Welcome to Episode 3 of Season 8 of The PCOS Revolution Podcast:
Busting Through PCOS Diet Myths with Martha McKittrick
There are a ton of diets as well as tons of advice flying around out there about what you should be eating when you have PCOS. Like most diets, that information is more often than not inaccurate, a myth or not based in facts.
This week on PCOS Revolution Podcast, I am having a conversation with Martha McKittrick. Martha is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator. She is also a health and wellness coach with a private practice in New York City. With over 25 years of experience in nutrition, she specializes in weight management, PCOS, cardiovascular health and diabetes, just to name a few.
She has had a special interest in nutrition since 2000, and is considered a pioneer in the field of PCOS. Martha helps health professionals and those struggling with PCOS. Martha is extremely passionate about helping people with PCOS and understands the lack of awareness out there. It has gotten better since 2000, yet since social media, it’s gotten more confusing. People can be paralyzed with all the information.
Learn more about Martha, how she helps people struggling PCOS and the best way to feed yourself nutritionally when dealing with PCOS during this episode of the PCOS Revolution Podcast.
READ the entire transcript here:
Hello everyone and welcome back to The PCOS Revolution Podcast. Today I have a very special guest named Martha McKittrick, who’s a registered dietitian, a certified diabetes educator, and a well coach certified health and wellness coach with a private practice in New York City. With over 25 years of experience in the field of nutrition, Martha specializes in PCOS, weight management, cardiovascular health, diabetes, IBS and preventative nutrition. And now Ms. McKittrick has also had a special interest in nutrition for a long time now since 2000. And so she’s considered one of the pioneers in the field of PCOS. She was the nutrition editor for Dr. Walter Fetterweit’s book, A patient’s guide to PCOS understanding and reversing polycystic ovarian syndrome. And she’s lectured across the country on PCOS to both health professionals as well as women with PCOS. And she’s also currently on the Health Advisory Board for The PCOS challenge. So so glad to have you here. Welcome, Martha.
Thanks so much. I’m really excited to be here, especially considering September is PCOS Awareness Month. So it’s like perfect timing. I’m always passionate talk about PCOS.
Yes, for sure. And definitely, I want to dive into these topics because I you know, I want to talk about your experience that you’ve had, personally with clients of yours who’ve actually started to reverse their insulin resistance just by working with lifestyle. And as we know, that’s the number one treatment for PCOS is lifestyle so so just tell us a little bit about what got you interested in working with PCOS.
About 20 years ago, I was a consultant for Web MD, and I was running one of their message boards. And a woman had written in and said that she was having a lot of trouble losing weight, she was on a really low fat diet, she was eating healthy, she was exercising, and she couldn’t lose weight. And then she told me she had PCOS, and she was actually on a very low fat diet. So I did a little research and saw that insulin resistance is highly connected to PCOS. So we put her on a bit of a lower carb type of the diet and changed her exercise a little bit. And she was finally able to lose weight. So that got me like really interested in PCOS. And then I met Dr. Fetterweit. And then I got involved with you know, lecturing across the country for women with PCOS and joined some PCOS organizations. And I’m just really passionate about helping women with PCOS, just because I think there’s so much misinformation out there or lack of information, lack of awareness. It’s gotten a lot better since the year 2000. But I think now with social media, in a way it’s gotten more confusing, because you go on Instagram, or you go on the internet, and you read totally different things. So I’ve women come into my office almost like paralyzed with you know, what do I do? You know, this site says you need to do Keto, this site says you need to be plant based. So it’s, it’s I think women are just like, so overwhelmed with the information out there. So I try to help clear the confusion with them.
So needed too. So tell us a little bit about your story from personal experience also, and the way that you have kind of weaved some of those lifestyle recommendations into your own life.
Yeah, well, my own life, you know, I’m a New Yorker, I live in New York and I don’t have PCOS But I’m just as a busy New Yorker and a woman who’s going through menopause, I just find I apply a lot of the same things I do for some of my patients. Like for example, I struggle getting enough sleep, that’s probably the number one thing that I struggle with, you know, I’m up late at one in the morning on my computer, blogging and stuff, and it’s like, you can’t do that you have to go to bed. So sleep is super important for insulin resistance. So I really try to stress that with my patients. You need to prioritize yourself, you need to make sure that you get enough sleep, you know, get off electronics, set up a time, this is when you’re going to go to bed. Because what happens is when you don’t get enough sleep, of course, your hunger The next day, you know, you tend to crave more carbohydrates, you’re not going to create salmon and broccoli. So usually you’re looking for more carbs, you’re hungry.
