Having worked with women for over a dozen years with PCOS I see this all the darn time! A judgement made with a glance, a superficial interpretation of a woman’s complex internal hormonal workings and a hurtful assumption about their struggles.
While this could so easily be true about so many other hormonal issues, I mean you can’t necessarily tell by looking at a woman what her total T4 lab value is, for some reason I see this type of superficial judgement so much more with women that have PCOS.
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Things like this:
- A trainer saying, “What do you mean you can’t tolerate a higher carb load post workout, you don’t look like you have insulin resistance.”
- A PCP saying, “I’m not going to run those tests because you don’t look the part of a woman with PCOS.”
- A disapproving comment from another woman that makes you feel terrible about your body, “I’m surprised you work out as much as you do!”
- Some flavor of this zinger, “I’m surprised you’re not a little Skinny Minnie the way you watch what you eat!”
- “Really, you have PCOS?? I thought you’d be huge and have a beard.”
People say the darndest (ok sometimes dumbest) things!
Here are a few things you can’t tell by looking at a woman:
- If she’s had a miscarriage due to the hormonal imbalance of PCOS (or any other issue).
- If she’s trying very hard each day to get pregnant, lose weight, have enough energy to get through her day.
- If she’s been to the gym this morning or not.
- If she’s just healed from a gnarly breakout.
- If she’s anxious or depressed from her metabolism and hormones being out of whack.
- If she’s making huge sacrifices around food, social time, other priorities, etc. for the sake of committing to her health and hormones.
- If she slept terribly last night because her progesterone is in the tank and now she’s too tired to go to the gym – and knows her adrenals will hate her for it if she did!
- If she’s feeling sad because she’s cut out gluten, sugar and wine and although she feels better she struggles with deprivation and how to be the “girl that eats weird” around her co-workers and friends.
What happened to me recently was a comment on social media in relation to the photo that was used in an article I wrote.
I loved this article and was super proud of it. It was loaded with perspectives I’ve gleaned over twenty plus years of living with PCOS and again over a dozen years of working with women with PCOS.
It went something like this:
…my article was condescending at best given that the article came with a photo of me and my two girls looking clear skinned, fit and obviously not struggling with any issues with PCOS.
While I would absolutely not say I am struggling with PCOS these days I would argue that it because I’ve learned what works for me to manage my PCOS and all the heartbreaking fallout that can come with it.
Yes I have two beautiful girls that I conceived very easily (after years of working on my hormones) and two easy enough pregnancies.
I also have had two miscarriages and one ectopic pregnancy.One miscarriage left me with a life threatening infection from a retained piece of placenta that had me rushed to emergency surgery after a conversation with the OB that went like this, “I will try to leave your uterus and ovaries, at least one of them but I can’t promise anything. If the infection is significant enough I may have to take them to save your life. You good?”
I was 24 and facing not only being infertile but waking up in menopause.
Thankfully I kept all my reproductive parts although after this experience I had another miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy. You can’t see any of that in the photo can you?
You also can’t see that throughout my twenties 9 times out of 10 I would cancel a social obligation because I just couldn’t face the amount of make-up it would take to attempt to cover up my acne.
You can’t see that every time I am not diligent about my low histamine, low sugar, low alcohol, gluten free life I will breakout again, have a rough period and generally feel pretty crummy.
You probably can’t tell that I have a few genetic SNPs that make me super prone to anxiety and that my sleep suffers from this frequently. Ok maybe you can tell that one! I seem to have perpetual bags under my eyes from sleep troubles…and I’ve got two little ones that still sleep in my bed!
You may not be able to tell that I’m incredibly consistent with walking five times per week and strength training three times per week with 1-2 cardio sessions per week and that I 90% of the time honor my UCT (unique carb tolerance).
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You may be able to tell that I’m over 40 now and while stress has always made my period late these days stress causes me horrible insomnia as I lead up to my period (as well as pushing it out several days) and that I spend a great deal of time working on my mindset and how I manage my stress.
Not sure if you can tell that I take my supplements, meditate daily and respect the fact that I have PCOS with every one of my daily lifestyle, diet and exercise choices.
You may or may not be able to tell that I have well-managed, largely healed PCOS these days because I know what works for me and I am committed to that.
And I hope you know that while this photo may not tell my story, a pic of you or how you appear to someone else in real life doesn’t tell yours either.
So I want you to know that I see you, I see your efforts, I see your commitment to yourself. I see your struggles and the things I know you want to do better at.
I want you to know your efforts, your commitment to yourself matters even if you are the only one in the world that sees it!
I want you to know that your workout counts even if you don’t post it on Instagram. Those veggies count even if no one saw you eat them.
The million small moments where you choose to keep going and stay committed to your health and your hormonal balance are wins even if you’re the only one cheering for you.
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And I hope that this post reaches trainers, docs and everyone else that needs to read it and be gently reminded that we can’t see what someone’s going through just by looking at them. We all have our struggles, we’re all in it, some of us more than others (be that emotionally or hormonally or otherwise) and that we should never assume we are in the know about someone’s pain, fears or commitment to their best self.
The deepest scars we wear are often invisible to the rest of the world. We all need to remember that and be more gentle with each other and with ourselves.
If you’ve been struggling with PCOS please join me on the waitlist for my EMPOWERED PCOS Program. The waitlist comes with a FREE email series on PCOS that will give you scads of tools to feel more confident managing PCOS and a guide to your lab testing that will help you make more sense of your hormones.