My Journey with PCOS

by Karen L.

Dramatic changes have taken place in my life over the past couple of years. My greatest wish in sharing this story is that someone reading it may experience some of the happiness and sense of greater control I now have as a result of being better able to manage PCOS.

As a teenage girl I often expressed concerns to doctors about irregular cycles, weight problems and acne. By the time I was finished high school, I had seen GPs, dermatologists and dieticians about all of my issues! They prescribed a whole range of antibiotics, skin creams and diets. Some of them told me it was stress. Oh, and that I should exercise and diet. (Heard that before?)

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My weight has always been very 'up and down', but more 'up' than 'down' over most of the last two decades! I have never been a lazy or inactive person, and have always enjoyed healthy eating. I've never liked eating greasy foods, rarely drink alcohol, have never smoked, have always tried to eat a low fat diet and have been the type to read nutrition panels for many years.

However, I went from being Size 12 in high school, to 14, 16, 18, 20, 22! I hit the all-time heavy weight of 110 kilos (242 lbs.) in 1997. (Actually, it was probably higher, but by the time I had the courage to weigh in at Weight Watchers, that's what it was down to!)

While I sought out low fat, nutritious foods, I suppose I ate lots of it! Lots of nutritious low fat pasta meals, lots of nutritious low fat everything....yep, lots! Someone close to me once said, 'if you're going to eat like an athlete, then you should train like one!' (Eventually I did just that, but more of that later...)

It's fair to say that I did my stints of walking for 30 or 40 minutes, aerobics classes, Pilates, Yoga, Dancing....whatever I felt like at the time. But, my weight was still consistently a problem.

A Humiliating Moment

I think one of my most humiliating moments must have been the day in early 1994 when I was traveling on a bus to see the gynecologist to whom I was sent after a local female GP suspected I had PCOS. I had just moved to Sydney, so had to ask the driver to let me know where to alight for the Royal Women's Hospital. As soon as I told him where I was going, he kept shouting out to the passengers, "hey everyone, this lady's got a bun in the oven". Of course, I was not pregnant, just fat. Normally, I'm pretty outspoken and would have told him off, but that day, I was just too down.

As far as my skin went, I eventually ended up pretty much getting that under control a few years ago after a nine month course of Roaccutane, using the Pill (Diane/Brenda 35) and getting laser treatment for acne scarring and broken capillaries. Eventually I had to come off Diane 35 because of worries with aura migraines, which are no longer a problem when not using the Pill.

Using Differin gel on my skin regularly keeps any skin problems under control in times of stress. Although a change of diet over the past few months to exclude foods containing Dairy (including soy products made with Dairy Protein), has lead to almost spotless skin and I have not had to use the Differin much!

I Was Depressed, Getting Heavier, and Had High Blood Pressure

Depression and low self-esteem had been issues at various times and my weight and skin problems were contributing significantly to these problems. With the extra weight piling on, my blood pressure had become borderline high, my moods more 'down' than 'up' and I decided that the only way to go had to be 'up'!

The loss of control over my health and my inability to cope became too much for me to bear. I was only in my mid-thirties and something rather drastic had to be done. I had been prescribed anti-depressants on three occasions but never took them because I felt that if I could get over my self-esteem and weight issues, then I probably wouldn't feel depressed!

In 2002, during a particularly busy and stressful period, I had a big scare when my skin went completely haywire and had fainting spells and the aura migraines I referred to earlier for the first time. I was told by a very good GP specializing in women's health that until my weight came within Healthy Range that it was not wise to come off the Diane (Brenda) pill. However, apparently my risk of stroke was higher now that these migraines had started! So, I was very keen to get off it, particularly as the next two months brought with it more migraines.

The threat of diabetes is always there for overweight women with PCOS, so that potential health problem was worrying me sick too! My ability to cope with stress was poor and I admitted to myself that I needed help, but was sick of doctors, Chinese herbalists, dieticians, acupuncturists and the rest of them!

Got the Courage to Go to the Gym

Some of the girls at work who don't have PCOS, work very hard at keeping themselves fit. I told myself that until I worked as hard as them, I really couldn't say I'd done everything I could to change my situation! So, I rocked up to my local gym one day and asked about the possibility of working with a Personal Trainer. I knew a couple of girls who looked completely different after having worked with one, so it was worth a try.

I Lost a Lot of Weight!

Despite years of seeking advice on weight from a range of medical practitioners, finally it was my trainer who helped me to finally drop about 23 kilos (51 lbs.)! I lost some on my own too, so altogether, around 33 kilos (73 lbs.) over a 2 year period.

In doing so, my PCOS symptoms have reduced dramatically to the extent that I can live without medications except for Differin gel to treat the occasional pimples! I have been able to keep my weight pretty much stable and am a size 12/14 (am 179cm or 5' 10.5" tall) for the first time in about 20 years!

I was so impressed that finally someone was able to help me manage a lifelong problem, that in 2003 I decided to enroll in a Certificate in Fitness at TAFE to learn more about how my body works.

Doctors can treat symptoms of PCOS, but none of the ones I saw at least, ever gave me the kind of life changing advice that my Personal Trainer was able to offer. Anyway, I am now a qualified Gym Instructor, Aerobics Instructor and probably by the time this article gets printed, Personal Trainer. A big change from the size 22, 110 kilo girl from 1997! There are some basic fitness principles that I followed that still work for me today. I would encourage you to make these changes if you are having trouble losing weight and/or dealing with PCOS.

Read other parts of Karen's Story

  1. My Journey with PCOS
  2. How Fitness Changed My Life
  3. Karen's Advice to You - Part 1
  4. Karen's Advice to You - Conclusion
  5. Stories from Other Women

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