And they’ve also done a lot of studies on lack of sleep with worsened insulin resistance, increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. So it’s super important that all my clients, especially my clients with PCOS, get enough sleep. So I focus on that a lot. And then it’s what I find a lot of people have trouble with finding time to meal plan, you know, and I’m a New Yorker, but my kitchen is the size of a closet, you know, so I don’t cook much, I’ll admit, I don’t cook much. But you need to have a plan like you know, you have a busy day. So how are you going to be able to get healthy meals, you know, you need to have certain things in your home or your apartment, just so you’re ready. So the end of the busy day, you can come home and throw something together really healthy. You don’t have to sit down and cook this gourmet meal. So kind of like, you know, what I do with my patients is I give some education, I help to try and clear some of the confusion with the myths out there. You know, I talked about gluten and dairy? And should you go keto.
What about intermittent fasting? What are the nutrients that are healthy for PCOS? How can you start to reverse insulin resistance and decrease inflammation? Because they’re both really important. So we talked about, you know, that stuff, and then we get into the practical part of it. So you have this information? What are you going to do with it? Alright, so we know Yeah, wild Salmon and then and Quinoa and spinach is awesome, but how is that going to happen in your life? So a lot of that really is, is thinking about planning? And, you know, where can you get these meals? So it’s kind of a two pronged approach. So it’s really looking at lifestyle, doing education, and then doing the practical, how are you going to implement it?
That’s so true. And I noticed with our patients to and then our 90 day program, we start with mindset. So do you feel like that is important? Because I know that there’s definitely anybody can go online and just grab a diet or, you know, a cleanse, or any of these things. cookbooks are out there for sure. But it doesn’t automatically guarantee that you’re going to have success with maintaining your weight and and all that. So what would you say as far as the most important thing to start with when you are trying to change your mindset?
Yeah, I’m really glad that you brought that up, because if I were to kind of draw like a pyramid, like, you know, in order of importance, I think mindset should be really the base of the pyramid. Because like you said, you know, you read on on social media that, you know, so and so lost 20 pounds in a month doing this diet, and I have patients come into my office, and they’re so focused on the weight loss. And the diet, part of it is that they don’t, they don’t understand that if that’s all you’re focused on, it’s not going to last. So the first thing I would say is, you know, change your mindset, this is kind of a healthy way to eat for the rest of your life. It’s not a short term diet on. And rather than I think another thing is focusing on like what you shouldn’t have or can’t have.
And first of all, I don’t ever like to say to somebody, you can’t have that, that, you know, rather than saying, Oh, I can’t have any more pizza, or I can’t have any more bagels, I can’t have pasta, think about like the good things that you can have to try and you know, turn it make it be more positive. There’s so many delicious, healthy foods that you can have that can help to heal your PCOS. So changing your mindset there. So it’s thinking could have it in a long term, this to help you diet for life.
Trying to stop from thinking, “Oh, if it worked for her, it’s going to work for me.” Another big thing I tell people is that everybody, every woman’s an individual, you know, I’m sure you tell that to your patients is that we all have different metabolisms, a different genes and different gut microbiome and degrees of insulin resistance and inflammation. And food sensitivities is a huge one. So just because somebody else can’t ever have gluten, or dairy, or soy, or wheat or whatever, it doesn’t mean you have to do that exact same thing. So you need to listen to your body and find what works for you. I think find the least restrictive eating plan that you can so mindset, super important. So I always talked, I start all my sessions with that with my patients.
