Traveling with PCOS
[ This guest post was submitted by the lovely Selena Marinello, a talented photographer and world traveler who, like me, suffers from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. PCOS and its tendency to slash your self-esteem with symptoms like excessive weight gain and hirsutism can hold you back from experiencing life to its fullest. But cysters like Selena have found ways to manage these symptoms and insecurities, even while living a nomadic lifestyle. All images are hers. - Jen ]
So . . . What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
It’s like having a tiny poltergeist in your body that knows all of your fears and can ruin your day at the drop of a hat, just to make your life a little more challenging.
In basic terms, PCOS is a hormonal disease that has been nicknamed “the Silent Killer” because it increases a woman’s risk of type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure. Fun times!
Is there a cure for PCOS? NOPE!
Will it go away? NOPE!
There may be no cure, but we can control our symptoms by exercising and eating right.
I know, I know . . . these are two things you probably don’t want to think about when you’re traveling. If you’re like most travelers, you want to indulge and not acknowledge the consequences. I’m sorry to say, though, that this isn’t a realistic expectation for women with PCOS, but fear not! Throughout my travels, I have picked up some helpful pointers that can make managing your PCOS seem a little easier whenever the wanderlust bug bites.
Stop the Negative Talk. Traveling with PCOS is Possible!
If you have PCOS and have your own routine down, don’t leave it at home – use it! There’s no substitute for your own proven routine, so bring it with you. In many cases, that familiar routine can help keep you motivated during those jetlagged days when all you want to do is stuff your face with the local carb-filled fare and sleep until you feel less zombie-like. If you stick to your routine, you will not only feel better physically, but emotionally too!
For most sufferers, PCOS causes a lot of weight gain and a whole slew of other health annoyances, and it’s understandable to have a few self-confidence issues and concerns before taking on a big trip.
You might think you’re too fat to travel. You might think you won’t enjoy it because it’ll be uncomfortable, or because you have too many “needs” due to insulin resistance or having to shave to enjoy a sightseeing tour.
Well, my dear PCOS-ridden friend, there are ways to manage the disease and feel good about yourself, no matter where you are!
I’m not going to be able to convince you to get over your insecurities in one post, but I can help you understand that once you’re outside your comfort zone, your weight is probably going to be the last thing on your mind.
Yes, there will be those unfortunate, fat-phobic people everywhere in the world, but you’re living your life to the fullest. Who’s to say they are? You’re living out your dream in whatever country you’ve got your heart set on, and realizing that dream can’t depend on the small chance someone will heckle you or give you a judgmental stare. Those are the kinds of people who are missing out on beautiful moments.
You, on the other hand, are mentally flipping the bird while taking in experiences and sights that you'll remember for the rest of your life.
My Top Tip for Traveling: Don’t “Diet”
If you go on a trip saying that you’re on a diet, you will break it after the first meal. Either that, or everyday will become your “cheat day.”
When I was first diagnosed with PCOS, I went on a “diet” that was extremely strict and hardly consisted of enough calories to keep me alive. My closest friend will tell you that I lost the weight, but I became a hangry monster in the process. After eating a giant muffin and regaining my perspective, I decided that I can’t diet. It’s not in me to diet. I needed to change my lifestyle completely and adapt it to my nomadic tendencies.
So how do I do it?
I find a balance day to day. If I’ve had excessive amounts of sugar and carbohydrates during a single day, I’ll make an effort to work out a little harder and eat a bit lighter the next.
The most important thing to do while traveling is to listen to your body. Your body is pretty talkative if you know how to listen, so lend an ear and make changes if something doesn’t feel right. You’re not going to find frou-frou green drinks on every corner of the world, so have a contingency plan. The whole point of traveling is to experience new things – and PCOS shouldn’t hold you back from doing that – but you also shouldn’t ruin your body in the process.
Properly Fueling Your Body is Key
The two lovely PCOS symptoms that cause me the most amount of grief are low blood sugar and excess hair. My insulin resistance and hypoglycemia have played the biggest roles in my weight gain and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. The way I’ve learned to maintain or manage it is by taking vitamins, keeping healthy snacks on me at all times, and making sure to stay hydrated. Some of my all-time favorite travel snacks are:
- Fresh veggies
- Almond butter packets
- Mixed unsalted nuts (100 calorie bags)
- KIND Healthy Grains Bars in Maple and Pumpkin Seeds with Sea Salt (I don’t eat these often because they have more sugar and carbs than I’d like, but they’re perfect if you’re having a high-activity day)
- Seitan Primal Strips (I eat these the most because of the high protein and low sugar/carb count)
If I’m feeling off (i.e. anxious, depressed, clammy, stiff . . .) on the day of departure, I know I’m going to have an episode – what I call my “low blood sugar moments – and need to get a decent meal in that day. I’ll most likely eat a big breakfast (or two small breakfasts!) and make sure to drink lots of water. I also like to get to the airport early so I can take a little walk around the terminal to help myself digest my meal before sitting in a tight cabin for 14+ hours.
Before leaving for the airport, I drink at least 24 oz. of water and eat an egg white and avocado omelet with garlic (no cheese, but you can add tomato or red peppers), two low-fat sausages, and a giant cup of coffee.
Most airports have market-style eateries where you can grab fresh fruit and other healthy options, so I like to pick up a mini 2% Greek yogurt from Fage and a container of mixed berries. This is also when I take all of my vitamins for the day and drink another 24 oz. of water before takeoff.
Since airplane food can be difficult to avoid, especially on long flights, I try to avoid eating as much processed food as possible beforehand.
Expert Flyer Tip: Have the Flight Attendants Fill up Your Water Bottle
I always have my reusable water bottle on me when I travel. With PCOS, you don't want to expose yourself to more chemicals than you have to, so choose a BPA-free water bottle. The options range from cheap flip-top bottles to sports bottles with fruit infusers and even durable stainless steel options.
You can’t carry water with you through security, but some airports have water bottle filling stations or, at the very least, water fountains. Once on the plane, I ask a flight attendant to fill up my bottle and return it to me before taking off. You simply give them your seat number and they’re usually happy to comply. Most even give you ice, too.
The best thing to do while flying to avoid a low blood sugar attack is to keep hydrated and fuel up on good, long-lasting fats!
Dealing with that PCOS Facial Hair
Excess hair used to be something I was always nervous about when traveling. It’s a nightly routine for me to pluck and shave, and I worried about not being able to do that on the go. But then I found out that disposable razors, small tweezers, and small scissors were allowed on the plane!
Now I’ve made hair removal part of my plane ride pamper sessions.
I also like to do a mask and cleanse my face while flying, and I’ve found that nobody is going to look at you funny if you grab your toiletry bag and go to the bathroom for a while. The other key thing to remember is: no one cares. People are pretty oblivious, and even more so on long plane rides, and again, I can’t stress this enough, who cares? Other girls need to pluck random upper lip hairs too. Hey, we’re all human.
All in all, I hope more of my PCOS cysters join me in discovering how wonderful the world truly is. The insecurities we expect to feel will melt away once you’ve reached your destination. There are too many experiences waiting for you, so don’t make the mistake of weighting for a new life or body before taking that first step!