Last week I finally got an answer that I had been seeking for years: I have PCOS. Let me backtrack a little and tell you how I got to that point.
After I had Finn in 2012, I was eating healthy and exercising and I lost a lot of baby weight very fast. When he was about 9 months old, I was still eating well and exercising, but all of a sudden I gained 25 pounds in 5 weeks. I went to the doctor, insisting that something was wrong. He tested my thyroid, and said that I seemed to be healthy. He told me to diet and exercise (which frustrated me to get advice to do something I was already doing), and sent me on my way.
Time passed, and I cut more and more things from my diet to make it healthier and healthier, however my weight was still steadily creeping up. I saw more doctors, and the visits went much like the first. I knew that something was wrong with me – I was eating very well, we even switched to eating clean, and I gave up white flour, white sugar, white potatoes, and all processed food. I still gained another 25 pounds after that for a whopping 70 pounds total in 18 months.
Finally my doctor here referred me to a gynecologist for (what I believed to be) an unrelated problem – my periods had suddenly stopped. I broke down in the gynecologist’s office, and she was the first one to finally listen and believe me that something was wrong. She ran a myriad of tests, and the results all pointed back to PCOS.
So what is PCOS?
PCOS stands for PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome. It is an insulin-related hormone disease that affects the whole body. There is no cure, and no known cause. Some believe it is genetic, and others believe it just happens by chance. Since there is no cause, doctors only treat the symptoms. When I was handed a pamphlet with the list of symptoms, my world started to spin, because I had almost everything on the list.
- unexplained weight gain (check)
- missing periods (check)
- excessive body or facial hair (I thought that one was just me turning 30)
- acne (check)
- cysts in the ovaries (check)
- problems conceiving or carrying a child past the first trimester (I’ve lost 7 babies to miscarriage)
- multiple pregnancies (my first pregnancy was twins)
- high insulin levels in the blood (check)
- fatigue (check)
- mood swings (check)
- hot flashes (I thought I was hitting menopause)
- dizziness when suddenly standing or with exercise (I thought this happened to everybody… guess not)
How is it treated?
Several of the problems that are hormone-related (acne, hair growth, periods) are treated with steroids and/or birth control pills. I haven’t been prescribed any of these yet, as my doctor wanted to try the main treatment first, which is diet. Basically, my body is intolerant to carbohydrates/sugars. I had to cut out all carbs from my diet.
To say it’s been a rough week has been an understatement. I used to joke that I was a carbivore, because I didn’t really like vegetables, and I’m picky about meats. Even eating clean, I ate a lot of brown rice, popcorn, corn tortillas, oatmeal, and things sweetened with raw sugar or honey.
Now, meat and vegetables are all I have. I have to read labels and carefully monitor my intake. I am only eating foods that say 0g sugar or <1g sugar, keeping my total carb intake under 20g per day. It’s incredibly hard. Even some foods that I can have like black beans and avocado and nuts have a little bit of carbs/sugar in there, so I can only have a very little.
My doctor told me nothing at all in the bread category – no grains, bread, rice, etc. No dairy, except a TINY bit of cheese. No fruits. No sugar, not even natural sugars like honey. Even some veggies have sugar, so I cannot have corn, peas, or carrots.
I posted a little bit about what was going on with me on facebook, and I got several well-meaning messages from friends and family expressing concern at my new diet. Believe me, I wish I didn’t have to eat this way either. But my body is – for lack of a better word – allergic to sugar.
This diet is a well-known way to treat PCOS. There are several books written on the subject, like the one I bought on amazon here. So it may be a unique diet, but it isn’t radical for my diagnosis.
What happens if I don’t treat it?
With unmanaged PCOS, it’s nearly impossible to NOT gain weight. It’s very common for people with this disease to end up 300-400-500 pounds. They usually end up with full-blown diabetes and heart disease, along with many other insulin and obesity-related issues. Many die young from these problems. PCOS also more than doubles my risk for a bunch of other health concerns. Basically, not treating it is not an option for me.
So what now?
I can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. The past year or so, I’ve been growing more and more depressed and filled with self-hatred at my increasing weight. It got so bad that I was embarrassed to go in public or get my picture taken. So I’m working on forgiving myself and accepting that it wasn’t my fault.
Looking forward, I envision where I’ll be a year from now.
Hopefully most of the weight will be gone.
I will feel better, and my body will be functioning the way it should.
I will be used to eating vegetables and maybe even like most of them.
The cravings and temptation of the things I cannot have will be fleeting, not consuming.
I am excited to get to that place. I know I have to walk through this hard patch to get there, but I will do so, knowing the destination is a better place for me.