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What Does a PCOS Belly Look Like?

September 21, 2022
Written by
Team NutriSense
Yumna Farooq
Reviewed by

PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, is an endocrine condition that some researchers believe may be on the rise. According to the CDC, about six to 12 percent of American women of childbearing age have PCOS.

This condition, which causes cysts to form on the ovaries, can affect everything from endocrine health to gut health to fertility and even skin health. Because PCOS is multifaceted, its symptoms can vary greatly depending on the individual. In fact, women who don’t know they have PCOS are sometimes even misdiagnosed

A PCOS belly is one of the most commonly experienced symptoms of PCOS, and looks different from other types of weight gain. In this article, we’ll be diving into what PCOS belly is, what causes it, and then share some tips for PCOS-related abdominal weight gain. 

What is a PCOS Belly and What Causes It?

a woman talking to her doctor

Like any other syndrome, PCOS can involve a variety of different symptoms. One of the more common ones is abdominal weight gain, which is often referred to as the “PCOS belly.” 

A PCOS belly is the result of PCOS-related weight gain and may be caused by different factors. Weight gain in individuals with PCOS follows a characteristic pattern that involves more abdominal visceral fat gain compared to the rest of the body. 

This kind of weight gain in the lower abdomen appears to be associated with inflammation. Research shows that the adipose tissue, or fat, in the abdomen of women with PCOS contains inflammatory molecules. These molecules can increase oxidative stress in the body and may lead to glucose dysfunction as well as insulin resistance. 

PCOS belly is also physiologically different from other types of weight gain. Many women will report having an enlarged belly while the rest of their body has remained the same size. 

This may be due to excessive weight gain in the abdomen, bloating, or a mix of both. Women with this condition may also find it difficult to lose weight. However, abdominal weight gain is just one potential symptom of PCOS. Here are a few other symptoms to watch out for if you suspect you may have PCOS. 

Other Symptoms of PCOS

a woman holder her stomach while sitting down

PCOS is a different experience for every woman, and each person may experience a unique range of symptoms. Along with a little extra belly fat that some women may notice, here are some other common symptoms of PCOS:

  • Irregular menses 
  • Pain during menses 
  • PMS 
  • Excessive hair growth (hirsutism)
  • Infertility 
  • Bloating 
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea 
  • Low mood or mood imbalances 
  • Feelings of anxiety 
  • Food sensitivities or intolerances 

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms for an extended period of time, consider consulting your primary care physician or a medical professional to rule out PCOS.

Things to Consider if You Have a PCOS Belly

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re dealing with PCOS-related weight gain.

The Connection Between Hormones and Inflammation 

a woman laying down while in pain

PCOS is also characterized by hormonal imbalances such as:

  • Excess androgen levels such as high testosterone, which may be related to the difference in how women with PCOS metabolize estrogen 
  • Elevated insulin levels 
  • Insulin resistance 
  • Low progesterone (which may contribute to irregular menses)

Working to address these imbalances may help reduce inflammation and reduce a PCOS belly. You will want to work with your doctor and nutritionist, as this may involve a mix of different lifestyle changes (and, for some, medications). 

Gut Health and Hormones

The gut plays an important role in regulating sex hormones such as estrogen. The gut microbiome works to metabolize such hormones, and gut dysbiosis can contribute to hormone imbalance. It may also contribute to conditions such as PCOS. 

Some research has found a link between specific types of dysbiosis conditions such as IBS and PCOS. This suggests that focusing on balancing the gut microbiome may help alleviate some PCOS symptoms.

Here are some tips for healthy gut function from Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN, and dietitian at Nutrisense:

1) Focus on Whole Foods

a few plates and bowls of chopped fruit

When it comes to a PCOS diet, aim to eat nutrient-dense whole foods to meet your unique macronutrient and micronutrient needs and avoid highly processed foods. If you aren’t sure what your personal needs might be, consider working with a qualified nutrition professional who can help you take a closer look. 

2) Address Dietary-Induced Stress

Address additional dietary factors that can lead to physiological stress, such as nutrient imbalances and potential food sensitivities or intolerances. This may include gluten intolerance, dairy allergies, or even sensitivity to high levels of carbohydrates. 

3) Get Appropriate Amounts of Exercise

Getting regular exercise or moving your body every day can have a number of positive health benefits. It’s great for weight management or obesity, and can even help reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

While there may be ways in which exercise can reduce inflammation and improve microbiome composition, it’s important to make sure you’re doing the right amount and type of exercise for your body. Pushing harder and faster than you might be conditioned/fueled for may be counterproductive. 

