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Why PCOS makes you hungry

There are a lot of frustrating symptoms associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Weight, infertility, acne, hirsutism, just to name a few. To add to the list is disordered appetite control. There are some things you can do to improve appetite regulation with a PCOS diet so we’ll look into that a little.

But, before we do, let’s have a look at some of the underlying science.

PCOS and hunger hormones

A recent study compared 16 pairs of women, matched for age and body mass index. One woman in the pair had PCOS and the other did not (1). They took a series of blood tests following a meal and asked each woman to rate their hunger levels.

You might not be surprised to hear that women with PCOS felt less satisfied after their meal than the women without PCOS. They also had lower levels of Cholecystokinin (CCK) after the meal. CCK is the hormone that tells your body that you are full after a meal.

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So, if your CCK levels are lower, that means that you will be hungrier after meals.

Now, this has some serious implications.

Firstly, it can cause us to gain weight as we may eat more than we need to.

Secondly, it will make sticking to any kind of calorie restricted diet that much harder.

But, there is some good news. There are some things that you can do to improve your appetite regulation with PCOS.

Get your testosterone levels under control

One of the main ways to improve your CCK levels and feeling of fullness is to improve your testosterone levels.

You see, the researchers also found a connection between high testosterone levels and low levels of CCK. In other words, the higher your testosterone levels, the more hungry you are likely to feel after meals.

Now, there are lots of other benefits to lowering testosterone levels, of course. Here are some of them:

  • Less hair growth (hirsutism)
  • Less hair loss
  • Improved skin
  • More regular menstrual cycle

So, how do you go about lowering those testosterone levels? Here are some ways:

Increase Sex Hormone Binding Globulin

Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) tends to be lower in women with PCOS. It has a really important job of picking up any free testosterone or estrogen in the blood. If your SHBG levels are low, you’ll have more testosterone to cause havoc in your body.

Now, there are a couple of things you can do to increase SHBG levels.

Get your Insulin levels under control

All women’s ovaries produce testosterone (as do the adrenals). The problem is that our ovaries are particularly sensitive to insulin and produce too much testosterone, in response to insulin.

So, if we can get our insulin under control, we should see a decrease in our testosterone levels.

You can manage insulin by:

  • Eating foods with a low glycemic load
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding highly processed and refined foods

Taking supplements

There are a number of key supplements that have been shown to help lower testosterone levels in women with PCOS.

Eliminate Dairy

I’ve written about dairy before but to give you a quick recap, dairy contains a hormone called IGF-1. It mimics insulin and causes your ovaries to release testosterone. So, I really recommend you consider giving up dairy.

I have many women who have told me that once they changed their diet, their hunger levels were much more manageable.

Why is that?

Because their insulin levels were improved, which meant testosterone levels were better and CCK (the hunger hormone) was boosted.

So, the good news is that you are not doomed to a life of permanent hunger but there are things that you can do to improve your appetite regulation.

If you have seen any improvements in your hunger levels or have any other thoughts, I’d love to hear from you! Leave me a comment below.

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Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and PCOS expert who has been a leader in the online PCOS space for over 8 years. Tarryn has the support of leading clinicians from around the world who support her scientific approach to understanding and talking about PCOS this includes all medical journals and ongoing research. You can read more about Tarryn and the team here.

38 Responses

38 Responses

  1. I’ve been on the ovasitol for about 2 weeks now. My facial acne is the worst it has ever been. My hunger is absolutely insane. I’m about ready to give up the ovasitol. I’m also taking Vit D, metformin, cinnamon and eating organic ground flax daily, along with a healthy diet and exercise. I am at my wits end. Why do my symptoms seem to be getting worse instead of better?

  2. Hi I have PCOS and take metformin, that helps. I’ve been trying to stay away from dairy. I crave sweets a lot. I drink a ton of water. PCOS also causes your blood pressure to be elevated and your cholesterol levels to rise slowly . It’s so nerve wracking and frustrating. My weight is a yo-yo. I’m so glad I came across you. Thank you for the information.

  3. I have PCOD, recently after 4 years of metformin, Doc has finally taken me off them. My insulin is under control but my testosterone is very high. This article of yours is very timely. Doc has advised Aldectone to reduce testosterone but I don’t react too well to them. Eliminating little dairy that I have minimises already diminished food choices 😥 Please advise what else I can do? I work out almost every day and very careful about my diet. Thanks

  4. Feelin constantly hungry for me has been helped for most of the month (other than when I’m PMS-ing) by taking a prescribed Progesterone supplement. I have PCOS and don’t ovulate (thus, on my own, I almost never have periods, which is a problem with layers building up in my cervix never shedding). Lower dose of progesterone (200 mg) did nothing to help me have a cycle. So I now take 400 mg progesterone for set 12 days out of every month (I do 10-21). My cycle is regular now. Also, I noticed that overall, I’m not hungry all the time like I had normally felt before. My doctor (infertility endocrinologist) was surprised when I told her that; she also said that she has heard of some women finding that to be the case, as it helps the pleasure part of the brain function properly (must be the part you taught me about today! Lol).

    Side note: another fun fact about 400mg progesterone, at least for me, has been that once kicked in, it feels like you drank 4-5 margaritas 😳 sometimes {often} I stagger, slur words. I have online shopped and purchased ridiculous items that I never would have bought (or paid so much for) “sober.” I have called people I know late at night, and have no memory of having called them. All in al, it’s a great time 😜🤣

  5. I always wondered why I was so hungry all the time. Sometimes I will eat a ton and still be hungry. I work 12 hr shifts at the hospital and I will eat healthy snacks every couple hours and by the time I am 9 hours into the shift I am shaking like I am hypoglycemic, as if I haven’t eaten at all. I recently purchased a food diary to keep track of how food makes me feel. All of this due to having PCOS. Hoping to figure out what works best for me.

