Weight management in PCOS
Purabi Gunjal (she/her)

Purabi Gunjal (she/her)

Apr 08PCOS

Weight management in PCOS

Hormonal imbalances and malfunctions during Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) lead to many visible changes in the body. One of the most common risk is weight gain.

Weight gain in PCOS occurs due to:

  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Insulin resistance
  • Internal inflammation

There are many risks associated with PCOS weight gain. Apart from worsening your existing PCOS symptoms, it can lead to many physical health problems. You may develop symptoms of diabetes, joint pains, fertility issues, heart diseases, sleep apnea and problems with your skin and hair. . It may also impact your mental health with frequent mood swings, anxiety,depression and even eating disorders.

Losing weight does not resolve PCOS

Being overweight is often seen as the primary cause of PCOS leading to the misconception that osing a few extra kilos will resolve their PCOS. But that’s really not the case. . PCOS is a lifelong condition and even though losing some unhealthy fat may have its own benefits, you need to stay away from fads and focus on doing it the right way rather than the faster way. 

Never undereat!

You may think that restricting your calories or getting on a low-calorie diet will help you lose weight faster. Well, you will. But, you will have to pay the price for it. Over time, calorie restriction will have long-term effects on different functions of your body. Let’s understand what this could look like -

Metabolism: With PCOS, you already have a slower metabolism. Reducing your calorie intake will slow it down further. Your body will soon adapt to it and burn fewer calories that will lead to weight gain.

Hormones: If you eat less, your body will not meet its daily nutrient requirements, which will ultimately affect your appetite hormones. Leptin, insulin and ghrelin are hormones regulating hunger, sugar and satiety in our body. When these hormones are not functioning appropriately, it decreases our sensitivity to ghrelin, increasing our appetite. Hence, women with PCOS are always craving sugary and fatty foods.

Do not get obsessed with food!

Firstly, understand that food is not your enemy. Food is the fuel for our body; it helps us carry out our day successfully. By constantly counting calories, weighing yourself, restricting foods and comparing your weight with that of others, you will soon build a negative relationship with food and your body. This will impact your mental health and lower your self-esteem. It can also be the foundation for an eating disorder.

Instead, focus on becoming healthy

Instead of obsessing over losing weight quickly, focus on adopting a healthier diet and lifestyle for overall improvement in your PCOS symptoms. Ensure that your calorie intake is from the right foods. You will not see results overnight, but being consistent throughout will pay off.

Losing about 5-7% of your original weight, you will observe improvements in your:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Hormonal levels
  • Fertility
  • Menstrual cycle
  • The overall quality of life

So, what foods are healthy for you?

Focus on having wholesome meals that are a combination of the below-mentioned nutrients. Your goal should be to target the root causes of your weight gain - hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance and internal inflammation.

Complex carbohydrates

Carbohydrates directly impact our insulin or sugar levels. Therefore, eating the good carbs in the right amounts will help in keeping the insulin levels stable.

You can also learn about the glycemic index of foods. It is a value assigned to certain foods that tells how quickly it will raise your blood sugar levels. Carbohydrates with a low glycemic index prevent a spike in your insulin levels, hence beneficial if you have PCOS. Thus, your insulin resistance will also improve.

Sources: Whole grains like wheat, rice, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, bajra, jowar, all millets, vegetables, fruits


Fibre-rich foods help in losing weight by reducing overall body fat percentage. Studies have also found a link between a high fibre diet and lower insulin resistance. It helps in reducing the central fat that accumulates on your stomach. These foods will also keep you full for a longer time and curb your cravings.

When the excess hormones in your body are not excreted out, it can cause PCOS. Such a situation may arise if a woman is suffering from constipation. Eating fibrous foods will ensure a healthy digestive system, relieve constipation and excrete the excess hormones and toxins out of your body.

Sources: All whole grains, vegetables, fruits


Another nutrient that can help stabilise your insulin or blood sugar levels is protein. Protein is also required to make up our hormones. Eating protein-rich foods will also keep you full for a longer time, preventing you from snacking in between meals. Our body requires more energy to digest protein, so more calories will burn. Therefore, incorporate protein in all your meals - breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. It is an important tip to follow if you wish to lose or manage your weight.

On average, one needs 0.8-1.6 gms of protein/ per kg of body weight. Your protein requirements will increase based on your daily physical activities and needs.

