What Does a PCOS Belly Look Like? Plus, What You Can Do

If you have recently been diagnosed with PCOS, you probably have a lot of questions regarding symptoms and treatment options. It’s also likely you’ve stumbled across a few PCOS rumours – specifically those related to body weight and its link with polycystic ovary syndrome – correct?

One such thing you may be wondering – what on earth is a “PCOS belly”? We’ll explain…

What is a PCOS belly?

PCOS belly refers to the “excess” fat held around the abdomen that sometimes (emphasis on sometimes) occurs in people with PCOS. It’s not an official term – you won’t (or, definitely shouldn’t!) hear medical professionals using it – and, quick reminder, it’s actually not an indicator of a person’s health.

Some 40-85% (yes, very broad) of people with PCOS are considered – in medical terms – to be overweight. This is widely thought to be because excess body fat is associated with insulin resistance, which can lead to fat being stored around the tummy area.

Elevated levels of insulin are thought to increase the amount of “male” hormones (such as testosterone) in the body. High levels of testosterone has also been linked with weight gain and excess fat being stored around the abdomen. It’s complex, but, in short: excess fat not only potentially aids the development of PCOS, but can increase the severity of symptoms, too.

That said, not everyone with PCOS is considered overweight, and it’s very normal for people to have PCOS and be within a “healthy” weight range. However, studies have shown that for those who are “overweight,” losing around 5-10% of body weight could help to reduce insulin resistance, normalise periods, and improve fertility. 

How can I help my PCOS belly?

1. Eat (mostly) nutritious foods

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to adopt a diet of lettuce leaves and celery sticks to manage symptoms when you have PCOS. A balanced diet full of nutritious foods can help you to manage PCOS symptoms – and a great place to start is the Eatwell Guide.

Studies have also found that a low glycaemic index (GI) diet, where wholegrains are eaten in place of refined carbohydrates, can be beneficial for people with PCOS, as it could help to reduce insulin resistance and regulate periods. The Mediterranean diet is another good option for people with PCOS.

Be mindful that no one diet will suit everybody, and that the aforementioned diets are simply guides for getting started. It’s also worth noting that people with PCOS tend to be low on certain vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, and iron, so be sure to consult your GP or get advice from a dietitian or nutritionist before making any big diet adjustments – regardless of whether you want to lose weight or not.

2. Move your body

Movement is so much more than simply a tool for fat loss, however, If you are looking to lose weight, exercise can help you achieve a calorie deficit. 

In one study, which saw 45 people with PCOS complete weight training sessions 3 times a week, participants experienced fat loss around the abdomen and increased lean body mass. And that’s not all – they also experienced a reduction in testosterone and blood sugar levels, too.

A separate study which looked at exercise therapy for PCOS, reported that consistent moderate exercise is also linked with improved ovulation in people with PCOS. The best part, though? The study found that fat loss and improvements in ovulation were not dependant on any specific exercise type, frequency or session duration. That said – Public Health guidelines advise 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week and strength training twice a week.

So, what’s the best exercise for people with PCOS? The kind that you enjoy, and that feels good for your body. Movement is so beneficial for your wellbeing – it can boost your mood and improve your mental wellbeing (not to mention it can reduce your risk of illnesses such as stroke, coronary heart disease, and cancer) – so try to steer clear of solely associating it with fat loss.

3. Get quality sleep

Good quality sleep is invaluable for mental wellbeing. It also improves immunity and acts as a mood-booster – it has even been linked with a reduced risk of developing illnesses such as heart disease.

PCOS is associated with sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea, and disturbed sleep is linked with weight gain (as tiredness from lack of sleep can result in decreased physical activity and a change in eating habits).

To improve your sleep quality, start by designing your own bedtime routine. Switch devices off an hour or so before bed, do your skincare, journal, meditate, read a book – whatever helps you wind down and drift off. Sticking to the same bed and wake-up time, whilst boring-sounding, can help get you into a good routine, too. Aim for 8 hours – or as close to – of kip every night.

4. Minimise stress

It’s impossible to avoid stress altogether, however, it’s important to manage it. Studies have shown that chronic stress can actually worsen insulin resistance and increase symptom severity, so minimising stress truly is a priority when you have PCOS.

Try to prioritise rest and set boundaries to maintain peace, and make time for stress-relieving activities, such as exercise, making art, cooking, meditating – whatever floats your boat, regularly throughout the week.

5. Ask for help

Managing PCOS can be incredibly difficult and massively distressing at times. If you have concerns about your weight or any of your symptoms, please discuss them with a professional who can guide you on the best next steps or refer you to someone else for more specialised help.