Can Weight Loss Help You To Conceive?

Rebecca McPhee
Dietitian Member of the DAA


3 Minutes

If you have ever tried to lose weight, I am sure you can recall the times when you were the most motivated and successful. Perhaps it was to go on a summer holiday, or to get into your bride or bridesmaid dress? Trying to fall pregnant is also one of those times where your focus turns to looking after your health and wellbeing. Suddenly there is another human being to consider so adopting a healthy lifestyle has never been so important. If you are above a healthy weight, part of your 'make me pregnant' plan may be to lose a few kilos.  

 

Why being a healthy weight is important? 

Whilst reaching a healthy body weight does not make you instantly more fertile (we wish!), it certainly can go a long way to increase your chances of becoming pregnant. If you are above a healthy weight, research suggests that losing some extra kilos can actually help with increasing your fertility. The problem with carrying extra weight is that it can also cause an imbalance in hormone levels including insulin, testosterone and levels of FSH and LSH (which are the ones that drive the growth of follicles and ovulation). It can also increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy). 

The good news is that we are not talking about starting marathon running and eating lettuce to shed huge amounts of weight. In fact, strict dieting and over-exercising is counterproductive and can also affect fertility. If you are above a healthy weight, losing just 5-10% of your body weight can kick-start ovulation. Now that sounds more achievable! 

 

It's all about health and wellbeing 

Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation in social media about weight loss, all promising instant results and usually at a price! Rather than fixating on the scales, the focus should be on health and wellbeing. By focusing on the solution, rather than the problem, you will find that your new learned habits will be easier to sustain and will set you up for life.  

Research from the School of Public Health from Harvard Medical School has found that certain nutrition and lifestyle factors can help with infertility issues such as ovulation. The eight-year study of more than 18,000 women revealed ten evidence-based suggestions for improving fertility. The main theme coming from the study is that a healthy lifestyle is all about balance - including more of the good stuff like nutrient dense foods and also doing fewer unhealthy behaviours including less stress and over-exercising. 

 

Here are key nutrition tips from Harvard Medical School:  

  1. Take a multivitamin daily that contains 500 micrograms of folic acid plus other B vitamins. A pregnancy specific supplement for both men and women is the easiest way of including the right amounts of nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy.   

  2. Choose low GI wholegrains rather than white refined, high GI grains. For example, swap white bread and white rice for rolled oats, wholegrain bread and long grain brown rice or barley. Low GI wholegrains are high in B-group vitamins and fibre and help you to feel fuller longer so can help with weight loss. 

  3. Use more unsaturated 'good fats' such as extra virgin olive oil, oily fish and avocado 

  4. Include protein sources from vegetable foods such as legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds and smaller portions from animal foods 

  5. Get plenty of plant based iron rich foods including fruit, vegetables, beans and legumes 

  6. Include whole dairy foods such as plain milk and yoghurt and avoid skim based varieties temporarily  

  7. Avoid trans 'bad' fats – these are found in many packaged, processed and fast foods. These are discretionary foods and should be kept to a minimum.  

  8. Keep well hydrated with water. Coffee and tea are fine in moderation and avoid high sugar soft drinks, cordial and energy drinks 

  9. Aim for a healthy weight. Remember that if you are above a healthy weight, losing just 5-10% of your body weight can kick-start ovulation! 

  10. Keep active daily, aiming for at least 30 minutes. Avoid overdoing high intensity workouts. If you are below a healthy weight, too much exercise can work against conception so include more gentle exercise.   

 

Putting it all together 

Combining quality foods in the right quantity is a bit of a balancing act. Here are some meal and snack Ideas to get you started:  

1 - Breakfasts 

  • Protein veggie topper: Two slices of toasted wholegrain bread with one poached egg, mushrooms and tomato  

  • Berry yoghurt crunch: 1/2 cup natural muesli topped with 3 Tablespoons Natural/Greek yoghurt and a handful of berries  

 

2 - Lunches 

  • Tuna avocado chickpea salad: 90g can of tuna or salmon, 2 large handfuls  of salad, 1 cup canned chickpeaas, 1/4 avocado. Toss together and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 

  • Chill con carne: 2 serving spoons chilli con carne made with red kidney beans and served with 1 cup of cooked vegetables and 2/3 cup cooked low GI basamati rice  

 

3 - Dinners (available in the Capital Chicks recipe library)  

  • Spaghetti with poached egg, fresh salmon and baby spinach. This zesty, pasta dish is packed with protein and omega 3 fats   

  • Lamb and barley soup. This winter warmer is packed with nutrient dense plant foods including legumes, vegetables and barley.  

  • Roast veggie pizza. A healthy alternative to takeaway and an easy way to boost your vegetable intake. 

 

4 - Snacks 

  • 3 wholegrain crackers with 100% peanut butter or hummus  
  • 2 cups plain popped corn with cinnamon  
  • 1 sliced apple topped with 1 Tablespoon 100% peanut butter 
  • 1 cup chopped fresh fruit with 2 heaped Tablespoons Natural/Greek style yoghurt 
  • Celery and carrot sticks with 3 heaped Tablespoons hummus   

 

In summary 

 

  • If you are above a healthy weight, losing 5-10% can improve egg quality and therefore fertility  

  • Focus on a healthy balanced diet of wholegrain bread and cereals, vegetables, fruit, dairy, good fats such as olive oil and protein foods including plant varities such as legumes, lentils,nuts and seeds 

  • Include a pregnancy supplement which contains 500 micrograms of folate  

  • Keep active every day, aiming for at least 30 minutes. 

 

References 

  • Villamor E, Cnattingius S. Interpregnancy weight change and risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes: a population-based study. Lancet. 2006;368:1164–70 
  • Zain, M. M., Norman, R. J. (2008). Impact of obesity on female fertility and fertility treatment. Women’s Health; 4(2): 183-194. 
  • Balen AHAnderson RAPolicy & Practice Committee of the BFSHum Fertil (Camb). 2007 Dec;10(4):195-206. Impact of obesity on female reproductive health: British Fertility Society, Policy and Practice Guidelines. 
  • The fertility diet: Groundbreaking research reveals natural ways to boost ovulation & improve your chances of getting pregnant J Clin Invest. 2008 Apr 1; 118(4): 1210. 
  • Neelima Panth et al. The Influence of Diet on Fertility and the Implications for Public Health Nutrition in the United States. Front Public Health. 2018; 6: 211. 

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