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Have PCOS? Take steps to prevent type 2 diabetes

By Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N Feb 07, 2023 • 4 min

More than half of women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have some insulin resistance, which means they’re more likely to get diabetes. But that doesn't mean it's a foregone conclusion.

Insulin is a hormone that helps the body handle sugar. When your cells are sensitive to insulin, they’re efficient at processing sugar for energy. But if your body becomes resistant to insulin, blood sugar levels can get too high, leading to diabetes and other health problems.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to protect your body from diabetes. Here are 3 steps you can take.

1. Work toward weight loss

Losing weight can feel like a major obstacle, but it’s important to keep in mind that every little bit helps. If you’re overweight, reducing your weight by just 5% can help ward off diabetes.

Start by weighing yourself first thing in the morning. Then, calculate how much weight you’d need to lose to achieve a 5% weight loss. Now that you have a goal in mind, think about small steps you can take to get there. Perhaps you can add a 10-minute walk during your lunch break or limit desserts to once a week.

Keeping a food diary or tracking your intake on an app can help you become more mindful of what and how much you’re eating. It’s also helpful to have support by joining a weight loss group or enlisting the help of your healthcare team.

Small changes add up, so don’t get discouraged if weight loss takes time. Even losing a pound per week will eventually get you to your goal.

2. Be active

Living an active lifestyle is one of the best ways to prevent diabetes. Exercise can increase your insulin sensitivity and help keep your blood sugar levels balanced.

If the last place you want to go is the gym, don’t sweat it. Being active doesn’t have to be a chore. Instead, find fun ways to move more. Sign up for a dance class, go for a swim or take a brisk walk while you catch up with a friend.

To make a dent in your diabetes risk, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week (or 30 minutes, five days per week). Increase your workouts gradually to give your body time to adjust.

With PCOS, exercise is a must. Prioritize yourself by scheduling physical activity every day.

3. Make healthy substitutions

There’s no perfect diet for diabetes prevention. But there are ways to tweak your grocery list to lower your risk. Researchers have identified some worthy of your attention.

Have fewer:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Desserts and sweets
  • Fruit juices
  • High-fat meat and dairy products
  • Processed foods
  • Refined grains
  • Sweetened beverages

Have more:

  • Fruits
  • Healthy fats (like olive oil)
  • Nuts and legumes
  • Vegetables
  • Water
  • Whole grains

Although these lists don’t tell the whole story, the basic message is simple. Choose colorful, minimally processed plant-based foods more often than foods high in saturated fat and sugar to improve the quality of your diet and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Published February 2023.

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