That’s awesome. And what do you think about? You know, a lot of times people say, well, women with PCOS can never have dairy. But in my experience, I can do okay with dairy. I mean, there’s certain things like, you know, a little bit of Greek yogurt, and all that is is fine. You know, so, like you said, individualization is important. And so I mean, as far as some of the myths out there, can you like elaborate a little bit on those? Because I know people are very caught up and, you know, not doing certain things like, you know, no carbs, and no dairy and no gluten and all these things. So what do you find as far as the biggest roadblocks you have when women are coming in with these ideas
I mean, I think that’s it. That’s a really, really good point. I’m glad you brought it up. It’s really my blog that brought it to me with PCOS. And I also specialize in IBS and diabetes and all these other conditions. And I haven’t heard so many like myths out there about these other conditions or something about PCOS where there’s just so much out there. And the biggest, the biggest one, I think I hear actually there’s two, is no dairy and no gluten. And a lot of the really popular, you know, coaches or influencers, whatever on social media, say you cannot have gluten and dairy. If you have PCOS, it’s like pretty much their poison. And here’s the thing, right? Sure, there are definitely people who cannot have gluten. Obviously, if you have celiac disease, you cannot have gluten, you can’t and that’s maybe 1% of the population. There’s another perhaps 7% of the population that’s gluten sensitive, maybe it’s more but statistically 7%. But just because you have PCOS, it doesn’t mean you can’t have gluten, and a lot of things out there, people will say Oh, it’s inflammatory, it’s going to make our your symptoms worse.
Well, it might for some women, you know, if you have a food sensitivity, sure, it will make it worse. But if you are able to tolerate, you know, small amounts of gluten, and I say small because I think women would PCOS should be on a monitor low carb diet. Um, I think the degree depends on the person, which is a whole separate subject. But sure, you shouldn’t be eating tons of carbohydrates. So you shouldn’t be having bowls of pasta. But if you have a slice of Ezekiel bread in the morning, that’s not going to cause inflammation in most people. So I think that’s a really big myth. And I think that’s a really big, it’s a really hurtful myth. Because it just makes you feel like if you have something that you’re bad and you’re a failure, you went off the diet, and that’s probably going to end up in more bingeing or, because I mean, women with PCOS have high rates of eating disorders, and higher rates of anxiety, depression, all that. And if you feel like, I can’t have fruit, I can’t have gluten, I can’t have dairy, like that’s going to mess you up.
And that’s going to lead to problems. So the biggest one, like you said, I think gluten is a big one, dairy is a really big one. And dairy is a hot button topic anyway, whether you have PCOS or not, I mean, there are many people who are really, really against dairy, you know, adults were aren’t meant to have dairy is a lot of stuff is out there, it’s inflammatory, it causes cancer, there’s a lot out there. Um, I think we can’t call all dairy is not created equal. Now, you had mentioned Greek yogurt. You know, there are a lot of studies out there that show fermented dairy actually decreases inflammation. But it’s also good for the gut microbiome. So I’m not pro dairy, I’m not anti dairy. I personally don’t even like milk, but if I have a woman come in and she loves plain Greek yogurt, have it.
Now if you have it, and it makes your symptoms worse, there are some studies that show that having dairy might worsen acne with the PCOS. So if you find you have a Greek yogurt, and your skin gets worse, don’t do it. I didn’t know I think you should be drinking glasses of milk, you know, that, to me is just I don’t think anybody needs to do that. But if you want to put a little milk in your coffee, or have you know, a little cheese, cheese is fermented. If you love a little Parmesan cheese, sprinkle some on your salad. But I don’t think unless you have an issue with dairy, it causes a problem. I don’t think all women with PCOS, you need to avoid dairy, you have to assess how you feel. And if you’re curious, cut it out for three or four weeks, you know, do cut out one thing at a time otherwise it will be confused. But cut out gluten for three or four weeks. But pay attention though, because a lot of times when women cut out gluten, they are eating less carbohydrate, maybe less white carbs, they feel better, because you know they’re eating less refined carbohydrates.
And they’re not going to be getting the blood sugar and insulin spike so you’ll feel better. So if you want to do a real experiment, I would say to you know, maybe cut out white pasta and substitute it with corn gluten free pasta. I mean, that would be a real experiment. But I’m, I’m all about experimenting, so to do a trial, cut it out and see if you feel better and do the same thing with dairy, cut it out and see if you feel better, that that’s a big one. Then there’s other stuff out there, like the whole carb thing. Women with PCOS need to do keto, you know, I’m super open minded. And I’m not a huge keto fan, but on the other hand, it has worked well for some women. If I would never tell a woman should to do keto off the bat. If you’ve tried everything, and you’re just not getting results, and you want to do keto, even short term, sure, do it. But I don’t think by any means everyone with PCOS needs to do keto.
