It’s here again. ‘Tis the season of over-indulgence, when good intentions are as prone to melt as the Snowman on Christmas morning. Everywhere you turn someone seems to be cracking open a box of chocolates or suggesting another drink after work because, you know, it’s Christmas. For anyone with PCOS this season can be fraught with hard choices. Do you indulge and risk worsening painful symptoms, or abstain and feel like a Scrooge?
The good news is that there is a way to keep your health goals on track without missing out on all the fun. The key is a bit of forward planning.
Here is my essential guide for surviving (and enjoying!) Christmas when you have PCOS:
1) It’s all in the planning
Anyone with PCOS knows the misery that can follow a big blow out. Sugary foods and drinks spike insulin levels, which in turn increase the levels of androgens in the blood. Excess levels of these hormones are responsible for the more uncomfortable symptoms of PCOS, such as acne, oily skin, unwanted hair growth and fat around the middle. Always keep healthy snacks to hand – even the most iron-willed can struggle to make sensible food choices on an empty stomach. If you have time, aim to eat a protein-rich snack before heading out to a party or social event. Carrot and sweet pepper sticks with hummus or half an avocado with a boiled egg are nourishing go-to options. Keep a packet of seeds or unroasted nuts in your bag for emergencies.
2) Breakfast like a queen
If you have over-indulged the night before or have a big meal planned that evening, avoid the temptation to skip breakfast. Going without first thing can trigger a blood sugar roller coaster, leaving you feeling tired and more likely to make unhealthy snack choices later on. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day for PCOS! Start each day with a protein-rich, nourishing breakfast to help keep your hormones in balance. Good choices include an omelette (with the egg yolks) with sautéed vegetables, quinoa porridge (this is a lovely recipe) or smoked salmon with avocado, pumpkin seeds and poached eggs. Toasted buckwheat or millet bread with nut butter and a handful of berries is a good option if you are in a rush.
3) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Constantly switching between cold weather outdoors and arid central heating inside can increase our hydration needs at this time of year. This is especially true if you have been drinking more alcohol than usual. Ensure you always have a glass of still, (ideally) filtered water on your desk or carry a bottle when you are out and about to keep you hydrated throughout the day. Rather than count glasses, check your urine: it should be clear or the colour of pale straw. If not, up the water intake. Thirst is easy to confuse with hunger, so make sure you have a large glass of water at least 30 minutes before a meal or before heading to a party to avoid any mixed messages.
4) Be savvy with your tipple
Alcohol can be hard to avoid at this time of year, yet as a form of sugar it can play havoc with PCOS symptoms. Does that mean you have to abstain completely? Not necessarily. Just as with food choices, the answer is in the planning. Avoid drinking on an empty stomach as this will spike insulin levels and lead to further hormone imbalance. Eat a protein-rich meal or snack before you plan to drink and match every alcoholic drink with a glass of water to stay hydrated. Choose your drinks wisely, avoiding high sugar mixers, and focus on quality not quantity. A glass or two of a drink you genuinely enjoy is a much better option that knocking back cheap alternatives for the sake of it, so opt for the best you can afford and really savour it.
5) Keep your stress levels in check
Not an easy one this, especially as the big day approaches. However, managing your stress is key to maintaining a healthy hormone balance and keeping PCOS symptoms in check. Stress affects your adrenals, which in turn triggers an increase in circulating androgens in the blood. Coupled with increased cortisol (also produced by the adrenals during times of stress), this can leave you feeling tired, anxious and blue. High levels of androgen hormones also makes it harder to lose weight – particularly bad news at this time of year. A simple daily meditation practice is a great place to start. Or chose another activity which enables you to relax such as yoga, walking, listening to music or reading a good book. It doesn’t matter too much what the activity is, the key is that you find it relaxing. Aim for 20-30 minutes a day, but if that feels too much then 5-10 minutes is fine too – something is better than nothing! Try to see it as time dedicated to looking after your health, rather than another item on your to-do list.
6) Plant power
While they may not scream party food, the phytoestrogens in foods such as chickpeas, flaxseeds, oats, lentils, alfalfa and apples are great at keeping androgen hormones in balance. Basing your daily diet around nutrient-rich plant foods will help to support you during those times when you are not able to make such healthy choices. Many of the traditional winter vegetables are nutrient power houses and are cheap and easy to find at this time of year. Red cabbage, broccoli and even the humble Brussel sprout are great options. Substituting sweet potatoes for the traditional roast potatoes will increase your vitamin intake and thanks to their low GL count they are less likely to spike your blood sugar.
7) Happy gut, happy hormones
Looking after your gut health is essential if you have PCOS. Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi and traditional red cabbage help feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. They also go really well with turkey leftovers or other cold meats. Making simple swaps can mean you can enjoy dessert too: use natural or dairy-free coconut yoghurt sprinkled with cinnamon instead of ice cream to boost your friendly bacteria and keep the sugar content low.
8) Get your beauty sleep
Regular, deep, nourishing sleep is essential for healthy hormone balance. This is particularly true for women with PCOS, as adequate sleep helps to reduce insulin resistance. However, getting enough can be tricky at this time of year. No one likes to be the first to leave, especially when you are having fun with friends or loved ones. However, when you do have the opportunity for an early night, take it. Do you really need to stay up and watch the next episode of the latest Netflix boxset? Save the later evenings for spending quality time with your nearest and dearest and on the other nights choose to nourish your health by getting a solid eight hours. If you have a noisy household invest in a good set of ear plugs and an eye mask to help you sleep. Limit smartphone and TV use in the hours before bed as the blue light from these devices can disrupt your hormones and make it more difficult to nod off.
9) Treat yourself as you would a friend
Although this is the last point, it is perhaps the most important. The best way of keeping your health on track over the festive season is to look after yourself. This means treating yourself as you would a loved one or friend. Rather than beating yourself up if you stray from your healthy eating goals, use it as an opportunity to practice kindness to yourself. If you indulge one day, enjoy it! Then endeavour to start the next day afresh. The irony is that putting unnecessary pressure on yourself or piling on the guilt can leave you feeling stressed, which can aggravate PCOS symptoms in itself. Instead, give yourself permission to enjoy the festivities and spend time with loved ones and people that make you smile. Your hormones will thank you for it!
If you would like further help to support PCOS please visit my website or contact me to find out how I can help.
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