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Updated: Nov 11, 2022

Did you know that binge eating is super common in people with PCOS?

In fact, eating disorders and disordered eating are more common in people with PCOS, compared to people without. It's estimated 1/3 of people with PCOS have eating disorders and disordered eating.

Right now there is no specific numbers for rates of binge eating in people with PCOS, but it's likely a really high percentage.

Binge eating is the most common form of disordered eating, and PCOS is a common health condition, so it makes sense there's some sort of correlation going on.

I work with a lot of people who are having a tough time with food, who also have PCOS. They often feel so fed up, confused, and have no idea how to deal with either. They say they can barely cope with their PCOS symptoms, never mind adding binging into the mix.

That's where people like me come in. You don't need to go at it alone. Nutrition professionals like me are here to help you. I care so much about helping you not just stop binging and have your PCOS more under control - but I want to help you build a full life. A full life where you have a wonderful relationship to food, and your PCOS is something you can manage without too much thought.

I want to help you gain clarity with your PCOS and your binge eating.

That's why I've written this blog which is sort of introduction to this big topic. In this blog, I am going to cover:

  • What PCOS actually is, why you have PCOS - all the facts! Even though you live with PCOS, I work with a lot of people who don't actually know too much about it

  • The big problems with how PCOS is currently treated

  • Why PCOS and binge eating are linked

  • My tips to manage PCOS when you also binge eat

What is PCOS?

I'm asked by people who have PCOS what actually is PCOS. Which might sound a bit strange, but actually most people are simply told "you have PCOS, off you go." So it makes sense they don't totally understand it.

Let me break it down.

PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. It is an endocrine aka a hormone condition that affects around 1 in 10 people with ovaries in the UK. PCOS is a syndrome which means there's no one specific set of symptoms - that means everyone's PCOS is different.

PCOS is usually diagnosed by your GP or by a endocrinologist. Many people are diagnosed in puberty, or when they have troubles becoming pregnant.

PCOS is diagnosed with the Rotterdam criteria, which needs to confirm 2 of the 3 things:

1. You have physical symptoms of PCOS, which can include a whole range of things. Including troubles becoming pregnant, irregular or missing periods, irregular or missing ovulation, acne, oily skin, thick coarse hair especially on the face, or dark patches on skin under the armpits.

2. You have a blood test that shows you have high testosterone levels

3. You have an ultrasound that shows "cysts" in the ovaries. There aren't cysts like we imagine them - they are eggs that haven't been fully released from the ovaries, and not like puss-filled spots.

Unfortunately it can take a long time to receive a PCOS diagnosis - the current statistics say around 2 years. And even after a diagnosis the treatment of PCOS isn't all that helpful.

Common treatment of PCOS

The majority of people with PCOS are given birth control to manage their symptoms (birth control is totally fine, FYI!) or they are told to "manage" their PCOS by losing weight. This standard of treatment in PCOS is unacceptable - it not only harms people in larger bodies, but it also makes people in smaller bodies really fear weight gain.

I want you to know that people of all size bodies have PCOS, and there is no cure. You deserve more than to be told to lose weight to manage your PCOS.

Not only is the usual treatment of PCOS harmful, it's also ineffective. We know that weight loss that is maintained does not exist for the vast majority of people. And for people with PCOS, it's even less likely.

Untreated PCOS can lead to an increased risk of some cancers, high cholesterol, infertility, cardiovascular disease, and insulin resistance that can lead to type 2 diabetes.

What if you binge eat and also have PCOS?

I support a lot of people in this exact situation. There's a big overlap in people with PCOS, and those who binge eat.

If you've ever tried to get support for your binge eating, you might have been told to lose weight. Or cut out certain foods, or restrict your food in some way.

Which you know is super unhelpful. And actually just makes things worse.

Why trying to lose weight makes PCOS and binge eating worse

Because living with a health condition and disordered eating isn't fun enough (!) people with PCOS and binging are subject to so much weight loss recommendations.

Here's the thing. Losing weight will not cure PCOS, or binge eating. In fact, trying to lose weight with either of these will probably be ineffective. So you can imagine how painstakingly difficult it will be with both of these combined.

And that's not an invite to "try harder" - you've already tried to hard already. You deserve a life free from constantly thinking about food and binging. You deserve to feel free and happy around food.

Why is weight-loss harder for people with PCOS?

  • People with PCOS often experience insulin resistance, which causes increased levels of insulin in the body. As increased insulin is linked with increased hunger and weight gain- it makes it harder to lose weight for people that have this insulin resistance.

  • PCOS involves a hormone imbalance and this has been known to implicate hunger hormones.

  • People with PCOS often have elevated levels of cortisol, and this is associated with high levels of stress. As stress is linked with weight gain this can make weight loss harder for people with PCOS.

Why is weight-loss harder for people who struggle with binge eating?

  • Did you know the biggest predictor of binge eating is restriction? This doesn't just mean physical restriction, it also means mental restriction. E.g. "I will eat everything I want now, then the diet starts on Monday" or "I hate eating this cake, this is the last time."

  • It might shock you to know that people who binge eat often are undereating. I know what you're thinking - but stick with me. So many people who binge eat save calories for the evening, or the weekends. They try to be "good" to make up for binges, but that only leads to more binges.

So what's the answer? My top 3 tips

When I work with people with PCOS who are struggling with binge eating, I like to take it back to the basics.

You're already bombarded with tips and tricks to manage your PCOS - you have so much knowledge in your head.

1. Manage your stress

This might sound easier said than done but there are some things you can make part of your routine that will make you better equipped to handle stress.

  • Getting enough sleep is essential for you to better manage stress. People live with different sleep patterns, some can thrive on 6 hours, I myself need about 8 minimum, so find out how much sleep you need.

  • Another way to achieve better sleep is to limit intake of caffeinated drinks after midday. This might sound too early to you but caffeine can stay in our system for up to 12 hours, so it's worth limiting if we want to achieve better sleep.

  • Another sleep tip: try and limit screen time before bed and better yet, keep your phone in another room at night.

  • Practicing mindfulness isn’t for everyone but it can be a great tool to manage stress. There are plenty of apps out there that can help you with this. It doesn’t need to be a class.

  • Taking up journaling can also be a good way to work through what has happened through your day. Writing your thoughts and feelings down is a great way of getting them out there.

2. Focus on your relationship to food

This is again easier said than done. Some questions I would invite you to think about are:

  • Do you currently eat enough and regularly? It might be hard to know this so a better way to think about it would be asking yourself do you feel that you have satisfied your hunger when you go to bed? If not then it’s likely you haven’t eaten enough during the day. Aim for three meals a day with snacks in between. If this sounds totally out of reach right now, it sounds like you benefit from some 1-1 support with an eating disorders and disordered nutrition. Get in touch here.

  • Do you honour your hunger? To put this more simply do you eat when you are hungry or do you try and suppress these hunger signals. If it’s the latter you should focus on trying to eat when you are hungry. If you've no idea when you're hungry, again it sounds like you need 1-1 support.