Aakanksha Kapoor, Founder — I Say Organic, first experienced signs of PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, in her teens. From weight issues to excessive facial and body hair, and more, she faced it all. She’s not alone, because the statistics reveal that one in every 10 women suffer from PCOS, a condition that is marked by hormonal imbalance.
“Polycystic ovaries are slightly larger than normal ovaries and have twice the number of follicles (fluid filled spaces in the ovary that releases the egg during ovulation),” explains Dr Sarala Sreedhar, Clinical Professor, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Amrita Hospital, Kochi.
Although irregular periods, hirsutism (excessive facial and body hair growth), hair loss, acne and anxiety may surface in most women, the symptoms may not look the same for everyone. They may also vary in accordance to the age group you belong to.
“Those who fall in the reproductive age group can have infertility and suffer from miscarriage and other pregnancy complications. In the postmenopausal stage, obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, uterine cancer may show up,” adds Dr Sarala.
Here’s the big question — can this hormonal disorder be cured? NO, but it can certainly be managed with a change in your lifestyle habits. Yes ladies, being committed to a healthy routine can go a long way in helping you combat PCOS.
To understand this better, we got in touch with several women, who have altered their lifestyles to deal with PCOS. Each of these women have had their personal battles, so it’s important to understand that this is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Making healthier dietary choices
This is a no-brainer, because what you eat makes a world of a difference to your health. Food is fuel for the body, which is why it is essential to consume nutrient-rich foods that can help regulate your hormones.
For Aakanksha, the foremost step was to switch to organic food, since conventional food is laden with chemicals. Even today, this habit is what helps her live a toxin-free lifestyle, in the easiest way possible.
Here’s what she recommends, “Eat fruits and salads daily and reduce the consumption of junk food. You don’t have to go cold turkey and give up on eating snacks that you love. Opt for healthier and non-processed options. Replace sugar with organic jaggery or try getting used to drinks without adding sugar on top,” she adds.
Aruna Chawla, Founder — Salad Condoms, is also an advocate of fresh and clean food, and it is this very aspect that has helped her keep her PCOS in check. “There is a lot of gut health focus, as Rujuta Diwekar propagates through her philosophy. Try to include grandma recipes to your diet, stay away from packaged food, and say no to refined sugar,” she suggests.
Kanupriya Saraf, a Gurgaon-based communication and creative weaver, who has had several struggles with PCOS, believes that cutting down on dairy helped her a lot. She also consumes ash gourd or safedpetha juice every morning to flush out toxins from her body.
A change in eating habits may sound like a lot of effortbut take baby steps and you will notice a massive difference. Nidhi Singh, Founder and Director — PCOS Club India, who was diagnosed with PCOS in 2013, ensures her diet is packed with whole foods; she also believes in minimal consumption of dairy to keep her hormones in check.
“My mornings start with overnight-soaked five almonds, two figs, and two glasses of warm water. My meals include lots of veggies, quinoa, tofu, whole grains, millets, and herbs. With all the credible knowledge and having pursued a nutrition course, I have become more self-aware,” she shares.
In a nutshell, Dr Sarala says that a healthy diet aims to not just prevent weight gain, but also reduce the risk of related health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Mindful consumption is key
Ridhima Behl, a Delhi-based marketing professional, believes that there is nothing more critical than eating mindfully. While making the right food choices is essential, it is also important to exercise portion control and eat at fixed hours.
The same approach is practiced by Apurupa Vatsalya, a well-known sexuality educator, who goes by the name inapurupriate on Instagram.
“I did my research and spoke with a body positive women’s health specialist, an anti-fad diet nutritionist, and a therapist. The tag team of the doctor and the nutritionist tried to understand my current lifestyle (which was largely sedentary) and co-created a plan of action,” she says, adding that it was this team that helped her create a diet plan, and guided her to make small tweaks to her lifestyle such as meal prep and ensuring that she was eating three square meals and snacks.
Apurupa also satiated her cravings through healthier alternatives and introduced enough variety in her meals to keep them interesting.
“In my case, the key focus was how sustainable it can be, especially since I am neurodivergent and comfort foods hold a special significance in my life, because I can be sensitive to the taste, smell, colour and texture of foods,” she adds.
Bengaluru-based homemaker Vasundhara Nagpal believes that eating everything in moderation and mindfully every two hours is what has helped her deal with the condition and conceive naturally. While her diet did go off track for a while after pregnancy, she is back to the same approach and can see a difference again.
