What is PCOS?
Before I dive into how PCOS is linked to PCOS, I want to define what exactly both of these are. If you have found The PCOS Collective, I will hazard a guess that you know what PCOS is.
In case you don’t, or if you have just been told by your GP ‘’It’s PCOS’’ and weren’t actually told anything more, I am going to give a brief overview of PCOS.
PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome. It’s an endocrine condition, which means it is controlled by hormones. As PCOS is controlled by hormones, it impacts lots of parts of the body. PCOS is often thought to be a reproductive condition.
Since PCOS is a syndrome, there’s not a list of symptoms that every person living with PCOS has. It’s more a collection of symptoms that come together and is confirmed medically. One of the common struggles people with PCOS have is intense cravings and binge eating.
What is binge eating disorder?
A common question I’m asked is ‘’what exactly is binge eating?’’ I totally understand this question. Bingeing is a term that’s something that’s thrown around, so it can be difficult to know if you’re actually bingeing.
- Eating a larger amount of food than someone else would in the same situation
- Feeling out of control with eating, like you couldn’t stop
- Eating even when you’re uncomfortably full
- The amount of food or how you’re eating is causing you distress, guilt, or embarrassment
- Usually associated with “swings” – where bingeing is worse during times of restriction, stress, low self-worth, and flares in medical conditions such as PCOS
There is a clinical eating disorder named Binge Eating Disorder, which is diagnosed when someone has been bingeing for more than three days per week for at least three months.
But, diagnosis can be quite difficult to obtain, depending on your access to eating disorder specialists and healthcare in general. There are many people living with BED who have no diagnosis. If you are struggling with bingeing, it is valid no matter if you have a diagnosis or not.
If you have PCOS and are struggling with binge eating – you are not alone. The research numbers are a bit all over the place – which is a theme in women’s health due to underfunding and under-research.
Numbers suggest that around one-third of people with PCOS have an eating disorder. There are no figures available on binge eating, but bingeing and “overeating” are one of the most common forms of disordered eating. People with PCOS are more likely to struggle with binge eating than other disordered eating behaviours.
To clarify, not everyone with PCOS will develop an eating disorder or disordered eating. But, many are struggling with both which is why it’s important to know what can be causing your bingeing.
What causes binge eating disorder in people with PCOS?
Trying to manage PCOS by cutting out foods.
A number one cause of binge eating is restriction. This includes trying to skip carbohydrates, banning chocolate from your diet, and avoiding dairy – all in the name of trying to manage your PCOS.
While these strategies might work in the very short-term – your body’s function of keeping you alive by making you eat more will kick in. This is not a failure, it is how your body responds when it is put into a self-induced famine state.
Living with a long-term health condition.
The emotional toll of living with PCOS can be contributing to binge eating. The toll might come from struggles with fertility, low energy levels, mood swings, or facing weight stigma from healthcare professionals.
Insulin resistance and poor blood sugar levels.
Insulin insensitivity and poorly managed blood glucose levels also contribute to binge eating. This is a chicken or egg situation – poorly managed PCOS contributes to these, and binge eating is also linked to these.
Due to insulin resistance, people with PCOS may have higher insulin levels. This is important as insulin acts as an appetite stimulant – thus can lead to binge eating. The other effect of high levels of insulin is low blood glucose levels, which can cause a strong craving for carbohydrates.
Add to this the pressure to avoid carbohydrates to manage your PCOS, you have a recipe for a binge/restrict/crave/binge cycle.
How to curb, control and stop binge eating for PCOS
- Build up to regular eating. Work up to eating 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day.
Regular eating ensures enough food is consumed to make sure your body is adequately fuelled. Eating regularly helps to reduce strong cravings by stabilising blood sugars.
- Ensure meals and snacks include starchy carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
Starchy carbohydrates provide energy, fibre, and essential vitamins. All of these are essential to help ease PCOS symptoms and help you stop bingeing. This includes foods like wholemeal pasta and bread, potatoes, and whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oats.
Proteins can help reduce cravings and binge eating. But, only if enough food, in general, is being consumed. You can’t out-protein getting enough energy. Protein-rich foods include eggs, nut butter, meats, fish, tofu, and faux meats.
Fats are essential for absorbing nutrients and helping period regularity. Foods containing fats include oily fish, nuts, seeds, and oils like olive oil or sunflower oil.
- Offer yourself compassion.
After reading this article, you know that your binge eating is not your worth. Neither is your PCOS. I recommend speaking to yourself like you would a friend. Knowing what you know about PCOS and binge eating, how would you speak to a friend with PCOS when they binge eat?
Instead of beating yourself up for bingeing, use it as an opportunity to get curious. Perhaps your PCOS is in need of support? Or is your bingeing really hard to deal with when you are stressed? In this case, you might look at stress management and self-care strategies.