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Understanding Nutrition for PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)


I want to tell you about my client Susan, age 26, who was referred to me by her endocrinologist for PCOS. I think her story is quite common where many women have not been diagnosed properly where they are suffering with weight gain they cannot seem to lose. PCOS affects 10% of women in the U.S. and is the most common cause of menstrual irregularities and infertility. Women with PCOS are insulin resistant which causes their ovaries to produce greater than normal amounts of testosterone which, in turn, inhibits ovulation and causes many symptoms such as severe acne, hair on the face, jaw and chest and weight gain despite following good nutrition and exercise habits.

Susan remembers having irregular periods as a teenager along with hair growth on her face and inner thighs. Her doctor put her on oral contraceptives that reduced the symptoms but had the effect of delaying the PCOS diagnosis. When Susan got off the OC to become pregnant she began gaining weight in her midsection, experienced hypoglycemia and acne and was very unhappy. Her lab results showed that her insulin level was at 22 (normal is less than 10) as well as her testosterone level was 85 (normal less than 50) and her fasting glucose was 120 (normal 80-100) all clear cut data showing that she had PCOS. Susan’s doctor instantly put her on Metformin, an insulin sensitizer that would help decrease the high insulin levels and work well in conjunction with healthy nutrition and weight loss.

When I reviewed Susan’s food diary I saw she had a high intake of refined carbohydrates and saturated fats, limited amounts of veggies and no fruits. Her numerous fruit drinks and two cokes a day did not help her sugar levels. After completing my initial assessment I explained to Susan the role of insulin in the body and how PCOS causes hormonal imbalances that can increase the risk of miscarriages.

I educated Susan on how to read the food label for protein, fiber, sugar and fat. I stressed that she must eat small frequent meals that always combine protein and fiber with low fat and sugar. I set up a meal plan for Susan based on her lifestyle and food preferences that she can follow on the job as an administrative assistant. Her office is equipped with a kitchen where she is now having oatmeal with fresh fruit, or cottage cheese with a whole wheat English muffin and sliced strawberries or one hard- boiled egg with whole wheat toast. For snacks she is having plain Greek yogurt with veggies, or 20 almonds with veggies or an apple with almond butter. For lunch she goes to the deli to get a sandwich with whole wheat bread and a small salad. For the afternoon she is enjoying a bean soup like TJ’s lentil and veggie or Progresso’s minestrone or hummus with veggies or shrimp with cocktail sauce and a few Akmak crackers. For dinner she now is having one cup of 100% whole wheat pasta (which she states tastes like regular pasta) along with two cups veggies sautéed in garlic, olive oil and seasonings. I introduced Susan to whole grains like quinoa, whole wheat couscous, barley, farro and even brown rice. I gave her some recipes to begin to learn how to add these grains to her life. Susan was very excited about trying new grains where she did not want to live on fruits and veggies only. She also loved the idea of being able to have two 100 calorie low sugar and fat desserts with a meal such as puddings, fudge iciles and popsicles or a cupcake with very little frosting.

We took an entire session to discuss the best entrees to order at Susan and her husband’s favorite restaurants. I was glad to hear they enjoyed fish but hardly ate it at home. They go out to dinner each week and I suggested that they enjoy Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cuisine where they can have delicious fish dishes with veggies and brown rice. In our follow up sessions via phone and e-mail Susan tells me the restaurant they have chosen for the week and we walk thru the menu on the website where I make suggestions for the meal along with balancing it with the other meals of the day.

I am thrilled to inform you that after working with Susan for 3 months she has lost 15 pounds and her insulin levels have decreased to 12, testosterone to 60 and her blood sugars are in the normal range.

The good news is that Susan’s visits were paid by her Aetna PPO insurance with a small copay. Please feel free to call me at (925) 855-0150 or e-mail me at and tell me about your nutritional concerns. Refer to my website for past articles, recipes and nutrition tips.

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