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Zucchini and chilli pepita salad is a simple dish that I love for shoulder seasons where we are still having some nice days but the weather is getting colder. It’s still got a lot of freshness about it but the grilled zucchini is easier to digest than raw salad and the chilli pepitas give it some warmth. The lemon, dill and feta really get your tastebuds going.
This dish is super yummy as a BBQ side salad with just about every type of protein – fish, tofu, tempeh, chicken, red meat, falafel, chickpea or lentil burgers. If I have some leftover I often have it for breakfast on a slice of dense wholegrain bread with a poached egg on top.
Zucchinis are very high in fibre, which feeds beneficial gut bacteria and helps you to feel full and satisfied, as well as aiding healthy bowel movements. They are also very low in carbohydrate. All of these things are great for hormone balancing, general health and are compatible with a PCOS diet, if that is what you are aiming for. Being dark green in colour, they are a natural source of antioxidants and folate, making them great for fertility and pregnancy.
Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) add a good source of zinc – helpful for skin, hair, immunity, fertility and so much more.
4 large zucchinis, sliced lengthwise
A large handful of pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
A pinch (or more as desired) of cayenne pepper (chilli powder)
Half a bunch of fresh dill, leaves picked
30-40g of goat’s chevre or goat’s feta
Half a lemon, juiced
Brush zucchini slices with olive oil and cook them on a grill plate until soft and browned, flipping halfway. You could also roast them in a 200 degree oven on trays (don’t overcrowd the trays or they’ll go soggy before they brown).
Toast the pepitas in a fry pan with a splash of olive oil, pinch of salt and the cayenne pepper until just starting to go light brown, then remove from heat to cool on a plate.
Assemble the salad by tossing the zucchini with the dill, lemon and olive oil, crumbling the feta on top and sprinkling over the pepitas.
Weight loss improves just about every aspect of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Whilst it is often more difficult to lose weight when you have PCOS, even modest weight reductions can have a significant impact on PCOS symptoms plus reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
How do I know if I need to lose weight?
Being overweight, especially around the waist, causes insulin resistance (even if you don’t have PCOS) because fat cells release substances that mess with insulin sensitivity. This means that being overweight increases insulin levels even more, worsening PCOS signs and symptoms. In short, being overweight is bad news for PCOS.
Body mass index (BMI) is a good guide to determine if you are in the overweight range or the healthy weight range. You can calculate your BMI using a simple online calculator and plugging in your height and weight (there are many available).
How to get started on weight loss
It’s not so simple to just lose weight and if you have PCOS with insulin resistance, this can be even more difficult because insulin is a hormone that promotes fat storage. Both diet and exercise matter when it comes to weight loss but if you need to make changes in both areas, start with diet and once that is a routine for you work on your exercise routine – changing everything overnight is hard and you don’t want to set yourself up to fail.
When it comes to diet, head over here and get your copy of my free PCOS & Diet eBook. It outlines the dietary changes that have the most impact on weight loss for people with PCOS. If you check out the eBook but still need more help or have questions, you might need to work with a naturopath to work out the best diet for you as an individual.
What’s the best type of exercise for weight loss and PCOS?
There are two types of exercise that have been shown to be effective for PCOS and weight loss:
Resistance training means moving your body against a resistance. The resistance can be your own body weight (e.g. push ups, planking or yoga) or equipment such as bands or weights. You can do resistance training at home if you’ve already got some experience with how to do it safely. If not, get help from a professional PT to ensure you adopt the correct posture and alignment, avoiding injury.
If you can’t afford a personal trainer, join a gym and ask the staff for assistance in getting your posture and alignment right on their equipment. If the gym is not your thing, join a strength yoga class such as Iyengar, Ashtanga or Vinyasa.
Resistance training is designed to build muscle mass. Increasing muscle mass has a positive effect on insulin resistance and boosts metabolism, meaning your resting metabolic rate is faster; you burn fat while at rest.
Research has shown resistance training can reduce androgens, waist circumference, body fat percentage and fasting blood glucose: all good things for PCOS. However, the best results come with doing a combination of resistance and aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercise is also known as ‘cardio’ exercise and refers to any exercise that gets your heart and lungs to work faster. You breathe harder, your heart pumps faster and you work up a sweat. There are many ways to do this and lots of them are actually fun! Dancing, swimming, sex, aqua aerobics, team sports, cycling, HIIT, circuit training and jogging are just a few of them.
Beyond improving insulin resistance, aerobic exercise has many benefits. Aerobic exercise improves circulation, increases energy levels, increases endurance, reduces risk of heart disease and diabetes, reduces body fat, maintains a healthy weight, improves mood and improves sleep.
How much exercise do I need to do?
Based on the research you should do 1hr of resistance training three times weekly but you should start slowly and build up to this. On alternate days you should do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Have one day off per week to give your body a rest.
More is not better
If you push yourself beyond the above guidelines you run the risk of pushing your stress hormones too high, which inhibits weight loss and increases insulin.
My top 4 tips for success
Get friends and family in on it
Making a time to exercise with friends or family increases your motivation and makes exercise more enjoyable. It makes you accountable for showing up. Likewise, a healthy diet, such as outlined in my PCOS & Diet eBook, is something that can be done as a family or with friends. It is a health choice that is beneficial for everyone, not just those with PCOS (if you have children they can eat the same as you, just let them eat freely of healthy carbohydrates rather than limiting their intake).
Any type of exercise is better than no exercise
If all you can do today is just go for a walk then it’s better than nothing – you are still having a beneficial impact on your hormones when you exercise, even if weight loss is not achieved.
Set realistic goals
If you can’t stick to a strict regime as outlined in the exercise section above, just do what you can. Any sort of increase in physical activity is better than none.
Set a goal of something you can do that is easily achievable. Once you can stick to that for 3 weeks, set a higher goal. For example, if you currently walk for 10 minutes per day, increase this to 15 minutes. Or get a pedometer and increase your daily steps by 2000 each week.
One of the excuses you might give yourself is that you simply don’t have time exercise and prepare food. This is when you need to sit down and make a list of all of the things that take up time in your life and prioritise which ones are going to make you the happiest. Chances are that being healthy is going to be near the top of your list.
Other things might have to take a back seat in preference of your health. You might find that some things can be combined. For example, seeing friends and exercising could be rolled into one on some days. Preparing food and family time are other things that could be done together. How you shape your life is up to you but one thing is for sure: if you don’t prioritise time for weight loss, it won’t happen.
Need more help?
Losing weight can be really tough, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it. Some great choices are personal trainer or exercise physiologist, naturopath, nutritionist, osteopath, acupuncturist and psychologist or counsellor. All of these professionals can help you tailor a plan that is most effective for you as an individual and help keep you accountable and motivated along the way.
Josephine is currently offering free 10 minute consults to everyone. These sessions give both practitioner and patient the chance to see if the therapeutic relationship is a great fit, as well as to get you started on the path to feeling better, whether that be prescriptions on the day, referral for testing, or simple extras that you can incorporate to support yourself even more.