My fertility journey has changed many things in my life. Interestingly that also includes having changed my relationship with food. As someone with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), managing my diet is an important part of my lifestyle. My ‘PCOS’ diagnosis came very soon after my husband and I started trying to conceive, and it has meant working hard to get symptoms such as insulin resistance, high testosterone and oestrogen dominance under control. While the initial years were a struggle because I had little information or support in managing my condition, I was very lucky to eventually find my way to the right experts who thankfully had much deeper understanding and guidance to offer me. With their help and a more personalised approached, I was able to make the necessary lifestyle changes, manage my PCOS symptoms more effectively and work on enhancing my fertility. Subsequently, that has made all the difference to my quality of life.
This kind of thing is easier for some women than it is for others depending on what your existing relationship with food looks like. Sometimes, it can feel like you’re constantly being forced to give up things that you enjoy. One of my TTC sisters who also struggles with PCOS mentioned that in the beginning she battled with changing her eating habits because it felt like she was being deprived of yet another ‘normal thing’ that everyone else around her got to do without even thinking about it. In my case, changing my food habits required me to unlearn what I had previously thought was ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ and then to replace that with a new understanding. I had to cultivate new habits that served my body and my fertility better. I am grateful that I found it in me to follow through and put in the work. Over time, my habits, my cravings and my sensibilities around food all started to change. It became easier the longer I continued with my new fertility-friendly eating plan. It’s been really rewarding to see and feel the changes in my body, in my energy levels, my moods and my overall wellbeing too. My bloodwork results show me how it has helped balance some of my hormone levels. It gives me peace of mind, as a healthy balanced diet is also said to have a beneficial effect on factors like egg quality.
Mindset is an important factor when it comes to making big lifestyle changes. It’s easy to revert back to what you know or what offers you comfort when you are feeling low or are at particular stages of your hormonal cycle where cravings set in. So, I found that part of the work was also about shifting my thoughts around nourishing my body just as much as it was about taking daily steps to eat differently. Fertility Coach, Tara McCann says that “every time you eat is an opportunity to nourish your body,” something that I try to keep in mind as a reminder to make good decisions for myself. Another quote (author unknown) that I’ve drawn strength reads as follows: “Get into the habit of asking yourself, ‘Does this support the life I’m trying to create?’” This question reminds me that my choices and actions have consequences and at the end of the day, I need to decide which consequences and effects I would want to face most. I’ve adapted the question in the above quote a bit to ask myself – “Does this support my fertile life, one that nurtures my body and my path to parenthood?” That way, having one block of dark chocolate with a teaspoon of peanut butter becomes a much better choice than eating a whole slab of high sugar chocolate, and choosing a bowl of berries with some coconut yoghurt over a hot fudge sundae feels like a healthier option. When you put things into perspective, it makes it easier to make good lifestyle decisions.
Has your road to conception had an impact on the way that you eat or think about food?
What helps you keep on track with a healthy fertility-friendly lifestyle?
If this is something that you are working on, then here are few pointers that I found really helpful in my own experience:
Work with a nutritionist or wellness coach if you can. Whether your fertility challenges are linked to a specific diagnosis or whether you are dealing with unexplained infertility, one of the first bits of guidance that is usually offered is to ‘eat a fertility-friendly diet’. It’s a topic that comes up often in various TTC communities, and the internet is populated with loads of articles and blogs on how and what to eat, as well as what to avoid, in order to increase your chances of getting pregnant. So, it can get very confusing trying to sift through all the information on your own. However, the one thing that made the biggest difference for me was enlisting the help of professionals who were able to tailor-make a meal plan that catered specifically to my body’s needs (based on what my bloodwork and hormonal levels showed). Having some level of accountability was a big motivator for me to stay on track. It also helped to have someone to turn to for solutions when I was struggling.
Plan your meals. When you plan your meals, you know exactly what you will be eating and when. It makes grocery shopping easier because you know what ingredients to buy. Chances are, you will also be less likely to step off track when your kitchen is stocked with healthy, nutritious foods and your body is well nourished. Also, plan ahead when you go to family gatherings. Have smaller portions or tasters of those irresistible things you want to enjoy. Investigate healthier versions of your favourite dishes. Make a healthy fertility-friendly dish to take with to family so that you have options. If necessary, you can also take your own healthy snacks (nuts, spiced seeds, sugar free dark chocolate) with you.
Allow yourself to enjoy the things that you love on occasion. There is no harm in having a treat now and again. So, allow yourself to enjoy a meal or a treat on occasion. My rule of thumb is that as long as I am eating well 80% of the time, then I don’t have to feel bad about having a treat periodically. This approach has taught me about balance, so that I enjoy and savour rather than overindulge.
Collect some exciting recipes. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be bland and boring. So collect some interesting new recipes. Get some new recipe books. There are recipe books for fertility, as well as some that cater for women with PCOS. Try making vegetables or different health foods that you’ve not had before. Experiment with making ordinary dishes in new ways. Allow yourself to enjoy the experience and have fun with it.
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