What Does A PCOS Belly Look Like

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects many women of childbearing age. One of its common symptoms is abdominal weight gain, which is sometimes referred to as the PCOS belly.

The PCOS belly doesn't look like other types of weight gain, as many women report having a big stomach while the rest of the body remains the same. This means that even skinny people can have PCOS.

The good news is you can do a couple of things to resolve this condition. 

Read on to learn the following:

  • What is PCOS?

  • What does a PCOS belly look like?

  • How do you know if you have a PCOS belly?

  • Causes

  • Risk factors

  • What can you do about it?

  • Exercises for PCOS belly

  • PCOS diet, etc.

Have you considered clinical trials for Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is PCOS?

It's a hormonal disorder characterized by small cysts on the ovaries and elevated androgen (male) hormones. People with PCOS also have insulin resistance. Women have female hormones and the male hormone testosterone. These hormones typically coexist in harmony. But women with PCOS experience abnormally high male hormones.

This hormonal imbalance prevents the egg cells from maturing properly, thus resulting in a cyst. Women with this condition can have multiple cysts on their ovaries. That being said, not all women with PCOS have ovarian cysts, so watch out for other symptoms like:

  • Facial hair

  • Abnormal or irregular periods

  • Acne

  • Male pattern baldness or thinning hair

  • Skin tags

  • Weight gain, usually in the lower abdominal area

How do you know if you have a PCOS belly?

There's no specific test to diagnose PCOS, so your doctor will make an assessment based on the following:

  • A waist-to-hip ratio of >0.87 may indicate the presence of PCOS

  • A discussion of your menstrual history, dietary habits, lifestyle, and genetics

  • A blood test to determine if you have high male hormones

  • A pelvic ultrasound to diagnose polycystic ovaries

What is a PCOS belly, and what causes it?

Women with PCOS tend to have higher fat deposits in the abdominal area, independent of their body mass index. This means women with lean bodies or of normal weight can get a PCOS belly too.

Experts believe that elevated male hormones in women are what causes PCOS belly. Several other factors may play a role in the big and bloated stomach. This includes insulin resistance, genetics, hormonal imbalance, metabolism defects, and inflammation.

As we understand what a PCOS belly is, it's important to understand the two types of fats in the body: subcutaneous and visceral fat.

The former is stored beneath the skin and is soft to the touch. Subcutaneous fat is less damaging but still challenging to lose.

On the other hand, you can't feel visceral because it's located in the belly's deepest recesses. It surrounds internal organs, so it’s considered dangerous for your health.

A risk factor for PCOS and other metabolic issues is too much visceral fat. But the good news is that this fat is easier to lose.

What does a PCOS belly look like?

As mentioned earlier, a PCOS belly shape differs from other weight gain types. It's usually large and bloated but can also be small and round, depending on genes and other factors. It involves visceral fat accumulation in the lower abdomen and typically feels hard to touch.

A PCOS belly is also characterized by a high waist-to-hip ratio of >0.87 (apple body shape). Still, some people may not have any noticeable stomach changes. In that case, watch out for other symptoms of PCOS.

Risks of PCOS belly and related weight gain

Abdominal fat is considered to be the most dangerous. It surrounds internal organs and puts you at a greater risk of developing serious health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and liver problems.

Other risks of PCOS belly include:

  • Subfertility: Women with PCOS have cysts in/on their ovaries, which can interfere with ovulation. Excess weight can also affect a woman's fertility. As a result, you may have trouble getting pregnant. Luckily, this can be resolved with treatment options and lifestyle changes.

  • Endometrial cancer: Women experience a monthly buildup of the endometrial lining, which sheds through menstruation. For women with PCOS, the lining is not shed sufficiently due to irregular periods, and this may lead to an increased risk of endometrial cancer.

  • Sleep apnea: Increased body weight and high testosterone levels in PCOS increase obstructive sleep apnea risk.

How can I get rid of my PCOS belly?

Losing a PCOS belly is important for alleviating the symptoms and health problems associated with PCOS. But it can be quite tricky. These are some of the long-term solutions, so be ready to exercise some patience:

Eat healthily

A nutritious and well-balanced diet is essential to managing a PCOS belly. While there is no ‘correct’ diet for the management of PCOS, in general, a diet should look at reducing insulin resistance and inflammation to reduce belly fat and weight loss. Some diets which have shown favorable research results for PCOS are:

Low glycemic index (GI) diet

It’s known that high insulin levels can worsen PCOS symptoms, which is why a low GI diet is one of the best treatments for PCOS. The body digests foods with a low GI more slowly, thus avoiding fluctuations and spikes in blood sugar. These foods also keep you full longer to avoid overeating. 

