Why PCOS caused fabulous and fat Whitney Thore to gain 90kg

Image: Supplied

Changing your diet and lifestyle could take weeks, even months, before a notable difference in your weight becomes apparent.

But, this was not the case for US dancer, Whitney Thore, who gained around 90 kilograms in just a year thanks to a disorder that affects women’s hormones and ovaries.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder that creates a hormonal imbalance in woman. The illness begins during a girl’s teen years and can cause a number of symptoms which include irregular periods, unwanted hair growth, and acne. It can also affect female fertility.

PCOS more common than you think

The American website Womenshealth.gov reports that between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 women of a reproductive age have PCOS and that over 5 million women in the United States may be affected. A normal population has a prevalence of 16–22%.

A number of celebrities including Victoria Beckham and UK chef Jamie Oliver's wife Jools Oliver have also publicly revealed that they suffer from PCOS. Although these celebrities are not faced with obesity as a result of the condition, they have showed other symptoms and expressed difficulty getting pregnant.

A study published by BMC Medicine in 2010 stated that “insulin resistance occurs in around 50% to 80% of women with PCOS, primarily in the more severe NIH diagnosed PCOS and in those who are overweight.” The study adds that “lean women and milder Rotterdam diagnosed PCOS [the Rotterdam PCOS diagnosis is more broad] appear to have less severe insulin resistance.”

In Whitney's case, PCOS has caused her to become insulin resistant which is why she has gained weight so suddenly and so severely. It has also affected her menstrual cycle.

"I do not have a regular menstrual cycle and have never have, I've probably had 20 cycles in my entire life, so when I decide to have a family that could present problems for me. 

“Also, my testosterone levels are really high for a woman, so that lead to unwanted hair growth on my face and it causes me to lose the hair on my head”, she says.

How is PCOS treated?

PCOS treatment usually requires a team approach. Medical specialists such as gynaecologists and dermatologists will treat the hormonal and skin/hair manifestations of this condition, while endocrinologists or physicians may assist with prescribing medications to help control raised insulin and blood fat levels, as well as hypertension.

Health24's DietDoc says if you have insulin resistance (IR), which usually accompanies PCOS and is associated with weight gain and inability to lose weight, women need to visit a dietitian because the correct diet is one of the most important factors in treatment.

The dietitian will take your insulin resistance, medications and other conditions such as PCOS and being overweight, into account when working out a diet, which will be based on low-fat foods with a low glycaemic index (GI).

Tip: Use our GI tool to calculate the glycaemic index of different foods.

Interestingly enough, she says, such a diet will contain vegetables and low-GI carbohydrates because the high-protein, high-fat diets that are all the rage at the moment, are generally unsustainable.

Regular daily aerobic exercise for at least 30 min per day can also help improve insulin and glucose levels. Start doing an aerobic exercise (running, jogging, skipping, cycling, swimming, join a gym or Walk for Life).

Most women who suffer from the illness should be able to have children and lead normal, active lives.

The positive side for Whitney

Whitney Thore has had to relook everything she does due to her drastic weight gain but, despite her medical struggles, Whitney has managed to find happiness in herself and change her life.

She explains that despite being skinny in the past, she was very ashamed of her body, but PCOS has helped her change her opinion of herself.

“The biggest difference now is that I, for the first time, really found happiness in a way that I never had when I was thin and undiagnosed with PCOS.”

She has since self-choreographed a performance called ‘A Fat Girl Dancing’, which became an overnight sensation and motivated the dancer to live her life. She now has a fresh outlook on everything: she's dating more than ever before, pursuing an aggressive dance schedule, and trying to make a name for herself in a world that judges people for their size.

“I started making videos and posting them on YouTube called ‘Fat Girl Dancing’ and it was so liberating. I got so much positive feedback from other people and I started to realise how important it was to be a voice for fat women who are still ashamed of themselves. I wanted to show them an image of a happy and fulfilled person, who’s also fat - not something we often see in the media."

This is one of Whitney's introductory videos on YouTube

Whitney has changed the fact that "fat people are often stereotyped and only really publicised on TV in a weight loss competition". She has launched her story on TLC Entertainment (DStv channel 172) called My Big Fat Fabulous Life.

Read more:

Higher protein diet helpful in PCOS

Belly dance your way to fitness

Banting helped me lose 75kg

Sources: FleishmanHillard, TLC

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