My name is Jessica, I am 38 and I have a confession! I have PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and I am addicted to carbs! Breads, pastas, crackers, rice – you name it, my body craves it. Truth be told, growing up as an 80’s and 90’s child, I didn’t know any better. I don’t blame my parents for introducing me to some of my worst nutritional habits. My folks, while forward thinkers and doers were still consumed by the trends of society. They were brain-washed, just as much as I was on the glorification of fast food, processed food and the amazement of microwave dinners; oh the novelty that dinner could be made in minutes and was far cheaper and less time-consuming than making a real wholesome dinner (or lunch or breakfast). While my mother was an amazing cook, even her food was highly unhealthy and extremely high in carbs. I come from a deep rooted Italian family, where pasta was always a staple meal. Even if we were having grilled chicken we had a nice pasta salad as the side dish. So, if I wasn’t eating a ton of carbs for every meal and snack, I was eating processed foods galore. This is how I grew up…and honestly, I loved it.
Fast forward to my teenage years, I was overweight and depressed.
I found comfort in food when dealing with the depression and the typical teenage angst. My life was honestly quite lovely, but lonely! I was totally depressed; I hated my acne and my big chubby round belly! I would often be upset because I wanted to be thin like my friends. It wasn’t that I was lazy or inactive; I was very social and involved in extracurricular activities. I remember going to the doctor once and he said to me… “No offense, but your body type is an Apple”. I was like, “What the heck is that all about? What does that even mean, “an apple”?”
When I found out it meant that I am as round as an apple, my self-worth and self-esteem went out the window! What was wrong with me? Why was I so different? Why on earth could I gain 8 lbs in one day? I was a freak of nature and I hated myself.
Then when I was about 17, my life took a crazy turn.
Traumatic events hit me from every side. First, my adorable grandfather passed away unexpectedly from complications from diabetes. Within days of his passing, my dear father was hospitalized with pancreatitis. After tests and tests my dad was also diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the very thing that took my grandfather’s life. Then shortly after his diagnosis I was in a car accident. It was the day after a blizzard and I was driving. I hit a patch of ice coming down a hill and spun out of control into a big truck and was ambulanced to the hospital. At the hospital I was experiencing horrible stomach pains. They injected my body with a dye and wheeled me in to take a full body scan. It was after that scan that my life forever changed.
The doctors came in and said “we have found a mass on one of your ovaries the size of a tennis ball”.
I went numb, I didn’t know what that meant. All I heard was “mass” and my head grew heavy and dizzy. I remember having to set up quite a few different appointments, and that alone gave me a great deal of anxiety. At one of the appointments, I was mortified that I had to get a trans-vaginal ultrasound. This is a prop that is inserted vaginally to see inside your reproductive organs, including the uterus, ovaries, and cervix. Afterwards, even though it only took less than 10 minutes, I felt completely violated. I was only 17! The results from the blood work and the trans-vaginal ultrasound came back that it was a cyst on my ovaries and that I need to keep a close eye on it.
I was sent to doctor after doctor and it wasn’t until I saw a lovely and young physician’s assistant that things started to make sense. I remember her very well because she was the first person that I truly felt connected to; I trusted and resonated with her. She suggested that I might have a hormonal imbalance, called PCOS.
She said that I totally fit the profile: depression, weight gain in my abdomen, acne and large cysts on my ovaries, fatigue, etc….
She then referred me to see an endocrinologist. To this day I feel blessed that I crossed paths with the physician assistant on her last day at the clinic. And…with that referral to the endocrinologist, I began my journey with living with PCOS.
What is an endocrinologist?
Many women and men are not familiar with this type of physician and it isn’t a common name discussed regularly around the water cooler at the office. Endocrinologists are specifically trained physicians who diagnose diseases related to the glands in the endocrine system (https://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/the-endocrine-system), which is the system that controls hormones in the body. The endocrinologist’s primary goal is to help restore hormonal balance in the body.
The long bumpy road to feeling better!
When all my tests came back and showed that I did indeed have PCOS, I was not given many resources to help me other than traditional western medicine approaches like Metformin and birth control pills. This “helped” short term, but birth control pills made me gain more weight.
After trying different birth control dosages and types, I finally said “screw this” and stopped taking them. And metformin, while it helped manage my blood sugar, I didn’t have a good experience and spent A LOT of time in the bathroom. It was embarrassing. Soon, I was fed up with how awful this regimen made me feel that I stopped it all, because these treatments made me feel worse than I did before finding out I had PCOS.
Years passed me by with no relief and I truly felt that I was doomed to live this way for the rest of my life. I figured, there was nothing I could do about it. I was destine to be chubby, I was destined to have bad acne on my face and back and I was going to have to deal with the pain I had in my lower back when the cysts on my ovaries returned, time and time again. I was depressed, which meant I was tired and in turn I reverted to food as a form of comfort.
I was a hot mess and I just wanted to feel better. I lived this way for many years. It was my normal and I hated it, and I hated myself!
Changing My Lifestyle…was the golden ticket to my PCOS health
During my quest to find relief from my PCOS symptoms, I ended up meeting some really fantastic people. There was one group in particular that really helped shape and shift my outlook on life. These amazing people were active in nature and in the community; they would have eye-opening gatherings where they would promote the preservation of the Amazon Rain Forest and all the plants that thrived within this endangered and healing environment. This was the first time I was really introduced to the concept of Food as Medicine. I attended gatherings where the food served was like no other. It was colorful like a rainbow, interesting and best of all, delicious. I was introduced to this new mindset that what we put into our bodies can either harm you or help you. My consciousness continued to grow and shift and I was feeling better, so I embraced every bit of it and dove deep into this lifestyle. I was practicing yoga and going to the gym, lifting weights, enjoying time in nature, hiking, and loving every moment of being part of this amazing health-driving community. I felt absolutely incredible. I didn’t hurt, my acne cleared up, my depression dissipated. It was truly amazing.
11 Things I do to Help Me Feel My Best
- The first and most important thing is embracing and understanding that food is medicine. I changed the way I ate and continue to eat. I introduce more whole foods in my daily diet. I have reduced and eliminated as much processed foods as possible. This was the hardest part and still is, but I know my body loves me when I eat properly.
- I cut down on grains, and tried to fill my hunger with alternatives. For example, instead of spaghetti and meatballs, I substitute Spaghetti Squash and meatballs for a no-grain meal.
- I stopped drinking beer and now if I drink I have a glass of wine or a vodka drink instead. In general th