How I cured my PCOS by going vegan
Bianka is a young woman, a nutritionist and the co-founder of Nourish’d Me. Bianka has experienced the challenges of living with PCOS. Today, she shares her story of taking control of her health - a journey of determination that has led to a very rewarding outcome.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Hungary but also lived in Germany. After visiting London twice I felt that the city would be right for me: people here are open to a healthy lifestyle. My health issues very much informed my choice of London as a destination, I needed to be in a place where I could take care of myself. I intended to be in London for just a year, in the hopes of learning about healthy businesses and maybe going back to Hungary to open a vegan café. I realized that London was so rich with opportunities and things to do that I decided to stay. It was my big new start.
Bianka with her co-founder. All images courtesy of @nourishd.me.
What is PCOS and what did it mean to you?
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that can result in many different symptoms - people experience it differently. The most common symptoms are multiple cysts on ovaries, insulin resistance and increased levels of androgen hormones such as testosterone.
These can result in gain weight, male pattern hair, acne and other symptoms. For me, PCOS resulted in being overweight. At the time in my life when I was diagnosed (early 20s) I didn’t care about having erratic periods, but my inability to control my weight was exhausting. I’ve always been very sporty, but when I stopped taking oral birth control I couldn’t seem to lose weight regardless of my efforts. I couldn’t understand why this kept happening and was very depressed. On top of the weight gains I had constant period uncertainty, bad skin and extra hair. I thought my 20s would and should be the best part of my life, but all I could focus on was the never-ending fight with my weight. I would have given up anything to get better.
How did you learn of the connection between diet and PCOS?
When I was diagnosed with PCOS I got a very rigid diet from my doctor. This involved scheduled quantities with exact gram measurement for each meal and each ingredient. It was a super strict diet coupled with constant exercise. After 2 years of it going nowhere I was really depressed, overweight and on medication.
Around the same time, my cousin was diagnosed with endometriosis. We were both desperate to do something. It was then that her mom (my aunt) found a macrobiotic advisor. This health coach shared her story with us and explained how foods could help or hurt. Not having meat was a crazy thought for me at the beginning. In Hungary, vegetarianism is not a big thing – going vegan felt even scarier. Even so, I was so determined that from one day to another I made the switch. For 2 months after switching my diet I continued taking medication out of fear. 3 months after the diet change I saw such huge improvements that I stopped taking meds. 2 months after that I went for a blood test and 3 years into the PCOS craziness I finally saw significant improvements. The doctors were so shocked they credited the medication and doctors assisting me, but it was actually entirely the diet.
After that, I never went back. I started studying and understanding how diet and health are entwined. My PCOS is now officially gone. My period is regular without taking oral contraception.
Your diet journey has evolved from macrobiotic to plant-based - can you explain that journey?
Macrobiotic is a Japanese style diet that prescribes local, season, non-refined foods. It’s mostly comprised of grains, legumes, beans and a lot of vegetables. Everything is served in a balance according to a set of yin and yang principles. My studying led me to learn about other important aspects of nutrition. I became interested in how different foods could be integrated - even though neither season or local. Avocado and coconut oil are examples of non-seasonal or non-local foods that I integrated. This process evolved my diet into being fully plant-based, not restricted to a specific style or method. It’s the combination of all things that worked for me.
How did your health journey evolve in London?
A year after moving to London I started studying nutrition at the college of naturopathic medicine. When I realized how quickly the diet had changed me I needed to learn more. I did the certification to advise myself on my own needs, just so I could fully understand how diets work and why these changes really helped me. The course lasted 3 years. When I’m not at whole foods [where she works full time in the supplements department] I help private clients. I don’t practice full time because of my job, but I do help people back home with skype consultations. There aren’t that many nutrition therapists in Hungary so I want to provide support.
How has formal schooling changed how you think of health and nutrition?
At school I learned about supplements and how I can use different nutrients to help improve my condition. Supplements are a very individual integration; someone who has PCOS will have different needs than someone who doesn’t. For example, PCOS may result in insulin resistance. This is why I started taking alpha lipoid acid and chromium - to improve insulin sensitivity. My in-depth knowledge of food and health helped me focus in and address how I could improve different parts of my body: pancreas, liver and digestive system.
You launched a project to educate and teach others, can you tell us about how it came to be?
When I was working in the marketing department of whole foods as a demo specialist I came up with the idea of doing a refined sugar-free class, which turned out to be quite popular. I then moved to another role within the company, where I met a vegan colleague who was also interested in healthy foods and lifestyle. We held 6 very successful classes around plant-based proteins, sugar-free, and super foods. This led us to see that we could launch our own project with resulted in the birth of Nourish’d Me. It’ll be 2 years in January since we launched. My friend has moved so it’s trickier to keep it alive now, but I still do private classes on request.
What does your typical day look like in terms of food?
I realize now that eating well is not about quantity so much but quality. In the morning I’ll make savory buckwheat pancakes with cashew cheese and fresh greens. For lunch and dinner it varies, I might have gluten-free pasta with veggies (I love mushrooms), a veggie burger with salad or a soup with miso. I used to eat a lot of grains but I’ve decreased that now. I stick with lots of vegetables and beans now - I love beans.
Do you think there is enough information out there about the connection between diet and health?
I work and live in an environment where people know about these connection, but many others do not. Many don’t have access to the information they need to make informed decision. Social media is helping raise awareness, but there are still many people who don’t know. I never push people into making the same choices I have, but I’ll share my story and experience, giving them additional reading if they want it. Sharing is caring, and I try to plant the seed in people’s mind so if they really want to they can give this a try.
People might think that nutrition therapy is expensive, but it’s the type of thing that can save you a lot of money in the long term, as you take control of your health. You might just get 15mins with your doctor, but a nutrition therapist will be with you several hours to get into the details of your health and lifestyle, really understanding what you need.
One last question - where do you head out for a plant-based treat?
I love Mildred’s and Picky Wops for pizza. Dishoom also has an amazing vegan breakfast - it’s my favourite!