For years, I’ve had all these symptoms, things that make life harder than it should be. They started in my mid-twenties and then got steadily worse after having a baby. Hair thinning (and growing places it shouldn’t, like my chin). Heat intolerance. Random weight gain. Really hard time getting rid of fat once it’s here. Mood swings. Weird reactions to not eating or eating the wrong thing, seemingly without pattern. I was told at one point that I was heading down the road to metabolic syndrome, a collection of cholesterol problems that lead to heart trouble, only to have the symptoms clear up with no help from anyone (even me).
When I discovered my thyroid was enlarged six months post-partum, I thought for sure that had to be the answer. I had a host of symptoms, both hypothyroid and hyperthyroid. Except my numbers kept coming back normal. I had a functional medicine doctor suggest I wasn’t converting thyroid hormones quite well enough, but it wasn’t a big deal. “Just take a few supplements to support your thyroid and it should improve.” Except I didn’t have the money for expensive supplements.
Three years later, my symptoms are still here and my numbers are still normal. My thyroid is broken, but apparently functions normally. And yet I still can’t lose weight via exercise. (I did manage to lose 11 pounds in three weeks last month, thanks to not being able to eat more than oatmeal and rice, but that’s…you know…extreme. Definitely not sustainable.) I had some success last fall with dietary changes, but the second I stopped restricting my calories it piled back on.
Today, I was diagnosed with PCOS – PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome. My ovaries don’t work quite right. They produce too much testosterone, leading to a rollercoaster of hormone imbalances, chin hair, and thinning hair on my head. In bad months, it also hurts a lot. It makes my cycle screwy, painful, heavy, and full of PMS issues. It likely contributed to my difficulties delivering my son as well as getting preeclampsia. It’s linked to insulin resistance, so my body probably doesn’t use sugar right. It’s also linked to metabolic syndrome, which explains the wonky cholesterol levels over the last ten years. 80% of women with PCOS are not just overweight, but obese. Like me. That insulin issue really does a number on how the body deals with food. It’s linked somehow to vitamin D, which I’ve also had trouble with. It puts me at risk of diabetes later in life as well as heart disease.
And I am THRILLED. Existing as a woman who works her ass off without her ass ever shrinking was doing horrible things to my sense of hope, self, femininity, and just my general life outlook. But now I have an answer. I have new understanding of my body and its needs. New things to try. And, best of all, I’m not crazy. Or lazy. I legitimately have a physical limitation. That is HUGE.
Unfortunately, the best thing for treating PCOS is weight loss. Which, if you’ve been paying attention, is stupidly hard. They can treat the testosterone and the hormone imbalance and the insulin issue, but they can’t actually treat the problem. They can only mitigate the fallout with medication.
However, there are lots of doable things in the naturopathic community to try. New ways to eat, foods to incorporate, lifestyle alterations I haven’t tried before. Most of it focuses on low-sugar, unprocessed foods (like most naturopathic diets…). Some say no meat. Some say paleo. The midwife I saw suggested a plan called Fit 21, the nutritional plan that goes with BeachBody. While she was talking about it, I was like, “Hey, that sounds just like Blogilates, except with portion-controlling containers.” And lo and behold, when I started researching I discovered that muscle mass is important in insulin regulation, too. They suggest HIIT workouts, specifically. You know what else has HIIT? Cassey Ho’s PIIT program. You know what else was telling me that strength training was the way to go? My intuition over the last couple of days.
I also happened to move up a level at physical therapy today, before the appointment that diagnosed me. She put together a program for me to use at the gym, since my hip flexors and adductors are feeling much better. It’s got cardio, flexibility, and strength training (the latter two just for my specific issue, but still). We are now on once-every-two-weeks PT schedule.
Synchronicity. It’s a beautiful thing.
So. I’m changing up my two-weeker. Starting tomorrow, this is my plan:
- Build a daily routine around my gym/exercise time (1-2:30pm).
- Start getting my head back in the clean eating game.
That’s it, in a nutshell. Two things to handle: Going to the gym, thinking about food.
There are guidelines to shoot for within those two things (the headlines are still the most important parts, though):
- Hit the gym 3-4 times a week, starting slow.
- 15 minutes on the treadmill with a 5-minute elliptical bout, and building stamina from there (also careful to make sure it’s not aggravating my hip).
- In the floor work area, I will follow up with my lower-body stretching PT (side-to-side hip rocking stretch, half-kneeling flexor stretch, and bridges) and some basic stretches for the rest of me.
- Then I will hit my PT training (resistance clam shells, squats, and resistance side steps).
- On days I don’t go to the gym, I will pull out my mat and do some Pop Pilates that works my upper body and core. That will be followed up with stretching.
- 1 day a week, I will take an “off” day that is singularly devoted to flexibility.
- Start cleaning up my food.
- It doesn’t have to be perfect for the first two weeks. I can take my time to set up a meal plan, guidelines, etc., and to research specific PCOS/hormone-balancing foods.
- Definitely will start with cutting out cheese and bread, two things that I know are hard for me to digest properly (and which, with my continued tummy troubles, generally make me feel really yucky).
- Experiment with flavorful alternatives to Sprite. I really only drink water and Sprite anymore, and artificial sweeteners are murder on my intestines while tea tends to trigger my GERD. So…somewhere out there, I know there has to be a low-calorie alternative that doesn’t cost much of anything. This first two weeks will be used to find it without sweating still drinking pop.
My main goal – and my PT’s main goal for me – is to get a routine underway. Routine is tremendously difficult for me. I don’t really know why; just haven’t ever been good at it. The one thing I *can* do – and happily – to a routine is go to the gym. So I know I can get that down pretty easily. Set aside a specific chunk of time every day that says, “This is my exercise time,” and keep it sacred. I’m hoping that helps me build outward to include the rest of everything I need to get done every day that I generally tend to blow off.
Stress reduction is also going to be a huge part of the plan…eventually. It also impacts insulin and hormone balance, and I generally only have a couple of months every year when I’m not hugely stressed (usually summer). So learning how to cope better and calm my body are important. However, I proved yet again that throwing too much into my 2-weekers pretty much guarantees I’ll forget. For this first bout, I’m sticking with my two things.
I’m dragging the spousal unit with me, too, at least until he has other things to do with his time.
Hooray for knowing what’s wrong so we can move toward solutions! ❤ ❤