In some cases, physical activity may lead to a 50 percent reduction in intestinal blood flow, a stressor on the gut that can potentially lead to a leaky gut. Consider working with a sports nutrition professional to find the right balance.

4) Limit Alcohol Consumption

a woman holding a glass of wine

Consuming less alcohol may be helpful, as it’s known to affect the GI tract motility, absorption, and permeability. Learn more about the numerous positive effects of a healthy gut, including improved blood sugar levels, here.

Focus on a Nutrient-Dense Diet 

As we mentioned, focusing on eating a healthy diet can go a long way if you are dealing with unpleasant symptoms of PCOS such as weight gain. Here are some PCOS friendly nutrient-dense foods that can help support your endocrine health, gut health, and even PCOS-related inflammation. 

1) Experiment with Different Macronutrient Ratios

Following a low-carb diet isn’t always necessary for individuals with PCOS, though this type of diet may be beneficial for people with signs of insulin resistance. Dietary sensitivities may vary from person to person, so it’s important to speak to a dietitian or nutritionist about the best type of eating pattern for individualized needs.

Experimenting with different carb and macronutrient ratios to help determine carb sensitivity and glucose tolerance may be beneficial. The amount of carbohydrates a person is able to tolerate can depend upon the level of insulin resistance, but many with PCOS may have a lower carbohydrate tolerance. 

Low-carb or ketogenic diets rich in non-starchy veggies, proteins, and fats may be an option for some. It’s important to discuss diet and nutrition choices with a credentialed dietitian or doctor before making significant changes.

A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is one way to learn more about how the body reacts to certain types of foods to help you make healthier lifestyle choices. 

2) Find the Right Caloric Intake for Your Body

Eating too many or too few calories can have negative effects. Feelings of sluggishness and malaise may be worsened by putting large amounts of food into the gut at once. When that food gets broken down, insulin resistance may be further exacerbated by large spikes in blood sugar. High caloric intake may exacerbate some problems related to PCOS

However, many women with PCOS may try over-restricting calories in an effort to lose weight. Watch out for this trap! Under-eating can also sabotage weight and metabolic health goals. PCOS is also a prevalent cause of infertility, so it’s important for people with PCOS to eat a balanced diet when trying to get pregnant.

3) Consider Reducing Alcohol

Alcohol may have an effect too. Not only do we see the potential for heavier regular consumption of alcohol to impair insulin sensitivity directly, but even moderate consumption of alcohol may lead to higher amounts of estrogen circulating in the body. Alcohol can impact how the body processes estrogen and other hormones. 

Alcohol consumption may also increase the risk of certain estrogen-sensitive cancers. Studies show that consuming higher amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of endometrial cancer, as well as breast cancer, and this link may have a strong connection to the changes in how our body processes estrogen. 

PCOS symptoms are strongly related to endometrial cancer risk. In fact, women under age 50 with PCOS have a four times higher likelihood of endometrial cancer than women without PCOS.

4) Consider Reducing Caffeine 

Due to the hormonal changes happening in PCOS, many may find it difficult to maintain consistent energy levels, and reaching for more caffeine may seem like the obvious solution. But not so fast! 

Caffeine may alter the perception of energy levels by altering how the adenosine receptors function, but it won't actually increase cellular energy production (ATP) or provide fuel for actual energy production. 

Caffeine may boost energy in the short to medium term, but some studies suggest that more fatigue may result over the long-term for some people, as the body compensates for this initial stimulant effect by increasing sensitivity to adenosine over time, among other mechanisms.
Another area to consider is caffeine’s impact on cortisol. In PCOS, cortisol levels are often persistently elevated. In some studies, we see that both short and long-term caffeine use may elevate cortisol for some people. 

This response also seems to be impacted by other medical factors, such as how likely someone is to develop hypertension. Those who may already be borderline hypertensive or with a positive family history appear to have more rapid and prolonged cortisol responses to caffeine. In those with PCOS and/or insulin resistance, the risk of hypertension is higher. 

Research is still ongoing, but those with both insulin resistance and hypertension may be more susceptible to the negative effects of caffeine on the HPA axis and cortisol dysregulation.

Get the Right Type and Amount of Exercise In 

a woman holding a yoga pose

As we mentioned earlier, more exercise isn’t always better. It’s all about balance and finding what works best for your unique body. Over-training or over-exercising can be just as detrimental to hormonal health as not exercising enough. 

