Don’t Stress about PCOS: 5 Habits for Better Weight Management

Baseball, food and dancing are three of my favorite things. On a typical fall Monday night, you will find me cooking dinner while flipping back and forth between the Cubs game and Dancing with the Stars. Recently, one of the new celebrity dancers spoke out regarding her struggles with weight gain from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS is the culprit of many of my female patients’ stress, fatigue and struggles with weight management. Luckily, there are some methods that work better for weight loss over others.

What is polycystic ovary syndrome?

For those that are unfamiliar with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), it is more common than you might think. PCOS is the culprit of many of my female patients’ stress, fatigue and struggles with weight management. Women with PCOS experience irregularities in hormone levels and insulin resistance, struggle with fertility and commonly have great difficulties losing weight. Luckily, there are some methods that work better for weight loss over others.

1. Practice good meal pattern habits.

It is incredibly important to control metabolic hormones through proper eating habits. Skipping meals can cause wide fluctuations in insulin levels, which can make weight loss near impossible. Eating a meal or snack at least every 4 hours has shown to control insulin levels and help women avoid blood sugar crashes. If you are not a snacker, consider eating five to six small meals spaced evenly throughout the day.

2. Choose high-protein foods.

Protein naturally lowers insulin and blood sugar levels. That is why this is the most important food group for women with PCOS. Remember to start each day with a high-protein breakfast, whether it’s from eggs, lean meats or a power-packed protein shake.

3.Be consistent.

One of the most important things to help with hormone control is to establish a routine for your body. The lifestyle factors that can influence hormone levels include how often you eat, what you eat and when you exercise. It is important to eat frequently and not skip meals. Ideally, all your meals and snacks should be balanced and not high in carbs and sugar. If you work out, try to exercise at the same time each day. The more your body follows the same daily routine, the easier it is to control metabolic and sex hormone levels.

4. Limit carbs & sugar.

Since carbohydrate-rich foods and those with added sugars raise blood sugar and insulin levels, it is good practice to cut down on these menu items. You don’t have to cut out bread, pasta and potatoes all together, but it’s a good rule of thumb to make sure these are the smallest portions of food on your plate. Load up on lean proteins and veggies to create satisfying and balanced meals.

5. Do regular strength training.

Every form of exercise has its benefits, but strength and interval training cause greater metabolic improvements.  Strength training can help both retain and build lean muscle tissue while simultaneously burning fat. Reducing body fat is one of the best ways to speed up metabolism and control hormone levels.

Are chemicals ruining your taste buds?

Nutrition is much like a Rubik’s cube, complex and simple all at the same time. Because we overthink things and thus overcomplicate situations, we often miss the answers that are directly in front of us. When it comes to eating healthy, do not overthink it.

Not only is an abundance of chemicals bad for your health, think about what it has done to our taste buds over years of chronic ingestion.

Eat food and not food-like products. If nature created it or it had a mother, eat it. If a factory created it, think twice before you bite. This will also help you see past marketing gimmicks that drive up sales for processed foods. I don’t care if the packaging says whole grains, real fruit or gluten-free, there is nothing natural about a Poptart and therefore, no associated benefits with its consumption.

Two key problems with processed foods are the added salts and sugars. Both serve several purposes—intensifying flavor, prolonging freshness, improving texture, preventing moisture build-up and binding molecules to name a few. Not only is this abundance of chemicals bad for our health, think about what it has done to our taste buds over years of chronic ingestion.

Added Sugars

Synthetic versions of sugar and artificial sweeteners have completely warped our taste buds. Chemicals such as high fructose corn syrup and aspartame are manufactured to be up to 600x sweeter than sugar. People become quickly addicted to this unnatural sweetness and no longer can appreciate the value of foods that provide natural sugars. People pour sugar on cereal, oatmeal, fruit, beans, sweet potatoes, spaghetti, salad dressings, all with the quest of creating a more powerful, sweet palate.

Reduce your sugar intake

The good news is that you can improve your tastesbuds’ sensitivity to sugar. The process simply involves cutting out sugar and added sugars to the best of your ability for at least 30 days. It is remarkable how sweet a strawberry will taste in its natural element when you have avoided sugar for an extended period of time.

Added Salts

People avoid the saltshaker in efforts to reduce dietary sodium intake, but you know where the majority of sodium comes from? The Western diet or more commonly known as processed and cheap foods. More than 75% of daily sodium intake occurs from consuming items like breads, pizza, frozen dinners, sandwiches, lunchmeats, condiments, salad dressings, fast food menu items and soups. You can choose prepackaged foods and fast food menu items that are low in calories, low in fat, possibly even low in sugar, but you rarely find options that are low in sodium. Part of the reason why people add so much salt to their cooked food is because we are subconsciously trying to mimic the high salt value of the typical McDonalds order.

