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What Does a PCOS Nutritionist Do?

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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 issues, 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 treatments available that can help individuals manage their symptoms. With the proper guidance and support, you can very much live a healthy and fulfilling life with PCOS. One of the best ways to navigate this health condition is by working with a PCOS nutritionist.

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At a Glance:

  • What Is a PCOS Nutritionist? – A PCOS nutritionist will offer professional medical advice and work with you to create a customized treatment 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 from seeing a PCOS nutritionist, but if you are suffering from an eating disorder, are currently pregnant, or are trying to lose excess weight, you can significantly benefit from the help of an expert.
  • How a PCOS Dietitian Can Help You Create Healthy Lifestyle Choices – A PCOS nutritionist can help with unwanted hair growth, acne, contraception, the prevention of type II diabetes, and weight loss, among other things.
  • Is a PCOS Registered Dietitian the Same as a PCOS Nutritionist? – While PCOS dietitians and nutritionists are similar, these two healthcare professionals have different titles and credentials. 

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What Is a PCOS Nutritionist?

If you are thinking about hiring a PCOS nutritionist, you need to understand the ins and outs of this role. PCOS nutritionists work with women to help them manage this health condition. Women with PCOS experience a wide range of symptoms, from irregular periods and excess hair growth to acne and weight gain. 

Your registered dietitian nutritionist will collaborate with you to create a customized treatment plan that targets your specific symptoms and health goals. Each treatment 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.

Curious to learn more about PCOS? Read more here

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 nutritionist. 

Eating Disorders

PCOS affects an individual's physical health, but it also affects their 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 an eating disorder, 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 an eating disorder, 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. 

Pregnancy

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.

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 professional will also encourage you to stay active during your pregnancy, with a few modifications to your regular workout routine. 

Weight Management

About half of all women with PCOS are overweight or obese. Not only do many women with PCOS want help losing 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, without the right tools and resources, it’s easy 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.

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How a PCOS Dietitian Can Help You Create Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Women with PCOS grapple with a wide range of symptoms, which means there are also many benefits of working with a PCOS nutritionist.

Hair Growth

One of the most common symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is excessive hair growth in undesired places, 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 unwanted hair growth by shaving, waxing, or laser hair removal, diet and lifestyle changes can also put a stop to this issue. For example, managing blood glucose levels and insulin levels can stop unwanted hair growth. Inositol supplements and spearmint tea have also been known to stem unwanted 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 treated with diet, medication, 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. 

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. 

Conception 

Women with PCOS have a higher than average level of androgens (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 necessary lifestyle changes you need to 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

Roughly half of all women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) will develop pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes before the age of 40. This alarming statistic underscores the need for aggressive interventions that can reduce the chances of women with PCOS developing diabetes. Fortunately, 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 professional 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 encourage women with PCOS to take this test every one to two years.

Weight Gain

Due to hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, and inflammation related to PCOS, it is 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 way that’s healthy and sustainable long term. This meal plan will likely focus on reducing your intake of carbs, processed foods, and added sugars and increasing your consumption of fiber, protein, healthy fats, and fermented foods. 

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

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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. If you want to work with a nutritionist with the most advanced credentials, you will want to connect with a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). 

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 chip away at 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. In this day and age, you can easily match with a registered PCOS nutritionist through an online portal, like Thrive. Thrive will do the heavy lifting of matching you with a PCOS nutritionist that is compatible with your working style, health goals, and schedule. 

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About the author

Mariel Miranda
Mariel is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lends her talents to creating valuable content that enriches communities, strengthens cultures, and moves people to change. With over ten years of writing experience and as an advocate for physiological well-being, her breadth of work extends from parenting podcasts to health and wellness pieces.

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