Anyone who knows me knows I’ve never been part of the “gluten-free” crowd.
My daughter’s experience with food is very different from mine. I rarely pay attention to what I’m eating as long as it’s mostly healthy but she tracks food intake, calories, and portions (often fanatically). I love junk food now and again but she avoids it like the plague. I hardly think about food at all but estimate she spends about 20% of her life obsessing over it.
When she was eleven, she developed a sort of ring around her neck that none of her doctors thought was a big deal. When she was thirteen, she trained for (and completed) a half-marathon. When she was seventeen, her doctor (the last one she’d see for three years) told her she needed to “cut back on junk and get some exercise.”
At the time, she was going to the gym daily and ate more vegetables than any other food group.
No matter how little she eats, how faithfully she tracks calories, how much she works out (alone or with a trainer), she cannot lose a single pound.
In fact, to her horror, she continues to gain.
We’ve been fighting for years to figure it out. She saw pediatricians and now she sees specialists. Until very recently, each of them told her to exercise more and watch what she eats.
The way my daughter puts it, “They think I sit on the couch all day eating Cheetos, Mom.”
There was a small step in the right direction a few weeks ago when one doctor (from an urgent care facility!) told us, “It might be PCOS.”
PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is a hormone imbalance that makes your body go haywire. It’s something that millions of women struggle with every day. Approximately 10% of the female population within childbearing years have PCOS.Did You Know? Approximately 10% of the female population within childbearing years have PCOS. #lifestyle #healthClick To Tweet
Experts believe that many women remain undiagnosed. Some of the most common symptoms can seem “normal” primarily because women deal with them for a long, long time before they learn they’re part of a bigger problem.
- Irregular cycles
- Heavy menstruation
- Weight gain
- Skin problems
- Appearance of skin tags
- Atypical hair growth
- Discoloration around your neck (like a ring)
I only vaguely remember my own doctor mentioning PCOS to me after almost 25 years of getting my periods twice a month. I was on birth control at the time and that was the “solution” to it a decade ago.
None of her doctors ever asked me about my cycles or anything else that might have pointed to this diagnosis years earlier. It explains so much in hindsight. I never considered joining the gluten-free crowd but realized I needed solutions, too.
Learning about PCOS gave us something to research – finally. It was the first time since she was eight years old that someone gave us a clue. Most of them doubted her explanation (and mine) that she was a very healthy eater and incredibly active.
She was referred to a specialist and they did lots of bloodwork. Once again, everything was considered “normal” but the doctor said it was definitely PCOS. There were no suggestions about diet, no guidance about exercises to focus on, only a mention of possibly putting her on birth control to regulate menstruation.
The parting advice was, “You need to lose weight. We’ll see you in three months.”
Being told to “lose weight” when you literally cannot is like pushing a rock uphill.Being told to “lose weight” when you literally cannot is like pushing a rock uphill. #healthylifestyles #gluten-freeClick To Tweet
It isn’t remotely helpful! Trying to figure out why she wasn’t losing weight was why she were at the doctor! She’d just done 21 straight days at the gym and gained three pounds (on less than 1600 calories per day).
As women, it can be incredibly frustrating to feel as though your doctors – even specialists – don’t believe you. They look at you with doubt, they tell you to try things you’ve already tried (for weeks, months, or years without a single pound lost), and you feel judged because if you were really “exercising and controlling portions” you wouldn’t be overweight.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Only Solution – Not the “Alternative” One
We did hours of research on countless sites specifically for women (traditional doctors and holistic ones) and one thing was consistent.
It all came down to diet.
There are a few pharmaceutical options but they’re not very effective (long-term) and most patients diagnosed don’t experience measurable results. Even her doctor said this about the metformin prescription she’d been taking for six weeks (without results).
What did work for an incredible number of patients was controlling PCOS with food. The suggestion across the board was to radically change diet from top to bottom. After exploring several options, she made a choice.
She would go gluten-free, lactose-free (dairy), and soy-free. Because we live together, I decided to follow the guidelines with her.
We’re now on day eight of our new eating plan.
Our Checklist for PCOS Eating
- We decided against taking weight or measurements yet so we could concentrate on getting into the rhythm of cooking specific foods each day. We are also not tracking caloric intake because we’re following a 1500 calorie (or less) meal plan.
- We went through every cabinet, our fridge, and the freezer to remove any food items that weren’t lactose-, soy-, or gluten-free. We even checked condiments, marinades, spice mixes, and so on. We were shocked how many foods contained soy and gluten – foods that didn’t need it.
- We made a list of meals for week one and figured out groceries. It took us two hours in one store to read every label and find the items (or alternatives) on our list. Again, reading labels is frustratingly time-consuming but so many products have soy (or one of the others) that you’d never imagine!
- We decided to ignore sugar, salt, and additive content for now (outside of our main three). Focusing on gluten-free, lactose-free, and soy-free foods is complex enough. One thing at a time to make a habit and we’ll add something else!
- We planned out meals and prepped healthy snacks for during the day while we’re working. We eat three meals daily (one usually consists of leftovers from the night before).
Where We Are Now
We’ve completed eight days 100% soy-free, lactose-free, and gluten-free. My daughter works out first thing in the morning for an hour Monday-Friday (I’m not working out, I admit). At this point, we’re unsure of weight but there are several things that have already changed.
- Clearer skin within four days.
- Her erratic menstruation (and mine) started on day seven.
- Cramps and flow are decidedly reduced (for both of us).
- The discoloration around her neck is slightly faded.
- Mood and energy levels definitely feel improved.
Over the next few months, I’ll keep you posted on our progress. She has her next specialist appointment with the endocrinologist in late November.
We’re unsure if the doctor plans to prescribe her medication and she’s already stated that she’s unsure if she will take it. A well-known side effect of birth control is weight gain and she wants to give a PCOS eating plan 6-8 weeks to show results.
Of every diet and lifestyle change she’s made in the past, this is the most extreme. All the rest had zero results on her weight loss so we’re curious to see what crafting our own plan will do.
Again, we’ve tried to talk to doctors over the years and either they didn’t listen or didn’t believe her struggles eloquently explained. They’ve told her to “lose weight” without any tools or suggestions on how to do that when nothing that “works for everyone else” seems to work.
As extreme as going gluten-free, lactose-free, and soy-free may be – it’s sustainable long-term. After eight days, we can see that it is and we’ve found workarounds that stay within what we’re allowed. We have our rough spots (we miss our Greek yogurt and butter) but we’re committed!
Is this the way she’d prefer it? Of course not!
When traditional medicine gives you no answers, no help, or even the benefit of the doubt, you have no choice but to figure it out on your own. Doctors have done nothing for almost twelve years and the problem is getting worse rather than better.If traditional medicine gives you no answers or help, believe in yourself to figure it out on your own! #lifestyleClick To Tweet
I could not be prouder of her for taking her health (and the outcome) into her own hands. At twenty, she’s searching out solutions to stop the weight gain and other issues before ten or twenty more years pass.
If you suffer from PCOS, maybe my daughter’s journey will help you. I’ll keep you posted on our progress! It’s certainly helping me. I (accidentally) feel better already!
Shayne McClendon is an author and positivity practitioner. Shayne believes love crosses all boundaries, social castes, races, genders, and belief systems. If you are lucky enough to find soul-deep love, you should fight for it. Life-certified, reader approved.