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Is weight loss possible with PCOS? Foods to avoid and proven to help

  • Losing excess weight can help you reduce some of the symptoms of PCOS.
  • Though there is no one diet that is best, experts suggest eating foods that are low in carbs, gluten, and dairy.
  • Because of the increased insulin resistance in women with PCOS, it is best to limit sugar consumption — even the natural sugars in fruit. 
  • This article was reviewed by Olivia P. Myrick, MD, who is a clinical assistant professor with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone.
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An estimated 80% of women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are overweight or obese. 

Research shows that obese women with PCOS can have more severe symptoms and when they lose weight they see a decrease in symptoms, including improved fertility, a more regular cycle, improved insulin and cholesterol levels, and less excess hair growth and acne.

Insider spoke with Natasha R. Chinn, MD, FACOG, OB-GYN and partner at Brescia and Migliaccio Women’s Health for tips on how to lose weight with PCOS.

PCOS weight loss diet

There’s no one universally recommended diet but research seems to indicate that a high-protein, low carb diet consistently works not only for weight loss but also certain PCOS symptoms. 

In one small 2005 study, published in Nutrition & Metabolism, five women who followed a low-carb, ketogenic diet for six months lost an average of 12 percent of their body weight and also saw an improvement in their insulin sensitivity and lower levels of testosterone.

And a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that overweight and obese women with PCOS who followed a low-calorie diet lost weight over three months — but the group who ate a low-cal diet with foods high in protein and low on the glycemic index also saw better improvement in other areas, like insulin sensitivity.

For her part, Chinn says that while the data can’t point to one particular diet, clinically she’s seen success when her patients have a diet low in gluten, sugar, and dairy. “When they eliminate or minimize these from their diets even before I see significant weight release, often times their acne, mental acuity, mood are all improved.”

She also advises sticking to drinking water throughout the day, “eating 8-11 servings of green leafy vegetables per day,” choosing healthy fats (like avocado or wild salmon), and eating only one to two servings of fruit per day due to the sugar content. “Insulin resistance is usually increased in women with PCOS. Thus, sugar is not processed in the same way that it is in women without insulin resistance which makes weight loss more difficult,” she says. 

Chinn recommends this diet since many women with PCOS have insulin resistance and therefore an uptick in type-2 diabetes risk, so “this is the healthiest approach for both weight release and maintenance and a lifestyle change which will only enhance their health in the future.”