What Does a PCOS Belly Look Like? (+ How To Get Rid Of It)

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS for short, is one of the most common hormonal disorders affecting women of childbearing age, with 1 in 8 women suffering from this condition.[1]

PCOS is a hugely complex condition due to overlapping symptoms, and often women have a difficult time being diagnosed.

This article will detail how you can make important lifestyle changes to help alleviate side effects such as PCOS belly.

Women with PCOS are more susceptible to having excess visceral fat. This is the fat that is found deep in the abdominal cavity and wraps around the organs.

But what does a PCOS belly look like and why does the condition cause it?

PCOS belly fat is caused by higher levels of fat being stored in the visceral fat, or intra-abdominal fat stores (subcutaneous fat).

This is located deep in your body, and it is dangerous to have high levels of this type of belly fat as it increases your body mass index (BMI).

It can create a bloated stomach and a bulging belly that feels firm. Women with PCOS also tend to have a higher waist-to-hip ratio.

It should also be noted that not everyone with PCOS is obese or carries excess body weight, but it is common.

Those who suffer from PCOS tend to struggle with weight loss due to a multitude of reasons this article is going to discuss.

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woman squeezing her PCOS belly and holding a measuring tape

What Exactly Is PCOS & What Causes It?

PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, causes the ovaries to enlarge and develop small cysts around the edges, creating a multitude of issues to fertility and overall health.

Having PCOS means that you have a hormonal imbalance.

Part of this imbalance brings serious issues such as obesity, infertility, diabetes, and unwanted side effects such as increased abdominal fat, hair growth, acne, irregular periods, and pelvic pain.

The only conclusive test for the condition is a transvaginal ultrasound in which a probe is used to look at a woman’s reproductive organs to determine if there are cysts present on the ovaries.

Several factors can cause PCOS.

Too Much Insulin Or Insulin Resistance

Women who suffer from PCOS have issues with insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance is when the body's cells (muscle, fat, and liver) do not respond to insulin as they should.

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, and it is responsible for regulating blood sugar levels.

Women with PCOS can be insulin resistant which means the body can produce insulin, but it doesn't use it effectively.

This creates high insulin levels in the body and can lead to higher fat storage. High insulin levels trigger hormonal imbalance and increase fat accumulation around the organs.[2]

Low-Grade Inflammation

Low-grade inflammation is where the body’s white blood cells release compounds to ward off inflammation.

Women who suffer from PCOS can have a variety of low-grade inflammation due to androgen levels being elevated.

Genetics

PCOS has a strong genetic correlation. Alteration in the metabolic pathway due to a defect in the gene leads to the progression of PCOS in women.

When trying to diagnose PCOS, it is helpful to look at family history.[3]

Excess Androgen

There are a few different hormones that are associated with PCOS - androgens, insulin, and progesterone.

Hormones called androgens are male hormones but are also found in females, just in lower amounts.  

Women with PCOS have higher levels of androgen hormone, which means that the ovaries are producing too much testosterone (the dominant male sex hormone), which leads to male characteristics such as increased body hair, missed periods, oily skin, and increases in muscle mass.[4]

Hormonal Fluctuations

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that creates hormone fluctuations in the body. As stated above, there are several hormones at play with PCOS.

Because the body is not creating enough progesterone, women with PCOS are likely to suffer from irregular periods because ovulation does not occur each month.

Too much of one hormone and too little of another will cause all the issues related to PCOS.

It will also affect your menstrual cycle and create irregularities and painful side effects such as heavy bleeding and cramping.

woman taking her BMI measurements with a caliper

How To Tell If PCOS Belly Fat Is Forming? (Signs & Symptoms)

What does a PCOS belly look like?

PCOS belly looks a little different from carrying extra weight as the fat that has formed is visceral fat, deep within your abdominal cavity, and the lower abdomen can look particularly swollen. 

Everyone will experience this condition differently, but symptoms and signs of PCOS belly fat to look out for are:

  • Excessive bloating
  • Lower belly fat
  • Body hair growth on the stomach area

Signs that you are suffering from PCOS belly are:

  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Excess hair on your body and face
  • Weight gain around your lower abdomen

Risks of PCOS Belly and Related Weight Gain (Complications)

Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome tend to gain weight more easily and have higher levels of body fat than women who don’t have the condition.

