Polycystic ovary syndrome is a non curable condition which affects 1 in every 10 women in the UK. PCOS is described by the NHS as a ‘condition which affects how a woman’s ovaries work’, it is often hereditary.
At a high level PCOS literally means who have small cysts on your ovaries, it doesn’t mean they don’t work, it just means they work differently to someone who doesn’t have PCOS. If you have PCOS you also have a ‘hormonal imbalance’ basically meaning your body produces too much of someone hormones and not enough of others. This is where the symptoms come in and this is where I hope to shed some light.
I’ve found that if I’ve ever told someone I have PCOS their first assumption is ‘omg can you not have children?’. This is not what PCOS means. It can be harder to have children if you aren’t proactive with dealing with the condition but it by no means means you cannot have children. It also doesn’t mean you are a fat, hairy beast. Celebrities with PCOS include Victoria Beckham, Jools Oliver and Khloe Kardashian.
My journey with PCOS started at 16 when the doctor suspected I had it based on my ‘symptoms’. These symptoms were that I had spots, irregular periods and held more weight round my middle then I should. Other symptoms which may be experienced include excessive hair growth, thinning hair, mood changes and being more susceptible to depression and anxiety, aren’t we lucky. As a 16 year old girl I found it very hard to understand, I felt like my doctor had just called me fat and spotty but not really told me what to do about it. He sent me to a private gynecologists who did some blood tests, internal tests and then medicated me like a lab rat. She told me to eat a ‘low carb diet’, take my pills and exercise and set me on my merry way. The 10 pills I was taking a day made me feel sick and gave me headaches. Over the course of a month or so I stopped taking them and PCOS and I decided to live together, very much in conflict.
If we journey back a bit further, to the age of about 11 when puberty started to kick in (pyramid boobs, first bras and crying for no reason). I remember being with my best friend at the time and looking at her and wondering why I was fatter than her and thinking it was my fault. This literally makes me want to cry now because if I look at an 11 year old I can’t believe that they would waste their time thinking that they’re fat, however, this is a reality when a large proportion of young girls. This is when I started feeling like the ‘fat friend’ which continued from 11, to my secondary school, an all girls convent, exactly where you want to be if you feel fat (not), through to college, up to Uni. I could never really understand why I ate the same food, if not healthier then my friends, yet I had to wear a 12 and they wore 8s. I used to dread when we had to put costumes on for drama performances or school plays because I was so scared the clothes may not fit me or hot summer days when I’d have to have more flesh out than I’d like or risk hearing the annoying ‘aren’t you hot?’ comment from girls swanning around in next to nothing.
*Interuption* I was never as fat as I thought I was, a size 12, sometimes a 14 and I don’t want anyone reading this to feel sorry for me, most girls feel fat when they’re young, its like a right of passage. The reason I’m telling you this is because it’s relevant to PCOS and its relevant to any other young girls reading this, or people wanting to understand young girls.
Ok, so, going back to being 16, when I was diagnosed with PCOS. After popping it into Google and reading enough about it that I thought I was an expert, as all good millennial’s do after googling something, I felt a huge amount of relief. Finally I knew what was wrong with me, why I was fatter than my friends, why I had spots, why once a month my Mum had to pick me up from school because my period had come and I was in agony. I was so excited, it was like someone had given me a magic pill which would solve all my problems, which was essentially what this gyno did, which lasted one month.
As previously mentioned, most of the research and advice on PCOS is written for either women in their thirties trying to get pregnant or giant 20 stone obese, hairy women. It’s totally unaccessible and useless and in fact makes you feel worse. Telling people to ‘eat a low carb diet’ ‘take metformin’ ‘exercise’. I mean honestly, BORE me later. That is not helpful, everyone knows they are meant to exercise. I found nothing which helped 16 year old Hannah, hence why I decided to ignore my PCOS from 2008 to 2014. I had spots, carried more weight then I deserved for my diet and lifestyle and had painful periods – but what else was I meant to do!
That is the end of the journey of hell. When I felt I had no control over these bastard ovaries and them and their cysts would just carry on ruining my life until I finally got the sweet release of menopause.
January to March 2014
In January 2014 the worst thing that had happened to me so far in my life happened. My beautiful cousin Victoria died of cancer after a 2 month battle. We were all devastated and still to this day are grieving this loss. I mention this because Vicki’s death changed my life in more ways than one. The change in my mind happened about 3 days after she died when my family and her friends started changing their profile pictures on Facebook to photos of them with Vicki. I looked for one, I wanted to print it out and frame it, but never found one. About 6 months later I realised why I didn’t. It was because I had always felt like the fat cousin (I was one of 14) and at family events had tried to avoid photos, particularly photos with Vicki because I was envious of her beauty, she did modelling and was a make up artist. My perception of myself was that I was fat and spotty. On realising this I decided that something had to change. I weighed myself and was shocked and disgusted to see I had put on about a stone since the last time I weighed myself (hate uni) and decided that it was time to sort this PCOS stuff out.
I googled and read and watched and googled some more before I understood enough to make a difference. I started properly taking one medication – metformin and embarked on my ‘low carb diet’ in the strictest form possible. Within 3 months I was 2.5 stone lighter. I am not saying that what you weigh is a decider on your happiness – that is a dangerous way to live. But I had lost more than weight. I had started to lose the fat girl who came into my life at 11. It wasn’t and isn’t easy, and since I lost a lot of my weight, it has fluctuated back up and down as I went into ‘maintenance’. This is the rubbish part of PCOS, you gain weight faster than people without PCOS, and the second I hit my goal weight and ‘relaxed’, 3-4 kilos jumped straight back on to my body (and by relaxed I mean have a drink and a naughty pudding, I was still exercising 5 days a week and eating well 90% of the time)
3 years later I’m now probably about 6kg (1 stone) heavier than my ‘ideal weight’ however I’ve accepted this as it means I can enjoy my life and still be healthy and happy. To get to my ideal weight I ate very little, never drunk alcohol and prioritised exercise over everything else, none of this is sustainable. The gym is really important to me, I recommend finding a workout you enjoy and sticking to it, even if it isn’t what others are doing (I do a lot of weights, some focus more on classes/cardio etc).
This is why I started my site Food of Me, so that I could go out and enjoy my life, but not panic that every time I ate out I was going to have to ‘cheat’ my PCOS diet. It is also one of the main drivers of starting this blog, to share what I’ve learnt and to motivate others that if you make changes, results will come – it just takes longer for us. It can be annoying, friends and family regularly think I’m difficult always ordering salads, or ‘this without this’ however, my health is far more important to me than that.
I have acquired quite a lot of knowledge around what does and doesn’t work, which I plan to share here, I want to inspire girls with PCOS that you can make positive changes and greatly increase your quality of life.