Eating Recovery Center shares advice to help women recognize and address eating and exercise behaviors that may be contributing to fertility issues
Women seeking answers to fertility challenges frequently look to reproductive issues as the primary source of problems. However, few women are aware that their own eating or exercise behaviors – past or current – may actually be a contributing factor in their inability to conceive. Eating Recovery Center, an international center providing comprehensive treatment for eating disorders, often observes women seeking eating disorders treatment after unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant. For this reason, Eating Recovery Center urges women to evaluate their patterns of eating and exercise for possible disordered behaviors before making the decision to start – or expand – a family.
Studies confirm the unfortunate connection between eating disorders and fertility issues. A 2000 survey of women attending a fertility clinic revealed that among women with irregular or absent menstrual periods, 58 percent had an eating disorder. Furthermore, none of these women volunteered this information without prompting. Another study featured in the journal Fertility and Sterility looked at a group of women with unexplained infertility who restricted calories for vanity reasons, but did not meet the criteria for an eating disorders diagnosis. When these women increased their body weight and caloric intake, 73 percent of them quickly conceived.
“An active eating disorder can significantly impair a woman’s ability to conceive, as can unhealthy behaviors including starving, bingeing, purging or over exercising that may have occurred over prolonged periods of time in the past,” said Ken Weiner, MD, FAED, CEDS, founding partner and chief executive officer of Eating Recovery Center. “Despite the clear connection between eating disordered behaviors and infertility illustrated by the research in the field, many women struggling to get pregnant hide their disordered eating behaviors – past or present – from their OB-GYNs and fertility specialists.”
As such, Eating Recovery Center offers the following guidance to help women who may be struggling with infertility and eating disorders to understand the impact of disordered eating behaviors on their ability to conceive and seek appropriate treatment.
1. Consult with a doctor before changing diet or exercise behaviors. Many women make changes to their diet and exercise patterns in an effort to be healthier while trying to conceive. However, if women have a family history of eating disorders or a personal history of disordered eating, these seemingly healthful changes could trigger disordered eating behaviors for those with a genetic predisposition toward developing an eating disorder.
2. Understand that regular or absent menstrual periods may indicate that eating or exercise behaviors are adversely impacting the natural body cycles that support conception. Although irregular or absent menstruation can be caused by a variety of factors not related to diet, weight or exercise, restricting calories or excessive exercising behaviors may play a role in irregular menstruation and contribute to fertility challenges. Additionally, it is important to understand that eating or exercise behaviors can impact the menstrual cycles of women even if they are of normal or healthy weight. Many people mistakenly believe that women must have experienced significant weight loss and/or be of very low weight for irregular or absent periods to occur.
3. Ask an expert. Concerns about eating or exercise behaviors and the possible impact of these behaviors on fertility should be directed to an OB-GYN, fertility specialist, family doctor, therapist, dietitian or eating disorders specialist. These healthcare professionals can help women determine whether behaviors may be fertility-impeding, as well as identify an appropriate course of treatment if necessary. Remember that healthcare professionals need all relevant information to make accurate diagnoses and help their patients.
4. Be honest about eating disordered behaviors. While an active eating disorder cannot only lead to infertility, it can also contribute to miscarriage, low birth weight and other dangerous complications for mother and child upon becoming pregnant. Therapeutic intervention and medical monitoring can be integral components in supporting healthy pregnancies for individuals that are able to conceive.
“It is incredibly important that women be transparent regarding their eating disorders struggles in order for reproductive healthcare professionals to effectively diagnose fertility issues and prescribe a treatment plan that meets each individual’s unique needs,” added Dr. Weiner. “Because eating disorders are often shrouded in shame and secrecy, it is equally important that healthcare providers be aware of the connection between eating disorders and fertility, and that they learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of eating disorders in their patients.”
For more information about infertility, pregnancy and eating disorders, approaching a loved one displaying troublesome eating disorders warning signs,broaching the topic of eating disorders with a doctor or effective eating disorders treatment, visit www.EatingRecoveryCenter.com.