When you think of Lee From America, you probably think of delicious recipes and a joyously healthy lifestyle. But creator Lee Tilghman also lives with a hormone imbalance condition, called polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS.
In April 2016, after experiencing increasingly intrusive symptoms like food intolerances, adrenal fatigue, anxiety, irregular periods, and uncontrollable acne, Lee went to her endocrinologist to discover that she had PCOS.
Though initially caught off guard by the diagnosis, Lee has taken PCOS by the horns. She’s found ways to continue thriving through a combination of self-care, diet, exercise, and a healthy mindset.
PCOS affects — that amounts to some 5 million women in the United States alone. We caught up with Lee to learn more about the secrets to her success, and to discuss why it’s so important to be open about your health.
Q&A with Lee From America
What led you to open up about your diagnosis of PCOS?
I opened up about PCOS because I finally felt like I had a grip on my syndromes and the experience to share what I went through with others. I had also gone through the initial shock of finding out I had it. With my job, it’s a lot of self-discovery, and I am discovering that I really need to go through something and live it before I speak openly about it.
What was the most challenging aspect of going public with your PCOS diagnosis? Are you happy you did?
“Going public” about PCOS was one of the best decisions I ever made. I had no idea the feedback I’d get. I also had no idea so many people had it. I mean, I read the statistics in how common it was, but when I opened up about it, I got literally hundreds of emails and messages from readers saying they had it.
There is something about opening up about something that helps others. Surprisingly, it has helped me too in ways that I could never have seen. It removed some of the “shame” I had associated about my PCOS, and made me feel that much more confident in myself and that I was on the right track to health and happiness.
I found a lifestyle that has worked with me through my own trial, error, research, and self-discovery, and to share that with others is a gift that I am grateful for every day. Nothing, and I mean nothing, makes me happier than getting a note from a reader who [has struggled] with PCOS, and has found solace in reading my blog.
What is the biggest misconception about PCOS?
That you are “destined for a life of infertility, acne-ridden skin, hair loss, anxiety, depression, obesity, insulin issues, and stress, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.” I remember reading these exact words on a very well-known medical site that was the first thing that came up when I Googled PCOS.
Has your diagnosis with PCOS held you back in any way?
Absolutely not. Of course, there are some opportunities in life that I have to say “no” to, i.e., too many social engagements, stressful situations, over-boozing, because of PCOS. But I don’t view this as holding me back.
I also can’t throw all my cares about my health out the window, or else my PCOS symptoms will show up immediately — bloat, digestive issues, acne, fatigue, anxiety. When I stick to my diet and lifestyle, I thrive. My symptoms completely disappear and I feel amazing, like anything is possible. Luckily, I know the exact framework my body needs to function at its highest so it’s not a problem.
What makes you feel sexy and confident while living with PCOS?
Taking awesome care of myself. Getting ample sleep, following a low-carb and high-fat diet, regular exercise, cycle syncing, and extreme self-care are all a part of this. I also am sure to surround myself with a close-knit group of supportive friends and family, which is one of the most important things in life. You can’t do life alone.
You also mentioned on your blog that things like nightly baths, journaling, and long walks help you deal physically and mentally with PCOS. What is the current ‘changemaker’ you rely on for support with your day to day?
I love cycle syncing. It’s a way of living your life according to your cycle. There are four cycles that premenopausal women go through each month: menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal.
With each phase there are certain exercises, activities, types of food, and social gatherings that you should plan for. Cycle syncing is a way for me to follow and support my body’s natural rhythm rather than fighting against it.
What are your guidelines when making a PCOS-friendly meal?
Veggies, veggies, veggies. I make sure to eat veggies with nearly every meal. Also, quality protein such as beans, salmon, chicken, or grass-fed lamb are also all a part of my everyday diet. I don’t fear fats: I love coconut butter, almond butter, olive oil, and avocado, and am sure to incorporate those into every meal.
What advice would you give to women with PCOS?
It is possible to live a full, beautiful, and healthy life with PCOS. Know that you are in control of your symptoms. Once I finally found out I had PCOS and put a name to my host of symptoms, I felt a huge wave of relief as well as a bit of depression while reading up on the disease.
I also urge all women, but especially those with PCOS, to read “WomanCode” by Alisa Vitti. This book changed my life and informed me of my own body in ways that no health ed class ever could.
How can others help support women living with PCOS?
Listen. Be there for that person. Support them. Finding out one has PCOS can bring a mix of emotions, including a bit of a dark period upon diagnosis. Listening to that person can make all the difference.
I also urge family members and friends to support those who have PCOS and their new healthy lifestyles. I hear women all too often say how hard it is with family members to follow their PCOS-friendly lifestyle around loved ones.
Support them and join them if you can. Go on hikes with them! Cook a healthy, home-cooked meal together. Take a weekend off drinking. You will both feel better!