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What Does a PCOS Nutritionist Do?

Discover how working with a PCOS nutritionist may help you take control of your condition.

If you are living with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), you may not be as alone as you think. PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility, affecting 6% to 12% of women in the United States of reproductive age. Aside from fertility difficulty, women with PCOS also typically have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, excess male hormone (androgen) levels, and polycystic ovaries. 

While there is no cure for PCOS, there are various ways of managing PCOS symptoms. One of the best ways to navigate this health condition is by working with a PCOS nutritionist. In this article, we’ll dive into what a PCOS nutritionist does and how their expert guidance and support could help you live a healthy and fulfilling life with PCOS.

At a Glance

  • What is a PCOS nutritionist? A PCOS nutritionist can offer professional medical advice and work with you to create a customized plan that targets your specific symptoms and health goals.
  • Am I a good candidate to work with a PCOS nutritionist? Most women with PCOS can benefit, particularly if you are suffering from disordered eating, are currently pregnant, or are trying to manage your weight.
  • How a PCOS dietitian can help you create healthy lifestyle choices? A PCOS nutritionist can help with unwanted hair growth, acne, contraception, minimizing the risk of type II diabetes, weight management, and more.
  • Is a PCOS registered dietitian the same as a PCOS nutritionist? While similar, these two healthcare professionals have different titles and credentials. 

What Is a PCOS Nutritionist?

If you are thinking about hiring a PCOS nutritionist, here is a look at the ins and outs of this role. PCOS nutritionists work with women to help them manage the symptoms of this health condition and develop a custom PCOS diet plan to meet their needs. Women with PCOS experience a wide range of symptoms, from irregular periods and excess hair growth to acne, inflammation, and weight gain.

Your registered dietitian nutritionist will collaborate with you to create a customized nutrition plan that targets your specific symptoms and health goals. Each nutrition plan will include dietary changes, as well as lifestyle changes, such as getting regular exercise and reducing stress. To top that off, a registered nutritionist will also teach you more about PCOS and nutrition education so you can begin to make informed decisions on your own and learn which foods are best for you.

How a PCOS Dietitian Can Help You Create Healthy Lifestyle Choices

In addition to helping you manage a wide range of PCOS symptoms, there are many potential benefits of working with a PCOS nutritionist. Here are some examples:

Hair Growth

One of the most common symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is excessive hair growth, such as on the chin, belly, face, arms, or back. Hair growth is caused by high androgen levels, such as testosterone. 

While many women tend to combat this hair growth by shaving, waxing, or laser hair removal, diet and lifestyle changes can also address hair growth. For example, managing blood glucose levels and insulin levels can help prevent hair growth. Inositol supplements and spearmint tea have also been known to prevent hair growth.

Acne

Almost 30% of women with PCOS suffer from acne. PCOS-related acne is also caused by high or out-of-balance hormone levels. Androgens are a large contributing factor in the development of acne. 

PCOS-related acne can be managed with diet, medications, oral contraceptives, and lifestyle changes. A nutritionist can help guide you through these changes. For example, increasing your water intake can do wonders for your skin, although it's important to understand what is the right amount of water intake for your body.

Reducing your stress levels also plays a role in acne treatment. Many nutritionists will recommend that you begin getting eight hours of sleep a night, speak to a therapist, begin meditation, and focus more on self-care and relaxation to help improve your skin. 

Contraception

Women with PCOS have a higher than average level of androgen hormones (male hormones) in their bodies, which can interfere with the development and release of eggs from the ovaries. This can make it more difficult to conceive. That said, there is increasing evidence that suggests diet and exercise can enhance a woman’s hormonal function and improve ovulation

A PCOS nutritionist can help guide you through the lifestyle changes you can make to help you start or continue to grow your family. For instance, a nutritionist will likely recommend that you distribute your calorie intake evenly throughout the day and focus on consuming whole grains, fiber, and non-starchy vegetables, among other things. 

Type II Diabetes

Another common symptom of PCOS is diabetes. Roughly half of all women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) will develop pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes before the age of 40. Although this statistic may seem alarming, diabetes can be prevented with early detection and treatment.

To help prevent the onset of diabetes, your PCOS nutritionist may prescribe medication, such as hormonal birth control pills, dietary supplements, creams, or other medication. Your healthcare provider will also conduct various tests to monitor your blood sugar levels. The oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) is the best test for detecting impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes in those with PCOS. The Androgen Excess and PCOS Society encourages women with PCOS to take this test every one to two years.

Weight Management

Due to hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, and inflammation related to PCOS, it can be difficult for women with this health condition to shed weight. A PCOS nutritionist can help create a customized meal plan that is catered toward losing weight in a healthy and sustainable way for the long term.

It’s important for a PCOS nutritionist to also walk you through mindful eating. Women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing disordered eating. Additionally, consuming too few calories can also negatively impact hormones that control appetite. Chronic calorie restriction can slow down your metabolism, which may lead to weight gain over time.

