Fighting PCOS on Ketogenic Diet

I recently started a Ketogenic diet. It’s an ultra low-carb, moderate protein, and high-fat diet which also means using all the fat as fuel for my body instead of what it was used to – carbs. It’s the start of my fifth week today and it has been quite a journey so far.

Why Ketogenic?

My previous post is a recall of the time I discovered that I have PCOS. I was advised to follow a low-carb diet but I never got around to trying an extreme low-carb diet like Keto. I have been cautious about my carb intake (though not strict) since the diagnosis and I wanted to try something with what seemed like a positive outcome – being full of energy without the sugar!

The idea came after our recent trip to Venice last February. We stayed there for six days and it was too much. In my post, I talked about how we felt like we spent way too much time on that group of islands but another reason for my agony were the food options. It was exciting at first to know you don’t have much of a choice but to eat either pizza or pasta until exactly this became the problem. Somewhere in between I would have a serving of carpaccio just to even the score but I still felt like I was stuck with an uncomfortable amount of carbs and I was pretty sure I will not touch pizza or pasta again for the next couple of months. It was the perfect time to start a low-carb lifestyle!

After that holiday, I did some research on low-carb diets and found a couple of articles that were associated with reversing PCOS. It felt like there was hope for finally fixing some issues with my health and I grew more and more excited each day. I had to ask my wife if she would at least support me if she wouldn’t join me but she did her own research and felt like it was also the right diet for her. We did not start right away and dropped the carbs cold turkey, but we took our time to read a bit more about it and to eliminate some food from our pantry that we know we won’t be needing during this process and to make space for all the new food that is coming. It wasn’t until two weeks later when we finally started. We just got home from a weekend at my mom’s where we also went to a birthday party and that’s why we set that deadline so we don’t get distracted when we finally begin.

Goals:

  • Reduce the symptoms of my PCOS. I measure through frequency of my menstrual flow.
  • Have lots of energy. I want to be able to do many things without getting tired easily.
  • Get a jumpstart on a low-carb lifestyle. Starting Keto is like ditching carbs cold turkey which I believe can help with starting to get used to it. Once I’m done with Keto, I am planning to continue eating low-carb to keep my PCOS on track.

Additions to our pantry:

  • Almond flour / Coconut flour
  • Erythritol and other low-carb sweeteners
  • Avocados
  • Fresh leafy greens
  • Zucchini (for Zoodles)
  • Shirataki noodles
  • Cauliflower (for cauliflower rice!)
  • Cheese
  • Even more grass-fed Irish butter (we’ve been consuming this for years now)
  • Coconut and olive oils

Some of these foods we already had but since we would be consuming these on the regular, we had to stash some more.

How we got started:

In Keto, it is important to stick to your daily macronutrient allowance so we got started by getting to know this. There are apps that can help you calculate and keep track of your macronutrient intake. My app of choice is Lifesum. My diet consists of 6% carbs (20g), 14% protein (51g), and 80% fat (116g). Obviously, this is a huge difference compared to, say, when I used to have a breakfast roll in the morning which now would already exceed my present carb allowance.

Benefits of Ketogenic Diet in my experience:

  • One week into Ketogenic, I was surprised by already getting my period. The flow was pretty weak and it felt like it had been forced out sooner than my body had intended to. But that’s already one goal off the list!
  • I remember working the night shift during my first week. I am usually very tired the first night with serious brain-fog due to lack of sleep but I was surprised to have been able to fully concentrate and only felt the need for some shut-eye once I was laying comfortably in my bed at home.
  • You get introduced to lots of new food. Or even old ones that you have been taught to avoid all your life because of its high fat content.
  • It saved us a lot of money. Back when we were eating mostly anything, we wouldn’t even think twice to go out to eat because it seemed more convenient than grocery shopping and then cooking. Now we know we can’t just go out and expect people to serve us Keto food so we have to make our own every time we eat and it helps us becoming more aware of our intake.

Downsides of Ketogenic Diet:

Of course, it has some downsides too. But this is where you really decide whether this is for you or not.

