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You Need Body Fat for Conception

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a blog by Cindy Bailey of the Fertile Kitchen™, December 22, 2010

Body mass and body fat both play an important role when looking at weight and fertility.

The Ideal BMI for Fertility

There is a weight range that is considered ideal for fertility. It's based on your Body Mass Index (BMI), which is calculated by putting your height and weight into a formula and getting a number. There are many BMI calculators on the Internet — here is a link to one at the Department of Health and Human Services.

For fertility, ideally your BMI should be between 20 and 24. 

If your number is above that range, don't panic or worry! And definitely don't go on a crash diet. That is too stressful for the body, and when trying to conceive we want to limit stress in all its forms. Just work to take off the weight in a healthy manner over time.  Talk to your doctor about it.

The fertility diet in our book can definitely help you lose weight in a healthy way. Once you eliminate alcohol, caffeine, coffee, processed sugar, trans fat and overly processed foods — not to mention dairy and wheat, the "bad" or "overly taxing" calories will be gone. Instead you'll be eating a balanced variety of all-organic veggies, lean protein, good carbs and healthy fats, and all of this will naturally ease your body toward a more balanced, healthy weight without your being hungry! You'll have a lot more energy too.

But what about those who are all ready at a healthy weight? You may have to be careful not to lose weight on a fertility diet by being sure to eat enough quantities of food and have sufficient levels of healthy fats, in balance with the rest of your diet. You may want to eat heavier dishes that still nevertheless have all-healthy ingredients, such as a healthy version of Chili Con Carne and lamb stew. 

Body Fat Percentage Is Also Important

Your BMI alone is not the only thing to watch, however. Your body fat percentage is also important. Bottom line: you need a certain amount of fat to conceive!

I recently got a question from a  reader who said she was athletic, lifted weights and on a low-fat diet. She was also lean with a body mass index of 18. Great fitness level, great health. But to help her conceive, she would need to gain weight. She would also need to increase her body fat, because likely with her vigorous activity level her body fat percentage is probably well below average. When you're trying to conceive, you want your body fat to be closer to that of an average woman's, which is about 22 to 25 percent. In Toni Weschler's book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, she recommends a minimum body fat percentage of 18 while trying to conceive. Female athletes can have body fat as low as 8 or 10.

For this reader and those in her position, I recommend exercising moderately (instead of vigorously) and totally backing off on the intensity of weight lifting and even better, eliminating it, knowing that it’s temporary. Along with that, stop the low-fat diet. The body absolutely needs fat while trying to conceive. Just make it the healthy kind, which you can find in nuts and seeds, olive oil, low-mercury fish and avocados. And put on some weight. In other words, slow down and get soft.

This is not easy, especially in our society, which pressures women to be thin! 

I myself am a former athlete who exercises six days a week and lifts weights. Backing off (I slowed way down with exercise and stopped lifting weights) and allowing my body to get soft while also putting on eight pounds so my Body Mass Index (BMI) was within the ideal range for fertility/conception was by far the most difficult change I had to make.

Of course, know that once you have your baby, you can go right back to your previous fitness level! And the baby does make it all worth it.

Comments (2)

Very good reminder and really good information & advice. It is well recognised that being overweight can impair fertility but it is so easy to foget that being underweight or overexercising can also affect female fertility adversely.

The average BMI for women in England is 24 so is everyone on the verge. My BMI was over 30 and I got it down under 30 for IVF but I couldn't find enough research about why. Obsese women can have irregular cycles but I do not. I ovulate like clockwork. I think the success rates of IVF based on BMI would be quite interesting.

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