Positive PCOS

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Low GI Diet: My Experience

Posted by Allie on 12th September 2015

Useful tips on how to follow a low glycemic index (GI) diet to help achieve, and maintain, a healthy weight
Photo: Positive PCOS

When I was diagnosed with PCOS at 19, the consultant sent me off with a leaflet on the condition and a prescription for a drug called Metformin. She told me that I needed to lose weight, that it would help my symptoms. I am sure that consultant had the very best intentions for my care but I walked out of the hospital feeling so frustrated. I had just been told I would be taking tablets every day without even knowing how they worked and without being given any lifestyle or nutritional advice.

I had never given any thought to what I ate before my diagnosis. I was definitely a sugar lover! In fact, looking back, some of my favourite childhood memories involved eating junk food. When I was diagnosed I had no understanding of how food affected our bodies but I soon figured out that there was a link. I remember an experiment I showed my Mum when I was first diagnosed where I'd have clear skin then eat some junk food. Just as predicted, I'd always have a big, red, painful spot on my face the next morning. Although it sucked at the time, I did know that now I had PCOS I just couldn't get away with eating the indulgent chocolate chip pancakes and greasy take-away like I had before.

It felt like I tried every weird and wonderful diet possible over the next couple of years, "Sorry, I don't eat carbs anymore. Oh no, I eat carbs now but without any protein. Whoops, I can eat carbs and protein now, no problem". It took years of research, and trial and error, to work out the best way to eat to control my symptoms. When I started following a low GI diet it finally felt like my health started to slot into place. You can read more about low GI foods and how they can help with PCOS here.

I was so utterly fed up of my PCOS symptoms. I was desperate to get healthy again

I've tried some crazy diets and really shouldn't have been surprised that they didn't work! I am personally not an advocate of being on a diet - the idea of depriving yourself for a short term gain isn't sustainable, realistic or healthy to me. It's taken time and a conscious effort to follow a low GI diet and some aspects of it are more challenging than others. There are times when I feel like I'm forever explaining to people why I pass on chocolates and cakes offered. It's incredible how many times I've been told, "Go on, one slice won't hurt you!"

The truth is I got to a point where I was so utterly fed up of my PCOS symptoms that, when noticing the benefits of following a low GI diet, I threw myself into this new way of eating wholeheartedly. I was desperate to get healthy again. I've been following a low GI diet for years, successfully losing my 'PCOS weight' and maintaining a healthy one ever since. My skin has cleared, my periods are regular and I feel like I have more energy. One of the reasons I have been able to implement low GI foods into the way I eat is because it doesn't feel like a diet in the conventional sense at all. It's a way of eating for life by choosing nutritious foods. I genuinely do not feel that I have deprived or starved myself in any way. Revising what I put into my body has been one of the most incredible learning experiences. I've found out a way to eat that works for me and my life with PCOS symptoms under control is a much healthier and happier one!

Here are some tips I have picked up along the way that help me to follow a low GI diet:

Swap foods: Eating low GI foods is actually pretty simple - you need to swap higher GI foods for lower ones. For example, I don't eat a lot of rice but if I do eat it I try to make sure it's basmati which has a lower GI than other types. I eat sweet potatoes instead of baked potatoes. Sweet potatoes are so delicious that this doesn't even feel like a swap, I could happily eat them all day every day! But if I'm somewhere where there isn't a sweet potato on offer and I have a jacket potato, I'll make sure I have it with a salad to lower the overall GI of the meal.

Be organised and take snacks: Think about what you will eat for the week or next day, meal plan, write shopping lists. This stops me from reaching out for foods that aren't good for my body. Don't get caught out! Getting home from work hungry can be a dangerous time for snacking in my experience! If I have something available to eat, like houmous and vegetables or fruit, I can put a stop to those hunger pangs.

If you know you're going to be somewhere you might struggle to find something to eat, be prepared. Travelling is a perfect example. I've learnt this the hard way on long haul flights with a rumbling stomach seriously considering eating all the leftover cakes, cheese and bread available! I am the woman who takes my own muesli in my suitcase to places I know won't serve healthy options and yes, I have eaten it from a cup in an airport terminal. My travel essentials? I take my own oatbars, nuts and green tea bags whenever I travel and always carry a bottle of water.

Eating out: Eating isn't just about health, it's also about pleasure and is a social activity too. The great thing about eating a low GI diet is that it's not about depriving yourself or not being able to share food with, or in the company of, others.

With any meal, I always make sure there's some sort of vegetable on my plate. Eating vegetables with a meal can lower its overall GI so I order a side salad or vegetables with no dressing and I skip dessert unless there's fresh fruit. Saying that, there are plenty of ways to make low GI desserts, it's just a matter of swapping ingredients and having fun experimenting. I avoid dishes with lot of cream or butter in them and ask for sauces to be put on the side so I can choose whether I want to eat it and how much. Of course, there are some places that don't offer the types of foods I want to eat but I can almost always find something in most places and it definitely doesn't stop me eating out. I don't beat myself up if I eat something every now and then that's not low GI. Life is too short!

Hurray, you can still eat pasta: For years my friends thought I didn't eat carbs and seemed truly relieved when they realised I love pasta! Often feared by many dieters, pasta is in fact low GI but only when it is cooked al dente, which is actually the authentic Italian way to eat it anyway. Eating pasta when it's barely tender means it's digested more slowly with slower glucose release making it low GI. I can easily plough through bowls of the stuff so have to remind myself to eat moderate portion sizes. Another tip, try to avoid those creamy pasta sauces - they may taste great but are higher in saturated fats than, for example, simple tomato sauces.

Drink lots of water: It's not necessarily a low GI tip but an important one all the same. When you're thirsty you're actually already dehydrated. I used to struggle with knowing how much water I'd drunk in a day so I now carry a 750ml or 1 litre bottle of water around with me everywhere I go and I know I need to drink at least 2 full bottles every day. It means I can keep track of how much I'm drinking and it motivates me to drink more when I see a full bottle sitting on my desk or in my bag.

Remember, it's a way of life. Eating low GI foods has helped me manage my symptoms and I don't treat it as a 'diet'. It truly is about healthy eating as a way of life. For me, the benefits of eating healthily far outweighs not eating certain foods anymore. It can be a real challenge to change the foods you eat but the benefits to your health can be a real motivator to continue choosing delicious, nutritious, low GI options.

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