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Natalie Ellis was 24-years-old when she was struck by a perplexing carousel of symptoms: Nausea, dizziness, constant hunger, and abdominal pain. But despite seeking medical help, doctors basically gave her a shrug: Things looked good. She really shouldn’t feel this way.
The only medication she was taking was hormonal birth control, which she was prescribed at age 16 to normalize her period. Now 25, at the suggestion of her gastroenterologist, she stopped taking birth control.
Though they hoped that her symptoms would disappear, the opposite happened: Her acne flared. Mood swings were out of control. Her period became irregular again. That’s when Natalie’s gynecologist diagnosed her with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal condition that affects one in 10 women and is one of the most common, treatable causes of infertility. Because metabolic dysfunction is so strongly associated with PCOS (70 percent of women with PCOS also have insulin resistance and more than half of women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by age 40), just a few years ago, doctors proposed renaming PCOS to “metabolic reproductive syndrome” to more accurately describe the condition. (Not all women develop cysts on their ovaries, as the name implies.)
Natalie suspected she might have some insulin resistance but received pushback from professionals she consulted. She was thin and didn’t fit the mold of someone who had insulin resistance. Eventually, she found a functional medicine doctor who ordered a series of bloodwork tests to assess metabolic function, confirmed that she had insulin resistance, and gave her a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to monitor her blood sugar and learn to control it, in hopes of improving her insulin sensitivity.
That’s just where her journey began, though. While the CGM confirmed that her blood sugar was “all over the place,” she didn’t know how to make the right adjustments to her diet and lifestyle to manage her levels. “I felt I was given this tool that was helping me see a problem, but I couldn’t understand what to do about the problem,” she says.
Here, Natalie, 28, the co-founder and CEO of BossBabe, a company that focuses on educating female entrepreneurs on how to start and scale-up businesses, shares her journey to better hormonal health.
On why her symptoms stumped her
My diet was pretty clean. I’d eat plain oatmeal in the morning or a smoothie. Snacks during the day were protein bars and keto-friendly snacks that spiked my blood sugar. But despite trying to eat healthily, my body was telling me something was wrong. It wasn’t normal that I’d feel so dizzy after eating. Or that I’d be so low on energy with such a traditionally healthy diet. After wearing the CGM, I was shocked to see that my blood sugar was spiking and crashing like crazy every day at lunch—going as high as 180 mg/dL and as low as 60 mg/dL—and this was associated with the symptoms I was having.
On using a Levels as her guide
Levels helps me interpret the data and do something about it. For example, after seeing the CGM readings, I swapped out breakfast oatmeal for collagen Bulletproof coffee in the morning. And I found that it’s not that I can’t have potatoes; I just can’t have them on their own. After that, I can see how that change affects my blood sugar. It took a really long time, though, to learn what I needed to adjust to avoid spikes, but eventually, I learned techniques to balance my blood sugar.
I also love how wearing the CGM adds some accountability. I don’t want to have a crazy glucose meal because it’s going to spike, and I don’t want that to show up in my chart.
Now, my glucose levels are pretty stable most of the time, and I’ve found that this helps minimize the symptoms I was having, like dizziness after eating and low energy. If I know that I’m going to eat food that causes a spike, I will try to do something to counteract that, like going for a brisk walk or doing a bunch of squats. And, if I decide that I’m going to change something in my diet, I’ll also use the CGM to see whether that switch works for my body or not.
Related article: How a CGM helped Abby O’Connor find a diet that eased her PCOS
On incorporating a new kind of exercise into her routine
I knew I would feast on Thanksgiving—and I didn’t want to compromise on it. That’s when I tried a pretty heavy strength training session that morning. My blood sugar was so stable throughout the day, which was surprising. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot more strength training, and it has a really good impact on my blood sugar.
On why stress is such an x-factor
The things that have moved the needle for me in managing my PCOS are tracking my blood sugar, getting acupuncture, taking supplements to support my hormones, and stress management. Stress is a big one because when I’m stressed, my condition really flares up. I was on a stressful work call recently, and my blood sugar just spiked like crazy. You would have thought I had a big cake for breakfast. I’ve learned over time that if I anticipate a stressful event, I should do breathing exercises to calm my body down to help control my blood sugar response.
On tapping into her values to grow her business
BossBabe is three years old. And we’ve grown quickly in creating this community where female entrepreneurs can come together. What I’ve realized is that you hit a certain point where it’s not really about the money anymore. It’s about what lights you up and how you can have a more significant impact on the world.
We get pitched every week by a brand partner, and if we don’t feel aligned with them, we turn it down. Saying no to the things my business partner and I didn’t feel aligned with has been so important. It doesn’t feel good to be in business relationships that are giving you anxiety.
On her hope to start a family soon
I want to have a family pretty soon. Before I got diagnosed, I thought I could have come off the pill and get pregnant right away. That’s what I’d been told. And that’s entirely not true based on where my hormones were at, and I wouldn’t have been prepared for the work ahead. It’s taken two years to balance my hormones and regulate my period so that I can naturally start trying for a family. I have so much hope that now I’m on the right path to achieve what I want to in life and business.
Natalie Ellis is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor, as well as the co-founder and CEO of media brand BossBabe. Under her leadership, BossBabe now reaches more than 10M+ ambitious women per month and has a community of 3.8M across their social media, blog, podcast, and newsletter. Natalie’s expertise lies in audience growth, content monetization, and business strategy. Natalie is passionate about supporting women to take action in creating lives that they’re in love with.