Nutrition and PCOS

PCOS Clinic

Why is it so hard to lose weight with PCOS?

Although Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) sounds like a disorder of the ovaries, PCOS is an endocrine and metabolic disorder which affects the whole body, and can cause insulin resistance. 

Insulin regulates blood sugar levels, and acts as a storage hormone, signaling to muscle, fat and liver cells, that they should store glucose after a meal.  When it is functioning normally this storage of excess glucose causes blood sugar to fall and insulin to fall. Women with PCOS can make insulin, but often their body can’t use it properly, and this makes the pancreas continually overproduce insulin

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Insulin resistance can cause weight gain, and also make it more difficult to manage weight. This weight gain is also a contributor to the complex symptoms of PCOS, and is one of the most important elements in managing PCOS symptoms.

Stony Brook nutritionists

Our nutritionists review our PCOS patients’ current eating patterns and activity in order to help make small and sustainable adjustments to diet and exercise.  They will review your food environment, find out how often you are eating, what food you have access to; whether you are cooking at home, or eating out; and help you to make changes that make the most sense for your environment.   

Adolescents with PCOS have their own challenges. They don’t control the contents of their refrigerator, and may have different dietary needs than family members, such as siblings, who expect access to chips and soda.  Adolescents are also exploring new social settings that often involve food and challenges arise when trying to implement a healthier lifestyle to help manage PCOS. It is hard to avoid pizza if all your friends are socializing at a pizzeria.  

Stony Brook nutritionists can help you think of food as nutrients that helps your body to function more efficiently, and will work with you to make manageable changes that can positively affect your PCOS symptoms.


The two elements of nutrition and weight management for PCOS are:

·       Healthy food choices and meal patterns

·       Increased physical activity

PCOS Clinic

Healthy Food

A diet that is too high in simple carbs and processed foods is a major contributor to insulin resistance which can also lead to feeling hungry sooner. 

Replacing highly processed foods with fresh fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, healthy fats, lean protein and whole grains will help with the excess insulin production.  It is particularly important for women with insulin resistance to choose fiber-rich whole grains and cut down on added sugars.  Obvious sources of added sugar are typically found in desserts and sugary beverages, but there are a number of foods with hidden sugars, such as cereal and yogurt. 

Small meals eaten more frequently help avoid the surge in insulin levels.  It is important to include protein in snacks and meals.  Protein foods include plant-based options such as beans, hummus, nuts or animal-based options such as chicken, fish, lean meat, eggs, turkey.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet encompasses many of the elements recommended for managing PCOS symptoms, and is worth exploring for some of your weekly food plan.

Mediterranean meals are built around vegetables, beans and whole grains, with fish or poultry for protein.  Olive oil is used instead of butter for preparing food and fruit is served for dessert.  Olive oil is the primary source of fat and provides monounsaturated fat, which lowers total cholesterol. It also includes fatty fish such as mackerel, sardines, tuna and salmon.


Try vegetables with hummus or yogurt-based dips rather than chips and processed packaged snacks.  Consume fruits with nuts or nut butters.  Focus on what you can eat, rather than thinking about what you are avoiding to promote satiety.

Emotional Eating

Food is a nutrient that helps our bodies and minds to function efficiently, but many of us eat, not because our body needs the nutrition, but because we are bored, or stressed, or because it has become a habit.  Women, both adults and adolescents, are often busy, juggling work, school, family, social commitments.  It is important to find a routine of nutrition and exercise that is realistic and sustainable, and encompasses the emotional issues that make it hard to break old routines.

Nutritionists will help you to embrace food as fuel, and can refer you to a therapist who will help you to unlock a new relationship with food. For adolescents a therapist can help find new ways of thinking beyond the eating habits of mom and dad.

Physical Activity

Not everyone feels ready to work out in a gym 5 days a week, but minor changes that will help increase your endurance, like taking a 30-minute walk at lunch-time, will start to have a perceivable impact. Strength training gets muscles engaged, so buy some hand weights, (or use bottles of water or laundry detergent) and commit to just 5-10 minute of weight exercises every day to begin to change your muscle strength.

The most important thing is to increase overall physical activity and try to move just a little more every week.  If you are only exercising once a week, then find ways to schedule some extra activity, at a time that you can commit to.  Our nutritionists have apps and advice to help you make those small changes and help you to combine them into your regular routine.