Some of the foods to include in a low GI diet include:

  • Whole grains

  • Vegetables

  • Legumes

  • Nuts

  • Seeds

  • Whole fruits rather than juices

  • Lean proteins like fish and chicken breast

High GI foods to avoid include:

  • White rice

  • White and whole wheat bread

  • Cakes, cookies, and sweet treats

  • Breakfast cereals and cereal bars

  • Sweetened dairy products, such as fruit yogurts

  • Dried fruits, such as dates, raisins, and cranberries

  • Crisps and rice crackers

  • Potatoes and fries

  • Sugar-containing beverages: soda, sweet tea, and sports drinks

Anti-inflammatory diet

As mentioned earlier, inflammation plays a major role in PCOS. Therefore, an anti-inflammatory diet will help reduce symptoms. There are a lot of foods you can eat for an anti-inflammatory diet, including but not limited to:

  • Nuts

  • Berries

  • Green, leafy vegetables

  • Seeds

  • Natural sweeteners like maple syrup

  • Beans and lentils

  • Whole grains

  • Olive and coconut oils

  • Berries

  • Fatty fish

  • Tomatoes

  • Broccoli

  • Avocados

  • Green tea

  • Mushroom

  • Dark chocolate and cocoa

Dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet

A DASH diet was originally created to help lower blood pressure. This diet is high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, while also including low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. The diet limits foods high in saturated fat, refined grains, sodium, and sweets. 

In a study, overweight women with PCOS who followed the DASH diet showed significant improvements in insulin resistance and were able to lose abdominal fat.¹

From the information above, a PCOS diet, in general, would look as follows:

  • Eat whole foods. This includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, eggs, meat, etc. Think of food that you look at and recognize as something that exists in nature.

  • Eat more complex carbs while limiting simple sugars.

  • Eat enough healthy fats, such as olives, avocados, oily fish, nuts, and seeds.

  • Cut dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, and cream).

  • Avoid processed foods, including packaged foods, additives, and added sugars.

  • Eat enough protein & fiber.

  • Drink a lot of fluids (plain water, herbal teas, and hot beverages).

  • Avoid or limit alcohol consumption.

  • Include probiotic (fermented) and prebiotic (fiber) foods.

  • Reduce caffeine intake.

  • Eat fermented foods to promote gut health and weight management.

As you make healthy food choices, it would also help if you practiced mindful eating. It allows you to be more aware of bodily cues like hunger, cravings, and fullness. You will be able to address problematic eating behaviors like emotional eating and binge eating, and this will prevent weight gain.

Exercises for PCOS belly

A healthy weight is not only about the calories you consume but the ones you burn. For this reason, you'll need regular exercise to help with PCOS-related weight loss.

It's important to get the right type and amount of exercise, depending on your overall weight, age, and energy levels. Remember that you cannot spot-reduce fat; hence, you must adopt a whole-body approach to eliminate your PCOS belly.

To achieve the best results, exercise should include both aerobic and weight/resistance training. 

Some great exercises include:

  • High-intensity activities such as HIIT

  • Strength-training exercises such as Pilates and weightlifting

  • Yoga

  • Walking

  • Sports such as hockey and tennis

As suggested by the Centre for Research Excellence in PCOS, women who want to maintain their health and current weight should do:

  • 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity OR 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity OR a combination (Moderate exercise causes an increase in heart rate, but you can still maintain a conversation. Vigorous exercise increases the heart rate — you’ll be sweating and panting, so you generally cannot have a conversation.)

  • Weight training twice per week on non-consecutive days

For women who need to improve their health and wish to lose weight, it is suggested to do:

  • 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity OR 150 minutes per week of vigorous activity, OR a combination

  • Weight training twice per week on non-consecutive days

Get enough sleep

Insufficient sleep is associated with insulin resistance and hormonal imbalance. It also affects overall health. It makes you less active during the day and affects your eating habits.

These are all risks associated with PCOS. It goes without saying that you need quality sleep, about 7–8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every day. 

Here are a few tips to help you achieve that:

  • Have a sleep routine that includes sleeping and waking up at the same time every day

  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet

  • Sleep on a firm mattress with clean bedding

  • Avoid distractions in your bedroom, like phones and other screens

Manage stress

Stress is another risk factor for PCOS belly. Stress raises cortisol levels,, which, in turn, causes insulin resistance and weight gain.

PCOS can trigger stress, making it a vicious cycle. To help you break this cycle, here are a few tips for managing stress:

  • Yoga

  • Meditation

  • Listening to soothing music

  • Exercising

  • Journaling

  • Connect with people you love

  • Slow down

Reducing stress puts you in a better frame of mind to make healthier decisions.

The lowdown

PCOS can disrupt a woman's physical and mental health. Luckily, losing weight through healthy food choices and a healthy lifestyle can help combat the PCOS belly. 

Don't forget that PCOS is quite complicated. You might experience its symptoms differently from another person. This is why an individual approach to managing this condition is key to achieving your goals faster.

Frequently asked questions

There's so much more information about PCOS belly that it can't fit in a single text.

Can I have a flat stomach with PCOS?

As mentioned earlier, the PCOS belly shape is usually large and bloated but can also be small. This means you can have a flat stomach and still have PCOS, so watch out for other symptoms. Those with a big belly can gain a flat tummy through dietary and lifestyle changes.

What happens if PCOS is left untreated?

PCOS may be non-curable, but you can manage it. Failure to do so can have short and long-term health consequences. It can lead to diabetes, heart disease, infertility, sleep problems, obesity, and liver disorders.

Can PCOS go away with weight loss?

Unfortunately, there's no cure for this condition. But losing weight helps to balance hormone levels and improve insulin resistance. This, in turn, improves PCOS symptoms.

There are treatment options like metformin, hormonal contraception, and spironolactone. But they are aimed at managing symptoms.

Have you considered clinical trials for Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

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