Sources: Dals, organic eggs, chicken, fish, whole milk, milk products, nuts

Healthy fats

Healthy fats are also important for the body. If you wish to lose weight eliminate unhealthy fats such as processed or refined foods, saturated fat sources, oily and fried foods. But continue eating healthy fats as that has many benefits. Healthy fats are necessary for all our hormones. They also help in making our food delicious. Since fats have a high calorific value, remember to consume them in small quantities - which will be enough to keep you full for long periods.

Sources: Nuts, coconuts, avocado, fatty fish, egg yolks, wood pressed or cold-pressed oils, ghee. Avoid foods with saturated fats such as red meat.

Fermented foods

Studies have found out that women with PCOS have lower levels of healthy gut bacteria. Since a healthy gut is crucial for metabolising the food we eat and managing weight, you will have to eat probiotic foods. These foods provide healthy bacteria to improve the digestive system. Also, eat prebiotic foods that are beneficial for the survival of the gut bacteria.

Sources: Probiotic foods include sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, curd, buttermilk, homemade pickle, idlis, dosas or probiotic supplements. Fibrous foods are a good source of prebiotics.

Anti-inflammatory foods

Chronic inflammation in PCOS is linked to obesity. Processed foods, sugary foods, sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, excessive consumption of alcohol or any recreational drug also contribute to inflammation. Hence, correct your diet and lifestyle habits to ease inflammation and manage your weight.

Sources: Foods high in antioxidants like berries, turmeric, all fruits and vegetables, wheatgrass. All superfoods like acai; foods rich in Vit C like citrus fruits; broccoli. Anti-inflammatory foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids such as fatty fish, walnuts, flax seeds, all oilseeds - sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds.


Your doctor will prescribe you certain supplements to manage weight and other PCOS symptoms if the need arises. Remember not to self-prescribe these supplements; always discuss with your doctor if you come across any information about them.

A generic list of supplements would include:

  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B12
  • Inositol
  • Magnesium and zinc
  • Omega 3
  • Vitamin C
  • L Acetyl - Cysteine
  • Carnitine

To know more about planning your meals with PCOS click here 

Avoid refined carbs and refined sugars

All processed foods and sugary foods contain empty calories that provide little or no nutrition to the body and should be avoided. Your blood sugar levels are not stable when you eat these foods and cause weight gain. But, completely restricting yourself from these foods is not a sustainable choice. Understand why they are detrimental to your health and limit their intake instead of completely stopping them.

Lifestyle changes are equally important!


Diet changes will ensure you are not accumulating more fat. But for burning the previously stored fat in the body, you need to set an exercise routine. Focus on a mix of cardiovascular activities and strength training exercises to improve insulin sensitivity. It will burn fat eventually.

Cardiovascular exercises help in the oxidation of fat that reduces the fat percentage. During strength training exercises, you use your muscles, which improves your insulin sensitivity. These exercises also improve bone density.


Women with PCOS often complain about sleep disturbances; many suffer from sleep apnea and insomnia. Lack of adequate sleep can affect their performance the next day. They may experience lethargy, fatigue, laziness and sleepiness while performing their tasks. It also increases their hunger and stress hormones that will contribute to weight gain. Fix your sleep routine and get enough and uninterrupted sleep at night.

Stress management

Due to the hormonal imbalances during PCOS, you may experience frequent mood swings. When you are not in control of your moods, it can stress you out. This stress keeps building with the added pressure of work, relationships, daily chores, etc. When we are stressed, it increases the stress hormone, eventually causing weight gain. It also leads to chronic inflammation in our body. Yoga and meditation are powerful stress management tools. Apart from that, engage in activities that make you happy - drawing, painting, music, playing with pets, etc.

Read More: 5 Common PCOS Mistakes People Make 

Bottom line

Understanding your condition will help you make realistic and sustainable health goals. With the right approach, it is possible to manage every PCOS symptom. A healthy diet and lifestyle choices will support you for a lifetime! If your weight gain is affecting you physically and emotionally, visit your doctor for further advice and treatment.

Disclaimer - This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

Proactive For Her is a digital clinic for women, offering accessible, personalised, and confidential healthcare solutions. We offer out-patient care, diagnostic services and programs for various health concerns of Indian women, across their lifetime - from puberty to pregnancy to menopause.