Thank you. Everyone’s breathing a sigh of relief probably, you can hear a collective sigh, like good because I just feel like it’s just becomes I mean, I have a patient who’s 12 years old, who told me the other night and it really broke my heart. Like I honestly have been, you know, working with patients for 20 years like you and you go, there’s a lot of things that that we hear every day.
But this almost put me into tears when she said, “If I just look at food, I gain weight, and I can tell you all of the calories and everything I eat because I’ve been counting calories since I was nine years old.”
And she said “I hate my thighs, I hate myself” and that really kind of, you know, brings it home. It’s it’s not just that PCOS and as far as it’s not about the acne, it’s not only about the weight, it’s about also the depression that can come from not feeling in control of your body. Totally, definitely, it starts at a very young age. I think a lot of our patients have dieted for as long as they can remember. And they don’t know what it’s like to not be on a diet. So we’re kind of like the “undiet” people. That’s what I say. I don’t like that word, I just feel become, you know, a thing where you know, you have you have to be on a diet for the rest of your life. So, so what can you see, as far as far as like giving people a plan for life? What would you think would be a good idea? I mean, I know it needs to change as you get older, but I always say like follow something you can see yourself doing when you’re eighty and and would that be like more involved in like plant based with a little protein or, or I know that, you know, everyone’s unique, but what would you say would be something good to start with?
I kind of like thinking of the balance plate, I don’t know if you ever seen that drawing of the plate. And then there’s a line down the middle, and you feel half your plate with vegetables, and you feel a quarter with a protein and then a quarter with the healthy carb, and then throw some fat in there. I kind of like to teach people that kind of concept. It’s super simple. It’s not into counting macros, and all that I’m just trying to get in more vegetables. So in terms of you know, should somebody be plant based or not, that’s really individual.
Some women feel better having like, maybe having protein like chicken or fish or even meat or eggs, it just, it holds your cravings more, they feel more satisfied. So like, I wouldn’t really tell somebody to go plant based unless they wanted to, I’m fine with it, if that’s what the way they want to eat, it’s really healthy. But I think thinking of the plate method is a really good one. And I think it’s also finding ways to get those vegetables in because I think it’s like something like 90% of adults, or probably kids don’t eat enough vegetables. And I just did on, I just did a blog post on why women with PCOS should eat more vegetables.
And, you know, I gave like nine real reasons backed up by science. And a really important reason is, obviously they keep you feeling more full, they aid in weight management, they can lower cholesterol, decrease risk of diabetes, but really importantly is that they improve the health of the gut microbiome. We’re doing so many studies now on gut health, and the kinds of bacteria that we have in us, we all have about five pounds of bacteria living in us and on us. And most of it’s in the intestinal tract. And if you eat a lot of vegetables, you’re actually feeding those good bacteria. And that’s the kind of bacteria that can help you improve insulin sensitivity, decreased risk of other diseases and help you lose weight. Because they found out that certain kinds of bacteria actually lead to weight loss or other kinds of bacteria don’t, if you’re eating a typical Western diet, where there’s a lot of red meat or processed foods and you know, white carbs and sugar, that those kind of foods actually feed the bad bacteria. And that’s going to make it be more likely you’re going to gain weight and get these other diseases So, so vegetables is the big thing I would push up. But I like what you said about thinking how you would eat, you know, when you’re much older. That’s a good one. But I think the plate method is the easiest way to start.
Okay, and again, those ratios, what you’re saying with the plate method would be pretty much a balance between the proteins and the veggies or more veggies than then protein.
No, I would draw, I would draw a line down the plate in the middle. And I would do half your plate full of vegetables, and then a quarter protein and a quarter carbs, starches, whatever. Mm hmm.
Yeah, a lot of people they forget carbs are in vegetables. So, no carbs means no nothing. You know, it’s crazy. Right?
