5 Reasons Why Weight Loss is so Difficult for Women with PCOS

(Part 1 of Weight Loss Series)

Contrary to popular belief, you can have PCOS even if you are of normal weight. Research indicates though that about 40 to 80% of women with PCOS struggle with excess weight. Being overweight with PCOS is a total paradox: PCOS can lead to weight gain, which in turn can worsen your symptoms, and, on the other hand, weight loss can greatly improve symptoms in those with PCOS. Weight loss in women with PCOS is probably the most googled topic among cysters (those diagnosed with the disease). For most of us with PCOS, losing or even maintaining weight is an exhausting and sheer endless seeming battle accompanied by the question: Why is it so hard to lose weight with PCOS?

In this post, we’ll be exploring five underlying reasons of weight gain and difficulty losing weight in more detail. So, let’s start with reason number one:


Insulin Resistance Makes it Difficult to Lose Weight with PCOS

About 75% of women with PCOS have got underlying insulin resistance which is characterized by high blood sugar and insulin levels. Insulin is a fat storage hormone and chronically elevated levels of this pancreatic hormone can make it almost impossible to shed some pounds. Besides controlling our fat metabolism, insulin functions as a key to open the cells for glucose molecules that are used for energy production inside of the cell. If this mechanism is broken, inadequate amounts of sugar enter the cells and the rest travels to the liver where it is converted into fat. Our cells don’t receive the energy they need. Thus, insulin resistance can cause fatigue and cravings leading to weight gain and making it difficult to lose these extra kilograms.


Low Thyroid Can Cause Weight Gain in Women with PCOS

PCOS and low thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism, are among the most common endocrine disorders. As if having PCOS wasn’t bad enough, studies show that hypothyroidism is more common in women with PCOS than it is among the general population. When you have low thyroid, you produce only small amounts of thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone regulates metabolism and affects every cell in your body. Low thyroid hormone production can lead to a decline in metabolic rate, fatigue and difficulty withstanding cold temperatures. A slow metabolism can lead to weight gain since less calories are being burned each day. There also seems to be a correlation between hypothyroidism and insulin resistance. Making it even harder to lose weight and easier to gain it.


Cravings and Binge Eating Attacks Make it Harder for Women with PCOS to Lose Weight

Research suggests that women with PCOS are about 3 times more likely to have an eating disorder than women without the syndrome. On top of that, they are more likely to suffer from mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Combine this with insulin resistance, which can cause intense food cravings, and you have the perfect cocktail for a binge eating attack! Those who suffer from binge eating, generally have a higher BMI and tend to be obese. I know first hand how it’s like to suffer from these attacks. It took me years to get things under control. Habit change, learning to identify and control my emotions, nourishing my body with healthy foods and eventually healing insulin resistance has helped tremendously. This tendency of women with PCOS to binge is one of the reasons why a strict dieting approach to managing PCOS often backfires and leaves a cyster with feelings of shame, guilt and hopelessness.


Elevated Stress Levels Lead to Access Belly Fat and Obesity in Women with PCOS

Another underlying factor for excess weight for women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome are elevated stress levels. The hormone cortisol is one of our main stress hormones and can have a domino effect on other major hormones that control glucose metabolism and fat storage. When we are feeling emotionally, mentally or physically stressed out – be it from too much stress at work, a disease like PCOS or over-exercising, our body secretes higher amounts of cortisol to help us cope with stress. Increasing the amount of glucose in our blood is one thing this major stress hormones does. As previously discussed, a rise in blood glucose and insulin go hand in hand. Thus, weight loss becomes almost impossible when you are going through a stressful time, your cravings for carbohydrates go through the roof and the glucose that is not being used is stored as fat mostly in your midsection.


A Lack of Sleep Can Lead to Weight Gain in Women with PCOS

After ovulation, the follicle that released the egg, turns into something called the corpus luteum, which is a progesterone producing hormone gland. Progesterone is the “keep calm and carry on” hormone. It soothes our nervous system and helps us feel calm and collected. A common trait in women with PCOS are low progesterone levels, affecting a cyster’s mood and possibly causing sleep problems. A lack of sleep can drastically raise cortisol levels, as well as increase our hunger hormone ghrelin. This cocktail of imbalanced hormones can lead to increased insulin resistance, cravings and emotional eating, which are all factors that contribute to weight gain.

To summarize, insulin resistance, a low-functioning thyroid, the tendency to binge eat, elevated stress levels and a lack of sleep can all contribute to weight gain in women with PCOS.

I hope this was helpful to you. Please share your insights with us in the comment section below.

Sending you my love,


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Nadine is a PCOS health coach, hormone expert, and woman with PCOS who helps other cysters around the world manage their symptoms naturally, lose weight and increase fertility.