Move your body
We all know a good workout can get those endorphins flowing in your body! Plus, moving your body is a great way to regulate your hormones, especially if you have PCOS. Try to pack in any form of exercise, such as brisk walks, running, gymming or yoga, for at least 40 minutes daily.
“Regular physical activity helps reduce androgens, improves insulin resistance, regulates menstrual cycles, induces ovulation, improves fertility, increases energy levels, and reduces depression and anxiety. Whether it is moderate or vigorous aerobic exercise, or resistance training, PCOS symptoms will improve,” shares Dr Sarala.
Ilma Zafar, senior officer — category management at Myntra, says that it is regular exercise that has helped her keep PCOS in control. Although the pandemic has altered our lives in many ways, and made us more sedentary, she is taking little steps to get back to her routine.
But exercise is not a pleasurable activity for everyone, especially those who have had a history of eating disorders.
“I am an eating disorder survivor, and would use exercise as a form of punishment, because I suffered from a poor body image. We had to be wary about my triggers, which is why we focused entirely on joyful movement. Spending time connecting with my body in the sun was also game-changing. We also made sure that my mental health doesn’t suffer and I don’t feel overwhelmed with the changes I was making,” shares Apurupa.
Work on your sleep hygiene
While the impact of diet and exercise is often spoken about, conversations around sleep are often neglected. More often than not, we love being night owls and end up doing all-nighters for the sake of our favourite Netflix shows. Stop it right away, because you don’t want your hormones to go out of whack.
“Sleep hygiene is equally important. I have a going-to-bed ritual, which includes staying away from doom scrolling before I retire for the day. I also ensure that I sleep and wake up at the same time. Avoid taking naps during the day because this may mess with your cycle. Instead, do another relaxing activity such as sensory grounding or meditation,” says Apurupa.
The two other tips that must be definitely followed include reducing stress levels and using sustainable products. We already know how high stress levels release cortisol in the body, which can further worsen your case. Instead, practice meditation and breathing exercises to calm your nerves, says Sonal Mahendroo, a popular body positivity influencer.
Sonal recommends,“Hydrate your body, do some work outs (even if it is at home), and sleep well. These will help you get your periods on time.”
You could also keep a gratitude journal and write positive affirmations to keep your mental health in check.
Both Vasundhara and Kanupriya also believe in the use of earth-conscious face and body products such as multanimitti, ubtan, aloe vera gel, and homemade shampoos.
“I have never felt better in my life. It makes you more earth-conscious rather than self-conscious, and helps your skin and body breathe. I went soap, shampoo, and plastic-free from most areas of my life,” adds Vasundhara.
Addressing the stigma
Even though PCOS is so common today, there is still a lot of stigmas associated with it, which makes it even more difficult for women to tackle the situation. Nidhi Singh, founder of PCOS Club India, which is the country’s largest PCOS community believes that women are looked down upon, just because they find it hard to conceive, because of the hormonal disorder.
“In fact, some of them have told us that they were rejected by their partners because of their PCOS issues or were verbally abused because of this condition. This makes me so angry and even more determined that not only women but everyone around us needs to know and be aware! Diabetes occurs in one in 10 people — everyone knows about it. But if PCOS hits so many women, shouldn't we be talking about it more than ever? It's almost an epidemic,” she adds.
After pursuing a corporate career for nine long years in the field of finance and consulting until 2020, Nidhi decided to quit her full-time job and stepped up her mission to help more and more women with PCOS. Today, the platform helps spread awareness, educates people, and breaks the stigma around. PCOS.
“I decided to go ahead and become a nutritionist and pursue a couple of courses that are based on the latest International PCOS guidelines from Monash University, Australia. Equipped with this knowledge and expertise, I joined hands with health experts to curate three free self-help tools along with our flagship PCOS Jumpstart gynaecologist-approved PCOS management program. Additionally, I run a social impact PCOS advocacy Program called Project Pankh, through which we conduct free PCOS awareness sessions in schools, colleges, and corporates,” she shares.
The last word
“Some days you may succeed in your goal, while on other days, you may not do as well. But what matters is that you will make progress,” says Dr Sarala.
“There is no cure for PCOS. It can be successfully managed with lifestyle modification, healthy eating, and regular exercise. If identified and managed early, long-term consequences of PCOS can be effectively avoided,” she concludes.