Following a research-backed PCOS diet can help combat the inflammation (as well as the sugar spikes and crashes) triggered by PCOS. In this way, it can be a useful, natural means to alleviate bothersome symptoms. But sometimes our attitudes around food, even with the best of intentions, can become restrictive and unhealthy. So how can you do your best to follow a PCOS diet that serves your physical health, as well as your mental and emotional health? And are there some simple tricks and advice to make eating PCOS recommended foods a bit easier? That’s what we’ll be diving into in this article.
- Check in with your mindset
This is more of a psychological shift than an item you can check off a to-do list, but it’s worth mentioning. Try to remember that there are no ‘bad’ or ‘good’ foods.
Some foods have more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients than others, and while it’s true that they may keep you full for longer, it’s also worth keeping in mind that foods often labelled as ‘unhealthy’ have their place now and again. Food, for many people, is a point of connection and something which we socialize over. Food is also an important part of many cultures: traditional cuisine and family recipes can be passed from generation to generation, helping both form and inform group identity.
Additionally, there is no shame in listening to your cravings, and enjoying fun foods (our term for junk foods, sweets, or treats; meant to reduce guilt and shame around them). Social gatherings and special occasions don’t come up every day, and if you want to enjoy foods you typically don’t have around, then go for it. Additionally, sometimes you just want dessert, and that’s okay too. However, if you find that you have cravings most days, you may want to work with a registered dietitian to get to the bottom of the issue. It isn’t that you lack willpower. You just might not be eating in a way that nourishes and satisfies you, or, you may be experiencing the beginnings of insulin resistance.
In a nutshell, we encourage you to:
- Try to refrain from thinking of foods as inherently ‘bad’ or ‘good’
- Listen to hunger and fullness cues
- Avoid punishing or castigating yourself for ‘losing control’ around certain foods. Be kind to yourself.
- Avoid ‘crash diets’ that promise major physical changes in a short span of time
Trying to maintain a healthy relationship with food can be easier said than done, especially during times of stress and change. However, it’s important to pay attention to your relationship with food, and if you regularly experience feelings of shame, guilt, or failure, we highly recommend you speak to a healthcare professional.
This is an important point to emphasize because what starts as restricted eating can easily lead to disordered eating. According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration of Australia, dieting is associated with health concerns, including depression and anxiety. On top of that, dietiting is one of the biggest indicators of weight gain.
For that reason, please prioritize your mental health, and if you are struggling with your mindset toward food, then reach out for the help you need. Take steps such as speaking with your physician, making an appointment with a therapist well-versed in this topic, or even consulting with a trusted family member.
- Make your PCOS diet fit your lifestyle (not the other way around)
Your PCOS diet may look entirely different depending on how much you work, school commitments, whether you enjoy cooking, your budget, and so on. There is no use putting yourself under pressure to cook elaborate, nutritionally dense meals that ‘fit your PCOS diet’ but leave you exhausted at the end of the night!
Some key questions to ask yourself as you begin developing an achievable method for following a PCOS diet include:
- How much time can I dedicate to buying and preparing food for the week?
- Do I enjoy cooking?
- How much time do I want to spend on food preparation each day, each week?
- What can I keep in my pantry and freezer (i.e. homemade microwave meals) to help throughout the week?
- What nutrition knowledge do I need to meet my goals? Should I work with a professional?
- What has worked for me in the past? Keep in mind that if you are back to square one now, that diet didn’t work for you, no matter how much weight you lost at the time.
- What meal preparation responsibilities can I share with others in the household?
- What are 1 or 2 small changes I can make now, and build on later?
- What foods are my favorite foods? How can I implement them in my diet?
The main reason most people opt for processed, inflammatory foods on a regular basis is because those foods are quick and accessible. So it makes sense that to follow your PCOS diet, you would want to make it as easy as possible.
Let’s discuss tangible decisions you can take both at the grocery store, and in your kitchen, to implement healthful, unprocessed foods into your diet. Take these tips with a grain of salt, and adjust as you see fit in your real life!
If you’re on a budget
- Opt for frozen fruit and vegetables.
- These are almost always more inexpensive than their fresh counterparts.
- Try canned fruit and vegetables
- Look for low sodium or no salt added vegetables, and canned fruit that is in its own juice (versus with added syrup).
- Eat in season
- This will depend on your region, but The Spruce has a great month by month guide on what is in season. Consider bulk-buying freezer-friendly items, so you can enjoy them in later months for a bargain.
- Try out farmer’s markets
- Believe it or not, your local farmer’s market may have some produce that is cheaper than your local supermarket! This is because when you are purchasing items that are in season at one of these markets, they are likely to have traveled a lesser distance, spending less time in storage facilities and trucks along the way.
- Make use of your pantry!
