When it comes to conception, there has been a theory shift that might surprise you: losing a ton of weight might in a short period of time may NOT be the answer to fertility.
An emerging body of research shows that achieving an overall healthy lifestyle may be better than just losing the weight, particularly if the method of losing weight is not healthy or sustainable, such as a crash diet. First, though, it’s important to define what a “healthy lifestyle” means for you.
The simple definition: improve your metabolic factors (think insulin sensitivity or reduced inflammation) and limit weight gain. But sometimes, achieving these two things can feel not-so-simple.
Insulin resistance, which many PCOS patients experience, favors fat storage which makes it easy to gain weight and difficult to lose excess weight. It can also confuse hunger and satiety hormones so that you aren’t sure whether you’re hungry or full – an evolutionary adaptation which was great when food was scarce and humans lived in caves, but in a world where processed food is plentiful, it can be difficult to combat.
What does this mean for you? With proper planning, a few new habits, and more positive self-talk, you can achieve your healthy lifestyle. Here are some real ways that you can improve your health in the preconception period:
1. Engage in regular movement past the point of discomfort
Notice that I didn’t use the word “exercise.” People think this needs to be a formal, scheduled class with 24 other sweaty gym-goers. No way! The fact is that if when many people start an exercise routine they don’t enjoy or makes them feel uncomfortable, they don’t often follow through. So where can you start? Make goals and pick something you will like to do. Walk a specific distance or do yoga at home with a video or an app. Pick a number of days you want to do this activity every week. Map it out, and stick to it. Make the last 5-10 minutes of the activity tough. Not like throw-up-tough, but difficult enough that you have to think of something inspiring to get you through. This quality of movement or activity is a powerful weapon. It generates physical changes to your body, such as an increase in insulin sensitivity (take that, PCOS!) and metabolic rate. This lifestyle change can help you both achieve a pregnancy and have a healthy baby. What might be even more important? The mental benefits. In addition to generating those ‘feel good’ hormones in the brain that last beyond your movement session, activity past the point of comfort sends a powerful message that your body (and you!) can prevail, even flourish, under difficult circumstances, a helpful thought process for infertility treatments.
We all know the importance of being well-hydrated in life – it’s vital to our mental and physical health! Even so, this can be a tough habit to maintain. People who have insulin resistance can’t always rely on the hunger/satiety receptors in our brain to work properly, so there is a need to focus on the stretch receptors in the stomach.
As you eat, the stomach expands by activating these stretch receptors and ultimately tells the body to stop eating when “full.” By drinking water prior to and with meals, (and eating slowly!) you are giving these stretch receptors time to tell the brain to stop. Now, we just need to listen to it.
3. Manage stress
So, undergoing infertility treatments is often stressful. Then we take your wine and other forms of stress release away from you because those things aren’t allowed when you’re trying to get pregnant. Simple math shows that increasing stress but limiting the way to release it results in…more stress.
Movement helps. Getting outside more often helps. Journaling, writing, reading, gardening or whatever resonates with you helps. Whatever makes you happy and breathe a little easier, it all helps. Having a community of people who understand helps. Meditation and mindfulness helps. If you’re not sure how to do these, there are some great apps you should download, such as Calm and Headspace. These can also help you sleep better. Speaking of sleep…
4. Make sleep (and what you do before you go to sleep) a priority
Stress negatively affects quality sleep. Excess weight can cause sleep apnea which can cause disordered eating and lead to, you guessed it, excess weight. Sleep apnea is present in up to 80% of patients who have PCOS and obesity. One step is to have a sleep study done to see if you have this and need a breathing device to assist you. Also, sleep hygiene is important. Sleep hygiene is what you do (and don’t do) before you fall asleep. Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes prior to falling asleep, maintain a comfortable temperature in the room, consider a weighted blanket…
All these things will promote a better quality of sleep, which is critical to a healthy lifestyle. Can you guess what helps you sleep better? Movement and good nutrition.
5. Find a way of eating healthy that works for you
There is no particular diet that is recommended for women trying to conceive. The closest to ideal is probably a variation of the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes combining lean proteins with healthy fats and low GI index carbs (brown rice over white rice, for example). By not eating high GI carbs and not eating carbs by themselves, you are tempering the insulin response to your food and minimizing the ‘hangry’ spikes that result from it.
In fact, the best diet isn’t a diet at all. It’s a lifestyle change. Eat in a way that makes your body feel good, and your mind feel alert and balanced. Going on Pinterest or following inspiring role models on Instagram can give you lots of ideas for healthy food options. Once you know what you like, and what works for you in terms of how it makes you feel, make your own online cookbook or journal of your favorite recipes. Bring it to the supermarket so you can select targeted foods and not go down each aisle that contain numerous temptations.
Be patient with yourself. It takes at least 6 weeks to form a new habit, and changing bad habits is tough and time-consuming, but worth it. Also, after making some of the changes listed above, you may notice a decrease in weight or body fat % as an added benefit. Even if these habits don’t result in weight loss, it helps set you up for biggest goal: conceiving.
But your healthy lifestyle doesn’t stop there… it’s so important to maintain this healthy lifestyle approach during your gestational experience. This can help you lessen risks to you and the baby. Making all these adjustments might feel daunting, but with small achievable goals you conquer day by day, you will form the positive habits that will set you up for success during pregnancy and throughout the rest of your life.
Interested in learning more?
Check out our pre-conception health checklist for additional tips on how to have a healthy baby.