My Story with PCOS
I’m Charlie, and I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was 17. I’m now 31. I spent 13 years feeling completely ignorant about PCOS before I started learning anything.
PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome. We've written an article explaining exactly what PCOS is ... read it here.
I’ve been overweight since I started my period at 10 years old—rotund, to be exact—which means I carry all my jiggly bits around my stomach. I’ve also suffered from boils, acne, oily skin, excess hair, blueish skin and very infrequent periods (about 2 a year).
During my twenties, I just relinquished to the fact that I was a spotty, hairy, fat girl with a bubbly personality who wasn’t interested in sex or relationships AT ALL. I smoked and dabbled in recreational drugs. I ate whatever, whenever, and was rarely inspired to be active. Turns out, that isn’t the best lifestyle for anyone, especially not for people with PCOS.
Fluctuations in my lifestyle
I lived a carefree lifestyle in Asia for 2 years, unconsciously enjoying my non-existent libido, period free and indulgent ways. I had zero sexual encounters. I thought I was asexual and was fine with it.
At the end of my contract, I accomplished a 270 km bicycle ride for charity with a friend—when I got back, I had my period. A month later, I moved to Colombia and had another period! I was amazed; it kept happening, again and again. I was bleeding regularly. (For me, this was every 4 to 8 weeks.) With my periods came PMS. But I also found my libido. I was in Colombia of all places, and I just wanted to devour men. Perfect!
By chance, my lifestyle improved. I consumed less rice, noodles and beer. I exercised regularly, and I started to enjoy avocados. The periods continued, as did the sexual revolution, I still didn’t understand why, but I was happy.
In 2017, I moved to Saudi Arabia, and my lifestyle suffered. I hardly walked because it was too hot, sandy and overdeveloped; it just wasn’t the done thing, especially for women. I also worked split shifts, where my colleagues and I would order takeout twice a day and have long naps.
How it changed
My mum’s death came as a complete shock. I was scared of grief—I’d never lost anyone close before. I became convinced that I was going to get even fatter. So, I asked my personal trainer friend for help, and we got to work.
In the beginning, I lost 15 kg and felt fabulous. I was on a low carb diet, with three meals a day and two snacks. I started by walking 5 hours a week. Gradually, this turned into three 30-minute jogs and three workouts a week. I began hiking and swimming on weekends. I was so proud of myself and happy with my weight loss.
But after 2.5 years of fitness and diet regime, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t losing more weight. I ran faster and further, and my workouts quickly became more challenging. During the first lockdown, I really pushed myself, sometimes running 7 km three times a week, doing my trainer’s full-body workouts, online yoga and Pilates and long walks in the woods. I even bought a turbo trainer and second-hand bike. I ate three meals a day with the correct macros, whole foods, good fats and low sugar and carb. But the weight just wasn’t shifting.
Then, my sister started studying nutrition, and PCOS bounced back onto my radar. This time, I was ready for all the information surrounding it.
I’ve had consultations with PCOS nutritionists and a vegan keto nutritionist. I’ve read books, watched videos and listened to podcasts. I intend to keep learning more about my specific body and explore what it needs and when.
I’m still figuring it out
Right now, I’m on a low carb/low sugar/keto diet, and I do intermittent fasting. I take weekly Epsom salt baths and keep relatively active, but nothing like I did before. I recently got to my lowest weight since 2017! Wahoo!
For years, PCOS has shaped my life without me knowing. Now, I want to understand what I need to do to be kinder to my body. I’m finally ready to listen, translate and respond.
As my nutritionist said:
Symptoms are just a conversation with your body.
I’m not in a position to advise anyone else, especially because every body is different. BUT I do have a list of ways we can monitor our bodies and track changes. This will help you understand your body and give you a stepping stone to get started.
If you want to reduce the symptoms of PCOS, try the following:
- Track your cycle, not just on your phone
I printed some charts out and tracked pre-menstrual symptoms, food cravings, tolerance to other people and weight. I gain almost 3 kg every cycle before I bleed.
- Use a menstrual cup
This will help you measure your flow more accurately.
- Keep an honest food diary
Check the macros, just for a week or two to understand what you eat. Personally, I ignore the calories now. I was so surprised about the carb content of things like beans, pulses and root vegetables.
- Educate yourself and listen to other people’s stories and experiences
PCOS is so common. You can learn from YouTube, podcasts, Audible, books, blogs, articles and research papers—the possibilities are endless.
- Trial things for a few months and monitor changes
If you slowly and consistently change your habits, then you’ll find things that work for you.
- If you can afford it, get help from someone who has experience
Investing in your health is always worth it. There are nutritionists, dieticians and doctors who’ve spent years changing people’s lives, and they might be able to help you too.
Love yourself and work with your body, not against it
Written by Charlotte Smith and edited by Nina Giblinwright.