Reduce your sodium intake

One of the best approaches to reducing dietary sodium intake and thus decreasing preferences for salty foods is to cut back or even eliminate processed foods and eating out. Yes, it may be challenging at first, but you have everything to gain from focusing more on fresh, natural foods. Your nutrient intake will improve, your fiber will go up, you’ll sleep better, have less headaches and might even lose weight.

Eat food, not food-like products.

What is mindfulness and how can it help me?

Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD., the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health, Care, and Society, defined it as “paying attention to something, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” The Center believes that Mindfulness is “consciously and systematically working with your own pain, stress, illness, and the challenges of everyday life.”

So, what does all of that really mean? When you are being mindful, you are not letting your life pass you by, you are living in the present, allowing your thoughts and feelings to come to you, but not judging them as either good or bad.

How can Mindfulness help me?

Research on mindful meditation’s effect on the MIND:

  • Lower levels of psychological distress, including less anxiety, less depression, anger, and worry
  • Reduced ruminative thinking
  • Greater sense of well-being
  • Feeling less stressed, more joyful, inspired, grateful, hopeful, content, vital, and satisfied with life

Research on mindful meditation’s effect of the BRAIN:

  • Helps to influence areas of the brain involved in regulating attention, awareness, and emotion
  • Significantly improved the efficiency of executive attention during a computerized attention test (good news for ADHD)
  • Increased grey matter density in the hippocampus which is important for learning and memory
  • Decreased grey matter density in the amygdala which plays a role in anxiety and stress; activated regions of the brain that are associated with positive feelings towards others

Research on mindful meditation’s effect on the BODY:

  • There is scientific evidence to support the therapeutic effect off mindfulness meditation training on stress-related medical conditions including- psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, fibromyalgia, and chronic low back pain
  • Reduces symptoms of stress and negative mood states and increases emotional well-being and quality of life, among persons with chronic illness

Research on mindful meditation on BEHAVIOR:

  • Better ability to quit smoking, decrease in binge eating, improved sleeping quality, and reduced alcohol and illicit substance use.

How do I do Mindfulness?

Here are some examples to get you started:

Mindfulness Meditation

Find a place where you can sit quietly and undisturbed for a few moments. To begin, you might want to set a timer for about 10 minutes, but after some experience you should not be too concerned about the length of time you spend meditating.

Begin by bringing your attention to the present moment by noticing your breathing. Pay attention to your breath as it enters and then leaves your body. Notice the cool air that enters, and the hot air that exits. Before long, your mind will begin to wander, pulling you out of the present moment. That’s ok. Notice your thoughts and feelings as

if you are an outside observer watching what’s happening in your brain. Take note, and allow yourself to return to your breathing. Sometimes you might feel frustrated or bored. That’s fine–these are just a few more feelings to notice. Your mind might start to plan an upcoming weekend, or worry about a responsibility. Notice where your thoughts are going, and accept what’s happening. When you realize your mind wandering, return your concentration to your breathing. Continue this process until your timer rings.

Five Senses

The goal is to notice something that you are currently experiencing through each of your senses.

What are 5 things you can see? Look around you and notice 5 things you hadn’t noticed before. Maybe a pattern on a wall, light reflecting from a surface, or a knick-knack in the corner of a room.

What are 4 things you can feel? Maybe you can feel the pressure of your feet on the floor, your shirt resting on your shoulders, or the temperature on your skin. Pick up an object and notice its texture.

What are 3 things you can hear? Notice all the background sounds you had been filtering out, such as an air-conditioning, birds chirping, or cars on a distant street.

What are 2 things you can smell? Maybe you can smell flowers, coffee, or freshly cut grass. It doesn’t have to be a nice smell either: maybe there’s an overflowing trashcan or sewer.

What is 1 thing you can taste? Pop a piece of gum in your mouth, sip a drink, eat a snack if you have one, or simply notice how your mouth tastes. “Taste” the air to see how it feels on your tongue.

The numbers for each sense are only a guideline. Feel free to do more or less of each. Also, try this exercise while doing an activity like washing dishes, listening to music, or going for a walk.

 

Practicing Environmental Control: The Grocery Store

Managing environmental cues or as I like to call it, practicing Environmental Control, in the grocery store may seem easy, but is actually quite challenging. A basic misconception is that food-related decisions are consciously and deliberately made. The reality is, food choices are often an automated response. Sometimes choices made may even be the opposite of what the person would consciously prefer. How, you ask? Let’s take a look at a prime example: food placement traps.

