Hi, I’m Anna, a 30-year-old woman with PCOS who has struggled with infertility for over 3 years. I wanted to share my nutrition journey with you because it has profoundly changed my life. Through this journey, I was able to use food as medicine and my life has improved dramatically. My hope is to inspire someone else to take control of their health and feel better than you ever thought possible! Below, I share my health and fertility benefits of seeing a dietitian.

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“Normal Symptoms”

To give you some background, when I was growing up I didn’t have dreams of having a big house, getting a dream job, or even getting married.

All I wanted out of life was to have a child.

As a teenager, I had all the classic symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – irregular and very painful periods, hirsutism, excess weight, etc. Every time I brought it up to the doctor, it was all dismissed as being “normal.” I had talked to most of the girls in my class about their menstrual cycles and what I was dealing with certainly didn’t fit the mold. Eventually, I was put on birth control and the symptoms were masked for the most part, but I’d still get horrible PMS symptoms and painful cramps. When I was on Nexplanon, I lightly bled for 3 straight years and was told that was unusual, but maybe it was normal for me. Since I figured a baby was far into the future, I dropped the issue.

Time for a New Provider? 

Like so many women, I’ve had my fair share of poor providers. In 2017, I made an appointment with an OBGYN to figure out what was going on long before trying to conceive (TTC) with my now husband, Cyle. She checked only 2 markers, Free T4 and TSH which both appeared “normal” to her, even though my TSH was low. She was dismissive of my symptoms and rudely asked what I expected her to do, since she thought the labs looked normal enough. I told her that I would like more blood tests done, which she refused. She advised that maybe I should lose some weight, which is sound advice.

However, she never considered that perhaps I couldn’t lose weight due to the problem for which I was seeking answers.

She did, however, order an SIS ultrasound and I was told it would maybe be a little uncomfortable. That was a huge understatement as I nearly passed out from the pain. She was surprised by my dizziness and didn’t complete the procedure. She said she didn’t see any evidence of PCOS, but of course not – the procedure wasn’t completed!

With my trust broken, I went over 3 years without seeing any doctor.

PCOS Diagnosed

I married the love of my life in December of 2019 and we started TTC in October of 2020. After a few short months of waiting for a positive pregnancy test in vain, I found a new OBGYN. She promptly ordered a host of blood tests, scheduled and completed another SIS ultrasound (after giving me plenty of explanation of what to expect). I got my confirmation of PCOS in the spring of 2021.

2021 was the hardest year of my entire life. My head was spinning! 

  • PCOS diagnosis
  • TTC
  • Moving
  • Working full-time while running my own business
  • Participating in the Clomid/Letrozole PCOS study at the University of Iowa Healthcare (UIHC)
  • Being an emergency kinship foster placement for a 3-year old family member

One bright moment during that year was having the experience of a little one in our home. Although, when he was reunified just 3 months later, it felt like we were living in complete darkness.

Stress + Cycles + Nutrition

In 2022, I learned that for some reason, stress was the only thing throwing me into a menstrual cycle. I had worked to reduce my stress so much that I went 6 months without having a period. My OBGYN and I then discussed medications to give me more regular cycles, but I still wasn’t ready to try that route.

January of 2023, my husband had a medical event that made us both want to live healthier. I read tons of studies on proper nutrition and the general consensus, if you weren’t willing to go vegan, was the Mediterranean diet. So, I went through the house and threw away anything with added sugar, refined carbs, and most other processed foods. I tracked and gradually reduced my calories using YAZIO and Lose It! The ways I made adjustments were:

  1. Increasing whole grains
  2. More fruits and vegetables
  3. Increased fiber, reduced added sugar and saturated fat intake to less than 20g per day
  4. Walked more + incorporated light weight training
  5. Took a daily prenatal.

The one thing I wasn’t willing to do was intense exercise to lose weight, due to chronic pain.

Food as Medicine

I was bound and determined to use food as medicine and it was working! Within a few months I had lost 17 lbs on my own. I wanted more guidance, so I reached out to my local Hy-Vee dietitian and explained that I wanted to work with someone who had experience treating PCOS.

She connected me with Katie Schaeffer, RD, LD and I’m so glad she did.

Katie had me complete specific labs, one of which was Fasting Insulin. I had A1C and fasting glucose tests a few months prior and they were normal. The fasting insulin test unveiled hidden insulin resistance! It all made sense. I read that chronic inflammation and insulin resistance was related to PCOS in some way. I have always had chronic pain and inflammation, difficulty losing weight, intense cravings/hunger, fatigue, and more- all of which can be symptoms of insulin resistance.

Helpful Guidelines

Katie went over my test results, diet, and lifestyle and gave me meal plan ideas, helpful guidelines, a list of supplements that could help like Vitamin D3, and much more.

One supplement in particular is called Inositol, which works similarly to Metformin. It helps the body better process insulin, lowers high cholesterol, and helps relieve PCOS symptoms. Since my OBGYN had mentioned trying Metformin, I was all for the alternative! I read up on Inositol and learned that it is a sugar found in the body at a ratio of 40:1 Myo-Inositol to D-Chiro Inositol. Over the next several months, I took Ovasitol (my chosen Inositol supplement), ate well, and exercised a few days per week.

I eventually discovered a book that helped me a lot, Glucose Revolution. It changed the order in which I ate – vegetables first, then protein and fats, and finally carbs. It also taught me the importance of movement within 90 minutes of eating, all to reduce a blood sugar spike. From January to September, I lost about 25 lbs, although I still had periods they were very irregular.

Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet

After reading more studies, I decided in September to eliminate dairy, eggs, and meat. My new whole-food plant-based diet allowed me to easily eat more of the highest Inositol-containing foods: fruits, beans, grains, and nuts.

I learned to LOVE vegetables; my go-to is still a veggie breakfast burrito.

That’s when something surprising happened. I got my period at the end of September and it lasted 5 days. I thought maybe it was a fluke, but then I got another normal period in 31 days, then again in 31 days, then 30 days, then 29 days.
It was a miracle! I couldn’t believe it.

I had successfully used food as medicine!

Sustainable Lifestyle

Thanks to the lifestyle changes I made in 2023, I have lost 40 lbs, corrected my insulin resistance, dramatically dropped my cholesterol (triglycerides from 467 to 159 and dropping!), think clearly, and feel great. I have continued eating primarily a whole-food plant-based diet, though I do enjoy the occasional burger or dessert. It’s all about balance and finding a lifestyle that is sustainable for you.

I hope that someone reading this will feel inspired to reach out to someone like Katie Schaeffer and create a nutrition plan that best serves you. I don’t think I would be as far as I am now without her guidance and knowledge. I’m thankful everyday that I no longer live the life I once did.

Katie Schaeffer, RD, LD
(515) 695-3780. 

Written by Anna Clinton for the Hopeful Mama Foundation. We are incredibly grateful to all of our writers, who open up their heart and share their journey with this community. If you would like to connect with one of our writers, please let us know by submitting an email on our website’s contact page.

Anna is an Expanded Functions Dental Assistant at Riley DDS. She is passionate about helping obstructive sleep apnea patients achieve better sleep with oral appliance therapy. Anna has PCOS and has struggled with infertility since 2020. She hopes to encourage others to advocate for themselves and to take control of their health using nutrition. In her spare time, she enjoys photography, cookie making, and spending time with her husband Cyle, their dog Boba Fett, and their nieces and nephews.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Hopeful Mama Foundation. Any content provided by our authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.