Jan 19, 2016

10 habits to keep PCOD under control

Disclaimer: I'm neither a gynecologist nor a dietitian. This is purely based on my experience. Do consult your doctor if you are making any major changes.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS / PCOD) has become so prevalent among women these days. The official reports state that 25% of women in India face this problem but the actual numbers might be more. And this percentage is on the rise.

I've been facing this issue for many years now. There's no medicine/treatment to completely cure this hormonal disorder. But there are ways by which you can ensure that it doesn't lead to further complications.

I'm not going to talk about the symptoms or complications of PCOD as the primary purpose of this post is to help women who are already facing this issue. So my assumption is that you are aware of PCOD and looking for ways to keep it under control.

Here are the 10 habits that I follow diligently for the past few years that have resulted in a positive impact in my overall health. If you look at these habits, these are lifestyle changes that will help you stay away from all non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and PCOD.

1) Cut down on junk foods and packaged foods completely
It's not as hard as it might sound. The high fats and sugars in packaged foods lead to weight gain, especially the abdominal fat. Except for occasional biscuits, I have stopped eating any ready-to-eat foods in packaged form. I take the time to make all my meals at home. If you don't have the time, hire a help/cook. I also include a lot of fruits, nuts and vegetable salads for evening snacks.

2) Keep your weight in check
Women with PCOD tend to gain weight easily, especially around abdomen and thighs. So it's necessary that you keep a tab on your weight and ensure you are within the healthy BMI range. If you are overweight or obese, consult a dietitian and a fitness trainer. Studies show that weight loss of just 2-3 kgs can regulate your menstrual cycles. Thanks to my genes, I was always underweight until my early 20s. The sedentary lifestyle in my 20s increased my weight but now I ensure my weight is steady and within the ideal range.

3) Do not skip breakfast
This is the mistake that costed me dearly when I was in my teens and early 20s. Except for a cup of coffee, I didn't eat anything while going to college. When I started work, I skipped breakfast number of times. I would feel hungry by lunch and gobble up a lot of simple carbs based foods like rice and roti, along with a sweet dish from office cafeteria. Take the time to prepare a healthy breakfast at home. Get up early if you have to but please don't skip. And no packaged sugar-coated cereals please.  Choose simple Indian breakfast dishes like idli, poha or parantha, boiled eggs and/or some fruits.

4) Reduce simple carbs
By simple carbs, I mean the foods that have high glycemic index (GI) - those that get digested faster and release sugars quickly into your bloodstream. The pancreas secretes insulin, a hormone that helps the cells to better absorb sugars and convert to energy. Women with PCOS have insulin resistance and so the pancreas has to secrete more insulin. The high insulin leads to increased secretion of male hormones like androgen.

Being a South Indian, I used to eat a lot of white polished rice. Now I have reduced my polished rice intake and have been consuming more millets. Millets are high in fibre and have low glycemic index. So you feel full for longer time and you don't stuff yourself up with more carbs. Ever since I switched to millets, I notice that my abdominal fat hasn't increased and my overall carbs intake have come down. Wheat is also fine as long as you are taking whole wheat flour and not processed flour (maida). Also do check if your body agrees to wheat. Listen to your body's signals. For me, wheat in excess causes acidity and bloating. So I cannot take wheat in all my meals.

5) Stop sweets, desserts and chocolates
Indian sweets are my weakness. I can say NO to ice-cream but not to a piece of gulab jamun :-) Sweets made out of white sugar have high GI and so the same issues mentioned in habit (4) are applicable. If you have sweet cravings, eat a piece of date or a sweet made of jaggery. But do not overeat.

6) Increase fibre in your meals
The importance of fibre cannot be emphasized enough. It increases satiety and also helps to flush out toxins from your digestive system. Sprouts, raw veggies and fruits, slightly steamed veggies and pulses are all good sources of fibre. Ensure you get your 3 servings of veggies and 2 servings of fruits everyday. I find this a tough task but I'm slowly getting there by being aware of my eating habits and making small changes.

7) Exercise consistently
Though I have been watchful of my diet by following the first 6 habits, reversing the damage done earlier was made possible ever since I started exercise consistently. My mood swings haven't been drastic (one of the symptoms of PCOD). My monthly cycles are more regular now. Consistency is the key here. Whichever form of exercise you choose, be consistent at it for atleast 4 days a week. Give importance to daily exercise, just like you brush your teeth or take a bath everyday. No compromises. Get it over with, first thing in the morning, before the other priorities take you over. Do check out my earlier post on how to get into exercise as a regular habit.

8) Control your stress levels
Stress plays havoc with your hormonal levels. Try to dig deep on what's causing stress on you and take steps towards reducing it. Is it work, relationship, commute or internal conflicts? Two mantras that have always worked for me - "Let it go" and "This too shall pass". Compared to my 20s, I'm much more calmer and relaxed. I'm clear about my priorities now.

9) Get your 7-8 hours of sleep
Lack of sleep for just a couple of days can increase your blood pressure and your stress hormones like cortisol. To stay awake, many of us tend to drink many cups of coffee or tea, which increases acidity, leading to headache and a whole lot of other complications. Give priority to your well-being first, before you think about night-outs for your work or studies. I have never done night-outs and I'm proud of that. Stop checking your phone/laptop atleast an hour before bedtime. Read a book, listen to soothing music or play with your child. These will calm you down and will help you to sleep better. There's nothing more important that requires you to compromise on your sleep.

10) Live mindfully, slowdown, stay happy
This is applicable for all women, irrespective of whether you have PCOD or not. Worries from the past and anxieties about the future take a toll on our mental health. Be mindful about your present moment, take deep breaths, meditate, spend time amidst nature, do what makes you come alive, invest in a hobby and learn to relax. There were times when my to-do lists were long but now I have accepted that there should be DO-NOTHING days where I can just relax and enjoy the slow afternoons, sipping tea and reading a book.

If you have read this far, hope you found this list helpful. Do let me know if there are any questions.

Part 2 of this article - 10 more habits to manage PCOD

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