Eating Low Carb To Boost My Fertility
I’ve tried to write this post many times over the last few weeks. But I just ended up starting at a blank screen for hours at a time. I started this blog to talk about the ups and downs I’d experience on my weight loss journey. Well this is about one of those downs…a big fat down.
So here I am, sitting in a dark corner at Starbucks, tears rolling down my cheeks, desperately muting my sniffles, trying to write this blasted post.
For the last 12 years I’ve struggled with infertility.
I’m not a touchy-feely person. So describing the pain, frustration, and loss I’ve felt all these years is pretty much impossible for me. The closest description I’ve come across was in an article where the writer described her own struggles as “soul-crushing.” Bingo!
Taking It For Granted
I was so in the dark about my chances of getting pregnant. I never realized it’s not as easy as it seems.
According to the CDC, nearly 11% of women of child-bearing age are unable to conceive. The more overweight you are, the more difficult it is to conceive. Given that nearly 60% of American women are overweight or obese, I have come to believe the number of women having problems conceiving is much higher than the CDC’s reported 11%.
Of course, I had a lot stacked against me over the last 25 years. I was clueless as to how years of eating low fat foods essentially turned my body against me.
How The Recommended American Diet Skewed My Hormones
When I was a teenager my periods were normal. It wasn’t until I turned 20 that my periods started going wonky on me. I’d skip a cycle or three. And my typical cramps became painful. I saw an OB/GYN, and she promptly put me on birth control pills to regulate my cycle. She said my weight was the problem.
At the time, I ballooned to 180 lbs. She wanted me to go on a low fat diet. A few days later I joined Weight Watchers for the first time. Thus began my 25-year struggle to lose weight by eating lots of carbs, hardly any dietary fat and exorcising.
After I moved to Northern Virginia, my new doctor promptly took me off birth control. By then I weighed 200 lbs. and she felt the associated risk for someone my size (heart attack and/or stroke) was a greater threat to me. The advice was more of the same: Eat less, avoid saturated fats and exercise more. My periods became even more erratic. I’d go 6 months without a period. When it did arrive, it would last 4-6 weeks or 2 days. No matter the doctor, I was told the same thing: I needed to follow a low fat diet and exercise more.
Yet, no matter how much I tried to follow what these doctors prescribed, the results were always the same: I felt hungry all the time. And because I’m only human, it was only a matter of time before I failed (or as I later learned, the low fat diet failed me).
About 15 months after getting married, my husband and I stopped using any birth control. I tried timing my cycle as best I could — tracking on a calendar, charting my temperature, peeing on lots of strips. But no luck.
Around 2007, we saw a fertility expert. He did some tests on me and everything was working fine. But I wondered, what about my erratic cycle? Clearly I wasn’t fine. This expert pronounced my problem was weight. I just needed to loss 50 pounds, he said, and my cycle would normalize.
His recommendation? A low fat, high carb diet. The diet I’d failed at since I was 20 years old. The same diet that made me hungry all the time. The one that caused my body to store fat instead of burn it. The diet that resulted in my insulin resistance.
Of course, I didn’t know this at the time. This was in 2007, and I still believed in the food pyramid and that eating fat made you fat. I just needed to eat more whole grains, fruit, veggies and double down on vegetable oils and I’d get thin (and pregnant).
The truth is I never questioned the expert’s prognosis or thought my weight, like my fertility problem, was the symptom of a high-carb diet. I should have questioned everything, because I’m not a dummy. Looking back, I should never have abdicated my common sense to “experts” without some proof that they knew what they were talking about. What I did was let my emotions rule me, and not my brain. Leaving the fertility clinic, I had only one thought: It’s all my fault.
What if I couldn’t lose the weight? I mean, I’d tried dieting before and always had the same results. I failed, and I felt like a failure. At times, the guilt would overwhelm me. I’d get moody and quiet. My husband would try to get me to talk about it, but I just couldn’t. Talking about it hurt too much.
Rather than research what was happening to my body, I doubled down on blind faith in the “experts” and tried to lose the weight by cutting calories and exercising more. I tried, and failed, for the next 5 years. And during that time my family and friends were having babies.
Time and again, family and friends would ask that dreaded question, “So when are you guys having a baby?”
