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Why can't I lose weight with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
Barriers to weight loss in women with PCOS

Why can't I lose weight with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Losing weight when you have PCOS can be challenging.

Despites many diets, food restrictions, exercise routines, supplements that you have tried you may still struggle with weight management.

Women with PCOS are more likely to be overweight and are at greater risk of weight gain compared to women without PCOS.

But, why is weight loss so difficult when you have polycystic ovary syndrome?

Leaving the hormones aside and without focusing on how they affect your PCOS weight loss. Let’s look at a little bit different point:

Research revealed that women with PCOS tend to consume 250 KJs (around 60 kcal) extra per day compared to women without PCOS.

Additionally to that, women with PCOS are more sedentary and less active physically (extra 30 minutes sedentary a day) than their non-PCOS friends.

60 kcal extra per day and 30 minutes of inactivity extra per day doesn’t seem like much, but these small differences could account for greater weight gain.

The research stated that the reason for that lifestyle behaviour is unclear.

But my guess would be:

  • cravings,
  • dysfunction in appetite regulations,
  • insulin resistance,
  • lack of sleep,
  • chronic fatigue, tiredness,
  • stress and
  • lack of information and support.


It doesn’t sound great, but according to research you could lose the same amount of weight as your non-PCOS friend when provided with the same support.

There are some barriers that make weight loss and weight management more difficult for women with PCOS.

Let’s have a look what those barriers are.

Barriers to weight loss in women with PCOS

  1. Motivational Barriers:

  • Tiredness
  • Lack of results
  • Restrictive dieting

  1. Personal Barriers:

  • Disliking the tase of certain food
  • Not liking certain exercises routine

  1. Environmental Barriers:

  • Not having space to exercise
  • Feeling of embarrassment about being seen exercising out or in the gym

  1. Relational Barriers

  • Prioritizing children`s meal preferences
  • Unsupportive partner

  1. Logistical Barriers

  • High cost (of personal trainer or nutritionist)
  • Time (meal planning, going to the gym)
  • Work commitments

  1. Emotional Barriers:

  • Limited beliefs
  • Low self-esteem, low self-confidence and low self-worth
  • Depressive and negative thoughts
  • Mental burden of having PCOS

Facilitators to weight management with PCOS

So these are the barriers that women with PCOS face, but there are some things that you could do to make a weight loss journey a little bit easier and foremost more sustainable.

Facilitators to weight management with PCOS:

1. Your believes

PCOS and hormonal imbalances affects your ability to lose weight – this is not a secret. But believing that you can’t lose weight, because you have PCOS is far away from helpful.

Yes, it might take longer to see the results if you have PCOS.  And I know it might be frustrating to see other people losing weight quicker, and that weight loss seems much easier for them.

Everybody is different and comparing yourself with other people will only make you feel discouraged.

You can manage your weight with PCOS, but it might require a different approach than mainstream dieting and fitness culture promotes.

You will also need to understand how your beliefs, your self-image and your motives may hold you back from achieving weight loss.

You will need to be consistent and patient with your efforts. Even if you don’t see rewards at first.

2. Self-efficacy

It is quite connected to a previous point. Self-efficacy means that you are confident in your ability to make changes necessary to achieve your goal. Self-efficacy is an important predictor of weight loss particularly in women with higher BMI.

Women with PCOS often believe that they have no control over their health and this makes them less motivated to introduce lifestyle changes to their lives.

The low sense of agency over health in women with PCOS could be detrimental to the long term maintenance of lifestyle behaviours.

Increasing your self-efficacy over time will lead to behavioural change. Start to work on your attitude towards PCOS. PCOS is a syndrome that you can manage. You need to take your health in your hands. 

3. Accountability

Being consistent with your efforts and accountability can help you to stay on track.

Daily check-in with someone or in your personal diary can be very helpful. Having someone who can motivate you and keep you accountable is one part.

But learning to hold accountability for yourself would be more powerful.

