I get it. It’s really, really hard to stick to a strict fertility diet. The egg-health fertility diet that worked for me eliminates all dairy, gluten, soy, trans fats, white carbs including pasta, sugar, and sweeteners, and strictly limiting any high carb veggies and fruits like sweet potatoes or oranges. I don’t eat dates and I don’t eat bananas. Absolutely no molasses, agave, honey, coconut/palm sugar, or even stevia! Basically no prepared foods, and rarely eating out. And of course absolutely no alcohol or caffeine. I eat tons of healthy organic protein (lentils, beans, nuts, nut butters, pasture-raised organic eggs, some meat), and lots of green leafy veggies. I do allow myself about one serving of healthy carbs a day, like brown rice or quinoa. OH! AND I don’t eat any “cold” foods, so I have to steam/cook all my greens except for lettuce. To read more about my fertility diet that got me pregnant click here, and to read all the science behind a high-protein/high-fat/low-carb fertility diet click here.
So anyway. Yes, this diet can kind of suck. It is a ton of work. It is super intense. But it makes you SO HEALTHY and it works, so I am super intensely committed to it. And in fact- it has gotten me pregnant successfully when the doctors said I had no hope. But when I talk to women who decide to implement this diet, they almost always cheat. Which makes me crazy. Why would you do all this work and then sabotage yourself? Don’t cheat! In this blog I want to talk about three things- first, setting yourself up for success so you don’t need to cheat, second, safe alternatives to cheating, and third, what foods are okay to “cheat” on and which are not.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
The NUMBER ONE thing you can do to set yourself up for success on this diet is give yourself a TIME LIMIT. I suggest four months and no longer. Absolutely and completely commit to this diet for four months only and don’t cheat. After four months, hopefully you will be pregnant if you are doing ALL THE THINGS (read here about ALL THE THINGS I did to beat infertility and get pregnant!)! If you aren’t pregnant, you will mentally need a break after four months. Please, please, please don’t run out to McDonald’s! Instead, allow yourself the joy of bananas, dates, honey, maple syrup, and unlimited healthy carbs, fruits, and veggies. If you need to have a glass of red wine here and there. Have a decaffeinated coffee or latte with coconut/almond/cashew milk if you need it. Do this for one month or so before going back on the diet.
AND always, always, give yourself a limit for how long in TOTAL you will spend in your life working towards optimal egg health/fertility before you take whatever the next step is in your baby journey. DO NOT just say you will spend unlimited years of your life doing this diet, and everything else, without being prepared for the next step, whatever that might be. For some of you lucky ones that might be IUI or IVF. For others it might be egg or embryo donation, still amazing optoins. For others surrogacy or adoption might be the blessing that completes your family. MAKE A PLAN with your partner TODAY, so you don’t feel like you are floundering forever. Also, the limited time will give you more motivation to do ALL THE THINGS NOW! Read more about planning your baby journey in my article on How to Manage Infertility Like a Boss!
Safe Alternatives to Cheating
So, even if you limit yourself to four months, there may still be days when you just need a treat. You are feeling down for one reason or another, or maybe you got your period. I know, I’ve been there. You need a treat and you need it STAT. Here are some ideas for spoiling yourself- through food- when you need a special fix.
- Drive to your nearest organic/health food store and buy some ridiculously expensive treat that adheres to the diet. For me, this is the $12 cashew “cheese” along with some gluten-free paleo crackers made only from seeds, nuts, and coconut oil. I buy that, some really expensive organic olives or olive tapenade, and I go home and have myself some pretty fancy tapas. The sheer look of irritation on my husband’s face when we checkout and the price comes up is a sure sign I am spoiling myself.
- Make yourself a “fat bomb” treat made of coconut oil, cocoa powder and almond butter (you can buy these ingredients from Amazon through my links or while you are shopping at your local expensive health food store :-). These treats are incredible and will definitely satisfy your chocolate craving and give you the fats you need. In fact, there’s no reason you can’t have one of these every day (just don’t go overboard with the cocoa since it has a little caffeine in it). Here’s a recipe I like.
- Buy yourself some really expensive fresh organic berries and whip up some coconut cream to eat them with!
