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An Over-Zealous Fertility Diet – A Patient’s Story

I asked our lovely Yinova patient Kate to write this week’s blog entry. When Kate came to see me she had been trying to conceive for several years. She had been diligent about seeking out advice from a variety of conventional and complementary practitioners and had followed their orders to the letter. A previous acupuncturist had encouraged her to follow a very strict diet. I’m sure this advice was well meaning but in my opinion these kinds of draconian dietary measures are a misinterpretation of Chinese nutritional theory which stresses moderation and balance.

When I met Kate I realized that what had started as a strict diet had become more of an eating disorder. Trying so hard to conceive and then failing to get pregnant, month after month, is a really out of control feeling. It can even feel as if you are being punished. Many patients have described to me their sense that if only they could be perfect then they would be able to get pregnant. I often remind my patients that women who live on junk food get pregnant all the time. I don’t mean to imply that a healthy diet isn’t important and you’ll find lots of dietary advice here on the Yinova blog. But I do want my patients to understand that the occasional chocolate bar, ice cream or glass of wine is not the end of the world. In fact a relaxed attitude may well be helpful. A woman who is tense about every mouthful of food she eats is sending her body a message that may end up being counter-productive.

As Kate and I talked we realized how frightened she had become about food. Her strict diet had become something of a superstition and she felt that if she cheated in any way she would be punished by not conceiving. I encouraged her to let go and eat more normally. I also asked if she would share her experience with you all because I think she has learned something very important. I’d love to know what you all think.

Here’s Kate’s story in her own words….

Ah, food and fertility. What immediately comes to mind – those who eat an organic diet only to witness month after month of heartbreak and the women who easily conceive, freely consuming Mountain Dew and Krispy Kremes. Right? What do they know that I don’t? Are their bodies in such balance that they can afford the otherwise freewheeling behavior? And, what about women who go to Jamaica, drink copious amounts of rum and mysteriously deliver a child nine months later? Tried it…didn’t work.

What if you were presented with a fast-track solution? My then acupuncturist suggested a diet, a regime that could aid in my quest for a child. I jumped at the chance. After all, I could just blend it with the Feng Shui, red comforter and the full spectrum of other belief-centered protocols to which I had already availed myself. It would fit well with my personal fertility ethos. I loved the idea of having systematical and graceful command over every morsel of food entering my otherwise haggard body…and I could conceive a child! It seemed so easy. I plunged right in: no dairy, wheat, caffeine, alcohol, starches, fruit, sugar (yep, including maple sugar and honey), some vegetables, nothing cold, cooling, raw and no chicken until after ovulation. Everyone around me marveled at my dedication and perseverance. Though, I knew some felt I had lost my way. And, my husband never faltered in supporting me (and attempting the diet himself). I know now, to his utter dismay.

When my son was conceived with my first IVF attempt, I gave just as much credit to that 5-page dog-eared diet document as to the acupuncture, Chinese herbs and a really skilled embryologist. Later when I started trying for baby #2, it was not as easy. IVF attempt after attempt…over and over again. With each failed attempt, I clung closer to the diet. It was all I knew. When I suffered a miscarriage at eight weeks, I blamed it on fatefully consuming a miniscule amount of peppermint (it’s cooling). Years later, I still wonder if food played a part in the miscarriage. Sound a bit nutty?

In a way, my five years of obsessively adhering to the “Chinese fertility diet” made me sane. I had unsurpassed control. In a world filled with injections, a draining bank account, dreaded post-IVF pregnancy test telephone calls, the juggling of a full-time career with the part-time job of being infertile…the diet was the one thing at which I truly excelled. As some holistic practitioners urged me to ditch the diet, I dug my heels in even deeper. I cursed and briskly shook my head at them in disgust for not understanding how badly I wanted another child. I had to stick to the diet…otherwise, there was no chance. The diet became an addiction – I adhered to the tenets of my food regime with great fervor. Period. There comes a time when you’d do anything to get pregnant, but losing yourself to food comes with a price. Were there low moments? Sure, racing around China Town in search of the perfect black chickens (head intact) and when I sat in restaurants afraid to eat or drink because the menu didn’t comply with my requisite dietary situation. So, there I sat thirsty, but steadfast in my belief that it would all pay off.

At one point, I made peace with the diet and all of its peculiarities – after all, raw and cold foods made me bloat…I felt better when on the diet. Aha, that was the turning point – that, I was on the diet, not because it had control over me, I was on it because it made me feel better. Due to some hefty intervention, I’m on my way to balance. I guess I’m a recovering fertility diet addict. Am I there yet? No. Recently, I stood and longingly stared at a COLD and RAW spinach salad. My heart said “yes,” but my uterus said “no way.”

Looking back, the irony is that, in many ways, the stress I was told to banish was only heightened by the diet. In the end, I have respect for those who encouraged the diet and no regrets for my journey, as it’s MY journey…the personal path I had to take. While there is the potential for despair when seeking motherhood on this level, there too is humor. I laugh at the creative excuses made to manage my “habit,” warming my water on the stove before I drank it, crying when mustard greens (cooling) were the vegetable of the day at my favorite restaurant or my son’s birthday parties where I cheerfully served ice crème to the revelers, but none for myself. Did I really NOT eat cake or ice crème at my son’s birthday parties for three years? Yep. Sad, but true. Despite my renewed outlook on food and fertility, I’m fully aware that at any time I could lapse and furiously rifle through desk drawers in search of the “diet booklet.” Or, I can just trust my body. Hmm, what would you do?

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