All right, so this article in Ireland’s Belfast Telegraph is dreadful, but the question it poses—can crash dieting prevent you from conceiving, even years later?—caught my eye. British model and reality TV star Chantelle Houghton, 27, says she can’t conceive naturally because of damage caused by years of ‘crash-dieting’ and bulimia.
The Telegraph article is oh-so-subtly titled ‘How Crash Diets Can Kill your Chances of Being a Mother,’ and makes it clear that Houghton wasn’t just your everyday ‘crash dieter.’ It mentions her ‘decade-old battle with bulimia,’ and quotes Houghton saying she was ‘obsessed’ with dieting from the minute she woke up until the minute she went to bed. (Correct me if that doesn’t sound like more than just a ‘diet’ to you.)
It’s been long established that eating disorders can wreak havoc on a woman’s ability to conceive. In one 1990 study of 66 infertility clinic patients, 7.6% had been anorexic or bulimic; if other eating disorders were thrown it, that figure shot to 16.7%.
According to the Telegraph, though, “it’s not just anorexics and bulimics who could be playing Russian roulette with their reproductive systems—even a last-ditch bikini diet can result in irregular periods impacting on fertility.” As examples, they cite Kim Kardashian‘s trouble conceiving, and offer a few tepid quotes from a nutritionist (who, bless her heart, says what’s probably the most sensible thing in the article: “For someone like Chantelle, she needs to address her issues with food before even contemplating pregnancy).
Even if the Telegraph is overstating its case a smidge (sometimes I think UK tabloid press is even better than ours), your diet *can* affect your chances of getting pregnant. It’s not as simple as lose weight, lose eggs or anything like that. But underweight (and overweight) women do have a harder time conceiving than women in healthy weight ranges. The authors of the book The Fertility Diet note:
Women who have a body mass index of 20 to 24 [between 117 and 140 pounds for someone 5 feet, 4 inches tall] have the best chance of getting pregnant.
And obese women can ‘jump start ovulation by losing a modest amount, about 5 to 10 percent,’ they say.
There’s been research showing links between the specific foods you eat and regularity of ovulation (“trans fats from doughnuts, margarine and other processed foods seemed to have a particularly detrimental effect on fertility”). And a 2004 study published in the Journal of the American Dietary Association found that ‘yo-yo dieting’ can significantly affect women’s immune systems; depressed immune systems are linked to infertility.
Seems, as always, your best bet is to eat healthily and not engage in the endless diet and don’t, diet and don’t cycle—whether you’re trying to conceive right now or just thinking about doing so in the future.
Photo: Entertainment TV