Yes, I said “adventure,” and I will explain my reasons for meticulously choosing this word later, but for now I’ll start my story.
A Little Background:
I have always been a soccer player, an elite athlete. I’ve played soccer since I was 4, picked up basketball and track in middle school, crossfit for a short stint over the summer, sprinkled with YMCA classes, and most recently, pure barre. I play both club and high school soccer and though I do not intend on pursuing it in college, I love it more than anything. It’s not simply playing the game that I love but being with my best friends, my teammates. I loved enjoying overnight Netflix and junk food filled overnight trips and pasta parties once a week before games to “carbo load.” Little did I know, these were the very things that were destroying my body and contributing to my PCOS. It turns out sugar, processed foods, and carbs aren’t conducive for my athletic journey… who’d have thunk? My junior year of high school I started to gain weight at an unprecedented rate and, for no apparent reason. I had not changed my diet, or my exercise routine. I ate very healthy (except for the pasta parties and overnight trips) but 80% of the time I ate clean and this was a very frustrating time for me. I didn’t understand why I was gaining weight when I ate healthier than all of my friends and worked out just as much (if not more) than they did. I got the same generic response “life’s not fair” and “everybody is different” but I knew that this was more than just being different. I lived in a constant state of being uncomfortable, bloated, gassy, and stressed, and I wanted an answer to my dilemmas, I wanted a cure. My mom took me to see a holistic doctor in May of 2016. The doctors there suggested I try out a “yeast cleanse” a 21 day whole food cleanse very similar to the now popular “whole 30.” I did not break the cleanse once. I was so desperate for answers and relief I dedicated myself to this cleanse, taking the challenge head on. After completing the cleanse and reintroducing foods back into my diet I found I had a dairy intolerance that was contributing to much of my discomfort as well as a number of other small food allergies. Despite sticking to this cleanse wholeheartedly, I was disappointed to find that I did not lose any weight over the 21 days. This was not the point of the cleanse but it was a happy side effect that most patients experienced, I however, did not. I convinced my mom to let me take a metabolic test to confirm what I believed to be a turtle paced metabolism controlling my body. The doctor warned me before testing that my metabolic rate should be higher considering the amount of activity I engaged in and my healthy diet. I was working out 1-2 hours every day. Not only that, but those 1-2 hours were not low intensity exercises, I tried out every YMCA class I could find and fit in runs and cross fit in between. I worked at a high intensity rate for extended periods of time which should have made me lose pounds like crazy, but was in fact doing the opposite. I now know that this extended stress on my body may have actually been contributing to my weight gain and you can read more about that by following this link: http://www.thepcosnutritionist.com/resources/working-making-gain-weight/. What we found was that my metabolism was, as I expected, much slower than the normal person and that it would be much harder for me to lose weight, in fact, 10x harder for me to lose weight than the average person, yet another lovely side effect of PCOS. I took this information in but did nothing with it at this time. At the time, I was eating a very healthy diet and had gotten pretty in shape as it was summer and I finally had the time in the day to work in more than one gym class, so I was content. In September, we finally saw an endocrinologist that looked at my symptoms and concerns and was able to determine that I had PCOS. I am still not qualified enough to give a good description of what PCOS really is and I struggle to find words to describe it when my friends ask about it, but I’ll give it my best shot. PCOS is an endocrine disorder common among women in reproductive ages, especially in the UK, US, and Australia (developed countries) caused by, what I believe to be an over abundance of processed foods and sugar in our diet. There is no definitive cause however, and currently, no cure. This can be very scary for a teenage girl to hear, in fact it can be scary for any woman to hear. To live our lives facing a disease with no known cause and no known cure can be a very daunting task, but then again, there are much worse diagnoses; I could have cancer, I could be dying. I do not say this to take away the seriousness of this disease. PCOS is a big deal, but it is by no means the worst thing that could happen to you, there are ways of managing it and its symptoms. The doctor had me take an ultrasound to confirm her diagnosis. She looked at my ovaries and found multiple cysts, a telltale sign of PCOS, confirming what we both already knew to be true. At this time in my life I was mentally and emotionally done. I so wanted to just be normal, so wanted to forget that I had ever been diagnosed, that I completely ignored this diagnosis. I continued to live my life as anyone would except that my diet was changed to consist of much less sugar and no dairy as I had become accustomed to this from my yeast cleanse. It wasn’t until the past few months that I decided it was about time to face my fear of being different and research what PCOS was and what I should be doing to treat it.