Practicing Environmental Control: The Grocery Store

End of aisle location accounts for about 30% of all grocery sales. Vendors pay special fees for these spots and placement which can increase sales by a factor of five. Research using eye tracking equipment shows the attention drawn by special displays has more to do with the display itself rather than the goals of someone who selects them. Furthermore, people who lack the capacity to fully control eye-gaze and look the longest will be more likely to purchase those items.

So, how do we go about practicing environmental control in the grocery store?

  • Have an awareness that marketing is focused on selling foods that are not necessarily good for you.
  • Make a plan
  • Make a grocery list
  • Be aware of the ‘bad’ food placement traps
  • Don’t shop hungry
  • Do NOT under any circumstance ‘window shop’ junk food – don’t venture or gaze into the difficult areas.
  • Purchase fruits and/or vegetables at every grocery store visit
  • Purchase fresh fruits and vegetables if you have a plan for immediate use, otherwise look for canned or frozen variety.
  • Don’t read labels in the stores – this can be too taxing and cognitively stressing. Study labels thoroughly at home, so when you need to compare in the store you know what you are looking at.

To help you get started on the right track, I encourage you this week to go grocery shopping and make a plan that includes a specific list for vegetables and fruits and a more specific plan to substitute a new fruit or vegetable for any usual white carbohydrate item you purchase. Happy Shopping!

Rethink those 2,000 calories

I have quite a few patients asking for a calorie amount to follow, but I rarely give an actual calorie count to a patient. Instead, I teach patients about the different macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) and how to portion meals and snacks so nutrient needs are being met. Although I do not give calorie amounts often, it is important to be aware of calorie content in the grand scheme of things when trying to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain a healthy weight. 2,000 calories/day has been set as the average need of an adult. However, this number varies greatly depending on sex, activity level, genetics and so on. Let’s say that 2,000 calories per day is accurate for you; do you know what this actually looks like?

A 2014, New York Times’ article, “What 2,000 Calories Looks Like”, provides examples of a 2,000 calorie meals. I’ve selected a few examples of meals from the article that you can find here in restaurants in our area. Click here to view the full article.

  1. Chipotle

This meal combo meal comes in at just under 2,000 calories!

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  1. Olive Garden

This includes the “Tour of Italy Sampler”, 2 bread sticks, side salad, and a glass of red wine for 2,020 calories!

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  1. IHOP

 “Classic Skillet” with orange juice is 2,000 calories.

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Many of these meals (or equivalents) are eaten 2-3 times a day, meaning calorie intake can be far in excess of needs! Calories are generally controlled better at home. I use the #plategoals method to educate patients on food groups and portion control. Cooking at home decreases processed food intake, which in turn decreases calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium—all good things to keep in moderation when trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Lastly is an example of a day’s worth of food prepared at home, filled with vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean protein!

  1. Home

Breakfast: Yogurt with fruit and nuts, 1 slice of toast with jam, and coffee. Lunch: beef stir-fry with farro, pretzels, a pear, and diet soda. Dinner: chicken with arugula, Brussels sprouts and squash, 2 small cookies, 1 glass of wine and water. All of this is 2,000 calories!

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Alana Scopel

Are you getting enough calcium?

A recent report from the Journal of the American Heart Association cautions that calcium supplements may be detrimental to heart health.  The report analyzed 10 years of medical tests on cardiac patients and found that those who took calcium supplements were more likely to have an excess of plaque buildup in their arteries.  The report indicated that participants who received calcium through food did not have an increased risk of developing heart disease.  I often see patients that are taking multiple supplements and have the “more is better!” mentality, but that is not always true.

Are you getting enough calcium

Although calcium is important, is a supplement really necessary?  Can you get the recommended amount of calcium through food? Absolutely! Our bodies respond to and utilize nutrients, vitamins, and minerals found in food far better than those found in supplements. An added bonus of achieving calcium needs through food are the other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals the food naturally contains.  As seen in the table below, many breakfast cereals are fortified with calcium, so this combined with milk may help you quickly achieve a good portion of calcium needs!

  • Men and women 19-50 years of age have a recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 1,000 mg calcium daily. 
  • Men ages 51-70 years are recommended to have 1,000 mg daily and women 1,200 mg daily.  1,200 mg/day becomes the recommended amount for both men and women ages 71 and older. 

calcium through food

Resource: National Institutes of Health

Alana Scopel