Am I a Good Candidate to Work With a PCOS Nutritionist? 

If you are living with PCOS, then you should strongly consider connecting with a nutritionist for at least a few sessions. This healthcare expert can give you an introductory lesson about your health condition, as well as explain basic ways to healthfully navigate PCOS. However, if you are grappling with one of the scenarios below, then you will particularly benefit from working with a PCOS nutritionist. 

You struggle with disordered eating

PCOS affects an individual's physical health, but it also affects one's mental health. There is evidence to suggest that women with PCOS have an increased risk of grappling with an eating disorder than women without PCOS. One study found that the prevalence of disordered eating in people with PCOS was four times higher than in individuals without PCOS. Women with PCOS have been found to struggle particularly with bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and night eating syndrome. 

If you are living with PCOS and disordered eating behavior, you can very much benefit from the help of a nutritionist. A nutritionist can help create a specialized meal plan that is not focused on dieting and weight loss but on healthy eating behaviors. If a client is grappling with disordered eating, many PCOS nutritionists will utilize the “Health at Every Size” (HAES) plan. This approach focuses on eating regularly from a range of enjoyable foods and engaging in moderate physical activity for the sake of health rather than weight loss. 

You are looking to become or currently are pregnant

Not only do women with PCOS struggle with infertility, but there is also a higher chance of them facing health risks and complications during pregnancy. Women with PCOS are three times more likely to miscarry during the first few months of pregnancy and have a greater chance of developing gestational diabetes. Some healthcare professionals may even say that pregnancy should be considered a state of pre-gestational diabetes for women with PCOS, and as a precaution, diet alterations should immediately go into effect to prevent the onset of gestational diabetes.

Through lifestyle management and meal planning, a registered dietitian can help you work to prevent gestational diabetes and achieve a healthy pregnancy. A registered dietitian will most likely recommend that you increase your fiber intake to at least 25 grams of fiber per day, as well as increase your protein consumption. Your healthcare provider will also encourage you to stay active during your pregnancy with a few modifications to your regular workout routine. 

You struggle with weight management

Studies show that about half of all women with PCOS are overweight or obese. This suggests that if you are experiencing weight gain as a symptom of PCOS, that is incredibly normal. Not only do many women with PCOS want help managing their weight, but weight loss also improves many PCOS symptoms. Losing weight can help regulate blood sugar levels, normalize menstrual cycles, and improve fertility. That said, it is essential for your health not to spiral into unhealthy weight loss practices. 

A PCOS nutritionist can help you lose weight in a way that’s safe and sustainable, as well as assist with weight regain prevention. Your healthcare professional can create a customized meal plan that helps you monitor your portion sizes, eat a balanced diet, limit added sugars and salt, and choose heart-healthy fats. A PCOS nutritionist can also help you develop a sustainable exercise plan catered to your current exercise levels and health goals. 

Is a PCOS Registered Dietitian the Same as a PCOS Nutritionist? 

A PCOS registered dietitian and a PCOS registered nutritionist perform very similar services. Both healthcare professionals help their clients treat PCOS through diet and lifestyle changes. 

The main difference between dietitians and nutritionists is the two professionals have different credentials.

A registered dietitian will have the letters “RD” or “RDN” in their title. On the other hand, nutritionists have varying levels of experience. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, so it’s important to review their experience and qualifications. If you want to work with a nutritionist with the most advanced credentials, you will want to connect with a certified nutrition specialist (CDN). 

Setting Realistic Success Goals for Working With a PCOS Nutritionist

Whether you are trying to lose weight or get pregnant, it’s important to know that a PCOS nutritionist is not a band-aid solution. While a PCOS nutritionist can equip you with the tools and information you need to reach your goals, you also need to put in a lot of independent work. Most PCOS symptoms will not disappear overnight, and it will take commitment and motivation to safely and healthily move toward your goals over time. 

How to Get Started With a PCOS Nutritionist Today

If you are looking to connect with a PCOS nutritionist near you, you don't need to locate the nearest PCOS nutrition center. You can easily match with a registered PCOS nutritionist through an online portal like Top Nutrition Coaching.

Top Nutrition Coaching will do the heavy lifting of matching you with a PCOS nutritionist that is compatible with your working style, health goals, and schedule. Not only are all of our experts registered dietitians, but you are entitled to an introductory call to ensure that you are matched with the right professional for your individual needs.

If you're struggling with PCOS symptoms, working with a dietitian who specializes in managing symptoms of PCOS can help you take control of your own health.

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About the author

Nicolette Star Maggiolo, RD, LDN
I'm a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with education from Boston University and clinical training from both Brigham & Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I specialize in helping the military and non-military individuals embrace nutrition as a partner in both their mental and physical health.

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