I’ve had a long-standing, fluctuating relationship with a low carb way of eating, starting with the most extreme introduction to it whilst at uni aged 19 when the Dr Atkins phenomenon had taken hold, before moving on to The South Beach Diet, returning back to the New Atkins’ more lenient and balanced plan, to help shift baby weight after my second child. I also touched on Low Carb eating via The Fast Diet by Dr Michael Moseley who advocates low carb, more filling meals on Fast Days.
I do know from experience that eating the low carb, not, no carb way (as most food groups have carbs including plants) works well for me. It helps me lose and keep weight off consistently if I remain consistent with what I eat. As someone who suffers from PCOS and insulin resistance, with soaring then crashing blood sugar levels, filling my diet with lean meat, fish, eggs, low sugar fruit, some pulses and a limited amount of grains seems to suit my body the best, from all the diets I’ve tried.
A diet of unrefined carbs isn’t good for anyone to be fair, least of all someone dealing with polycystic ovaries.
However, the thing with low carb/paleo diets is that they can become a bit monotonous, so I like to take the 90/10 approach on board when I’m feeling my most virtuous or 80/20 when less so. You see, I literally want my cake and to eat it too. I’ve come up with lots of low carb sweet treats to keep sugar cravings at bay and I certainly don’t deny myself the real deal here and there, either.
I love my great fried Lucy Hird’s recent post on her own weight-loss story and it’s inspired me to be frank about my own relationship with food over the years.
I had a rather destructive relationship with food as a late teen and in my 20s. My consultant told me at 19 that I would have to work twice as hard to lose weight than someone without my PCOS, and although I’ve mostly veered between a UK size 10-12 for most of my life (mostly a 10 post kids as I’ve worked harder to lose and maintain my weight after pregnancy weight gain), keeping weight stable thanks to my condition has always been a struggle resulting in a a yo-yoing of diets and size coupled with issues over my own body image and a battle, if I’m honest is not entirely won.
Water gain at the time of the month means I can put on 4-6 lbs overnight which does nothing for positive self image. I had to have my wedding and engagement rings cut off in A & E just a month ago after my ring finger ballooned overnight, the day before my period, so as you can imagine it’s a bit of a head f*** for self-esteem. I often feel hormones rule so much of my life.
It doesn’t surprise me that recent research found women with PCOS are six times more likely to have a form of eating disorders than those without.
At 18, I remember having a particularly tough time as I veered between starving myself to binge eating (without making myself sick) which lasted a year. I jumped from one diet to the next then, be it making up batches of Cabbage Soup as part of that eponymous diet where I’d live off smelly soup for weeks to sticking to diets which eliminated complete food groups to nothing at all.
On meeting Peter who loved me whatever my size, at my thinnest when he nursed me better from acute tonsillitis and quinsy only a month after we’d met, to my biggest, after our babies, as cheesy as it sounds, he really helped me to love myself more and whilst it’s an on going progress, I’m far from the obsessive days as a late teen and 20 something.
A growing body in pregnancy came with its own set of pressures both internally, as you no longer recognise your shape during and after baby, to externally from the media, and that includes social media too, making it a sensitive time again, for many.
Having kids actually ended up pushing me to become slimmer than my pre-baby weight. It took time though, a year after my first and 18 months after my second.
That chequered history of dieting, extreme and otherwise, along with a fluctuating size, despite the monthly water retention, induces panic in me when I put on weight.
This is the year of greater consistency for me in management of my condition, though, with a stricter commitment to self-care, being kinder to myself, saying ‘no’ more and of course eating healthily and exercising as part of my everyday.
The last few months have seen me completely forget about how well I felt on a low carb diet. I’ve indulged in all the things I know my body hates since my birthday back in November and it took some recent, unflattering photos of myself, for me to decide to make a change. To get back on the low carb saddle albeit with a healthy, balanced approach.
I don’t advocate eating all the cheese you fancy and a ton of red meat, but I am dining on fish, grass fed organic meat, lots of greens along with pulses, oats and whole grains in smaller amounts and mostly at the start of my day.
I’m back on my trusty (old) treadmill in the garage when the sun doesn’t shine and I’m pounding the pavements and sprinting around the park, when it does. I’m loving doing weights with my husband on our lunch break, who along with my PT Caroline of ShapeShifters have both been invaluable in showing me the best ways to tone up. It’s only a few weeks in, since January really, but I’m already feeling stronger, fitter and importantly much happier for it. I’m addicted to the endorphin-releasing buzz of exercise, I just need to remember that when I slumped at my desk, in that ‘I’m just going to send one more (non-urgent) email’ mode.
..Diets or ways of eating/ lifestyles, whatever you want to call them, must suit the individual so just because you’re reading this, doesn’t mean a low carb way of eating is right for you. I can only go on my own body, experience and that of my family’s. My Mum lost a lot of weight following this way of eating a few years back, and I’ve recently encouraged her to join me again, after her GP approved the diet.
It definitely helps you sustain a diet if you do it with someone else. It makes you more accountable, as does this blog post and I’d like to lose 10 lbs ideally.
Yes, you lose water in the first couple of weeks initially but afterwards, the weight came off for her and for me so I’m certain of positive results for us both.
Sports & Exercise Medicine Consultant and GP, Kay Brennan says,
‘Women with PCOS have increased resistance to insulin, the fat storing hormone, and so find it hard to lose weight. Eating a diet that is low in carbohydrate but high in fat lowers your circulating insulin level throughout the day and so means less fat is stored. Luckily foods rich in fat keep you feeling fuller for longer and many people find this an easy diet to stick to without feeling deprived of treats (cream, cheese, fatty meats, nuts are on the menu). By keeping the weight off, a women with PCOS can greatly reduce her risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the long term.’
Dietitian Laura Clark of LEC Nutrition and my blog’s monthly columnist advocates being ‘carb smart’ when it comes to food choices,
‘From my point of view carbohydrate management is all about being smart carb. It’s a fuel and different people need different amounts and utilise it differently also. If you’re unsure how carb and you fit together seek bespoke advice. It is not the enemy but you do need to be smart! Definitions of low carb are also often open to interpretation and mean different things to different people. Carb is found in many forms, hence why the confusion and fear around it. Ideally search for it in with a matrix of other nutrients. For example fibrous whole grains, calcium rich dairy or fibre and vitamin rich fruit and vegetables’. You can read Laura’s post on what to eat when you have PCOS for my site for further insight.