It’s sad to say that this year is the first time I’ve really recognized infertility awareness week. Before I entered my mid 20’s I was really not aware of the number of women who have the story of infertility (1 in 8!). Even having been pregnant and always having an interest in the pregnancy/postpartum phase (personally & professionally), I was completely oblivious- and then it started happening to women in my life. The moms I set up playdates with, share carpool with and whom I love dearly. I was at a loss as to how I could support them- many were eager to pick my ear about nutrition and what they might do to support their chances of conceiving.
While I have not personally struggled with infertility, my work with women struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating has given me a wealth of experience to learn from. Many of my clients struggle with fertility due to the damaging effects of restriction, food obsession and over exercise, while I recognize how multifactorial the causes of infertility are, here’s what I’ve shared with clients looking to support conception:
Honor where your body wants to be
I know this is easier said than done, however I can not stress the importance of this enough. Any weight that you must manipulate with eating behaviors that are compensatory in nature is not a weight that is reflective of your bodies set point. Your set point is exactly where your body functions best and therefore appropriate biological mechanisms (HORMONESSS!) will be optimized for conception. When women are at a weight that is not reflective of a normalized eating style or that requires compensation to maintain, the body will not be able to maintain adequate fat stores. Adequate fat stores means estrogen can be regulated and produced and normal menstruation can occur, and this= babies.
Integrate supportive eating
When I started looking for nutrition literature around fertility I was flooded with search results of dozens of dietary recommendations (most of which were from non dietitians, grrrr). Similar to the diet industry, I felt a knot in my stomach looking at the price tag of some of the expensive supplements that were recommended to support fertility. While I am 100% in support of correcting nutrition deficiencies I feel most women can get everything they need from food first (with proper planning) sans spending $300 on supplements. With that being said, it is vital that those in recovery work towards continued food variety to ensure a range of nutrients are being consumed. If food groups are eliminated, demonized, or under consumed there is risk to conception.
Be mindful of movement
Too much exercise can impair ovulation- “too much” and what that looks like for every woman is highly individualized. Many women I work with ask me “what does too much look like?” and this of course is dependent on the woman’s history with exercise, weight status and duration/type of activity. I feel it’s important to add that just because a woman maintains what is seen as a “normal weight” they may still be at risk if they are not refueling appropriately, eating a sufficient diet or over exercising.
Navigating the journey to recovery from an eating disorder or disordered eating is emotional and tiring, put struggles with trying to conceive on top of that and the risk to a woman’s physical and emotional wellbeing are likely at stake as well.
Are you looking for support in your journey to conceive while in recovery? I’d love to chat more, send me an email and share a bit more about your experience at: firstname.lastname@example.org.