And it’s an important question! Notice, this post is not “how to lose weight to get pregnant“. I have helped dozens of women go from “unexplained” infertility to motherhood, and 9 times out of 10, when women come to work with me they’re not eating enough.
How do you know if you’re eating enough to get pregnant? This is a 3-part answer:
- Make sure you’re eating enough total calories
- Make sure you’re eating enough of each macronutrient – protein, fat and carbohydrate (and in the right balance for blood sugar and hormone balance)
- Make sure you’re eating enough micronutrients – vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Let’s dive into each step, but first, let’s explore the relationship between weight loss and fertility.
Does losing weight make you more fertile?
In today’s world, healthy has become synonymous with eating less. As a dietitian, when someone asks me “Is (fill in the blank) healthy?“, I know what she really means is, “Will that make me fat?”
I’m flipping this paradigm on its head because health and body size are not synonymous. (Read: Health at Every Size*). I see too many women in semi-starvation mode, trying to disguise weight loss as “health.”
I get particularly irked by OBs and reproductive endocrinologists (REs) who send women away with a BS diagnosis of “unexplained” infertility and a blanket prescription to “lose weight”.
The reality is that weight loss is NOT the golden ticket to pregnancy – even if your BMI is in the overweight or obese range.
Here’s the main problem with weight loss and fertility: it almost always means eating less.
Most of us are not eating enough. Excess weight (and infertility!) is more often a result of hormone imbalance, inflammation and as bottomed-out metabolism – eating less only makes both of those problems worse!
If you’ve ever tried to eat less, then you know that it totally sucks and you go around hungry & cranky (a.k.a. hangry). What’s more, cutting calories too low causes mental, emotional and physical stress, while depriving your body of the vitamins & minerals needed to make a healthy baby – more about that below.
Undereating, stress and infertility
No matter the number on the scale, if your BMI is high or low, if you’re not eating enough to meet your daily needs, or if you’re not getting enough of ALL the needed nutrients, it puts your body in a state of stress.
Undereating spikes your cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone), and cortisol turns down the dial on your thyroid hormone to conserve energy. The result? Weight sticks to your sides like glue (ugh) and reproduction falls to the wayside (double ugh).
If you under-eat, it also deprives you of the nutrients needed for egg quality, regular ovulation, solid progesterone levels, a thick uterine lining needed for egg implantation, etc. Long story short, if you don’t eat enough, it’s hard, if not impossible, to get pregnant.
To finally get pregnant (and prevent miscarriage), rather than going for weight loss, I recommend focusing on nourishing yourself with the all of the vitamins & minerals that you need to thrive. The name of the fertility game is eating for optimal health – not eating for weight loss.
It takes a healthy mom to make a healthy baby!
So, how do you know if you’re eating enough and what to eat for conception? Let’s dive in.
How many calories should I eat when trying to conceive?
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy (a.k.a. calories) that your body needs while at rest. BMR is the minimum calorie intake for basic life things like brushing your teeth, flipping through Netflix, etc.
The more active you are, then the more fuel you need. If you’re getting out of bed each day, getting in any movement and you’re trying to conceive (TTC), then you could need anywhere from 500-1000 calories per day above your BMR.
To calculate for yourself, try this Healthy Body Calculator to get an estimate of your calorie needs.
Wondering if you’re eating enough to get pregnant? Good news- that’s what I do! I can help you make sure you’re eating the right amount to support optimal fertility.
How much protein, fat & carbs should I eat?
The next step is to get your macronutrients – proteins, fats and carbohydrates – in the right balance for blood sugar balance, hormone balance and fertility. After all, it’s not just about how many calories you eat: learning what to eat for conception is just as important.
Every body is different, and the amount of food you need varies based on your height, weight, age, activity level, etc. That said, there are guidelines that we can use to get started. I recommend aiming for this balance of macronutrients:
- 20-30% of your calories from protein;
- 30%-50% of calories from fertility fats; and
- the rest from complex, fiber-full carbs.
Want a visual? This Instagram post gives you some examples of healthy, fertility-boosting foods for each macronutrient.
Use this plate method to make sure you’re eating the right balance of proteins, fats and carbs at each meal.
Am I recommending you whip out your calorie counter to start calculating percentages?
Instead, the best, easiest way to make sure you’re hitting these macronutrient goals is the fertility plate method. For each meal, make your plate like this:
- Fill ¼ of your plate with protein
- Fill ¼ of your plate with complex carbs
- Fill ½ your plate with a beautiful rainbow of veggies
- Flavor & prep it all with healthy, fertility fats.
Use this plate shown to the right to guide you at each meal to make sure you’re eating enough to boost fertility, and to make sure you’re getting the right balance of protein, fat and carb for hormone balance.
If you struggle with PCOS (you’re not alone!), then you may need to be more careful about your carbs. This does not mean cutting out all carbs, just choosing ones that are full of fiber.
There is robust research suggesting that carb intake <45% of overall calories can improve fertility for us cysters. That means a little bit less carb and a little bit more protein or fat. Read more about nutrition for getting pregnant with PCOS.
The takeaway is that fertility requires eating enough food and the right balance of each macronutrient. NOT that you have to become an insane person adding grams of each morsel that hits your lips.
What vitamins do I need for Egg Quality, ovulation & a healthy pregnancy?
Last, but definitely not least, you need to eat enough vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for fertility.
There are a number of nutrient deficiencies, often subclinical (meaning you’re not getting enough of the nutrient for optimal health, but levels are not low enough to diagnose a condition), that are common among women in the U.S.
Many of these nutrients essential for a healthy pregnancy aren’t easy to get from food alone. This is because these particular nutrients are more scarce in the food supply, and because they’re also needed in higher quantities to grow a new human from scratch.
Even in resource-rich countries, women typically don’t eat enough of some of the most essential nutrients for pregnancy. Fertility nutrients that women commonly do not get enough of from their diet include:
Each of these nutrients is required for healthy eggs to develop and ovulate regularly, to produce enough progesterone and for a thick uterine lining that the egg can implant into, and for cells to grow and divide, thus preventing miscarriage.
Curious if you’re getting enough of each of these nutrients? I offer micronutrient testing to assess your nutrient status. With this data, we can tailor a nutrition plan to your unique needs, and help you get pregnant faster.
Foods that help you get pregnant
So what should you eat when trying to conceive to get all these nutrients in your diet?
Thankfully, you don’t have to get a degree in nutrition to get pregnant. No need to get bogged down in the above list of nutrients.
Instead, take a high-quality prenatal supplement as insurance (see my free 3-step checklist to get the best prenatal for fertility) and focus on eating a rainbow of beautiful, fresh vegetables at each meal, as well as getting a daily dose of fertility superfoods.
Best fertility superfoods include:
- Pumpkin, chia and flax seeds
- Kefir – plain and full fat (if you tolerate dairy)
- Chocolate (yes, it’s true, chocolate can be good for your fertility :)
Need more help determining if you’re eating enough to conceive?
Whether or not you’re trying to lose weight, your fertility depends on making sure you’re eating enough.
To boost your fertility and finally get your baby, focus on nourishing yourself. It’s about giving yourself the nourishment you need to feel your best – mentally, emotionally and physically.
Thankfully, infertility can have a delicious solution – eating real, good food. Need help with what to eat? I’m here for you.
Rooting for you,