Women who are ready to tackle the task of motherhood often try to implement healthy behaviors before they even try to get pregnant. Eating right, exercising and popping prenatal vitamins are often at the top of the to-do list. But now experts say some women should add one more item to the agenda: Getting help for untreated eating disorders.
Timing sex during ovulation is obviously the key to getting pregnant. Irregular and absent menstrual periods make it hard to predict ovulation—if you’re ovulating at all. According to the Eating Recovery Center, an international center that provides treatment for eating disorders, one survey of women attending a fertility clinic with absent or irregular periods showed that 58 percent had an eating disorder. Another study showed that of women with unexplained infertility who restricted calories, even if they didn’t meet the criteria for an eating disorder diagnosis, 73 percent conceived when they increased caloric intake and body weight.
Even with the clear connection between an eating disorder and an inability to conceive, women often hide disordered eating behaviors from their doctors and fertility specialists, says Ken Weiner, founding partner and CEO of Eating Recovery Center. Here are just a few things you should know if you’re struggling with an eating disorder while wanting to conceive.
3 Things to Know About Eating Disorders and Fertility
1. Watch for triggers. While women try to be healthier by making changes to diet and exercise, if women have a family or personal history of eating disorders, these changes could trigger disordered eating behaviors for those with a predisposition toward the development of an eating disorder. Always check with your doctor before changing diet and exercise routines.
2. Disordered eating can affect fertility even if you’re a normal weight. You don’t have to have experienced major weight loss or be very low weight for irregular or absent periods to occur. While not all irregular or absent periods are caused by diet, weight or exercise, behaviors related to eating and exercise can impact the cycles, contributing to fertility challenges.
3. Talk to your doctor — honestly. Concerns and questions about the impact of diet and exercise on fertility should be directed to your OBGYN, fertility specialist or trusted doctor. Likewise, if you have concerns about your own eating and exercise behaviors, let your doctor in on your concerns. In addition to infertility and trouble conceiving, active eating disorders can also contribute to miscarriage and other complications for mother and child once conception does occur.
Because eating disorders impact not only the health of the mother but the health of the child as well, eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors deserve attention and support. Know the signs and symptoms of eating disorders so you can recognize the behaviors and urge those affected to get the help they need.