Living with this condition can create risks of PCOS belly, abdominal obesity issues, and higher body fat issues.

Along with weight gain and increased visceral fat, PCOS has a host of negative effects on women's health.

Hypertension

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, causes the heart to work harder as the force of the blood pushing against the artery wall is always too high.

Those at risk of hypertension are people with obesity and insulin resistance. Because women with PCOS have both issues, they are at higher risk of hypertension.

Type 2 Diabetes

Women with PCOS become increasingly resistant to insulin; therefore, they are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes which has a direct influence on weight gain.

However, lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, quitting smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can help reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

Infertility

PCOS is the main cause of anovulatory (lack of ovulation) infertility in women, meaning there is a lack or complete absence of ovulation which is caused by interference from the cysts growing on the ovaries.

High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is produced by our body and ingested through our diet. High levels of cholesterol are detrimental to heart health.

Women with PCOS are at higher risk of high cholesterol due to obesity and insulin resistance. You can manage this by reducing excess fat in your diet.

Endometrial Cancer

Women with PCOS have a higher risk of endometrial cancer than those who do not live with the condition.

The risk increases as menstrual periods become more irregular and the production of estrogen but not progesterone continues.

woman speaking to a doctor in an examination room

How Else Can PCOS Affect Your Physical Appearance?

Along with all the internal health issues women can suffer, there is also an abundance of external issues that can have a seriously detrimental effect on a woman's confidence.

Excessive Facial and Body Hair

PCOS is a hormonal disorder, and some women with the condition will produce too much testosterone, dominant male hormones, which leads to excess hair growth on the face, neck, back, and chest. 

Acne

Because women with PCOS produce more androgen hormones, this creates more oily skin, which can block pores and cause acne to break out.

Male Pattern Baldness

Increased androgen levels affect the thinning of the hairline. Unfortunately, while women with PCOS grow unwanted hair on their bodies, it can create hair loss on the head.


How To Easily Manage Your PCOS Belly

PCOS sufferers must make daily choices to support the delicate balance of their hormones and alleviate their symptoms.

Eat Healthily

The most important thing you can do for PCOS belly and hormonal imbalances is to follow a healthy diet.

A PCOS diet should be a lifestyle change and not something just to lose weight but to help restore balance and alleviate PCOS symptoms and reduce PCOS belly.

  • Limit Your Carbs

Eating a diet with a high carb intake is not ideal for belly fat weight gain, and too much carb consumption will harm insulin levels.

The glycemic index ranks carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 based on how quickly and how much they raise blood sugar levels after eating.[5]

This scale is particularly beneficial for those with medical conditions who need to follow a low-carb diet.

Women with PCOS will benefit from following a low glycemic index diet.

  • Consider Having a Protein-Rich Diet

A high protein diet is important to incorporate into a PCOS diet, focusing on getting a good variety of high-quality protein sources such as chicken, turkey, eggs, chickpeas, and lentils.

  • Include Fibrous Foods

Incorporating more fiber in your diet is beneficial in helping digestion, lowering cholesterol levels and promoting blood sugar control.

Make sure your diet contains lots of whole foods, green leafy vegetables, and high-fiber foods such as legumes, oats, and chia seeds.

  • Eat Plenty of Healthy Fats

Healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, and fatty fish are rich in omega-3.

These are the healthy fats that should be incorporated into a PCOS diet to help with hormone production, brain health, and heart health.

Try to avoid a high-fat diet that is mostly saturated fats, such as red meat, cheese, and butter, and focus on monosaturated fats like the ones listed above, which will help lower cholesterol levels and are great for heart health. 

  • Avoid Sugar and Processed Foods

Reducing your sugar intake is going to have a positive effect on the body's chronic inflammation.

It will also help with insulin resistance by ensuring your blood glucose levels are stable and not consistently fluctuating, making it easy for the body to store excess glucose as fat.

Try to reduce packaged foods that are highly processed and focus on fresh, whole foods.

  • Say Yes to Fermented Foods

Fermented foods will help promote healthy gut bacteria and reduce the effects of PCOS belly. Healthy gut bacteria play a big role in metabolism and weight management.

Try food with high probiotics like yogurt or fermented foods like Sauerkraut to protect your delicate gut microbiome.

Mindful When You Eat

Emotional eating is a huge issue in obese women, and it can be a difficult cycle to break. It can also lead to binge eating, which leads to higher food consumption and poor food choices.

