Beat body image distress by understanding the link between PCOS and weight gain

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Obesity is an inevitable symptom of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Read on to know what Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker, Bariatric & Laparoscopic Surgeon, Apollo and Global Hospitals, Mumbai has to say about the relation between the hormonal condition and weight gain.

“Oh my God, Anita you have put on so much weight since I saw you last! Why don’t you start exercising? I know this cool trainer, who can help you. Look at this diet on Google, I lost 5 kgs in one month.” This happened when Anita entered the office after 6 months of lockdown. After a long day at work, Anita reached home in the evening. The moment she was done with dinner; her mother started pestering her to go out for a walk. When she resisted, it was the usual tirade. Her mother said, “Look at you, you have put on so much weight. How are we going to find a good match for you? Don’t be lazy. You are not losing weight because you don’t make enough effort.”

Anita is 24-years-old and suffers from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormonal condition commonly seen in women of reproductive age group. Some of the common symptoms associated with PCOS are menstrual irregularities, acne, excessive body hair growth, infertility, insulin resistance (diabetes at times) thinning of scalp hair etc. Women who suffer from PCOS, also find it very difficult to lose weight and tend to suffer from obesity which can in turn lead to other health problems. PCOS and obesity form a vicious cycle where in PCOS leads to obesity and obesity in turn worsens PCOS. Unfortunately, the complex relationship between PCOS and obesity is not understood very clearly. As a result of this, women who suffer from this dual problem face a lot of stigma in the society. There are many myths and misconceptions which bolster weight bias and body image issues leading to low self-esteem in many women who suffer from PCOS and Obesity. They find themselves being pushed into various weight loss programs and overzealous exercise regimens. When they are unable to lose weight, our society labels them as lazy, inconsistent, a person with low will-power and eventually considers the person herself as the root cause behind her weight gain. 

Today we spend more time online than offline and there is immense pressure when it comes to looking a certain way. We are constantly exposed to muscular men with six pack abs and women with not an ounce of extra fat on their bodies. Our celebrities, well, most of them conform to this so-called, “perfect” idea of the human body. Everyone wants to look good. That’s human nature. However, unfortunately, more than feeling good and being healthy, we fall into the trap of conforming to societal norms created around us, aspiring for a certain kind of body. We also tend to overlook the fact that many a times, the perfect pictures have been digitally modified and these flawless bodies may not always be a result of following healthy practices. Moreover, this so-called “perfect” is not long lasting either.

Today body image is a topic of discussion everywhere. With our social lives revolving around social media, life has become more about our “images” being “liked” than our real self. Body image is the image of our body that we see in our mind. It is our relationship with our body and our perception, thoughts, feelings and actions when it comes to our physical appearance. Many of us suffer from body distortion and feel that our bodies are actually bigger than they really are. Having a negative body image can be devastating and can have an effect on our mental health. It can lead to issues with concentration at work, eating disorders, have effects on physical health and also on our relationships with others. Societal pressures add to these negative notions regarding body image. Many times, an underlying health issue like PCOS is completely ignored and the person finds herself trapped in a downward spiral of persistent weight gain, negative body image and low self-esteem. 

The first step towards healing begins with recognising that there is a problem. Women who are suffering from PCOS or have symptoms suggestive of PCOS must see a specialist at the earliest and seek medical help. Weight loss is an integral part of the treatment plan for PCOS but it is important to recognise that it is more difficult to lose weight for a person suffering from PCOS. Hence help from qualified weight loss specialists may be needed. Please do not self-medicate or fall into the trap of indulging into unsupervised internet- based weight loss programs. Lastly, we are not just our body or its image. While we must respect our body for all that it does for us and we need to take care of it, we must also know that we are much more. We are people with feelings, many other good qualities and capabilities. We are worthy human beings and our worth is not derived just from the way our body looks.

ALSO READ: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: Expert approved tips for weight loss for PCOS patients


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