges and dietary needs associated with PCOS. 

They can offer personalized guidance and support to individuals seeking to lose weight and manage their symptoms effectively through dietary interventions.

A PCOS nutritionist can offer:

  • Individualized meal planning. They can create personalized meal plans tailored to your needs, considering your preferences, lifestyle, and PCOS-related concerns. They can help you make informed choices about portion sizes, food combinations, and the timing of meals to aid in weight loss and manage PCOS symptoms.
  • Nutrient optimization. A PCOS nutritionist can help ensure you receive adequate nutrition while focusing on weight loss. They can provide guidance on selecting nutrient-dense foods that promote hormonal balance, support insulin sensitivity, and address any deficiencies commonly associated with PCOS, such as vitamin D or omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Lifestyle modifications. A nutritionist specializing in women’s health issues like PCOS offers more than just dietary guidance; they also support implementing lifestyle modifications that further your weight loss goals. This comprehensive approach may encompass recommendations for exercise routines, stress management techniques, optimizing sleep patterns, and strategies for behavior modification. 
  • Education and empowerment. A PCOS nutritionist can educate you about the impact of nutrition on PCOS and empower you with the knowledge to make informed choices. They can explain how certain foods affect insulin levels, hormone balance, and weight management. 

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Ann Schreiber is an accomplished writer and mother of three. She has two adult children of her own and is also the proud stepmother of a beautiful little girl. Ann enjoys writing both personally and professionally and enjoys spending time with her husband and kids in her free time.