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Thursday, 6 November 2014

PCOS: the acronym that changed my life

"Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common female endocrinopathy, affecting 5–10% of the female population. It involves overproduction of ovarian androgens leading to a heterogeneous range of symptoms including hirsutism, acne, anovulation and infertility. Hyperinsulinaemia, exacerbated by obesity, is often a key feature "

This has been a difficult post for me to write. I've started and stopped it more times than I can remember. Getting down how I feel, how it's affected me and the things I worry about in the future without sounding sorry for myself has been a challenge. PCOS has, slowly but surely, turned my life upside down but I'm here, and I'm not going to let it get the better of me.

At 19 I had a 19x9cm cyst removed from my left ovary. Up until then I had never been to a gynaecologist let alone given more than a fleeting thought to my ovaries: they were things you worry about when you're thinking about children, not whether you can afford to go out Friday and Saturday AND be able to eat. And yet in December 2011 I found myself faced with the beginning of a long, hard journey: Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. Although it took me 2 years to get diagnosed as such, I knew from my first google search post-surgery that I was very much cystic. The very first sign? The extra 30 odd kilograms I was carrying. Then there was the non-acne acne. The reliance on contraception to keep my hormones in control. The moods. The fatigue. They all came from weight gain but weight gain was close to unavoidable because of them. Doctors were less than willing to admit to the diagnosis until I eventually said to a new gynae: "Do I have it or not?". Sure, anyone with PCOS knows that a diagnosis is not the be all and end all, there is nothing they can treat it with so why did it matter? Because I was tired of feeling like a failure.

I went on to lose a lot of weight. The doctor who removed the cyst took one look at me and said "Mmm. You're very fat. That's why this has happened" and very little else on the matter. Anyone who has ever had weight problems will know this is only like gasoline to a flame; the more people tell you you should lose weight, the more you want eat every piece of cake and bread and pastry and chocolate you can get your hands on. But I digress. That wasn't nearly enough for the switch to flick because no one sat me down and discussed the how/why/when/whats of the rugby ball sized cyst I had inside me. Only 4 months later, when I went for a check up with a new gyne who kindly sat me down and chatted about my options, about how it was my weight and future and how my actions now would affect that future, did it start to become clear how unavoidable it was anymore: I had to lose weight.

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It's been almost 3 years since I had the cyst removed and 2 and a half since I changed my own life. I still battle with weight gain and loss every single day. I pick up weight around my mid-section and face quicker than you can say carbohydrates and I follow a very specific diet and exercise regime. I'm going to create another post on the specifics of PCOS and what it does to your body, but if you're reading this not knowing where to start, know that sugar is not your friend. And by sugar I mean all sugars, grains, starch, the lot. Get rid of them now and come to terms with the fact that you are never going to be friends again- this isn't a detox or a cleanse or a 1/3/6/12 day/week/month diet. This is a lifestyle. Got that? Good. That's your first step towards control. Check out PCOS Paleo Girl Siobhan for a more established blog on PCOS, some recipe ideas eta while I get my business together. I love her 

WARNING: If you're not comfortable talking about menstrual cycles, skip this next paragraph! Unless you have PCOS... best you get comfortable! ;) 
Doctors will, most of the time, prescribe a contraceptive to manage (/mask) the symptoms of PCOS. I know a lot of women don't agree with this but as long as you realise this is NOT a cure or going to make the issue go away but you are on the contraceptive for your own reasons, then you do you. I am on Qlaira, which is supposed to replicate your natural cycle as much as possible with minimal bleed days. I used to suffer from cramps, serious hair growth and depression on the previous Pill so my doctor put me on Qlaira to minimise those. I did. Wonderfully. It also stopped my bleeding completely. Needless to say this sent me into a major panic, but I have had it confirmed by 1 doctor, 1 gyne and 1 specialist that this is OK. It still scares the living daylights out of me that it might affect my fertility but there is only so much one girl can do. 

Which brings me to this. It is YOUR body, no one else's. What YOU decide to eat or not eat is up to YOU. People always ask how they can lose weight like me and there is no easy answer. It has to come from inside you; you have to know that place of no return before you really make the change. If you are happy being within the 'healthy' weight range for your body, then that's perfect- really, it is! There is nothing wrong with not looking like a fitness model, or not lifting the heaviest weights in the gym, or not caring about your squat PB. If you're healthy and happy, you're perfect. But if you do chose to go down the path of getting your body to its peak fitness (Note: ITS peak fitness not Jen Selter's or Dana Lynn Bailey or whoever), know that it's going to be a hard battle with PCOS. Our bodes yearn to put on weight and they'll do everything in their power to stop us from getting our body fat down. But know something else, one last thing... You're not alone. I'm here, I'm a great listener and I'm fighting your same battle every damn day. 

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