The right type and amount of exercise will differ for each person, so it’s important to listen to your body. Not only can appropriate exercise help with PCOS-related weight loss, but it may also support healthy menstrual cycles

You may want to focus on strength training to help improve body composition and insulin sensitivity, but this may depend on your preferences as well. Here are some other exercises to try with PCOS:

  • Flexibility training 
  • Cardio 
  • Strength or resistance training
  • Mindful movement such as walking, stretching, and rejuvenating yoga 

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with NutriSense 

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With NutriSense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living. 

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how NutriSense can support your health. 

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

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What Does a PCOS Belly Look Like?
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Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]

Learn everything you need to know about the relationship between triglycerides levels and blood glucose.


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Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer
Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer

If you're gearing up to travel or spend more time outdoors this summer, here are a few tips to help you stay safe and hydrated in the sun.

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Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim
Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim

Purim, a joyous occasion celebrated around March or April every year, is just around the corner! Read on to learn more about the holiday and the delicious foods that accompany it.

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Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians
Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians

Still haven't settled on the perfect gift for your Valentine this year? Take a look at our Nutrition Team's favorites for some thoughtful ideas.

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The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For
The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For

Because nerve damage can have many silent symptoms, it often goes undiagnosed in the early stages. Read on to learn more about what causes nerve damage and some warning signs to watch out for.

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The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health
The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health

Ready to learn all about fiber beyond just the basics? In this post, we dive deep into the different kinds of fiber and health benefits of each. From functional fiber to fermentation, we break down all the jargon into a layman's language.

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The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar

Did you know that cardio can help you lose weight as well as optimize your health and blood glucose? Here's everything you need to know about cardio and its relationship with blood sugar.

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The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss
The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss

Find out what unhealthy weight loss is and learn more about its side effects and what you can do to prevent them.

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6
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The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure
The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure

Learn about the warning signs of low blood sugar and the relationship it has on blood pressure.

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10
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The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar
The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar

Here is everything you need to know about the relationship between weight lifting and blood sugar.

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The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the human body, contributing to the structure of the cells, helping with vitamin D synthesis, and also promoting the production of steroid and sex hormones, like cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen. But how exactly is cholesterol connected to blood glucose levels?

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The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

NutriSense dietitian Katrina Larsen, MS, RD,N, LD, CDCES discusses the risk factors for sleep apnea and how this disorder is linked to other health conditions.

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The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels
The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels

The premise of the paleo diet is that the body can handle a mix of meats, fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and complex carbohydrates better than processed meats, refined fats, grains and simple carbohydrates because it evolved to eat the first category as hunter-gatherers.

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The Health Benefits of Winter Squash
The Health Benefits of Winter Squash

A common ingredient in cozy winter recipes, winter squash is one of our favorite foods this time of year. Read on to learn more about how it can benefit your health.

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love

Haven't finished your holiday shopping yet? Pick from this list of NutriSense-approved holiday gifts to find some great last-minute stocking stuffers for everyone on your list!

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love

Still haven't bought all your holiday gifts this year? Don't worry—there's still time to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Read our guide for some great ideas!

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The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose
The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose

Learn more about inflammation, how it affects blood glucose levels and what you can do to prevent and manage it.

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9
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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

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The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes
The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are similar in usage, but pretty distinct in taste, texture, appearance, and even nutritional content! Read on to find out more about each one.

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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face? Read on to learn all the ways living with pets improves your wellbeing.

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The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices
The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to dishes, and also have a range of health benefits. Learn more about a few of our favorites.

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12
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The Health Benefits of Beans
The Health Benefits of Beans

Learn about the health benefits of beans and how they can help you live a healthier, longer life.

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6
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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

Review our guide to metabolic diets to help get a better understanding of what they are and whether they might be right for you.

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The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa
The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa

Learn about the traditions and nutrient-dense food commonly enjoyed during Kwanzaa. 

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9
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The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection
The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection

Have you ever wondered how your glucose levels might be connected to joint pain? We'll take a deep dive into this connection and share tips for reducing pain.

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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

This article explores hypoglycemia in non-diabetics, how to manage symptoms through diet, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.

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The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels
The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels

Take a look at how aging can affect your blood glucose levels.

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The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Read on to learn more about vitamin D-rich foods and what you should include in your diet to make the most of this vitamin’s health benefits.

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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet
The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet

In this article, we break down what a low FODMAP diet looks like for beginners, and its potential benefits and drawbacks for gastrointestinal health.

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The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis
The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis

When it comes to bone health, good nutrition is absolutely critical. Read on to learn what osteoporosis is and why some foods may increase your risk of or worsen the condition.