Dealing with PCOS & FHA Part 2: Carbs, Stress, and Weight Gain
Disclaimer stuff: I’m not a doctor, endocrinologist, dietitian, etc. and am just sharing my own experience and what has been working for me. What has worked for me may not, and probably will not, work for you. Everyone and every body is different. Please always, always consult with your healthcare professional before making significant changes.
As I mentioned in part 1, I spent most of the winter feeling pretty miserable. After getting a diagnosis of PCOS and FHA, I tried taking metformin but due to my lack of more severe insulin resistance, it made me extremely ill. My endocrinologist told me to experiment with my diet and training and other lifestyle factors to see if those would bring some relief and we'd check everything out 3 months later.
I spent hours and hours researching different things regarding PCOS AND FHA and ended up mostly angry and disappointed. After searching every corner of the internet, I came up with some strategies that I wanted to try with my diet and lifestyle factors. The majority of these strategies centered around carb timing and cycle, weight management, stress reduction, and managing expectations.
Changes I've Made to Help Heal My PCOS & FHA:
Carb cycling: Managing carbohydrate load and consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates at the right times is important for any athlete, but it is especially important for female athletes with PCOS and FHA. The process of carb cycling involves consuming different amounts of carbohydrates throughout the week in some regular pattern (typically based in training days and rest days). The principles behind carb cycling for PCOS are based on how carbohydrate intake influences insulin - the mechanics of which are far outside of the scope of this post but this gives a great overview.
My endocrinologist had agreed that cutting out carbs or going low carb all the time was not in my best interest so I needed to find a way to keep my carbs for training (when I needed them) and keep them down during other times.
I worked together with my diet coach and we decided to try a pretty aggressive style of carb and calorie cycling. I basically eat high carbs and calories, just above my usual maintenance level, on my training days (4 days per week) and then eat low carb and low calorie on my rest days (3 days per week). Overall, my weekly average caloric consumption ends up being right around my current maintenance caloric level.
Thus far, this strategy has helped me feel extremely good in the gym, helped me drop my testosterone levels quite a bit, and my physique has responded positively as well.
Weight management: Last year was spent pushing my body, hard. When you push hard, you need to recover even harder and that part was something I couldn't get quite right towards the end of my season. I absolutely planned to put some weight on in my off season and then maintain that for a bit and then cut down at the start of my next season. Well, that next season will turn out to be next year and at this point, there isn't any dieting down to be done in my very near future. The mental stuff associated with that will be touched on later, but it is safe to say that keeping my bodyweight stable has been key to regaining my cycle and bringing my hormones back to appropriate levels.
Stress reduction: This has by far been both extremely difficult and extremely beneficial. When things started going awry, my stress levels were sky high - and not all of it was "bad" stress! My business was getting busy, my client load was increasing, I was working another job, I was training extremely hard, and all of that good stuff. However, I was not giving myself adequate time to recover and bring stress levels down. I spent the first part of the year really focusing on bringing stress levels down. I now take a day off and don't answer emails, train, do anything strenuous, etc. I take time to journal, read, meditate, or do something non work related every day. I try to get enough sleep in whatever form it make take. I build time for all of this into my day (or my color coded planner, rather) because they are non-negotiable.
Managing my expectations: When I first received my PCOS and FHA diagnosis, I was angry. "How could my body do this to me?!" was something that I often asked myself. After some reflection, I realized that that mindset was not productive at all. My body didn't "do this" to me - I did this to me. I fucked up. And because I messed up, I can also fix the situation (the beauty of being 100% responsible for your shit means you have the power to change things!). I decided to view this as a great opportunity for growth in areas besides competing. My coach, Annie, actually mentioned this to me when we were discussing my situation and it really made me excited to grow as a person, a coach, and an athlete.
Managing expectations about my physique and performance has been (and continues to be) a learning process. I'm not always comfortable in my body and its current form and there are plenty of days where I wish I was leaner or that I could work towards that goal, but the reality is that it isn't that time yet. The time for that challenge will come, but it isn't now. Plus, I sort of enjoy having big(ger) shoulders and a wider back and actually having some hamstrings and a booty! This topic will get a dedicated post of its own, but suffice it to say, I've learned (and continue to learn daily) how to let go of certain expectations and see the big picture.
And that’s where I am. My testosterone levels dropped about 40 points, all of my other hormones are normalized, and as far as my endocrinologist is concerned, I’m in a really good spot. I go back for another follow up in about 3 months to see if things are still in a good place and then I will go from there.
This entire experience and process has been a difficult, frustrating, and incredible learning experience. Am I uncomfortable at times? YES. Absolutely yes. But I know that I need to be in that space for my health and for improvement over the long term. Is it easy? NO. It's tear inducing, frustrating, and overwhelming at times. But that's okay. Because it's necessary. I’m really looking forward to continuing to experiment and find what works best for me. I truly can’t wait to see how this entire experience continues to impacts my life, body, and performance.