Let’s get this out of the way up front. It’s pretty mean-spirited to accuse someone of making excuses about weight gain when you know they’re dealing with a medical issue. Yet so many women face nasty or dismissive comments when they cite polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) as a complicating factor in their weight issues.
If you are dealing with PCOS, it can be difficult to make someone without this condition understand the problems you are facing. Perhaps they are putting things in the context of their own personal experience, and so they think that anyone who follows the diet and exercise plan they follow will have the exact same results. It can be hard to make them see why your case is different.
However, it remains a mystery why some people are so accepting of the fact that PCOS can cause dramatic physical changes such as facial hair growth, or even male pattern baldness in women, but seem reluctant to believe that weight gain is not the result of laziness.
Here are a few points you can mention to help them understand.
Insulin Resistance is a Real Condition
PCOS causes a hormonal imbalance, which throws your whole system out of kilter. One of the more dramatic consequences of this is a condition known as insulin resistance.
Insulin is necessary for our bodies to break down glucose and convert it into energy. However, women with PCOS will experience what is essentially a failure of insulin to do its job properly.
The body stops responding to insulin in the way it should, meaning the glucose just stays in your bloodstream. In response, your system will kick into overdrive and try to produce more insulin so that this blood sugar can be processed. People with insulin resistance remain stuck in this feedback loop and have 5 to 7 times more insulin than a healthy person.
Having too much insulin in your bloodstream leads to the production of androgens, which brings us to our next point…
Androgen Overproduction is a Real Thing
Androgens are male hormones. When they began to appear in a woman’s body, they can cause some pretty significant changes in appearance. Because insulin resistance can lead to the production of androgens, women with PCOS often share some of the following characteristics:
- Excessive hair growth on the body or face
- Hair loss on the scalp (male pattern baldness)
- Irregular periods
- Weight gain, specifically around the abdomen
Now let’s talk about why that last bullet point is so tricky…
Weight Gain can be Both a Symptom and a Complicating Factor of PCOS
Gaining excess weight, regardless of the cause, can trigger some serious health conditions. Heart disease and type 2 diabetes are among the chief concerns, but other problems such as joint pain, circulatory issues, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea can also begin to show up.
Now here’s where the problems really start stacking up. The more overweight you are, the more likely you are to have trouble with insulin resistance. In other words, even though PCOS is causing the weight gain, the weight gain is in turn causing symptoms of PCOS to become worse. This is why some women can experience dramatic weight gain in fairly short order.
This can prompt a lot of concern from others – some of it good-natured, some of it not – which is how all those awkward conversations arise. Which brings us to our last point…
Reassure People That You’re Taking Charge of Your Health
If you do have PCOS, it is important that you keep up with your medical appointments. This means physicals, blood work, OB/GYN appointments and any other necessary checkups. Talk to your doctor about your concerns with weight gain, and follow their advice.
This way, you will be able to remind your friends and family that they are not medical professionals, but your physician is. You can tell them that you are following your doctor’s plan, because they understand your medical condition and can offer real expertise.
Having a good and trusting relationship with your doctor is really going to be key in managing your PCOS symptoms – up to and including weight gain. Other people may continue to make comments, but as long as you are being assured by a medical professional that you are on the right path, then you are. You can end the conversation with that.