4. Structured approach

Structured approach to weight loss in PCOS is more effective than qualitative advice (“reduce fat intake”, “don’t eat sugar”, “eat more veggies’ ‘).

Structured and individualized dietary advice can help you to avoid restrictions and not be overloaded by dietary information (that often are very misleading).

Having a structured meal plan with specified portion size created for your individual needs is a really good way to start learning about nutrition, your body and more intuitive eating habits.

I myself aim to be a natural eater. It means that I try to eat only when I am physically hungry and stop eating when I am full. Of course this is not always working that way. Easier said than done. Occasionally I still overeat (remember those 250KJs extra a day).

I do not follow any diet right now, but I think I would not be able to do it if before I didn’t follow a more structured approach to eating. With a structured approach I have been able to practice more natural eating habits.

5. Support

“Women with PCOS need emotional and social support to deal with the effects of this condition on their lives. Research has shown that a strong network of friends and family greatly enhances an individual’s ability to cope with the distressing effects of PCOS.”

But what kind of support can we ask for from our family members?

PCOS is complicated and many people don’t understand its implications. You need to keep in mind that your family and friends most likely are not trained psychologists, nutritionists or gynaecologists. Be realistic and very clear about what kind of support you want from your partner, your mum or your best friend. Don’t expect them to know how to support you and don’t blame them if they can’t understand or are not able to give you the support that you require. At the same time remember to set up your own boundaries in case of someone completely ignoring your emotions or making you feel that your symptoms are not valid.

I’ve found that support from other women who also have PCOS is really powerful. Joining groups or communities of women who share similar struggles can be very motivating. Because it is working both ways. You receive support, but you also can have an impact on other women with PCOS. Simply by letting them know that they are not alone.

Support from professionals who understand PCOS can be very empowering, because you get information, education and knowledge to manage your PCOS in more effective ways. I know that it can be expensive or time consuming, but if you have the opportunity to at least take a few sessions with a professional nutritionist, health coach or therapist you can really benefit from that.

6. Motivation

If you see changes to your lifestyle only as means of weight loss and hardship you are led by extrinsic (external) motivation. It means that you are driven by an external reward or by avoidance of punishment. It can be a great start to your weight loss journey, but it may be difficult to keep it going for the long run. Research shows that by external motivation chances to lose weight are smaller than if your motivation comes from within.

Intrinsic (internal) motivation means that your behaviour on its own brings you satisfaction. Rather than expecting external rewards you can learn to enjoy your new lifestyle. That’s why it is so important to choose eating habits that will make you happy and satisfied (not only on physical level, but on level of pleasure and abundance). And to choose physical activity that would be fun for you.

The enjoyment of the activity has been associated with long term weight loss maintenance. And lack of internal motivation in women with PCOS may explain their lack of long term success with any strategy for weight management

PCOS weight loss strategy

If you are not able to lose or manage your weight consider what kind of barriers are stopping you right now and then try to come up with strategies and ideas on how you could address them.

Very often there would be few factors that you will need to work through. Coming up with a sustainable goal and strategy might not be enough if you are not consistent or if you don’t hold yourself accountable for your actions.

Your belief system will play a huge role on how successful you will be in introducing new behaviours into your life. And your internal motivation will determine if you stick to the new routine.

I know that at times you might feel discouraged and not be able to motivate yourself. It is completely normal to have worse days. At those moments looking for support in PCOS communities, or someone that you trust may help.

But if you really struggle looking for professional support (either nutritionist, therapist or personal trainer) might be essential for successful lifestyle modifications. As they would provide you with constant monitoring and very useful feedback.

All those points might apply to your weight loss journey, but remember that PCOS management is a journey to your overall health and life satisfaction.

Working on yourself, your beliefs, self-efficacy, self-esteem and self-image would improve your ability to cope with emotions, stress and mental burden of PCOS. But it will also increase satisfaction in your work life, family life, relationships, personal development and overall well-being.

What kind of barriers are stopping you from weight loss or PCOS management?

Yours Agnese

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