When faced with fertility struggles, women often look to common causes for difficulty becoming pregnant, including endometriosis, ovulation issues, egg health, tubal factors and polycystic ovarian syndrome. But what many of these women do not realize is that the underlying cause of unexplained fertility issues can often be linked to disordered eating behaviors—intentional or not; occurring currently or in the past.
A study in the journal Fertility and Sterility found that 90 percent of women with fertility issues who have a restricted calorie diet and have never been diagnosed with a clinical eating disorder began menstruating regularly – and 73 percent conceived quickly – when their weight increased to predicted ideal body weight. Interestingly, many of these women had previously undergone medical evaluation for fertility issues without a viable cause being discovered.
Another recent study of women attending a fertility clinic revealed that among those with absent or irregular periods, 58 percent met the criteria for an eating disorder. Among these women with clinically significant disordered eating behaviors, none volunteered information related to their eating or exercise behaviors to their doctor without explicit prompting.
The connection between disordered eating behaviors and infertility is a potentially serious issue that women need to be aware of when deciding to start or expand a family. For women with a history of eating disorders, or those presently engaging in disordered eating behaviors, eating disorders recovery can be a necessary step to not only becoming pregnant, but also sustaining a healthy pregnancy. In addition to contributing to fertility issues, an eating disorder can also cause miscarriages, low birth weight and other dangerous complications for both mother and child.
An important first step on the road to eating disorders recovery is engaging in an honest dialogue with reproductive healthcare providers about current or past eating disordered behaviors. Diet and exercise changes – particularly extreme changes in caloric intake or exercise frequency – can result in irregular or absent menstrual periods, which can present a serious challenge to conception. Although irregular or absent menstruation can be caused by a number of factors and can occur even without significant weight loss, it is a telling symptom of both fertility issues and eating disorders. If a woman is unsure whether or not her eating and exercise are impacting her fertility, she should consult a fertility specialist or eating disorders professional to determine whether or not her behaviors may be contributing to her difficulty conceiving.
Although many women, knowingly or not, struggle with disordered eating behaviors that can adversely impact their fertility, it is important to reiterate that eating disorders recovery is entirely possible, and that many women are able to conceive upon moving into a life of recovery. When a woman is honest with her healthcare providers, family and friends, it creates a vital supportive network which can help her be a healthier woman and, with any luck, a healthy mother as well.
For more information about infertility and eating disorders, consult a doctor, fertility specialist or OB-GYN, or visit EatingRecoveryCenter.com.
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