As one of the world’s most decorated professional figure competitors, you could say I know a thing or two about my body — I know how to eat right, how to exercise, how to get lean, how much sleep I need and how to put all my best angles forward.
That’s why in the months leading up to my wedding in 2014, I couldn’t figure out what was going on with my body: I was feeling unusually tired and couldn’t seem to drop any weight, despite the fact that I was eating clean, doing resistance training and even doubling up on my cardio routine. Also, my periods were irregular and I was having acne flare-ups. What terrible timing!
Still, I figured there was a simple explanation. I was on the brink of turning 30, so I thought maybe it was age-related. Plus, I knew irregular periods were a common side effect of being an athlete and I’d run track in college.
An Unexpected Diagnosis
During a regular checkup with my gynecologist, I was given a pelvic ultrasound exam. The doctor said, “Has anyone told you that you might have PCOS? I can see cysts on your ovaries.” I was freaking out and shocked. Honestly, I was afraid to ask questions until I went home to do some research on my own to find out more.
I learned that PCOS is an acronym for polycystic ovary syndrome, a common genetic hormonal, metabolic and reproductive disorder that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. According to the Office of Women’s Health, it’s caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones, and that imbalance creates problems in the ovaries — the egg that is typically released each month as part of the menstrual cycle may not develop or may not release properly. PCOS can cause missed or irregular periods, which can lead to infertility and the development of cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in the ovaries.
I then made another doctor’s appointment and had some bloodwork done. Finally, it was confirmed that I have PCOS. Now it all made sense — I had been struggling with severe acne and irregular periods for a while, and these are symptoms of a hormonal imbalance and PCOS. It was odd that none of my other doctors had mentioned this possibility before.
I also learned that PCOS is hereditary; my sister has since been diagnosed, as well. Apparently, a lot of women are dealing with PCOS yet don’t even know they have it.
Adjusting to Life With PCOS
Being diagnosed with PCOS made it even more important for me to stay fit and healthy. Why? According to my research on the Office of Women’s Health website, more than half of women with PCOS will have diabetes or pre-diabetes before age 40. And women with PCOS are at greater risk of having high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety and endometrial cancer. Obviously, these are all things I’d like to avoid.
There’s no cure for PCOS, so to keep my symptoms in check, I’ve had to shift my diet. I used to be big on sugar, but once I found out I had PCOS, I had to reduce my carb and sugar intake. So I eat a low-carb diet to help regulate my levels and I eat less dairy, too. Of course, I do still eat cheat meals occasionally on weekends — I love a good burger, sushi, pizza or frozen yogurt — but I need to be careful because even with cheat meals, my levels can still be elevated. And thankfully, sticking to a healthy diet has alleviated some of the symptoms.
As far as fitness, PCOS affects my routine because I have to work out longer than most people in order to get the same results in terms of weight loss or fat burning. Women who have PCOS may build muscle faster, so it’s important to also focus on weightlifting to help burn sugar and carbs off the body before they are stored as fat. Basically, my body doesn’t do a great job at converting sugar and starches into energy — causing insulin resistance and weight gain.
Keeping weight off will always be a constant struggle in my life. I’ve learned so much about my body over the past few years, so the struggle isn’t as hard as it once was because I now know exactly what my body needs in order to be healthy. Although keeping the weight off is a good thing for me, it’s more about fighting off Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and infertility.
September Is PCOS Awareness Month
Is it a coincidence that my Next-Level Lifting program for Oxygen launches on September 21 and September is PCOS Awareness Month? Maybe! But I like to think they share the calendar because I, too, want to help raise awareness about this health problem.
If you suspect you may have PCOS, I urge you to set up an appointment with your gynecologist. They may administer a physical exam, pelvic exam, a pelvic ultrasound and blood tests to help arrive at a diagnosis. But remember, just because there’s no cure doesn’t mean PCOS will prevent you from doing the things you want to do — with the right diet and exercise, and possibly some medication, you can still lead a healthy, active lifestyle.
Have you been lifting for a while? Do you want to push your limits and see just how far you can go? Let Candice Lewis-Carter — a 13-time IFBB Figure champion, seven-time Olympia Figure champion, two-time Arnold Classic Figure champion and two-time Arnold Classic Australia Figure champion — be your guide. She’s partnered with Oxygen to create Next-Level Lifting, an exclusive eight-week program for those looking to level up their fitness and their physiques. Sign up today!