If you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), lifestyle measures like changing your diet and starting an exercise routine may help you reach and maintain a moderate weight.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition involving hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, and the development of small cysts on one or both ovaries.

Research suggests that even a 5% weight loss can improve insulin resistance, hormone levels, menstrual cycles, fertility, and overall quality of life in people with PCOS.

Here are 12 helpful tips for losing weight with PCOS.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article uses the term “women” to refer to sex assigned at birth.

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Decreasing your carbohydrate consumption may help manage PCOS due to its impact on insulin levels.

Insulin resistance occurs when your cells respond abnormally to the hormone insulin. Anywhere from 35–80% of people with PCOS experience this.

Insulin is necessary for blood sugar regulation and energy storage in your body. Research suggests that high levels of insulin are linked to increased body fat and weight gain in the general population and in people with PCOS.

As fiber helps you stay full after a meal, a high fiber diet may promote weight loss in people with PCOS.

In the United States, the dietary reference intake for fiber is 14 grams (g) per 1,000 calories, or around 25 g per day for women. However, most Americans consume only about 15 g of fiber per day.

In a 2019 study, researchers linked higher fiber intake to lower insulin resistance, less total body fat, and less belly fat in people with PCOS.

Learn more about food high in fiber.

Protein helps stabilize blood sugar and increases feelings of fullness after a meal.

It may also aid weight loss by reducing cravings, helping you burn more calories, and regulating hunger hormones.

In an older 2012 study, 57 people with PCOS consumed either a high protein diet consisting of more than 40% of calories from protein and 30% from fat or a standard diet consisting of less than 15% from protein and 30% from fat.

Individuals in the high protein group lost an average of 9.7 pounds (4.4 kilograms) after 6 months — significantly more than those in the control group.

If you’re concerned you’re not getting enough protein, consider adding it to your meals or choosing high protein snacks. Healthy high protein foods include eggs, nuts, dairy, meat, and seafood.

Having plenty of healthy fats in your diet may help you feel more satisfied after meals and tackle weight loss and other symptoms of PCOS.

Avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, and nut butter are some foods that contain healthy fats. Combining healthy fat with a protein source can further increase the filling effects of meals and snacks.

Healthy gut bacteria may play a role in metabolism and weight maintenance.

Studies suggest that people with PCOS may have fewer healthy gut bacteria than those without this condition.

Emerging research also suggests that certain probiotic strains may have positive effects on weight loss.

However, other research has produced mixed results.

Still, eating foods high in probiotics — such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods — may help increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut.

Another tip to lose weight with PCOS is to cut down on your intake of less nutritious foods.

Processed foods and added sugars may raise blood sugar levels and increase your risk of insulin resistance, which is linked to obesity.

People with PCOS may process sugar differently than those without it. Research shows that women with PCOS experience larger spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels after consuming the same amount of sugar as women without this condition.

Experts recommend that people with PCOS limit their consumption of added sugars and refined carbs. This may help them manage symptoms and maintain a moderate body weight.

Foods high in added sugar and refined carbs include cakes, cookies, candy, and fast food.

Exercise is a well-known strategy for increasing weight loss.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week.

While people with PCOS lost less fat than those without this condition, the exercise regimen did result in loss of belly fat and improvements in insulin sensitivity.

Experts increasingly acknowledge sleep as central to overall health.

If you have PCOS, you may experience sleep disturbances, including excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea, and insomnia.

Lack of sleep has been shown to increase the activity of hormones that drive hunger, such as ghrelin and cortisol, which may cause you to eat more throughout the day.

In fact, researchers have linked insufficient sleep with a higher risk of having overweight or obesity.

The CDC suggests that adults should aim for at least 7 hours of sleep each night.

Stress can be a risk factor for weight gain. This means reducing stress levels may help you manage your weight.

Stress increases levels of cortisol, a hormone that your adrenal glands produce. Chronically high cortisol levels are linked to insulin resistance and weight gain.

Chronic stress also increases your risk of gaining belly fat. In turn, belly fat increases inflammation, which triggers your body to make more cortisol, creating a vicious cycle.

To lower your cortisol levels, consider incorporating stress management techniques into your day-to-day life, such as:

  • practicing yoga
  • spending time in nature
  • practicing meditation
  • spending more time doing things you enjoy

Is it difficult to lose weight with PCOS?

People who have PCOS may find it difficult to lose weight due to hormonal imbalances caused by the condition. While this can make reaching and maintaining a moderate weight challenging, lifestyle measures like making dietary changes, exercising, and getting enough sleep can help.

What does PCOS belly look like?

PCOS belly can look different from typical weight gain. It commonly resembles a protruding stomach, and you may find that most of your weight gain accumulates in this area.

What foods should I avoid with PCOS?

If you have PCOS, it can be helpful to avoid or limit processed foods and those that are high in sugar. This includes foods such as cakes, cookies, candy, and fast food.

PCOS can make it difficult for people to lose weight.

A balanced, nutritious diet that is low in inflammatory foods — such as refined carbs and highly processed foods — and rich in whole foods, protein, healthy fats, and fiber may aid weight loss.

It’s also important to consider lifestyle factors. Regular exercise, stress management, and sleep are all important when it comes to healthy weight loss.

If you have PCOS and are having trouble losing weight, consider trying some of the tips above.