What I’ve learned/what’s worked for me:
There is, ironically, both an over abundance and scarcity of information regarding PCOS. By this I mean that there are tons of resources about PCOS diets and treatments, but if you continue searching (as I have) for hours on end, you’ll find that a lot of this information contradicts itself, leaving little information that you can determine to be valid. Though PCOS awareness has increased and resources have become much more abundant, the validity of these resources has still remained uncertain. I am no registered dietitian, nutritionist, or health coach. I am simply a high school student, and all I can offer is that this what I’ve found through my own research and what has worked for me. Though I am simply a high school student I do pride myself on my devotion to research and scholarly pursuit and so I will say that every tip and treatment I follow has been cross referenced and backed by multiple resources. It turns out my school didn’t teach me how to write an in depth and accurate research paper for nothing.
A summary of all that I have learned: This is a summary. A brief description of all that I have learned because there has been a lot that I have found, tried, disproven, and disliked. But here it goes regardless. PCOS is a hormone imbalance that affects close to 1 in 10 women. Common symptoms include but are not limited to: irregular periods, pelvic pain, extra hair in unwanted places, thinning head hair, weight gain or trouble losing weight, acne, insulin resistance, fatigue, bloating, depression, slower metabolism, and cysts on one’s ovaries. The cure? Diet and exercise, but the right diet and exercise. The diet I follow is closest to maybe paleo or ketogenic. I eat high protein, high fat, low carb, dairy free, (more recently gluten free), and sugar free. I have completely cut sugar in its simplest form from my diet, but I do still eat fruits such as bananas and berries in moderation that have natural sugars in them. For exercise, what I have learned is that HIIT (High intensity interval training) is the best form of exercise for PCOS weight loss. For more information on both diet and exercise for PCOS i urge you to look at Clare’s blog, http://www.thepcosnutritionist.com. Her blog has become my most reliable and insightful resource in my PCOS research. I try to fit HIIT classes into my schedule but currently I am playing soccer and am in playoffs for my high school team so I am trying not to overburden my body in between games. Over the past few months I have been doing a barre class, called Pure Barre, 2-3 times per week with soccer practice 4 days a week and games 1-2 times per week, I also try to fit in a 30 minute walk 3-4 times per week mostly as a stress reliever. Since my diagnosis in September I have lost a total of around 10 pounds but really the number on the scale does not reflect the personal development I experienced in this time period. I have tried, over the months since my diagnosis, a lot of things. I am on birth control, currently taken metformin, as well as a long list of vitamins I take with my breakfast. If you want more details on any of this feel free to shoot me a message or comment on this post, I’d love to help.
But why did you name this an Adventure?
This I think is the most important part of this blog post, and the part that most appeals to me right now. I am a firm believer in how your outlook can determine your outcome. By that i mean, I can look at the time from my diagnosis to today as “my struggle with PCOS,” or my “hellish battle with a frustrating disease,” and you know what, that’s what those months would be. It would be a struggle, it would be a hellish battle. What you think is what will happen. So, instead I like to think of my past few months as an adventure. A chance for me to explore uncharted areas, to discover more about this disease, but more importantly to discover more about myself, who I am, and God’s reason for putting this diagnosis in my life. I choose to remain optimistic, hopeful. I choose to look at my journey with PCOS as an adventure, because I like the idea of a challenge, and perhaps because I have read one too many books and crave a little adventure in my life. I may not be fighting dragons, but irregular periods and weight gain is just as good right? I am new to this whole PCOS thing, new to this whole blogging thing, but I am excited. I am excited to see what the future holds, what I can do to help, and what else I can learn and share.