Are you eating enough to conceive?
In today's world, 'healthy' has become nearly synonymous with 'eating less'. As a dietitian, when a woman asks me "is (fill in the blank food) healthy?", what she really means is, "will that make me fat?"
At Alavita, we believe in health at every size. Especially when it comes to fertility.
The number one reason we see women struggling to conceive is because they're not eating enough.
In simplistic terms, your body needs reassurance that you have the energy and nutrient reserves needed to grow a baby.
And this has nothing to do with your weight.
No matter what the number on the scale, BMI high or low, if you're not getting in the nutrients needed for optimal function of all your systems, your body will shunt the limited nutrients away from your reproductive system.
When trying to conceive, you need to get enough total calories, macro and micro-nutrients. Here's the breakdown of each:
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy (a.k.a. calories) that your body needs while at rest. This is the minimum calorie intake required to keep your lungs breathing and your heart pumping. You need more energy for basic life things, like brushing your teeth or even sitting at the computer. The more active you are, the more fuel you need. If you're getting out of bed each day, getting in some exercise and preparing for pregnancy, you could need anywhere from 300-1000 calories per day above your BMR.
Too many women, in attempts to be healthy or lose weight, cut calories too low and fail to meet their energy needs. The result? Impaired fertility.
Under-eating (or over-exercising without compensating via enhanced nutrition) puts your body in a state of stress, elevating stress hormones, like cortisol. Cortisol signals your thyroid (i.e. your metabolic engine) to slow down into 'rest & repair' mode, conserving energy and nutrients. Production of reproductive hormones falls by the wayside.
Again, even if you are 'overweight' by conventional medical standards, if you're not eating enough to meet your daily energy needs, your body gets stressed-out, your metabolism slows and getting pregnant becomes less likely.
Not sure how much you should be eating? We can help you determine the optimal energy intake for a thriving reproductive system.
2. protein, fat & carbs.
After you make sure you're getting the right amount calories, the next step is to get your macronutrients, your protein, fat and carbs, in balance.
Every woman is different, and needs vary based on height, weight, age, activity level, etc. However, there are some guiding parameters. If trying to conceive, we recommend aiming for ~20-30% of your calories from protein, 30%-50% from healthy fat, and the rest from complex carbs.
If you struggle with PCOS, insulin resistance or other blood sugar imbalances, you'll want to keep your fat:carb ratio higher. There is robust research suggesting that carb intake less than 45% of overall calories can improve fertility. Further research out of Harvard found that women eating low or non-fat dairy had an 85% increased risk of infertility compared to those eating full-fat dairy.
(Of course, quality matters just as much as quantity. Unfortunately, we cannot cram everything you need to know into this blog, but if you want more, our Prepare for Pregnancy Program breaks down how to choose the highest quality foods.)
Are we recommending you whip out your calorie counter to start calculating percentages? Definitely not.
The takeaway is that optimal reproductive function requires eating enough of each macronutrient.
Low-fat diets and juice cleanses are not your friend when preparing to make a baby. Swap your non-fat yogurt for full-fat and order your salads with the dressing.
Need a little guidance? The Alavita Prepare for Pregnancy Program includes two weeks of meal plans and recipes to get you started balancing your macros.
3. Micronutrients & Fertility foods.
Last, but definitely not least, you need to eat enough quantity and variety to get all the micronutrients needed for reproductive health. As I touched on above, even if you're eating enough calories to maintain a "normal" weight or an "overweight" BMI, in order for all of your systems to thrive, you need nutrients, not just calories.
There are a number of nutrient deficiencies, often subclinical, common among women trying to conceive.
Each of these nutrients has a long list of essential functions. To avoid getting lost in the weeds of nutrition science, we prefer to focus on nutrient-dense foods that offer highly bioavailable forms of many of the micronutrients necessary for reproduction. We call these 'fertility foods', and some of our favorites include beets, avocado, salmon, eggs and kefir.
Another shout out to the Alavita Prepare for Pregnancy Program, which lists our top 10 favorite fertility foods and suggestions for how to seamlessly fit them into your routine.
Thankfully, addressing deficiencies to improve your fertility has a delicious solution; eating good food. Hopefully you're convinced at this point that if you're hungry, you deserve permission to eat... for yourself and your baby-to-be.
You were made for this!