By Nicole J (co-founder Nona Woman, certified women’s health coach)
Nona Woman is a women-founded startup aimed at improving/normalizing reproductive education, tackling period poverty, and empowering women in Indonesia. Find out more at www.nonawoman.com.
My PCOS Healing Journey
I realized there was something wrong with my body when I didn’t get my period for over 6 months in university. I was fueled by 4 daily cups of coffee and processed food, consistently sleeping past 2 am, and piling on weight. I later learned (after countless doctor visits and misdiagnoses) that it was PCOS.
PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is an endocrine disorder characterized by irregular periods, excess androgen levels, and polycystic ovaries. Other common symptoms include weight gain, acne, hair loss, and hirsutism. We now know that this condition is relatively common, affecting 1 in 10 women of reproductive-aged in the UK, but back when I was first diagnosed in 2013, I felt totally lost and was desperate to “fix” myself.
All the things I tried
For my weight gain, I tried every crash diet imaginable (keto, vegan, juice cleanses, fasting) but they all left my blood sugar spiraling and had the opposite of the desired effect. For my acne, I tried everything from Accutane and Proactiv (remember those days?!) to all-natural face oils. And for my hair loss, I fell prey to marketing for expensive hair growth shampoos, avoided chemical hair treatments like the plague, and spent thousands on PRP treatments. I felt like a guinea pig, trying every type of prescription medication that doctors sent me away with, including birth control pills, spironolactone, and metformin. After a couple of years, I didn’t want to keep relying on a pill to keep me feeling “normal”, because, at the end of the day, I knew I would have to stop taking these “temporary band-aids” eventually.
What eventually worked for me was much simpler than I thought and boiled down to prioritizing my mental and physical health first. It started with a mental shift to put your health in your own hands, instead of in the reigns of a PCOS diagnosis.
I learned a lot about health from my mum, who preferred trying to take the natural route first, over quick shortcuts. Recognizing how privileged I was to work with a team of holistic practitioners, I took lessons from my modern western naturopath, Indian ayurvedic practitioner, and traditional Chinese acupuncturist. I now have more control over my cycle than ever, and want to share lessons so that you can learn from my years of trial and error:
My top tips for healing PCOS
1. Cut the stress
I know that this is easier said than done in a society that (sadly and unsustainably) praises hustle culture, but I am convinced that burnout will be our next generational health crisis. When we are stressed, our bodies shut down its non-essential functions and switch to survival mode. One thing that might be sacrificed is your reproductive health and menstrual regularity. Make sure to regularly check in with yourself and your stress levels, be mindful of your mental health, and practice the version of self-care that works for you – be it a meditation practice, a walk with your dog, a spa day, or a hot date.
2. Connect with your Divine Feminine
The “always busy” culture of today glorifies masculinity. But when we always live in our masculine (logical, competitive, analytical), we neglect our divine feminine (nurturing, compassionate, empathetic). Modern and corporate life have trained us to always be “on”, to focus on achievement, and to sacrifice our intuitive yin energy in doing so. Women are not wired the same way as men. Men have 24-hour cycles, whereas women, on average, have ~28-day cycles with energy levels, appetite, and physical symptoms changing throughout their cycles in a very orchestrated way (more on this in #5).
3. Nourish your body
We need a healthy balance of good fats, protein, fiber, complex carbs, and all the micro-nutrients to fuel our bodies and support the production of healthy egg cells. You are what you eat, and the egg cells that your body releases during your ovulatory phase every month are a direct result of how you nourish your body in the weeks leading up to ovulation. I learned the hard way that crash diets have the opposite effect of what you want and that slow and steady wins the race.
4. Move mindfully
In terms of movement, listen to what your body is craving. Maybe one week it may want an intense sweat, but another week it may be too exhausted to do anything more than a restorative yoga class. Move your body from a place of love or feeling good, not from a place of punishment or calorie burning.
5. Be in tune with your cycle
Once you have the basics in order, practice cycle syncing and take “listening to your body” to the next level. Cycle syncing is my menstrual bio-hacking secret. Your cycle is made up of four phases (follicular, ovulatory, luteal, and menstrual), and once you tune in to your womanly cycle, your relationship with your body and overall health will improve drastically. Our body needs different types of foods, activities, and stimulation throughout the month, so listen to it and sync up with it. Make your period work for you.
At the end of the day, PCOS was a blessing in disguise that allowed me to build the best relationship with my period than ever before. My healing journey to overcome it has inspired me to advocate about menstrual health awareness with my co-founder, Monica, through our venture, Nona. I wish I had known back then how “not alone” I was in the battle against my own body, and I hope that Nona can become that companion for other women going through their own silent battles towards optimal menstrual health too.
To learn more about Nona, give us a follow at @nonawoman.