Earlier last week, I very ecstatically shared the news that my ordeal with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) was significantly better. After I mentioned I fixed it with diet and exercise, a flurry of emails and comments requesting this post came in, so here we are. A little different from my usual content, but since it was so highly requested, I couldn’t not share it.
Disclaimer: Let it just be known I have zero qualifications on health and wellness, and it is always best to get a trained medical opinion. This is just my story and I highly recommend doing lots of research on your condition and options to solve it. I am no workout guru or dietician, and I don’t have abs to show for my efforts, but if the doctors say I’m not borderline infertile anymore, then that’s more than enough for now.
So let’s start at the beginning.
At the end of 2013 I went to the gynae because I always had problematic periods; skipping months, irregular bleeding lasting way longer than normal, intense pain. She did an ultrasound and showed me a scan of my ovaries which looked like they were covered in leopard print. She told me I had polycystic ovaries and she continued to say “you are probably going to struggle to have kids, it’s not impossible, but it may be challenging”. Despite the fact that a few of the women in my family have had hysterectomies and fertility issues, it hit home but also not. I just felt I was too young for this to be my problem. I was engaged at the time and 24 years old, so I put this information in the ‘Deal-With-This-Later-When-I’m-A-For-Real-Adult’ mental folder.
I’ve never had to have any cysts removed like some people I know so I figured I was okay-ish, and I was so used to growing up with a bad period so I didn’t pay that diagnosis much mind. I did notice the odd random strand of hair growing in random places (another PCOS symptom), but otherwise it was my usual painful “normal” that I had just learned to live with.
I continued to eat what I wanted, did whatever I wanted, got off and onto the exercise band wagon. I was too lazy to research healthier food options. When I got married, I was living with a man who could eat anything and I thought that applied to me too. I went on and off the pill to regulate my periods, but they were always bad. Sometimes my period wouldn’t come for two or even four months. For over ten years I never had a real cycle or monthly periods, my flow was heavy and clotted (sorry for the overshare), and sometimes it lasted ten days.
Toward the middle of 2015 I had enough. I hated how my body felt; always sluggish and slow, I was ALWAYS getting sick and I came to the tough realisation that I can’t eat like my husband in terms of portion size or ingredients, and I definitely couldn’t expect it not to show or affect me.
I started out with cutting out gluten and significantly upping my intake of fruits and vegetables, which at first was really tough but is super normal for me now. I noticed my bloating disappear and my energy levels improve slightly. I also stopped the pill and any form of hormonal contraceptives and switched to eating free range everything as much as possible. Polycystic ovaries have a lot to do with the imbalance of hormones and as much as I could help it, I didn’t want to ingest more hormones and confuse my body even more. We also cut out fruit juice, only purchasing the occasional 100% pure juice once in a while, which is still bad for you because it has so much sugar. I say ‘we’ because my husband’s support of making healthier eating choices with me were so important because I knew I’d fall off the wagon if unhealthy foods were present. We did meal prep; in other words, did all our grocery shopping at the start of the week and made a week’s worth of healthy food options, separated into tupperwear and frozen. We’d just take them out as needed, and there was always more nutritious food at hand which saved me from buying take-outs or eating badly for convenience.
When 2016 came around I made the commitment to myself to be healthier and I really stuck with it. I strictly took my multivitamins each day and made sure I exercised 2-3 times a week. Not hectic exercise. Just some exercise, be it a class at gym or following a bodyweight YouTube workout video or some light yoga. I made the specific point to accept healthier eating and exercise as part of my life, non-negotiable. I was never raised to be active, or forced to eat my vegetables and it really came down to retraining my mind and body to know and do better, even if I did feel clumsy and weird and like I didn’t know what I was doing. Except for one bout of food poisoning, despite overworking myself in 2016 I never fell sick, not even with the winter flu. Since Valentines Day 2016 for the first time ever in my life and until today, I have had naturally-occurring, regular monthly periods with lighter bleeding and little to no clotting.
The Beginning of Banting
Okay so let me just tell you, I used to make fun of people banting. I also made fun of Whole 30 and paleo and goodness knows what else because everyone is a health guru these days with an eating plan they have to share. I just wanted to eat good foods and be healthy, end of story. I then read about how ‘Banting’ (eating a low carb, high fat, high vegetable diet) is really good for treating PCOS and diabetes as it is excellent in regulating insulin levels. I decided to buy the official Real Meal Revolution book and give it a go, because while I’m still not ready for kids, two years into marriage I’ve made myself think about it more and more to get comfortable with the idea and get my body into better internal shape. Once I noticed the benefits and that the food was pretty delicious, it really kept me going. Now, I will take my cauliflower-based spicy mince pizza over regular pizza any day! And let me not get started on the chocolate fat shake…
Banting really a lifestyle change, and not something you can use as a fad and cheat on especially if you want to lose weight. But, I will be honest, I do take a cheat day or meal once in a while to keep myself sane, and when I do I try to have that cheat day not include breads and pastas, rather I’ll still have potatoes or something that’s at least gluten free. Emphasis on the word TRY. I also could never quit sushi for life. But otherwise, I stick to it quite well 90% of the time and it’s become a very normal way of eating for me. I don’t manage my portion control or watch my calories, and the times when I have, I lost weight very fast.
A lot of people are completely against banting and I even totally get it. But I truly swear by it because of how it makes me feel and how it’s helped my symptoms. For me it was more about health than weight loss or anything else.
So how do I feel and what did Banting do?
It made my period a lot more bearable, and the duration is a few days less than it used to be (down to six or seven days versus the previous nine or ten). My cramps are only bad if I’ve had dairy, and my sugar cravings are not too bad either. It has given me more energy than ever before. Even with 6 hours of rest some nights, I feel better than I did other times when I slept for much longer. At night, I now sleep like an absolute rock – and this is something I really used to struggle with but now at bedtime I’m conked out within minutes, and not even the most stressful situation can keep me up with overthinking.
But most of all, according to the gynaecologist/obstetrician last week, my ovaries are “beautiful, healthy and perfect” and she said “if it looks like this, whatever you’ve been doing has really been working”. On the ultrasound image there were three very small cysts on one ovary, but that’s about it. 2013’s leopard print was gone. (Please note I was very bad with going to the gynae, last week’s visit was my first since that 2013 visit and every woman should get their annual pap smears and check ups, it’s SO important! I was procrastinating because I was scared they would tell me to start trying to have a baby ASAP.)
But otherwise that’s it, that’s my story! I hope it was helpful and answered all of your questions. Again I’m no expert, so if you are interested in finding out more about banting, check out the official website HERE and this interview with the diet’s founder, Prof Tim Noakes HERE.