Loving Yourself with PCOS: Savannah Butler

Living with PCOS can be hard. And finding ways to navigate your PCOS diagnosis, manage symptoms, and access the support you need can be even harder. That’s why we decided to interview Savannah Butler, a Soul Cycle Senior Instructor living in Atlanta, who has experienced the highs and lows of PCOS for the past 8 years, and asked her about the key pieces of advice she would give anyone in the midst of (or just starting out) on their PCOS journey.

Give us a little background on you 

I’m Savannah Butler, and I’m a dancer turned fitness instructor. I’ve always considered myself a very active person, since dance has been my passion my entire life. So when it came time for college, it seemed natural to move to NYC to earn my BFA in dance. From there, I stayed in the city for a few years, and there’s where I discovered my love for fitness. 

I started working for SoulCycle, first taking on the responsibilities at the front desk, before becoming an official instructor. Now, 5 years later, I’m a Senior Instructor in Atlanta, GA (where I’m originally from), so it feels like a full circle moment. 

When did you get diagnosed with PCOS? 

It was a stressful, confusing journey from the beginning. 

From a young age, due to being so active, I had always been very thin. My period was never regular, but I didn’t think much of it. Around sophomore year of college, though, I noticed something wasn’t right. 

At that point, I had a really unhealthy relationship with food and was surrounded by a toxic environment in which thinness was not only desired, but glorified. Despite my restrictive eating, I was actually gaining weight, at the same time that I started breaking out in acne. I knew I needed to figure out what was being on with me internally, so when I was able to travel back to Atlanta, I immediately went to my doctor. 

What was your medical support network like? 

By the time I was able to visit the OBGYN, I’d gained 15 pounds with no explanation, and I was feeling really defeated. She decided to take an ultrasound and said that I had cysts on my ovaries, diagnosing me with PCOS then and there. I hadn’t even heard of this condition before, so naturally I had a lot of questions, but mostly I felt lost and confused. 

Unfortunately, there wasn’t really a support network for me to turn to. My doctor simply handed me a high-level article explaining PCOS, prescribed me birth control, and sent me on my way. 

What was your biggest struggle with your diagnosis?

A big concern for me was my weight. I immediately went to the endocrinologist and begged him to prescribe me a weight loss supplement. In my mind, this would be a sure-fire way to “get my body back on track.” 

I recognize now it was definitely a short-term fix. I wasn’t focused on healing myself from the inside, because the physical symptoms associated with this condition were so emotionally painful and distressing, I just wanted to make them go away. By senior year of college, I weighed more than ever before, I’d lost my passion for dance, and I’d dealt with nasty weight-related comments from professors and friends for far too long. It was really taking a toll on my emotional, mental, and physical health. 

What was a turning moment for you? 

Probably when I decided to visit a holistic doctor. I wasn’t getting the resources or support I needed through my primary care physician, and I was looking for genuine help as to what PCOS was, what it entailed, and how I could manage PCOS from a more healthy standpoint. I was put on metformin, went paleo, and removed my birth control straight away. From there, I also learned I was gluten sensitive, lactose intolerant, and deficient in just about every vitamin. 

It was a time of change, but it was also a time of relief. After not having the right support network for so long, and feeling so isolated, it felt good to finally understand what was going on in my body, and how I could work with myself (as opposed to against myself) to finally be happy on both the outside and inside.

What’s one thing you wish people knew about living with PCOS? 

PCOS is different for every woman: tune in to what works for you. For instance, I hear people say all the time, “don’t do high cardio workouts too much” - but I’m a full-time fitness instructor, and I workout every single day (often multiple times a day!). And that works amazingly for my body. 

In my case, I saw a big difference in my physical appearance (and my mental health) when I took a varied approach to working out. In an average week, I practice some cardio, a low impact workout, and some classes that will balance my need for a challenge with my knowledge of what my limits are. Exercise has helped me feel more confident in my own skin, and I really encourage any women diagnosed with PCOS to find exercise that you enjoy, and that brings you happiness. Whether that be boxing, yoga, cardio, swimming - find what is the right fit for you. That’s all that matters. 

What advice would you give to someone recently diagnosed with PCOS?

To be honest, I’d say that learning to love yourself with PCOS doesn’t happen overnight. It took many years to gain back the self love I lost in college. But what I learned in that time is that you need to keep looking ahead and have confidence that your hard work will pay off. I used to look at myself in the mirror and think that I could never feel positively about my body again. Unfortunately, all those nasty thoughts and insecurities that are playing in the background during everyday life can be turned up to full volume when you get diagnosed with PCOS - but I realized I could still have the future I wanted with PCOS. I could still be healthy, happy, fulfilled, and ambitious. I could still be the woman, daughter, sister, and friend I pride myself on being. 

PCOS isn’t easy, and it can feel extremely distressing and isolating at times: but just know that every day you opt to treat yourself with kindness, every moment that you remind yourself of your worth, and every minute you take to learn about your body and treat it with just a little bit of extra kindness - is all hard work that will pay off in the form of unlimited self love and acceptance

Note: this interview may have been lightly condensed and edited for clarity. 

Allara provides personalized treatment that takes the guesswork out of managing PCOS, and offers a customized, holistic plan of attack that merges nutrition, medication. supplementation, and ongoing, expert support to begin healing your body.