Food for thought: How what we eat affects our fertility

It was around the time of my third miscarriage that it finally occurred to me that perhaps being overweight was part of the problem. Obviously I knew I was heavier than I’d ever been and that having a higher BMI was considered a ‘bad’ thing. It was always something GPs and midwives focussed a lot of attention on when asked about fertility. Being classified as ‘obese’ was not something that I had intended. The thing is, I didn’t feel obese or unhealthy. At the time, I just figured, I’m a mom now, I’ve had a kid, this is what I look like and I’m okay with that. Conceiving my first child took some time due to being diagnosed with endometriosis and a blocked fallopian tube. However, when it happened at age 35 (almost 36), the pregnancy went relatively smoothly. And by smoothly I mean eating the occasional Big Mac and a daily ice cream (cravings will do that!) I gained weight, a lot of it. I made a promise to myself that I would work hard to lose it after my daughter was born. It turns out having a newborn baby makes you very, very tired and in my case, also a little depressed. So as it happens, the weight stayed. For several years. Then in September 2015, when at my highest weight and at age 38, I got pregnant. I wish I could say that it stuck but it didn’t. I’ll never forget what the midwife said to me during the scan when I found out it was a blighted ovum. I asked her ‘Is it because of my age?’ and she looked at me, with sadness and pity in her eyes and exclaimed quite confidently, ‘Yes, yes it is’.  It broke my heart but it also enraged me. Who was this woman to say that, in absolute terms, despite many possible alternative causes, that my age was the one and only reason?

It was around the time just after my third miscarriage the following year that a good friend of mine was also trying to conceive and facing her own issues with fertility. We spoke candidly about our struggles and she too was overweight. She met with fertility specialists, went to the gym and was given a new diet to follow, which she happily shared with me. Soon after starting this new way of eating, she got pregnant. I was amazed. Could food have such a direct impact on conception? Even still I didn’t follow the diet. I continued as I was.

I was finally referred to a fertility clinic at the Royal Free Hospital (you must first have three miscarriages in the U.K. for this to happen) but there was no mention of nutrition or that my weight was affecting my fertility at all. I still had a copy of my friends diet (which I would periodically look at, hoping to start it but never dedicating the time to plan) and of course, I read all of my fertility books, found countless pins on Pinterest about fertility diets, read articles on the subject but it wasn’t until I spoke again with my friend many months later over Skype that something clicked inside me. She wanted to lose weight again to conceive her second child, just as I was. She said cutting sugar worked magically for her the first time and that it would work for me too. We made a pact to push each other, to support each other and to send weekly updates.

The diet, or way of eating, began as a one month detox, removing toxins from my system by limiting sugars and removing ‘white’ carbs such as rice, potatoes and bread. I continued eating this way beyond the one month to see if it was sustainable and to my surprise, it was.

On most days I would have the same foods, such as egg and bacon for breakfast, large mixed salad with fish, olive oil and vinegar dressing for lunch and chicken or beef with grilled broccoli or cauliflower for dinner. Coffee with cream, berries and a smoothie with greens were the usual snacks, if I had any at all. This was the opposite to the usual low calorie, low fat diets I’d followed before. And I felt better than ever.

I was 39 years old, considered obese, with a history of recurrent miscarriage, a bum fallopian tube and painful endometriosis, but I was determined to make it happen. I was determined to get and stay pregnant. I was determined to prove that midwife wrong.

I started running, I followed the detox plan as closely as I could (with a little cheese added on occasion) and I took pictures of everything I ate to send to my friend.

I dropped a significant amount of weight, felt more energised and shockingly, I got pregnant again after only several months of charting, eating low carb and exercising. The moment I saw the positive test, I felt equal parts joy and terror. What if it happened again?

Thankfully this time it stuck, with some medical intervention involving progesterone pessaries, low dose aspirin and the inevitable severe morning sickness which I welcomed as a sign of things progressing well. After nine long, nerve-wracking months, my son was born six months before my 41st birthday.

Food is absolutely, positively medicine for our bodies but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle when it comes to fertility. There are many aspects of your lifestyle which will contribute to your chances of conceiving (which I will cover in upcoming posts and in my ebook.) But for me, this new low carb/low sugar way of eating was one big piece of the baby making puzzle.

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