  • In the first week, I have experienced pain in my limbs. At some point they were so extreme I could barely walk. It is a side-effect of Keto during the early stages and it was gone after a few days.
  • People will ask why you are not eating. They see you with a bowl of salad with avocados, some cheese cuts and olives, and a cup of tea and they will ask why you are not eating. You might be surrounded by people that don’t consider what you eat as food. But you have to be strong and remember your goal! During the first and second week there had been a farewell and a birthday party at the office and there was enough cake for everyone to get two servings. I am proud to say that I did not touch any of it.
  • Some people experience the so-called Keto Flu in the early stages of Keto. This is where one can experience flu-like symptoms while adjusting to the low-carb lifestyle.
  • My face is pretty clear most of the time but at some point in our fourth week, my skin started breaking out and I had to go out with two huge pimples on my face. They’re long gone now but I only ever experienced this back in high school and now on Keto. It might be all hormonal or a combination of some other things like working the night shift and stress.
  • The hardest part of Keto for me is constipation (no pun intended, so sorry about that). It did not get better until we integrated some psyllium husk into our diet which is rich in fibre and works greatly in some Keto bread recipes.
  • Anyone who wants to start Keto should get ready to have to explain to their friends why they won’t be joining them for drinks or dinner. Sure, there are foods that you can eat at a restaurant but it’s easy to get tempted to eat past your macros when you’re in a group.

I haven’t really decided yet for how long I will be doing this diet. I was hoping maybe about 3-4 months but I am actually afraid of eating carbohydrates again because of the temptation of having too much. It’s hard to have to adjust again to a new eating habit. Right now I am perfectly satisfied with restricting myself because I know that if I cheat once I may have to start all over again. But I also don’t believe that Keto is forever and it’s only there to help me get used to a low-carb life.

Now that I just started my fifth week of Keto, I surely have been noticing a few more physical changes. For one, I don’t feel bloated anymore. I am not sure what exactly made me feel that way before but eliminating it has surely helped. I try not to focus too much on my weight while on this diet because some of it will be gained back anyway once I start reintroducing carbs back into my diet, but I did lose up to 3.2kg as of today which is reasonable for the first month.

Another change that took me completely by surprise right now is that I just got my period again. This one, though, seems more like a real one unlike the brief and spotty one from last month. But, hey, these are just reminders that I might actually be on the right track to taking my health back. 🙂

My experience with PCOS

In 2011 I stopped having my regular periods. It would take about three months for a new cycle, at one point I had even gone up to six months without a drop of blood. I had never been one of those women who expected their periods every 28-30 days, sometimes it came earlier but most of the time up to a week later. Still, it wasn’t until that year that my cycle has changed dramatically.

That time I thought it may not be so bad to miss my period from time to time. I eliminated the chance of pregnancy immediately (for obvious reasons), so I asked myself, what do I need my period for anyway? For one, it saved me money for not having to fill up my tampon stash for months at a time and, honestly? I don’t know of a single woman who enjoys being on her period.

But I also remember that year to be the start of the darkest and most painful time in my life and it went on for up to three more years. I was a mess.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I sought the opinion of a doctor – my first time ever to meet with a gynaecologist. I did not know what to expect. It wasn’t because I was uncomfortable talking about my female problems that I waited this long to go, but another symptom of depression is procrastination and for that reason I never really found the energy to go until that year.

My gynaecologist that time was a sympathetic woman who made sure I was comfortable. She ran some tests, including an ultrasound that gave me the chance to also see what the inside of my uterus and ovaries looked like. When we were done with the ultrasound, we were at her desk again and she grabbed a book to explain to me what was really going on. She showed me a photo of ovaries which resembled what I saw in the ultrasound. Then she showed me another one that suggested what they were supposed to look like. She explained to me that this was the reason for my irregular cycles and gave me a name for it: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

She asked me about all the other changes I’ve noticed in the past three years. I told her that it was the time when I started gaining weight (10kg in a matter of months!), and that I had been depressed – all of which, she explained, are symptoms of but may or may not be caused by PCOS (the weight issue, though, was likely caused by PCOS because of its drastic gain and the inability to lose weight despite of my humble attempts at dieting and exercise).

At this point I was worried about what this really means for me. Will I have to take pills? Change my lifestyle? Can this lead to other, scarier illnesses or diseases? No, yes, yes.

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Forgive me for not finding the real source of this image but I really do think it’s the best visual representation I’ve come across so far.

Because I said right on that my plans for the future do not include bearing a child, she said there was no need to try to correct this with the use of pills and regular monitoring. What I could do, was try to eat less carbohydrates just to help reduce the symptoms because my body can’t handle high levels of sugar. Exercising, she said, is of course always recommended but I should manage my expectations because it will be much harder for me to actually reach a physically fit status than it is for others. The risk of diabetes is very high, also considering the fact that both my parents have it.

She couldn’t give an explanation as to why I have PCOS. She said that about 20% of women have it and there is no actual cause, it just happens. It was frustrating, of course, it still is, because it’s not exactly satisfying to hear from a doctor that there is no cure for what I have. It felt like I had lost total control of my body and and it’s hard when you can’t blame it on anyone or anything, not even yourself.