I’d just smile, shrug my shoulders and change the subject.
In time, I came to hate baby showers. Sure, I felt sad for our situation, but I was always happy for friends and family. But sitting for hours playing those annoying games and cooing over blankets, diaper genies, or stuffed animals was a painful way to hide from my guilt, sadness, and frustration. And it did nothing to fill the gaping hole in my heart.
Resetting My Hormones With Diet
If you follow my blog, you know in 2012 I tipped the scales at 325, that I’d read Why We Get Fat, and that I ended up losing 140 lbs. (to date) by going low carb, high fat.
Sure enough, once I lost 100 lbs., my periods normalized. But it had nothing to do with the weight loss. My body responded favorably to my low-carb diet. The weight loss was just one of the awesome benefits.
My hormones had gotten completely out of whack thanks to our recommended American diet. That low fat diet created my insulin resistance, turned my body against me and packed on the pounds.
After learning more about the metabolic paths different foods take in our bodies, I slowly stopped blaming myself for our fertility problem. I wasn’t heavy and infertile because I was an overeating glutton, as popular culture often portrays the obese. I’d simply followed the advice of the “experts,” and as a result my health went to hell. And the harder I tried, the more my hormones careened out of balanced. In addition to having fewer periods per year, I gained weight, my blood pressure went higher, I became pre-diabetic.
These days, the only thing I deeply regret is not taking charge of my health sooner. But back then, I didn’t know where to turn. I tried every diet imaginable (yes, including Atkins – or my half-hearted, half-informed version of it) and the scale only moved in the wrong direction. If only Gary Taubes had written Why We Get Fat sooner…
Hope Rears Its Ugly Head
Upon entering my 40s, I tried to come to terms to living a life with no kids. Despite my health returning, I knew all the stats on the near impossibility of conceiving when a woman hits her 40s.
Then, about a month ago, I came across a video on DietDoctor.com – an interview with Dr. Michael Fox, a fertility expert who was having great success prescribing low carb/high fat diets to couples unable to conceive before the diet switch.
That’s when I thought about writing this post. At first, my initial goal was simply to share important info, and not to share my tale. Sure I’ve resigned myself to no kids, but that didn’t mean I wanted to talk or write about it. But I also think it’s important to set everything I’ve learned, and will learn, in the proper context. If you’re like me, you’re tired of taking a little information and running with it. You want the full picture so you can think for yourself. For my part, I’ll try to give as much of that picture as I can, as it comes to me.
Officially, stats claim that 11% of American women are infertile. Dr. Fox suspects the numbers are closer to 25-35%. After all: how would you know if you weren’t trying? In fact, his clinic sees thousands of patients each month, and more than half can’t conceive due to insulin resistance.
So I’m not alone.
In a strange stroke of coincidence or fate, just as I was discovering these interviews, my husband surprised me. He’d embarked on his own little research project, and decided to take a hard look at in vitro (IVF). Sure enough, all those stories about celebrities having babies in their 40s had most likely did it via a donated egg. If they could do it, why couldn’t we?
My husband set up the meeting with a fertility clinic. He researched loan options, what our insurance covers, and other possible funding sources.
I was in Texas when he called to make his case. My response: “Um…OK.”
Looking back, I’m not so sure I was as enthusiastic as he expected.
Tomorrow we go in for our consultation. My husband is excited and tries to buck up my spirits. I’m more nervous than excited. Hope is rearing its ugly head, and a part of me wants to desperately to smash its face in. Because hope has let me down before.
I always strive to be a “glass half full” type of gal. Sadly, that stupid little voice in my head—the one that strives to sabotage my low carb diet—is doing everything it can to steal the joy from what could be the most important decision of my life.
Yes, I know we’re possibly at the beginning stages of a long road of regular doctor visits, genetic testing, cycle syncing, vaginal ultrasounds, hormone injections, and my least favorite of all: the constant uncertainty of insurance company hassles and unexpected bills. All this, and there’s no guarantee we’ll go home with a baby.
But I refuse to let negativity win. I’m going to have hope again, if only this one last time. And if that stupid little voice says one more damn thing, it’s gonna find itself kicked in the throat and bleeding in a ditch.