Try to address what leads to this behavior by working with a psychologist specializing in food disorders. 

Stay Active & Workout Regularly

A study was undertaken to show the effect that exercise can have on weight loss in women with PCOS.

Sixteen women took part in the 12-week study, which had participants doing 45-60 minutes of cardio 3 times per week.

The results show that women with PCOS did have a more challenging time with weight loss, as 2.4% with PCOS lost weight, and 6.4% without PCOS lost weight.

It did, however, highlight that PCOS women lost belly fat and improved insulin resistance from doing exercise. [6

While those with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome will struggle more with weight loss, exercise is going to help reduce excess body fat and, of course, have a positive effect on overall health.

Related Article - 10 Best Gym Machines to Lose Belly Fat

woman lifting a loaded barbell at a crossfit gym

Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is the absolute center of everyone's well-being, and it is the most easily overlooked. Sleep is crucial to restoring hormonal balance.

Getting the right amount of high-quality sleep will reduce your cravings during the day due to the role of the hormone ghrelin, the hunger hormone.

If you have reduced sleep and sleep quality, the brain produces more ghrelin leading to higher cravings and poor dietary choices.

Manage Stress

Managing stress levels is one of the best ways to manage your symptoms.

Look for ways to tap into your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest state), which lowers blood pressure and promotes digestion.

If your body is always in a sympathetic (fight or flight) mode, your cortisol levels will consistently be elevated, which puts your overall health and risk.

Try plenty of relaxation activities such as yoga for PCOS, meditation, journaling, walking in nature, and taking a bath with no distractions.

Learn More - 10 Different Types of Yoga

Lower Inflammation

Inflammation in the body is the body's response to fighting infection or injury.

Chronic inflammation is common in women with PCOS and is linked to obesity. Processed foods and excess sugar consumption are major culprits in chronic inflammation.

Omega 3-rich foods and whole grains can help reduce inflammation, so incorporate lots of this into a PCOS diet to reduce belly fat.

Reduce Toxins In Your Home

Endocrine disruptors are found throughout our environment in this modern day.

Certain chemical substances can play havoc with our hormones by blocking the production of our natural hormones.

Chemicals found in consumer products we use in the home and on our skin are a huge issue and should be eliminated where possible.

Chemical compounds known as xenoestrogens have an estrogenic-like effect and should be avoided at all costs.

Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle

It is important that, day to day, you make conscious choices to relieve or eliminate Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and not rely on medical intervention to help.

Give up smoking and limit alcohol consumption as best you can.

What you put in your body and your daily activities can have the most profound and positive effect on symptoms you may suffer from and will assist in the reduction of PCOS belly fat.

Also Check Out - Best Home Gym Equipment For Women

woman in her kitchen eating healthy fruits and vegetables

Common PCOS Belly Questions

At what age is PCOS usually diagnosed?

As highlighted in this article, PCOS can be extremely difficult to diagnose. The condition affects women of childbearing age -18-45, but it can be diagnosed at any age because many women may just put up with symptoms. 

Can PCOS go away with cardio training?

PCOS is not an easy condition to treat, so no, you cannot cure PCOS with cardio training alone. You must make important lifestyle changes and change dietary habits to help balance hormones and stabilize blood sugar levels.

Can you have a flat stomach with PCOS?

PCOS belly is not going to affect everyone who has the condition. Some people are of normal body weight and suffer from PCOS. If you do have excess fat around your abdomen, it can be reduced by following a proper PCOS diet and regular exercise. Having PCOS means it is harder to lose weight than those without the condition, but it can be done. 

What supplements should I be taking for PCOS?

There are a few different ways you can use supplements to help ease any negative effects of PCOS. If you suffer from PCOS, it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor about what supplements you can take that will have an effect. 


Conclusion

PCOS is a difficult condition for women to live with; there are many health risks associated with having this condition.

Losing weight is harder for those with this condition, but it is not impossible. You must make daily changes to your lifestyle to support your body in the best way.

This means eating a good diet that limits processed food, exercising regularly, and prioritizing sleep.

References: 

1. https://www.dovepress.com/genetic-basis-of-polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos-current-perspectives-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-TACG
2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17693095/
3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590161319300948
4. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001165.htm
5. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/
6. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0182412

Jo Taylor

Last Updated on January 17, 2023