So how's January been going for you so far?
Have you been wondering about your diet habits and what you should be doing differently? Or are you thinking of doing some kind of 'detox' over the coming weeks in order to help your fertility?
Since starting back to work last week, many of my patients have been asking me about this popular January trend and I think it's an important topic to address because it can cause so much confusion!
How is a 'detox' diet different from nourishing my body?
The main problem with so-called detox diets is that are utterly generic, so they are not based on your own specific needs. A detox takes no account of your medical history, your nutrient needs, what background health issues you may have or what medications you may be currently taking.
The proponents of detox plans also tend to make grand claims about how much weight you can lose in a short space of time and how literally, every symptom under the sun will be improved, 'you'll experience glowing skin, more energy, better sleep...etc..'. Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?
Most of the time these plans will advise you to buy some type of miracle cleansing tea or herbal formula that will make all your problems magically disappear.
The detox regimes that advise cutting back dramatically on calorie intake or eliminating whole food groups can be very damaging, especially if you have a history of disordered eating habits e.g. bulimia, as it can bring back old behaviour patterns.
In short, while I appreciate how tempting this may be, I would strongly advise against it.
What should I do instead?
When you're trying to have a baby you want to flood your body with nutrients! This should ideally be achieved while keeping your blood sugar levels stable with regular and frequent meal times and the more variety of unprocessed foods you are able to consume, the better.
While green juices are very nutritious, having nothing but juices for a few days in the middle of winter is not going to do you any favours, it's too cold for that!
At this time of year you should favour hearty bowls of porridge with blood sugar stabilising cinnamon, along with chopped nuts for extra protein and healthy fats.
Opt for warming soups and stews, filled with vegetables and lean protein, accompanied by robust salads, made with spices to promote healthy digestion such as ginger, cumin, cayenne and paprika.
Healthy fats should also be a prominent feature of your diet, so don't hold back on having avocados, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds and oily fish on a daily basis as there is evidence that these fats can significantly increase your odds of conception.
Most importantly you should feel satiated when you eat, so that food cravings are likely to be minimal. This means including some form of protein and fat with most of your meals. E.g. carrots with hummus for a snack or avocado, greens and eggs for breakfast etc.
Bear in mind that in a large study by Harvard school of public health, they found that women who ate more vegetable protein were less likely to have problems with ovulation, so try to bulk up any meat/fish/chicken dishes with veggie proteins such as lentils, beans, nuts or seeds.
Non-fluoridated, still water should be your liquid of choice. Of course, herbal teas are a good idea when it's cold, so enjoy ginger & lemon, green tea, rooibos or tulsi which are all good options as they are high in antioxidants and very low in caffeine.
What should I avoid?
Of course it is a good idea to abstain from alcohol, not just for the benefit of your liver but also for the sake of your fertility. According to the scientific research in this area, even 1 alcoholic drink could be sufficient to impact the health of the sperm, or the eggs, so it's best avoided for the 3-4 months leading up to conception.
Processed sugar isn't great for women as it can hamper hormone conversion (i.e. risk of PCOS) so try to stick with healthier desserts and favour 70% dark chocolate or fruit, over the usual biscuits, jellies or ice-cream.
For those with allergies or immune issues having too much wheat or dairy may exacerbate your symptoms. If that is the case for you, then try out the many alternatives that are now widely available in supermarkets or health stores as there is evidence that imbalanced immune markers may potentially affect the implantation of your embryo.
Keep coffee to just one per day and have it in the morning when cortisol levels are naturally supposed to be higher. Having too much caffeine, especially if you drink it late in the day puts pressure on your adrenal hormones, which may hamper the production of reproductive hormones (e.g. testosterone, oestrogen, progesterone). If you find that having even one coffee per day makes you jittery, then it should be better to avoid it completely.
Keep things simple
Above all else, remember that if you can make a few small changes and stick with them over the weeks and months ahead, that will be worth far more to your health, than strictly following a cleanse or detox routine for 2 weeks and then falling straight back into old habits.
As many of my patients have asked me, 'What is the secret to a truly healthy lifestyle? The answer is consistency.
When you are trying to conceive, the whole process can become pretty stressful, so instead of putting pressure on yourself to be 'perfect' with your diet, focus on making steady improvements in your overall diet and lifestyle, that you know you are going to stick with because you are enjoying them.
If you are nourishing yourself properly, then cravings will naturally reduce and you will no longer be living in a mind-set of 'denial'.
Most importantly, try to be kind to yourself! There is zero point in feeling guilty because you had that one glass of wine or a serving of dessert. That is not going to sabotage your health goals but a negative mindset will.
If you feel you have been doing everything 'right' but still aren't getting anywhere with trying to conceive or you know there are changes that need to be made, but you don't really know where to start, then I'm here to help. Getting started is always the tricky part, but once you're past that, you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.
Wishing you the best of health and success with your fertility goals for 2017.