Sixteen years ago, I was a 20-year-old, living on brown sugar Pop-Tarts (68 carbs) and cranberry juice (28 carbs). I gained 30 lbs in my first three years of college, weighing 165 lbs on a 5’8” frame. With every shower and brush, my hair fell out. I had increasing amounts of facial acne, much worse than when I was 16. Most notably, I was ALWAYS
hungry. I ate baby-sized bean burritos (84+ carbs) chased with a Cold Stone creations (46+ carbs) and could always eat more.
My PCP ran some tests, and sent me to an endocrinologist who ran more tests. Multiple tests and appointments later I had a diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS. The endo gave me five minutes of medical babble, two prescriptions, including Metformin, a xeroxed handout on What you need to know about PCOS,
and sent me on my way.
The following months transformed me. I learned anything and everything I could about PCOS. I learned PCOS affects 5-10% of women, is the leading cause of infertility and a whole host of physical symptoms (hair loss, acne). I also learned insulin resistance is a key contributor to developing PCOS. Up to 70% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance, resulting in pre-diabetes and a high-risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Living with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
When I was diagnosed, there was limited evidence on how to treat and manage PCOS. Some women were eating less carbs, exercising, and losing weight to minimize symptoms. I drank the Koolaid (low carb, that is), eating 30-40 carbs per day. I ate cauliflower mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, deconstructed every burger, wrap, and pizza slice to make it low carb, and lost 45 lbs in the first six months of being diagnosed. My hair stopped falling out. The acne cleared. And, my blood tests normalized.
In the years that followed, I got a PhD, and, with it, expertise in helping people eat well, exercise, and take medications. I continued eating low carb, helping my PhD advisor do the same when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I became a health educator, teaching women in public housing with PCOS and/or a diabetes diagnosis how to eat low carb on a budget. I also received multiple NIH and foundation grants to develop health programs to help people with diabetes reduce carbs, increase activity, and take medications and insulin.
I climbed the ranks of the academic ladder, collecting feathers, but my biggest achievements were two successful pregnancies. With my first pregnancy, I stopped taking Metformin: after 11 years. Four years later, I’m still without Metformin. I weigh 125 lbs, have minimal acne and hair loss, and two adorable kids (both of which despise rice and pasta).
On the outside, I don’t look like I have PCOS. And, this is echoed on the inside. For the past 9 years, my labs have been normal. A diagnosis that once consumed me is now something I rarely think about. My main focus is on living, and enjoying my kids -- eating well and being active with them. My last A1c was 5.3%. #itscarbs