It’s been years now since that first visit at the doctor’s. Since that time I have had some semi-regular periods for months at a time (about every 30-40 days) but every now and again I still have to wait up to 4 months for the next flow. Exercising, as I have been warned, has been extra exhausting given that I don’t get the results I am aiming for at an average pace but I try not to put too much pressure on myself when it comes to that. Dieting, on the other hand, has been the trickiest part. I was confused by how I was supposed to lessen my carbohydrate/sugar intake when I was pretty sure I was consuming much less than the average person. You will not find sugar in my coffee or tea and I drink soda only on rare occasions. I would only ever use sugar in baking but when do I ever have the time to bake? And unlike most Filipinos, I never felt the need to have rice with my food every time I eat and I can go months without a serving of rice. Same with potatoes, pasta, and other high-carb staples and I’ve always preferred dark bread over white which I believed at that time to be a better alternative. It was so confusing and I did not know what to eliminate from my daily intake when I know most people feel fine eating all this food and more. But I am not like most people. Not anymore after hearing the truth.

Right now I have finally come to a stage where I have accepted my fate and decided to take back control over my body. I understand the risks of PCOS for my health while I age and the best I can do now is to become aware of these and try my hardest to prevent them from happening. My primary goal right now is to get my period every month as a proof that I have been doing all the right things. I am fully focusing on my nutrition now more than ever and I am excited for the results!

I will be creating a separate post soon to elaborate more on my trials and errors in having PCOS focusing on diet and nutrition. As I am writing this, I have been on a low-carb high-fat diet for four weeks which I intend to keep up for a couple of months before reintroducing some good carbohydrates into my body.

Although PCOS is common, I don’t get to talk to a lot of people who also have it so I’d love for you to share your experiences with me and maybe we can get through this together! 🙂

Having too much of Venice

It was my wife’s birthday last weekend and we had another last-minute change of plans. We were supposed to stay in Germany and go on a road trip but decided against it when we realised that the country was about to reach the peak of winter. Going on a road trip while it’s cold and slippery just didn’t seem appealing, not to mention, safe. Joan had always wanted to go to Venice but somehow the idea never materialised because, well, other trips and places got in the way. But, hey, we finally made it!

So let me just get this out of the way: Venice is stunning. Gorgeous. A masterpiece, really. But please forgive me if I don’t seem too excited about it as I go on on this entry. The trip just got frustrating at some point, somehow, and the weather is to blame for most of it. You won’t believe how much I miss the sun and not having to wrap myself up in layers and layers of clothing!

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Gloomy Grand Canal

 

Venice is famous for its canals and bridges. It’s made up of islands and, instead of by car, you get around by boat – or you walk. We have been warned about 430+ bridges of this city and we were worried about rolling our luggage around and having to carry them when crossing the bridges so we looked for a better alternative:

So this is a backpack that measures like the maximum size allowed on most European airlines for cabin bags and it opens up just like your favourite hard shell carry-on luggage! Minus the wheels and the handle, it is much lighter so it allows you to pack a little more and it’s perfect for walking around. It can take up 44 Litres which was just right for six days worth of thick winter clothing. Buy yours here.

Where to stay in Venice

Finding budget-friendly accommodation in this city is challenging especially if you choose to stay on the main island. For the first three nights we stayed in a litte boutique hotel in Murano. It’s a short boat ride away from the city centre and it has its own charm. It’s awfully quiet especially at night so it might not be the best option if you prefer a place that is more alive. During the day, you may want to visit one of the many glass factories.

For the remaining two nights, we moved to a different hotel right before our 72h public transportation ticket expired. Since we were staying in the city, we did not need to ride the boats anymore to get around. There is a clear difference between staying in the city and staying on another island. For one, you pay more for one night and get less (smaller room, no window, no breakfast). But on the bright side, you’re closer to all of this:

Burano

Burano is another island right off a postcard. Its colourful houses by the canals are attracting tourists, and for good reason. The sun came out when we went there and the light hit the brightly coloured houses beautifully.

More on Venice

It was rainy when we arrived and the first couple of days had been really windy. It was hard to endure walking around in -12°C temperature and it got frustrating. Other than just walking around and sight-seeing (or visiting some museums, galleries), there is not much else to do. I must admit, six days is a really long time to be staying in this city. Maybe a whole weekend would have been enough to keep the excitement going. It can also burn a huge hole in your pocket because eating out is just so expensive. But I’m glad to be finally home after consuming an uncomfortable amount of carbs and I’m sure I won’t be touching any pizza or pasta again for the next couple of weeks!

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Venice Faves