So that’s a great visual, I think that I could just, you know, really explain that a little bit better to people too. And I, I always recommend having a nutritionist if you are planning on, you know, restriction at all, or like thinking of, we have patients who want to do a vegan diet with PCOS, which is possible, but I really think it’s important to have someone in your corner that’s going to help you with, you know, portions and all those things, you know, so and also nutrient wise to be so important. And was we know, some B vitamins are easier to get from meat than the vegetables? So do you recommend supplements for your patients that are on vegan or vegetarian diets?
Yeah, I’d like to see their labs. You know, even if they’re not plant-based, even if they’re on Metformin, right, let’s just say you’re eating a regular diet with meat and all that. But you’re taking Metformin, which is a common medication for PCOS, that can deplete your B12 levels. So it’s really important, I’d like to see labs, I’d love to see B12. On if you know, they could do iron, you know, iron levels, especially if you’re plant based, you may not be getting enough iron, that could be a cause of hair loss, you might check for other kinds of anemia is, so I’d like to look at labs, and then I would be supplements based on what the labs were. And then you know, I would also take a look at their diet, and you can get your protein needs from a plant based diet, but you have to do some planning. And sometimes you may even need a plant based protein powder to get your protein up.
So I would want to just look at how they’re eating, are they getting enough protein. And I think this is a good time to bring up the whole issue of soy. Because soy is a really controversial topic, I think just in general, but especially with PCOS. And there’s a lot of stuff out there on social media saying you know, soy is horrible, it’s going to worsen your PCOS, It’s an endocrine disruptor and all that. But most if you look at most of the studies, and many of the true PCOS experts, naturopath, some MDs, they actually recommend soy for PCOS. But it also is not created equal, you don’t want to get the GMO soy, or the highly processed soy, for example, that’s found in a lot of energy bars, or cereals, or anytime you look at a food that should not be high in protein, and it’s really high protein, they’ve usually added hydrolysed soy protein isolate or something like that, that they’ve added in some process soy. So that’s not what you want. If you get like non gmo tofu, or, you know, edamame, or something like that, like that’s a great source of protein and that kind of estrogen or phyto, plant estrogens are actually good for PCOS. Unless you’re highly estrogenic, maybe not. But that’s great. So sure, you can have some soy? Should you have three servings a day? Probably not, but easily one.
That’s good. Yeah. And I do get that question a lot, because certain supplements have soy, or they’re made in a place that has, you know that it can. So I think it can add up as you look through certain things, you know, It can, yep. So. So that’s great advice. And I feel like we’re busting through all these myths, you know, a little by little. Sorry. So I think that there where we can actually get to the bottom of a lot of these misconceptions and actually become more free as far as you know, more diversity in the in the diet as well. And that can also help with our gut. So they’re learning so much more about gut health and all that too.
It’s such a fascinating topic. It really is. Just we’re just learning so much about gut, you know, gut it’s linked to, you know, your psychological state, depression, it’s just linked to everything. And we want to eat a diet that’s really good for the gut. And basically, that’s as many plant based foods as you can, and also prebiotics. I have a blog on my website, Martha McKittrick nutrition.com. And I have a blog just on PCOS. And I dive into a lot of these topics a lot like I write really long blog posts. And so I wrote one on why prebiotics are important for PCOS, and prebiotics are it’s a certain kind of fiber that you get in mainly plant foods like onions and garlic and certain vegetables and inulan and chicory root, artichokes, that there’s a whole lot of foods that contain these prebiotics.
And these are the kinds of foods that feed the good bacteria. We’ve all heard of probiotics, right? So probiotics, you can take a supplement, you get it in fermented foods, like kimchi or that kind of thing. But unless you have enough prebiotics, the probiotics don’t stay alive. So my concern for many women with PCOS on these really low carb diets and they’re just afraid to eat you know, any any really any foods with carbs, like eating some vegetables, you know what’s happening to her gut microbiome, probably not a good thing. That’s a concern for me. So I say to women, if you are the new keto, make sure you get in as many prebiotics for foods as you can.
