Diabetes is (mostly) an invisible disease, and often hides out in your body in the company of other chronic conditions (because why have ONE thing wrong with your body when you could have lots, am I right?!). I am a master of invisible chronic conditions – it’s like my body is an Invisibility Cloak, and my internal organs are a clusterfuck of Horcruxes.*
One of the other conditions I have is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). It’s currently PCOS Awareness Month, and lots of people don’t know about it (which is surprising, because it’s SUPER common!). However, one thing that I’ve found even healthcare professionals are a bit sketchy on is how to thrive when you’re living with type 1 diabetes and PCOS. Where’s the info? Where are other people living with this?
Where’s the help? Where’s the help that’s not saturated in diet culture?
PCOS can be difficult to live with at times. My periods are ridiculous, and I still have the acne of a teenager in high school. The amount I sweat is embarrassing, and it’s at the point where I carry around a small hand-towel with me to constantly dab at my face (all the help I can find with this online basically says “avoid the heat” – guys, I sweat when it’s SNOWING). Ironically, the hair from my head constantly falls out while I have more hair than I know what to do with all over my face and the rest of my body (I own three sets of tweezers and a top-of-the-line epilator, make of that what you will…). But you know what the hardest part of living with type 1 diabetes and PCOS is?
It’s weight loss always being front and centre of my management, for both conditions.
Through stalking PCOS hashtags on social media I’ve found fellow type 1 women who also have PCOS, and we are running into a bit of a problem. All the ‘solutions’ I can find to managing my PCOS are losing weight, usually through the ketogenic diet. In the normal PCOS spaces this advice is rampant – in the type 1 diabetes space, it’s all I see. Is it any wonder that women with type 1 and PCOS think weight loss is the be all and end all? PCOS is a complex condition, and weight loss is not a magic pill, yet it’s recommended by everyone – and you know what? I am NOT about that.
Why am I against it?
Because weight loss does not ‘cure’ PCOS. It can help it, but with weight loss also comes muscle and a balanced diet. I already exercise and eat a wide array of foods – I’m not sliding backwards into disordered eating territory to keep my PCOS at bay if I’m going to spend the rest of my life terrified of bread again.
Because weight loss for me results in restriction, self-hatred, and obsession. That is not a way to live. I’m currently the heaviest and HAPPIEST I’ve ever been, and I intend to keep kicking goals, regardless of my dress size.
Because weight loss is a never-ending quest towards a goal that is always getting further away. The more you lose, the further you want to go. There’s always more you could do, one more weight to lift, one more kilometre to run. I’ve been there – exercise loses it’s shine, your body becomes a project instead of a vessel, and food becomes both a reward and a punishment.
I’m not spending my life saying no to my sister’s Christmas cake or a freshly cooked baguette because my body decided to work against me. Food is an experience, not just nourishment, and I’m not throwing away all the hard work that I’ve done on listening to my body and eating intuitively to spend my life once again chasing this dream of an unattainable body under the guise of ‘health’.
So what to do?
I’m feeling a little stuck, to be honest. How I manage my PCOS has a direct effect on my diabetes, and vice-versa! However, I’m trying to approach managing my PCOS like I try to manage my other conditions – by listening to what my body needs and reacting accordingly. I think this is what we, as a diabetes community, need to move towards – a way of managing PCOS that is less weight focused! We live with pressure every day to lose weight – from society in general, from the diabetes community, from the PCOS community, and often from our healthcare team. Stress and mental health are just as important in managing PCOS, yet it’s often put aside for the promotion of weight loss…and you know what goes hand in hand with dieting to lose weight? Stress and declining mental health!
I’ll continue to lift weights and exercise – not because I want to lose weight, but because it feels amazing and works miracles for my insulin sensitivity. I’ll continue to eat a balanced diet by listening to my body, and avoid foods that make me feel physically unwell – again, not because I want to lose weight, but because I want to feel like ME, and not a sick/cramping/fatigued (cheers IBS) version of me.
Find me a dietitian that will help me figure out what foods help manage my PCOS without reverting to an ultra-restrictive diet plan.
Find me a PT/exercise physiologist/gym who will work with me on an exercise routine without taking my body fat percentage or bringing out the scale.
Find me a community that knows it’s not our bodies that need to change, it’s our approach to them that does.
*If you laughed at that Harry Potter reference, 10 points to Gryffindor!