The Effect of Eating Disorders on Fertility

Kati Bicknel
Women's Health
February 26, 2013

I received one of the most touching emails of my life the other day, from a woman who was using Kindara. She told me how she had struggled with eating disorders for years, and how fertility charting helped her see what effects her diet was having on her body and fertility. She’ll tell her own story here later, so I won’t go into the details. She suggested that I write a post about how eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia can affect fertility.

This post is dedicated to Karla.

Eating disorders are ways of eating that are not supportive of optimal health. Often a person with an eating disorder feels that they look or feel fat, regardless of what their actual percent of body fat is. They fall into two major categories, restrictive, and non-restrictive. Both are detrimental to health, with the former being more hazardous to fertility.

Anorexia nervosa, which involves severely limiting caloric intake, and bulimia, which involves binge eating and then purging by vomiting or use of laxatives, are both restrictive eating disorders. Both prevent your body from getting enough calories and nourishment. The hormones your body needs to ovulate regularly can’t be produced if your body doesn’t have access to enough fat. Fat is a building block of certain hormones, notably estrogen. If there is not enough estrogen, ovulation won’t happen.

To put it another way, if you aren’t consuming enough nutrients to properly nourish your own body, your body isn’t going to think that having a baby is a very good idea. You don’t have enough calories to keep the body that you do have healthy and functioning properly. You certainly don’t have enough available energy to create another human.

In one study, 16.7 percent of infertility patients surveyed were found to have an eating disorder. In the same study, 58 percent of infertile women who rarely, if ever, menstruated were found to have eating disorders.

According to this excellent article that I recommend everyone read, about 3.7 percent of the population has some form of an eating disorder. If 3.7 percent of the population has an eating disorder, but 16.7% of infertility patients have an eating disorder, then a greater percentage of women with infertility have eating disorders than the general population.

For the women who ARE able to get pregnant and have eating disorders, the trouble isn’t over. Women with eating disorders may have (not surprisingly) babies with low birth weights, and low Apgar scores. Moms and babies both need to have fat, in order for them to be healthy.

It can be a difficult road back from the edge of an eating disorder. The good news is that many women are able to fully recover from eating disorders.  This woman found that healing touch was the key to her recovery.

If you think you may be suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to get help. There are lots of therapists who work specifically with women with eating disorders. It’s nothing to be ashamed of — many women suffer from eating disorders. The important thing is to get yourself back on the road to health and vitality.

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