Such good advice. And we could just talk about food probably, and actually getting hungry as we’re talking about food. When you change your diet to vegetables and eating vegetables with eternal, you actually start to crave veggies, I feel like you know, can really change your cravings to by, by things that you’re eating so, and I and I tell my patients this and they’re like, oh, no way, when I start craving veggies, I’m going to call you because that’s impossible, like it can happen and you can take it down totally water when you look at a salad, you know,
it can happen sometimes when I travel, and they don’t really have good vegetables is like all I think about is having some good vegetables when I get home, you definitely can start to crave them.
Definitely, well, if you could share those maybe, a resource that you found very helpful for your patients and women that you know who are struggling with PCOS, could you give us a link or a book that you might have found helpful?
Sure, there is a group it’s called The PCOS Challenge. And there it’s the largest nonprofit for women with PCOS and they are doing the most amazing job spreading awareness. We actually got to ring in the closing bell in the stock market in New York City last fall, which was really cool. We had our pictures like class it up in Times Square, but if you go to PCOSchallenge.com, they have a lot of videos, they have a radio show, they have all kinds of events they’re doing across the country, like they’re lighting up a lot of buildings teal, we’re having this huge PCOS symposium in Florida in Orlando in two weeks that they have PCOS walk, run, you know, five K’s across the country.
So definitely check them out, you can also find experts, medical experts, nutrition experts affiliated with them on their site. So that’s the place I would start. Um, there’s some great people to follow on on Instagram and social media. I mean, I’m not saying I’m great, but I have an account on Instagram where I’m most active, and I’m called the PCOS dietitian. And everything I’m posting is either evidence based, or it’s very practical. And I do lots of stories. And if you go to my website, MarthaMckittricknutrition.com.
And you sign up for my blog, you can get a lot of free handouts, I have like meal plans you can get for free, I have a plant based one, I have downloads on how to eat out healthy, low carb. So you know you want to follow people who are credible. There’s another really good site that I’ll give a shout out to. It’s called she’s called the PCOS Nutrition is what it’s called. Her name is Angela Grassi. And she is a dietitian, she’s written books, she specialized in PCOS, and everything she’s seen as also evidence based. And that’s what you’re looking for. So just be careful on social media, if you’re following people, and they’re telling you you have to exclude these food groups are you have to do this, you have to do that. You can’t have dairy, you can’t have gluten. Anytime you’re reading, somebody says you can’t have this, or another big thing is the exercise. And I could talk for hours, but I know we don’t have hours but um, there’s a lot of stuff on social media where you take these quizzes and you learn your type of PCOS, and you get put into this box, kind of.
And if you have this type, they say don’t do cardio or don’t do weight training, you can’t say that, you have to go by your own body. And if you’re doing high intensity interval training, and it wipes you out and you feel horrible, then don’t do it. But just because you have type A or type B, don’t feel like you have to follow these rigid guidelines. So be wary of people who are saying things that just sound a little off and follow people who lift you up. There were also some great peace advocates on Instagram, this one woman I love, your testing my memory here, PCOS support girl. She’s great. She’s funny, and she’s uplifting. And yeah, so anyway, find people who bring you up will give you good information and start with those sites I told you about.
Yes. And I love Angela, she was on our show a while back and I her and you know, also your Facebook page is great, because I just actually shared one of your infographics that you had about self care, which is great. So I I really look forward to hopefully getting to know a little bit more about any concerns that you guys have about around diet, any misconceptions, things like that, you can definitely reach out to Martha on her Facebook page. And also will post the links that we mentioned in our show notes. And we’re also on YouTube now. So you’ll be actually able to watch this interview and the video form on our YouTube channel, which will link to as well. And so thank you so much, Martha for being today. I really appreciate you sharing your wisdom. And thank you guys for listening. I look forward to talking with you guys next week. Take care everyone. Thank you.
- Importance of sleep for insulin resistance ([3:58])
- Finding time to meal plan ([4:47])
- Mindset and understanding every woman is unique ([8:55])
- Anxiety, depression and eating disorders with PCOS ([11:30])
- The plate method ([16:30])
- Soy and PCOS ([21:48])
- Eating a diet that is good for the gut ([23:25])
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
- Learn more about Martha
- The PCOS Challenge
- The PCOS Dietitian
- PCOS Nutrition
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