  6. Hi.. I have PCOS and low BMI. Struggling with lots of symptoms like acne and histurism. It’s frustrating. I have been avoiding dairy since some time and started including spearmint in my diet. I usually eat the leaves themselves. I hope that is helping. Also, I just came to know that butter is OK. Can’t say if I am happy or annoyed to that finding though.

  7. Hi, would non cow dairy, ie goats cheese be ok or does that still impact on testosterone levels?

    Thanks

    Lisa

  8. Hi, after my workout I ussualy have smoothie with soya milk, plant based protein low fat yogurt and some fruits. I have pcos I am insulin resistent and my testosterone is a bit increased, trying now to hold it under control without pill.But since I am skinny (55kg, 16%fat) my doktor told me not to be on very strict diet cause I shouldnt lose weight because of my cycle. So my question is since I dont height problems can I still keep low fat yogurt, maybe some grains(oats), cause I dont want to be less weight than now.

  9. The PCOS diet really works for me, but every evening after dinner I am so hungry, even more hungry than before dinner. I force myself to drink some tea instead of eating, or sometimes I eat something healthy like cucumber or a carrot with hummus. I think it has to do with the fact that I am used to eating two or three plates of pasta and instead of that I now have really healthy dinners with vegetables and of course no pasta. It is so annoying and frustrating and difficult to keep eating healthy in the evenings because we have a lot of unhealthy snacks for the kids. I hope this hunger will get less if I stick to the diet for a longer period of time…

  10. Does no dairy count for all food that has diary already in them? Ex. breads have milk in the ingredients. mashed potatoes.

  11. I have been having extremely low blood sugar episodes. I do not have diabetes. Is this related to the PCOS?

  12. Hi? I absolutely love your site and all the info you supply. I can’t tell you how frustrated I’ve been since finding out I have pcos and my weight struggles. But you know all about it. I have a quick question. I can deal with cutting out dairy(cheese will be a struggle, lol) but does this include eggs as well???

  13. Im suffering from pcos n trying to loose weight and conceive from past 2 yrs n im not able to achieve anything along with hairloss and growth in facial hair.wat shud i do?

    1. Hey my doctor put me on metformin to help for infertility and blood sugar.May want to try that if you aren’t already.

    1. I’ve been recently diagnosed with PCOS and just switched to Almond milk & coconut milk ( I alternate)
      If you have irregular periods just ask your doc that you want to be tested for PCOS & they will know what blood tests to do. For me all my blood tests came back fine & nothing indicated that I could potentially have PCOS but I asked for my testosterone levels to be checked & sure enough they were higher than normal. My doctor then wrote up a referral to have internal and external ultrasounds done & it was then confirmed I had polycystic ovaries. Hope that helps you.. P.S Some doctors aren’t always on the ball, so educate yourself, ask questions & push to get whatever you need checked for your peace of mind. If I didn’t ask to get my testosterone checked, I’d be undiagnosed right now.

    2. A sonogram (ultrasound) of your ovaries by your Ob-gyn can determine if you have pcos. There are 3 things that indicate if you have PCOS and you must have 2 out of 3 to be diagnosed. Polycystic ovaries (determined with ultrasound), hyperandrogenism, and/or irregular menstrual cycles.

  14. I was so excited to read these finding. I have been experimenting with diet, exercise, and suppliments sense I was diagnosed with PCOS a year ago. I also have PMDD so at times I struggle with which is causing the trouble on a given day. If I have both act up in the same day I find it hard to function. I have found that most people do not understand the daily struggles of either. This verifies that my finding are solid. Dairy has always been an issue. I like knowing this can be helped without a ton of medication. Personally, losing weight has been a huge challenge. In light of this I will make further adjustments. Thank You!!!

    1. I also suffer from PCOS and PMDD. I have changed diet, exercise and suppliments over the coarse of this past year. I have found juicing to help curb the sugar cravings. I do not take any medications. I plan to do this holistically. I go to a chiropractor by weekly to help with body pain and cramping. Exercise is the most benificial. It helps keep me feeling even and provides a release. I struggle with losing weight more now. So I must take one day at a time. At this point just being able to function daily is great. My symptoms decreased dramatically when I removed medications and fixed my diet. I recommend organic foods as much as possible, too.

  15. And what u tell us about linen and Omega 3? My acné disappeared having kinen an my lh is normal. I miss a post about linen.

    Love ur blog and work. I’m from spain, sorry for mistakes.

    Kings regards

  16. I am borderline low on calcium. What would you recommend to ensure my calcium levels are correct when cutting out dairy?

    1. If you are already borderline, a supplement would probably be helpful. Make sure that you are also taking Vitamin D as you need it to absorb calcium. Lots of leafy greens would also help

      1. It’s a myth that the majority of our calcium comes from dairy. Most dairy is fat and protein. You can get calcium from leafy greens(kale, collard greens, bok choy), molasses, broccoli, figs, sardines, canned salmon, white beans, oranges, okra, and almonds. Check out this article, http://www.health.com/health/m/gallery/0,,20845429_12,00.html

  17. Just wondering if I should add in a calcium supplement now since I’ve given up dairy? I’ve lost so much weight since I started the gluten free dairy free diet in February, and started all the supplements. I’m switching to ovasitol as well but since I’m over 40 I wondered about calcium loss?

    1. Well done Jillian! Weight bearing exercise os more is very important for bone density (probably even more so than calcium). You can also get calcium from leafy green vegetables. If you’re worried, you can add a supplmenet.

    1. Sadia, it depends on what you put in them. Some smoothies can have a very high glycemic load with a lot of sugary foods in them. My smoothie normally consists of a banana, some berries, an avocado, almond butter, spinach and vanilla extract.

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