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The fertility and eating disorders whirlwind of anxiety

Fertility challenges are not uncommon for many people who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders.

When you have an eating disorder, you're so focused on your bodyweight that you just can't think past any issues like osteoporosis, bone damage or fertility because they're not really in your life.

Physically, an eating disorder will wreak havoc on the body and during the course of an eating disorder, hormones fluctuate leaving the body seriously depleted, especially when dealing with a binge or starvation disorder.

Oestrogen will decrease and in extreme cases of prolonged calorie reduction or excessive exercise, the uterus and ovaries can shrink in size. Yet, it is so important in conception to get the essential minerals and vitamins, not only for conception but also for the growing foetus.

Fertility is one of the common topics for women in recovery, as they experience a whirlwind of anxiety as their body recovers from an eating disorder. Here are some of the common fertility questions;

Can eating disorders cause permanent infertility?

Being both underweight and overweight can cause hormonal imbalances, which in turn cause disruption to menstruation and ovulation cycles creating problems with fertility.

Period irregularity also poses another problem. It becomes almost impossible to gauge when you should try for a baby. In fact, women with menstruation disruption are at risk of unplanned pregnancies for this same reason.

There is also evidence that polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS affects 10% of women of childbearing age. Many experts believe this number is actually much higher as many cases go undiagnosed.

PCOS has been associated with bulimia and binge eating; therefore, it is possible that infertility in women with bulimia reflects an underlying diagnosis of PCOS.

How will I cope with a changing body?

Giving birth, lack of sleep and the physical demands of having a baby need to be undertaken, ideally, when you feel fit and healthy enough to cope.

For women who've struggled with eating disorders, gaining weight during pregnancy and pressure to lose it afterwards can be just as – if not more – anxiety-provoking than trying to get pregnant in the first place.

Here are five tips to help you navigate this whirlwind of anxiety which often accompanies fertility and eating disorders;

1. If you are using a fertility app to monitor, be mindful it is just data. It should supplement your pregnancy efforts and not be a burden. You may face multiple challenges when self-tracking for fertility. If it is not a positive experience and it is making you feel overwhelmed you may want to give up on the data?

2. It is vital to receive help to combat psychiatric issues first. It is important to note that eating disorders are psychiatric illnesses often accompanied by cognitive distortion in terms of body image, depression, anxiety and even social withdrawal. It is always recommended to seek professional help from a qualified therapist or counsellor in order to work through these issues. 

3. Start a healthy nutrition routine and lifestyle before trying to get pregnant. Insufficient levels of potassium, magnesium, sodium, vitamin D and calcium can lead to increased difficulty in body functions, including conception. You may want to consider supplements that contain vital nutrients that your body will need for conceiving and carrying a baby. 

4. If you are worried about gaining weight tell someone. Your partner, therapist or gynaecologist will all have different perspectives and this can help you to challenge any negative thoughts. It can sometimes feel counterintuitive to share your feelings and you may want to keep them a secret. However, recruiting a strong support system is key to getting through a healthy pregnancy and the postpartum period.

5. Mindset. Your beliefs about pregnancy may affect your ability to conceive. Maybe it’s time to look inward and explore potential mindset blocks standing between you and your future baby. Our bodies often respond to our beliefs. What is your current thinking about your ability to get pregnant? Do you believe in your body’s ability to conceive easily and carry a healthy baby to term? I’m not saying that you can just visualise your way to conception without taking any action. Both your underlying beliefs and your daily actions influence your fertility. 

Remember - having a baby starts with believing that you can have a baby…and that you are equipped to be a magnificent mother.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Marteka Swaby

Marteka has over 15 years experience improving emotional wellbeing. She has worked in many of the UK's largest NHS Mental Health Trusts. Psychodynamic Psychotherapist specialising in compulsive & emotional eating disorders she is currently working in private practice within obesity & bariatrics.… Read more

Written by Marteka Swaby

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