Can losing weight help PCOS?

April 21, 2024

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • PCOS is correlated with obesity.
  • Losing weight can help improve PCOS symptoms and boost your fertility.
  • It is possible to lose weight and keep it off with PCOS – having a good care team helps 

If you have polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, you might have experienced significant difficult losing weight. PCOS is an endocrine condition that is often accompanied by obesity. For women with PCOS, this can be a tricky paradox, as excess weight can exacerbate symptoms of PCOS, but losing weight with PCOS can be challenging.

If you're dealing with PCOS weight gain, there are plenty of steps you can take to lose weight and improve your health. With some lifestyle changes, professional guidance, and possible medical intervention, you can achieve a healthy weight and improve your PCOS symptoms.

Let's talk about how losing weight can help PCOS, what a good PCOS diet is, and how working with a registered dietitian can help you reach your goals.

The Connection Between PCOS & Weight

Research shows that women with polycystic ovarian syndrome are more likely to be overweight and obese then women without PCOS of the same age. Excess weight worsens all the reproductive and metabolic symptoms of the condition, including insulin resistance, hyperandrogenism, and more.

Women with PCOS are also at greater risk of weight gain, with one study showing women with PCOS gaining an excess of 2.6 kg (5.7 lbs) over 10 years compared with women without PCOS. Both weight gain and obesity in adulthood have several risk factors, including heart disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes. All of this can make fertility and conception difficult as well.

As such, many women with PCOS need to lose weight in order to improve their overall health and have a better chance at conceiving. However, many believe that PCOS is the reason they can’t lose weight. But research shows that women with or without PCOS are able to lose the same amount of weight when provided with the same suppor, which suggests they are not at a metabolic disadvantage. This means it is crucial to have a qualified, supportive care team that can help navigate PCOS weight loss.

With the right support, PCOS weight loss is possible. Click here to connect with a PCOS dietitian.

How Losing Weight Can Affect PCOS Symptoms

Since obesity is such a risk factor for women with PCOS, exacerbating insulin resistance, inflammation, cyst development, and more, weight loss can make a significant difference in overall PCOS symptoms. Even modest weight loss has a positive impact on ovulation; specifically, 10% weight loss is likely necessary to improve birth rate significantly.

If you remain overweight or obese, you are less likely to find symptom relief and even less likely to conceive successfully, if that is something you’re pursuing.

Losing weight, particularly for those who are obese, can lead to improvements in your cycle and irregular periods in general, which is a foundational element of all women’s health.

How Can I Lose Weight with PCOS?

PCOS and PCOS weight gain is typically treated through a combination of lifestyle changes and medical treatment. You will likely work with an OB/GYN, a registered dietitian, and possibly additional providers to lose weight, improve your symptoms, and conceive.

To lose weight successfully, you will need to make some dietary adjustments. This is where the dietitian comes in – a qualified RD will be able to educate you on the right foods to eat, what foods to avoid, how much to eat, your eating schedule, and more. They will help design a meal plan that is realistic for you to follow and keeps you satisfied while still remaining compliant with their guidelines.

Guidelines to lose weight with polycystic ovarian syndrome include:

  • Reducing carbs to improve insulin resistance
  • Focusing on non-starchy vegetables
  • Prioritizing fiber to feel fuller for longer
  • Eating balanced meals to avoid blood sugar spikes
  • Nourishing your gut with prebiotic and probiotic foods
  • Exercising regularly

Try to eat mindfully. Eating too quickly can result in overeating if you don’t give your body enough time to process what’s already been consumed. Women with PCOS are more likely to struggle with disordered eating, so mindfulness can be instrumental in cultivating a healthier relationship with food.

A registered dietitian can help with all of the above, from overcoming mental hurdles to putting together easy, nourishing meals that meet all of your goals and helping navigate any mental blocks you may have.

You may also be prescribed metformin, an insulin-sensitizing agent. This is prescribed both for people with PCOS and diabetes. Metformin specifically can aid in stimulating ovulation and, subsequently, conceiving. Current research only supports metformin’s efficacy in influencing ovulation, but in restoring a normal, healthy menstrual cycle, other positive side effects may result.

You may also be prescribed anti-androgenic medication to normalize androgen levels and reduce excess hair growth.

What Is the Best PCOS Diet for Weight Loss?

If you feel like you’ve “tried everything” and still can’t lose weight with PCOS, you’re not alone. Many women with PCOS struggle to lose weight and keep it off. They often get stuck in yo-yo dieting cycles, where they successfully lose weight only for it to come back a few months or years later. Many people with PCOS blame the condition for their weight struggles, but don’t lose hope – it is possible to lose weight and achieve a healthier weight to improve your PCOS symptoms.

There is no formal diet or exercise recommendation for PCOS. When it comes to exercise, you should strive for the standard 150-300 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise per week. Research shows that those with PCOS statistically eat less and move more, so even small tweaks to your lifestyle may help.

Foods to focus on to lose weight with PCOS include:

  • Fruits and vegetables with glycemic index, including leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables
  • Low-fat dairy in small quantities
  • Fish high in fatty acids
  • Lean meat and poultry
  • Healthy fats from olive oil, olives, fish oils, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and almonds
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains

Find more guidelines on how to eat for PCOS here.

Find a Dietitian Specializing in PCOS Treatment

As you can likely tell by now, diet plays a critical role in PCOS treatment and weight loss. In order to succeed, you need a trusted resource who can guide you every step of the way, teaching you about how to manage PCOS symptoms, creating meal plans, and supporting you on your PCOS weight loss journey.

As a board-certified provider, a dietitian can work directly with other members of your care team, ensuring holisitic alignment. RDs are highly educated on blood sugar and insulin resistance, and many of them even specialize in PCOS specifically, so you will be able to find a provider who can give you specific, targeted guidelines that will help improve your symptoms of PCOS.

Fay Nutrition has a network of qualified dietitians you can search to find an RD who focuses on PCOS and endocrine conditions. With Fay, you get matched with an RD who is covered by your health insurance, making care significantly more affordable.

Find a PCOS dietitian covered by your insurance today. Click here to get started.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.

  • BMC Endocrine Disorders - Barriers and facilitators to weight management in overweight and obese women living in Australia with PCOS: a qualitative study
  • Clinical Endrocrinology - How to manage weight loss in women with obesity and PCOS seeking fertility?
  • Eating and Weight Disorders - Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity - Increased odds of disordered eating in polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  • Annals of Translational Medicine - Metformin use in women with polycystic ovary syndrome
  • World Health Organization - Physical Activity

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Maeve Ginsberg

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Maeve Ginsberg is a health and wellness writer with a personal passion for fitness. As an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and former powerlifter, she loves combining her interests in health with her writing. Maeve has a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. 

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.