When Losing Weight is More Than a New Year’s Resolution

As predictable as the sun rising and setting, the minute the calendar flips to a new year, we can count on the barrage of ads and information for weight loss programs.

The daily struggle to achieve a positive body image is hard enough for women, when the stakes involve vanity and self-esteem, or even our own health and well-being. But, when extra weight can prevent us from conceiving, the pressure mounts and many women fighting this battle report compounded feelings of guilt, shame and frustration.

Sacrificing for your child is the hallmark of motherhood and even “pre-mothers” want to believe they would do anything to conceive. So when reason, willpower and nature fail, it is all the more difficult to maintain the fight and keep the spirits from reaching an all-time low.

Diane Reisman*, age 24, admits she’s been trying to solve the weight control puzzle “for what feels like my whole life.” She remembers the yearly resolution, “This year I’m going to reach the right weight,” an intention that would last “days, weeks or sometimes months,” but would ultimately fail. She describes a cycle of embarrassment and discomfort in school and social gatherings, followed by an extra bowl of cereal to calm the emotions. Although she was successful reducing her weight prior to her marriage and the birth of her first child, the pregnancy and aftermath diminished her resolve. “I never went back” to the pre-pregnancy weight, Mrs. Reisman states, and “I kept gaining steadily instead of losing.” By the time she was ready to conceive a second time, she was facing an extra 60 pounds.

“For those with a body mass index (BMI) over 30, the evidence that losing weight promotes fertility is compelling,” says Marisa Sweeney, a registered dietician in Morristown, New Jersey. Indeed, in a 2009 article in Human Fertility, the authors conclude, “Even a moderate weight loss of 5-10% of body weight can be sufficient to restore fertility and improve metabolic markers.” ** With that data in mind, some fertility centers will wait to treat patients with BMI’s in the obese range, until they have reduced their weight. Ms. Sweeney recommends a balanced food plan that is low in carbohydrates to keep insulin levels in check, Omega-3 supplements to help with cycle regulation and antioxidants that help support conception and pregnancy. Regular exercise also makes a difference by lowering insulin levels and promoting weight loss.

This is not surprising information. The problem isn’t lack of evidence, data or advice from the experts. We would all maintain the proper size if it were only a matter of being convinced of the health benefits. The challenge for those who are overweight and seeking a healthy pregnancy is to start by taking self-judgment out of the equation, which only zaps the energy required for the task at hand. Embrace the wonder of every human body and look at this process as an opportunity to fight adversity and find your inner resilience. Limit your exposure to negative influences, whether they be people, tempting food events or the Facebook posts of those lucky enough to get pregnant effortlessly. And by all means, seek help from a therapist, friend, nutritionist or group. Pursue sound advice and find support.

After a miscarriage and failed fertility treatment in her efforts to have a second child, Diane Reisman decided to take her doctor’s advice and delay current attempts to conceive in order to lose weight. With the help of a nutritionist, she is following a program that “makes so much sense and gives me the opportunity to eat when I’m hungry.” She admits the cravings and urge to eat for emotional reasons continue to be a factor, but “feeling I’ll be healthy for another baby is giving me an extra push to not turn to food.” This newfound determination has resulted in a 20-pound weight loss over a period of 3 months. Four weeks into 2016, she has every intention of staying the course. It’s not just about promoting fertility, Mrs. Reisman acknowledges – “I have to think about being healthy for me, too.”

* Not her real name to preserve privacy

** Balen AH, Anderson RA; Policy & Practice Committee of the BFS. Impact of obesity on female reproductive health; British Fertility Society, Policy and Practice Guidelines. Hum Fertil (Camb). 2007; 10(4):195-206.

Judith Kottick, LCSW is the Director of Mental Health Services for RMA NJ and a member of Path2Parenthood’s Mental Health Advisory Council.

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