Eating disorders such as binge eating disorder, orthorexia, or anorexia are shattering conditions that burden the lives of millions of people around the world, and it can be difficult to get back on track. They can affect lives in a very negative way and change the way one lives. While there are many causes of eating disorders, this article demonstrates the relationship with eating disorders and Polycistic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and how it affects women all around the world and their attitude towards food and their body.
What is PCOS?
The link between Polycistic Ovary Syndrome and eating disorders is known, although it is not quite well-studied yet. PCOS is the most prevalent endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age. It occurs in millions of women, yet is underfunded and under-researched. It was first discovered in 1935 and carried the name Stein-Leventhal Syndrome. At this time, scientists believed it to be a gynecologic and dermatologic issue, although now we know it as a hormonal imbalance. Due to low public understanding, a lot of women do not know they have it.
PCOS comes with physical side-effects as well as psychological ones.
Common physical symptoms of Polycistic Ovary Syndrome
- Infrequent or longer periods
- Higher levels of male hormones
- Cysts located on the ovaries, identifiable with an ultrasound
- Fertility issues
- Higher rate of potential miscarriages
- Problems with the thyroid
- Weight gain (especially in the abdominal area)
- Insulin resistance
- Insulin resistance
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Heightened risk of heart disease
- Bloating and digestive issues in general
- Facial hair growth
- Acne, and other skin issues
Common psychological symptoms of Polycistic Ovary Syndrome
- Self-esteem issues
- Body dysmorphia
- Body image issues
- Issues with eating such as eating disorders (most common binge eating disorder, orthorexia, and bulimia as well as exercise addiction)
PCOS is thought to affect up to as many as 1 out of 5 women of reproductive age. As previously mentioned, studies of PCOS are scarce, although there seems to be a connection between PCOS and eating disorders. Women with PCOS have an increased chance of developing an eating disorder compared to women without PCOS.
Since PCOS often leads to weight gain, women are usually told to consider dieting by their doctors. Dieting is the most common reason of the development of eating problems and a negative relationship with the body in general. Weight management can be difficult for women with PCOS which happens because of high levels of insulin, a growth hormone, that affects the body’s hunger and appetite regulation and the body’s whole metabolism in general. After they lose weight, they tend to gain it back and thus begins the cycle of an eating disorder.
According to a study done by the St. George’s Hospital Medical School and the Middlesex Hospital, both located in London/UK, women with PCOS are more likely to restrict their food intake, engage into extreme exercise regimes, use laxatives, and weight loss pills in order to maintain a lower body weight.
Doctors may also contribute to this behavior by recommending diets containing a low amount of calories in combination of a moderate amount of physical activity to lose weight. According to the Mayo Clinic, even a small amount of weight loss can possibly improve PCOS symptoms. This weight loss leads to heightened effectiveness of medications and can help treat infertility. However, recommending low calorie intake is what causes women to develop eating disorders too.
My personal experience with PCOS
I personally was diagnosed with PCOS at the age of 16 which I know now was a contributive factor to my development of my past eating struggles such as binge eating disorder and orthorexia. I struggled with severe side-effects such as IBS, digestive issues, food intolerances, irregular periods, hair loss, increased hair growth on my legs, and depression. This let me to engage into eating disorder behaviors since I didn’t know how to stop my digestive issues. I was thinking if I don’t eat, I won’t have any digestive problems anymore. The result was an eating disorder, extreme hormonal issues, vitamin deficiencies and massive water retention. Today I am more educated and know that restricting calories is not the solution to PCOS or losing weight. I am aware of that losing weight can improve PCOS unless you struggle with „Lean PCOS“. However, in my opinion calorie restriction and extreme exercise that result in an eating disorder cannot be the answer to struggles with PCOS. It is like solving one issue but at the same time developing a new one.
In the past 10 years I was able to manage my PCOS and to reduce my PCOS-related issues to a minimum. A balanced diet with high quality foods, enough fats and proteins, were the key to my issues. I stayed away from counting calories or restricting my food intake as well as extreme exercising. Instead I started to move my body in a pleasant way that I enjoy. In addition to that I worked a lot on my mindset and my relationship with food and my body.
If you struggle with PCOS and eating issues at the same time, don’t give up! You’re not alone with your struggles. Unfortunately, it seems to be still a taboo topic in today’s society however many women struggle with the same. If you need any support or you have questions regarding this topic, you are always welcome to contact me: [email protected].
I recommend you to reach out to someone who is educated in the field of the psychology of eating as well as nutrition and hormonal health. Reaching out to support is a difficult but necessary step to take. You will learn how your body works and how to be able to manage your hormonal issues as well as your eating struggles.
All my best,
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