- You may be surprised with how much variety you can come up with using a few staple herbs and spices.
- Our favorites include turmeric, curry powder, garlic powder, oregon, basil, cilantro, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt and pepper, of course.
- Click here to learn more about eight spices and herbs for PCOS that you should know about!
- Red onion and white onion are also cheap options for adding depth (as well as nutrients) to your meals, while potatoes, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, and whole grains are all inexpensive, healthful foods with a long shelf life.
If you’re tight on time
- Search for “under 30 minute meals, [diet preference]” and you’ll have a bunch of options pop up. Here are some ideas for those days when you don’t want to spend too much time on your dinner:
- Chicken, tofu, or vegetable stir fry
- Kale salad with caesar/vinaigrette dressing and cut veggies
- Chickpea salad sandwich
- Greek quinoa salad
- Consider meal prepping for the next 3 days, or even the next 7 days, depending on your food preferences. Just make sure the meals are fridge or freezer friendly!
- Soups, curries, roasted vegetables, and slow-cooker meals can be excellent go-tos. Especially in the case of crock pot recipes, just add all your ingredients to the container and return in a few hours to a fully cooked meal!
- Most meals can be portioned out, kept in the freezer, and microwaved for 3-5 minutes. This is a healthy replacement for microwave meals.
- Make following your PCOS diet easy. Keep easy to prepare snacks in the house for times when your body is telling you it wants nourishment. The following are ones you can prepare in under 5 minutes:
- A small handful of walnuts, almonds, peanuts, or mixed nuts, with a side of cut fruit
- fruit with nut butter
- Fruit or vegetable smoothie
- Greek yogurt with granola
- Celery sticks with whole fat cream cheese
- Whole wheat crackers and cheese
- Full fat cheese stick and fruit
- Low sodium beef jerky/meat sticks and nuts
- Avocado toast
- Veggies like bell pepper, carrots, celery, cucumber, or snap peas with hummus
And if you’re wondering how to navigate special occasions or the holidays in relation to your PCOS diet? Check out our article here to learn some more useful tips.
- Have go-to PCOS meals in mind
Sometimes, it can take a lot of energy to cook for yourself. For those who don’t feel like it on a certain day, identify as neurodivergent, or who have mental health problems, deciding what to eat that fits your PCOS diet and then going to the trouble to create it can be extremely difficult.
That’s why - ahead of time - writing a list of meals that you know take an acceptable level of time or effort to prepare, and that you will most likely enjoy on any day, can be a great strategy.
To begin, write down 3 meals for the following categories that you know you can rely on for when you don’t feel like putting a lot of energy into following your PCOS diet:
- Snack 1
- Snack 2
Try to make sure that every meal has at least one of the following:
- A source of fiber (we recommend ½ plate be made up of non starchy vegetables)
- A source of protein (this should make up ⅓ -¼ of your plate; it could be meat, eggs, tofu, beans, etc.)
- A source of carbohydrate (this should make up ⅓ -¼ of your plate; it is ideally a whole grain like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, whole grain bread, etc. or starchy vegetables like potato, yuca, etc.)
- A source of fat (this could be from the fat/oil you cook with, or added after cooking’ the most antiinflammatory fat is extra virgin olive oil, which is best consume on raw or lightly cooked dishes)
As you follow a PCOS diet, adjust it to suit your needs, and learn your preferences. You can always make edits to your ‘go to’ meals as you go!
- Make a plan (Allara)
Finally, if you have trouble following a PCOS diet that works for you, consider choosing a program that is designed to provide you with the resources and information you need to make it easier.
For instance, Allara’s PCOS treatment plan includes the following:
- Dedicated Registered Dietitian (RD/RDN)
- Medical provider specializing in PCOS
- Private Allara community (this is made up of women with PCOS who provide each other with advice, support, and a safe space to talk about symptoms and treatments that work)
When you join Allara, you simply tell our healthcare professionals what you’re looking for in a plan, your diet preferences, lifestyle considerations, and symptoms that you struggle with.
From there, your personal team creates a tailored plan according to your needs. Specifically, our dietitians take an evidence-based, holistic approach, recommending foods, meals, and snacks that are anti-inflammatory and nutrient dense, as well as delicious.
This plan will also take into account your activity levels, family history, and diagnostic results (from blood work conducted). Support is ongoing as you can communicate what’s working for you, and what isn’t, and from there your team can curate an ongoing PCOS diet, filled with recommendations tailored to your needs.
Interested in other ways you can potentially have a positive impact on PCOS symptoms? Check out our articles on what research says about what benefits exercise can offer women with PCOS.
Allara Health provides personalized treatment for hormonal, metabolic & gynecological conditions that utilizes a holistic plan that merges nutrition, lifestyle, medication and supplementation, and ongoing, expert support to heal your body.