Food, Mind, Body, and PCOS: Angela Grassi

Getting a PCOS diagnosis can be overwhelming in more ways than one. You may be filled with questions like “what foods should I eat?”, “are there certain nutrients and vitamins my body needs more of now?” and maybe most importantly: “can I mitigate the symptoms of PCOS through diet?” 

To make things more complicated, there’s also a lot of information (and misinformation!) out there online. That’s why we decided to interview Angela Grassi, an anti-diet dietitian who specializes in all things PCOS. During our talk, Angela shed some expert insights on how best to approach nutrition, especially as it relates to balancing your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. Check it out. 

Give us some background on you!

My name’s Angela Grassi, and I’m a dietitian and author of two books, The PCOS Nutrition Center Cookbook and The PCOS Workbook: Your Guide to Complete Physical and Emotional Health. I dedicate my time to educating other dietitian’s about noticing the signs of PCOS, helping women with PCOS to cultivate eating habits that work for them, and researching the intersection between nutrition and polycystic ovarian syndrome. I also provide one-on-one counseling to people with PCOS and am the founder of The Nutrition Center, a resource which helps inform and empower women with PCOS to reduce their symptoms. 

Tell us about your PCOS journey. 

My PCOS journey began the year after I got married. Although as many women will know, I already knew before that formal diagnosis that something wasn’t quite right. For instance, why was I gaining weight so quickly (despite no changes to my eating or exercise habits)? Why was I getting acne in my late 20s? And why was I experiencing low blood sugar?

To complicate things further, I had always gotten my period, which is probably why my PCOS had flown under the radar for so long. But finally, before I started trying to get pregnant, I decided to really investigate what was going on. I saw a great doctor in Philadelphia – Dr. Katherine Sherif – who knew exactly what labs to run, ordered an ultrasound, and made sure to systematically rule out any other conditions that could have contributed to my symptoms. When the results of the ultrasound came back, the image showing the classic strand of pearls confirmed what had taken years for me to figure out: I had PCOS. 

From there, I spent a year working on balancing my hormones and lowering my risk for type 2 diabetes (which runs in my family). Luckily, when it came time to try to get pregnant, it didn’t take long to get a positive test back. 

How did you start The Nutrition Center? 

Well, I actually came up with the idea for The Nutrition Center after getting my own PCOS diagnosis. As a dietitian, I didn’t see the signs in myself, and I thought that would probably be the case for many other dietitians and health care providers. 

That’s why I wrote the book, PCOS: The Dietitian’s Guide, and soon after decided to branch off a little from treating people with eating disorders (though the two are very connected), and decided to focus on PCOS specifically. So really, The PCOS Nutrition Center has always been designed as a place to offer some support and answers to those struggling from this condition. 

What is the biggest piece of advice you’d give someone with PCOS?

My biggest advice would be: you can reclaim your life from PCOS. Getting your official diagnosis can be scary, but it doesn’t have to take over your entire life, especially since there’s differing degrees of severity, depending on your symptoms, genetics, and other factors. For instance, most of my patients with PCOS do get pregnant, even though PCOS doesn’t ever fully go away. 

At the end of the day though, I’d say the best way to take back control is to educate yourself, and from there make lifestyle choices that will serve and heal your body. 

Is the healthcare system missing something when it comes to quality PCOS management? If yes, what? 

I strongly believe the focus on weight loss as a treatment for PCOS needs to change. 

Unfortunately, there’s an enormous amount of weight stigma within the healthcare system, which prevents women from getting the care they need a lot of the time. If health care providers instead took the approach of first educating patients about the ins and outs of PCOS, as well as how sustainable lifestyle changes can positively impact symptoms, I’m confident PCOS can be managed much more easily. 

That’s why I strongly encourage women with PCOS to research, investigate, and prioritize things like nutrition, exercise, supplements, and stress management, because altogether they can have an amazing impact on mitigating PCOS symptoms and helping you take back control of your life.