Abbie Curls is a YouTube vlogger who posts daily about everything hair, from braids and headwraps to buns and cornrows. The 27-year-old, who is based in the United Kingdom, has also become an advocate for women with PCOS.
Ever since I started menstruating at 13, my periods were always irregular. This was not only inconvenient, because I never knew when it would show up, but worrisome. Most women who have regular periods are like, “Oh I wish I would not have a period for a whole year!” But I feel like having a period is a sign of being healthy and that your female reproductive organs are working the way they should.
I went to the doctor when I was 15 or 16 and was told to lose weight and go on the pill. No other explanations, just this is the only solution. My doctor made me nervous when he began to tell me about how not having a period for so long might increase my chance of cervical cancer, so I agreed to go on the pill. But I knew it was only masking the symptoms of whatever was causing my problems. Around the age of 18, I went off the pill and my periods were still irregular. Eventually, a blood test and an ultrasound scan showed that I had a resistance to insulin and multiple small cysts on both of my ovaries. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
I know doctors don't know everything, but I asked questions that I thought would have easy answers after I received my diagnosis, and a lot of the time, my doctor was basically like, “Oh, we don't know.” The only suggestion they gave me was to go back on the pill. But I knew there had to be other solutions, so I started to do my own research. I immediately discovered a lot of information. The more I knew, the less nervous and scared I felt about my decision to treat my PCOS myself. I felt confident taking matters into my own hands.
Throughout my research, I came across so many brave women who shared deeply personal accounts of their PCOS experiences online, especially on YouTube and Instagram. I found their posts more interesting and informative than just reading medical documents. I’d search “diet” and “PCOS” or “lifestyle” and then watch the videos or read the posts. If, for example, somebody said, “eat this to help with your PCOS,” I’d go back to Google and type in those foods and read more about them and their condition to this syndrome. I followed accounts of people who had PCOS themselves, but who were also qualified dietitians. They all talked about trying natural diet remedies rather than going down the medical route, which is the solution I preferred.
Through a lot of trial and experimentation, I found a diet that has helped with my symptoms. I now include really high-fiber and high protein foods in my diet. I try to eat things that help regulate my blood sugar levels to reduce the need for as much insulin. Fiber, protein, and certain carbs help with that. I eat loads of different types of seeds — chia, pumpkin, flax. I also cut out dairy, which was hard because I love cheese so much!
Another thing that I've changed is the way I exercise. When you have PCOS, you have an imbalance of hormones in your body, which can be further affected by certain types of exercise, especially cardio when your heart rate goes up really quickly. For somebody without PCOS that isn't a problem, but for someone with it, it can be an issue. I learned the best type of workout for women with PCOS is more slow-paced, weight training, which wasn’t terrible news for me. I hate cardio, and much prefer weight training! I haven’t cut out cardio completely – I just know my limits now.
The shift was gradual, which was hard because you want to know straight away whether the changes you're making are working. But you have to stick with them for a long time before you can tell. I would make one or two changes and keep with them consistently for three months. If nothing was working, then I’d try something else and wait another two to three months. It was a journey, and I still experience ups and downs. Even now, I sometimes might go eight weeks without a period, but for the most part, mine now comes more regularly. It's not perfect, but I'm now regular enough that I feel healthy and that things are working as they should — all without having to be on the pill.
When I first decided to start sharing my PCOS story on Instagram, I was definitely scared, mostly because the only thing I spoke about before was hair! For me to suddenly be talking about periods felt strange. But I was really surprised by the positive response I received and the amount of people who I discovered are struggling with the same problems. As soon as people started commenting and sharing their own stories, the embarrassment and the awkwardness I felt faded away. That encouraged me to learn more so that I could share more. The most fulfilling thing is knowing that I can actually help somebody else through their own journey.
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