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PCOS Xmas Survival Guide

The season for being jolly may be upon us, but for anyone with PCOS negotiating the indulgences of the festive period can be a minefield. All the extra commitments and seemingly endless supply of treats and post-work bubbles can play havoc with our hormone balance. Throw in shorter days, stressful gift buying trips, Christmas parties and entertaining the relatives and it’s easy to see why even the best health habits tend to falter at this time of year.
So how do you survive the rigours of this month without the painful consequences of falling off the proverbial wagon? The good news is that with a bit of forward planning it is possible to enjoy the festive traditions and look after your body, without feeling like a social pariah. Below are our top tips for getting the best out of this month while keeping your hormones happy:

Plan ahead
Eating well may seem like a challenge at this time of year with so many tempting treats on offer. Planning ahead can make life a lot easier however. Keep healthy snacks handy – making sensible choices is very difficult when you are starving hungry! Carry a packet of unroasted nuts in your bag for emergencies, or aim to have a snack before you leave the house. Hummus with some carrot or sweet pepper sticks or a boiled egg with half an avocado are nourishing go-to snacks.

Always eat breakfast
It may be tempting to think about skipping breakfast, especially if you feel you have over-indulged the night before or have a big dinner planned that evening. However skipping breakfast sends your blood sugar on a roller coaster which makes those sweet treats even harder to resist later on. Eating a protein-rich breakfast helps to regulate your blood sugar and balance your hormones. Try an omelette with sautéed spinach, peppers and tomatoes, or smoked salmon with poached eggs, avocado and pumpkin seeds. If you are in a rush toasted millet or buckwheat bread with almond butter and a handful of berries works well too.

Stay hydrated
Colder weather, arid central heating and one too many glasses of wine can all increase our hydration requirements at this time of year. Sip on still (and ideally filtered) water throughout the day to keep hydrated. A good way to make sure you are drinking enough is to check your urine, which should be clear or the colour of pale straw – any darker and you need to up your water intake. It is easy to confuse thirst with hunger, especially when you are tired, so before heading out for the evening drink a large glass of water to avoid any mixed messages.

Choose your tipple
Alcohol is often an inevitable part of the festive season, however it pays to be savvy in your choices. It is worth remembering alcohol is a form of sugar which can lead to insulin spikes and a hormone roller coaster that plays havoc with PCOS symptoms. Avoid drinking on an empty stomach by eating a protein-rich meal or snack to help keep blood sugar balanced and match every alcoholic drink with a glass of water. Stay clear of sugary mixers and focus on quality rather than quantity. It is better to have a glass or two of a tipple you genuinely enjoy, rather than knocking back drinks mindlessly. Chose the best you can afford and really savour it if you are going to indulge.

Watch your stress levels
Easier said than done perhaps, but keeping your stress levels in check is particularly important when you have PCOS. Overworked adrenals can cause the level of androgen hormones to rise, potentially
worsening symptoms such as acne, oily skin, mood swings, anxiety and depression. Androgen excess can also make it harder to lose excess weight, which is especially bad news at this time of year. Try incorporating mindfulness practice, yoga, walking or any other activity you find relaxing into each day to soothe your adrenals. You don’t have to devote hours to this – just 15-20 minutes every day can have a positive effect. If you only have five minutes that’s fine too. Do what you can and remember little and often is the key.

Eat your vegetables
The phytoestrogens in plant foods like chickpeas, flaxseeds, oats, lentils, alfalfa and apples can help keep androgen hormones in balance. While these may not be party foods (!) it is a good idea to base your daily diet around these and other nutrient-rich plant foods to support you during those times when you are not able to make such healthy choices. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and the humble Brussel sprout are nutrient powerhouses and are easy to find at this time of year. Swap traditional roast potatoes for sweet potatoes which are rich in important vitamins. Try sprinkling with cinnamon before cooking for a sweet hit that actually helps to balance blood sugar.

Keep your gut happy
Looking after the health of your gut is particularly important if you have PCOS. Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and traditional red cabbage can make a great addition to the leftover turkey and help feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. Swapping ice cream for natural yoghurt or coconut yoghurt can also give the friendly bacteria a boost and cut the sugar content.

Get your beauty sleep
Ensuring you get enough sleep helps to reduce insulin resistance – great news for women with PCOS. Maintaining a regular sleep cycle can be tough at this time of year, but aiming for eight hours a night can be vital for maintaining a healthy hormone balance. Limit smartphone and TV use at least an hour before bed to reduce your exposure to the blue light that is so disruptive to sleep. Ear plugs and eye masks can also be helpful if you have a noisy household!

Be kind to yourself
Perhaps most importantly, the best way of staying on track with your health goals over the festive season is to look after yourself. This means treating yourself with kindness and not beating yourself up if you deviate from your healthy eating plans. If you indulge one day, savour the moment then endeavour to start the next day afresh. Rather than putting unnecessary pressure on yourself or feeling guilty, make the choices that are best for you. Spend time with loved ones and people that make you smile, and enjoy the festivities! Your hormones will thank you for it in the long run.

Author: Katie Edwards

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