Whether trying to lose 5 pounds or 100, losing weight can be a special challenge -- especially during this time of year. Even though the ‘95% of diets fail’ statistic is a myth (Fritsch 1999), diets don’t work for many who try them. Counting calories, putting food on scales, or keeping a food journal can be even more stressful when trying to conceive.
Being obese or eating poorly can cause inflammation, but did you know it can actually stop ovulation (Planned Parenthood 2014)? Even with a healthy BMI, a diet lacking proper nutrition can interfere with hormonal balance (Lacayo 2014), which is critical for a healthy cycle and ovulation. The good news is that just a little bit of weight loss and/or healthy eating is related to regaining healthy ovulation (Kort 2014), and even PCOS may be reversed by making healthy food choices and lifestyle changes.
The key to losing weight is focusing on your health instead of following some fad diets, which can deplete your body of necessary nutrients to achieve pregnancy (Kaufman 2017) and tend to require changes that are not realistic in the long term. Make changes that you can live with from today forward, and after a while, you may find that you don’t want to change back.
Within a few months of my 35th birthday I started to gain weight out of the blue. My plan was to eat a salad every day for lunch and no sugar at all, except on Fridays. That was a total fail because I got bored with salad on day three and ate a cookie on day one. I lost sight of the fact that my goal was not to lose weight -- that never works, at least for me. Instead, I focused on increasing my body’s ability to fight off infections, reducing stress, and to be a good example for my children. Similarly, a colleague had the same experience with weight gain at the same age. Along the same lines, instead of focusing on weight loss, she set an intention to be kind to herself and her body; that meant making healthier choices in terms of eating habits and exercise.
Setting that goal or intention is the key to success! What would you like to gain from making healthier choices? Potentially increase your fertility? Have a healthier baby and pregnancy? Reverse type II diabetes? Only you can decide that intrinsic goal, but once you focus on that instead of the number on the scale, you may find that you naturally lose a few pounds without even thinking about it. Either way, eating well and exercising will make you look and feel better.
5 Main Factors for a Healthier You
1. Diet and nutrition
When it comes to losing weight, what you eat is actually more important than exercising (Carroll 2015). Weight loss is all about calories in and calories out. While exercise is absolutely important and has many benefits, the most efficient way to lose weight is to manage intake. Exercise burns calories, but maybe not as much as you think. If you look at this calorie burning chart (USDA), you can see that even vigorous physical activity for 1 hour burns less than 600 calories (based on an average male) -- that’s about 2 slices of pepperoni pizza or a 16oz. java chip frappuccino from your nearby coffee house franchise.
But don’t try to make big changes all at once. Small, gradual changes are much more effective and sustainable. Try one of these great suggestions from the Office on Women’s Health here.
Exercise is another important factor for overall health, contributing to weight loss and disease prevention. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise.
But exercise doesn’t have to mean something as rigorous as running or spending money at an expensive gym. In fact, brisk walking is comparable exercise to running if the energy expended is the same (Fox 2016). Something is better than nothing (American Heart Association)! If you are healthy and deemed fit for exercise, here is a sample of a safe trying-to-conceive exercise regime with details in this blog about Safe Workout Plans for Women Trying to Conceive.
Always check with your doctor before starting a diet or physical exercise routine, and remember that the best exercise is the one that you’ll do.
Sleep is a crucial and often-overlooked part of wellness. It is important for brain function, mental and emotional health, and learning. Conversely, sleep deprivation has been linked to increases in obesity, depression, and suicide (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute).
Here are some tips for getting better sleep from the National Sleep Foundation:
Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
Engage in a relaxing bedtime ritual without lights or electronics to separate sleep time from active time.
Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon.
Check your sleep hygiene by making sure the bedroom temperature is 60-70 degrees and that noise and lights are kept to a minimum.
Sleep on a good mattress with pillows and other items that you need to get comfortable.
Pretty much every article or blog out there will say to avoid being or getting stressed, especially if you’re trying to conceive. Stress has been correlated to many health issues like obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease (Mayo Clinic). But how can we avoid stress in this modern world of packed schedules, deadlines, and traffic?
One technique that is becoming increasingly popular is called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which has been studied and proven, on a small scale, to reduce depression, anxiety and social anxiety (Goldin 2014). Practicing MBSR helps people become more aware of our own reactions and allows more space between a triggering event and our response.
Many other techniques exist for addressing the stress in our everyday lives, and you may need to try a few methods before finding the right one for you. According to the American Institute of Stress , some excellent choices for reducing stress are mindfulness, relaxing hobbies like knitting, and exercises like yoga.
Drinking water and staying hydrated are important for many health reasons, but sometimes such a basic need isn’t always easy to meet. Humans adults are about 60% water (McIntosh 2018), so we definitely need to drink water to stay healthy. Among many other functions, water lubricates joints and keeps skin healthy, helps flush out toxins from our bodies, and aids in intestinal digestion and kidney processing (McIntosh 2018).
In addition, drinking more water can also help with weight loss because it is a natural appetite suppressant and decreases intake of other liquids, increases calorie burning, and is necessary for fat burning (Luo 2018).
If drinking water is too easy to forget, try to keep a water bottle handy so it’s there whenever you feel thirsty. If the flavor -- or lack thereof -- is the problem, jazz it up with a squeeze of lemon or brew unsweetened, loose-leaf tea for some added flavor. Unsweetened, carbonated water is also a good alternative if you like fizzy drinks.
No matter what your intention is, aiming for a healthier lifestyle is always in season! Try not to let an all-or-nothing attitude get in the way of attaining your goals. Lifelong changes don’t happen overnight -- they happen each day, with each choice, one step at a time.