- Get some organic tortilla chips or crunchy taco shells and fill them up with some organic salsa, guacamole, beans or meat, lettuce, red onion, olives, and anything else delicious and Mexican.
- Go out to eat somewhere! Some of my favorite places where I can get fertility diet food are Chipotle, Mexican restaurants (just stick with beans, salad, guac, and corn products), and a local place called the Silver Diner which has lots of great local paleo-type options.
What You Can Cheat on . . . And What You Can’t
Okay, let’s get down to brass tacks. There are some parts of the fertility diet that you can cheat on a little bit and not make a huge difference in egg health . . . according to what little research is out there. However, there are some cheats that could totally blow your egg health for potentially up to 90 days. The research that is out there is slim, unfortunately, so we have to make the best with what we have! I’m going to break it down by category, and I’m going to say whether you can have a bite or a serving of each and still be “okay.”
Caffeine- Even one cup of coffee a day is linked to delays in conception, and even half a cup of coffee a day/one cup of tea is linked to three times fewer live births. You can read my full post on caffeine and related studies here. Bottom line? You can have a single sip of caffeinated coffee or tea WITHOUT cream or sugar in it. If you need to you can occasionally have a decaf coffee or tea, but be aware that it should always be organic (these are heavily pesticide-laden crops) and you DO NOT want to be drinking decaf on a regular basis because of the toxic processes they go through to become decaf. But, if its the holidays, and you just want to have a decaf coffee with unsweetened coconut/cashew/almond milk JUST THIS ONCE, you can do it without freaking out.
Alcohol– Research shows that even women who only drink 5 alcoholic beverages a week (less than one a day) have lowered fertility. I absolutely advise eliminating alcohol completely if struggling with infertility. NOW, as for cheating, a sip of your husband’s beer/wine/scotch is going to be okay, as long as it isn’t a mixed drink with cream or lots of sugar. I never cheated beyond a sip when doing the fertility diet, but I wouldn’t begrudge someone a one time 1/4 glass of red wine. But no more, and not regularly.
Soy– The effect of soy is cumulative in your body, meaning that you’re going to see big impacts from big consumption. The problem is that soy is hidden everywhere- in most processed food, and in foods at restaurants. It’s bizarre, even canned tuna has soy in it. I advise completely eliminating soy. I don’t really understand why you would cheat as I’ve never derived pleasure from soy the way I do from chocolate, coffee, or alcohol. BUT, let’s say you accidentally eat one thing one time that has a tiny bit of soy lecithin in it. Don’t freak out. Or if your husband is eating tamari covered brown rice, you can totally have a couple bites. It’s not enough to make a big difference. BUT you don’t want to be consuming it every day, so no regular consumption of soy. And don’t go crazy and dump a ton of soy sauce on your brown rice. Use coconut aminos ladies! Some nutritionists argue that fermented soy is okay- this would be tamari, tempeh, and miso. While these are certainly healthier, I still advise to avoid soy as even the fermented soy can still have an affect on your hormones. Bottom line: it isn’t the occasional ingestion that is worrisome, but the larger load of soy on your system.
Trans Fats– Research shows that trans fat intake reduces fertility- specifically, having trans fats be 2% of your diet doubles your chance of infertility. These are also terrible for your health overall. They are found in gross processed food like pre-made pie crusts and frostings, frozen pizzas, microwave popcorn, and margarine. They used to be in almost all pre-packaged cookies and crackers, but luckily no longer. The FDA no longer considers trans fats safe for human consumption and they are being faded out. BUT if you see “partially hydrogenated oil”- any kind of oil- that means there are trans fats in it. Don’t eat it. Don’t cheat on the gross processed food. Gross. Trans fats can also be found in fried food at fast food places and restaurants. Unfortunately this means that cheating on french fries isn’t a good idea. BUT, if you are out and you want to have ONE sweet potato fry, or ONE fry, as long as you are avoiding trans fats otherwise you can do so without worrying too much. But DO NOT have a whole serving!
Sugar, Sweeteners, & Simple Carbs– So, unfortunately, the research is pretty clear that carbohydrate intake and dietary glycemic load are directly related to infertility. One of the most major studies showed the relation to ovulatory infertility, while others show that it affects egg quality. Here’s my blog post all about increasing protein and fats and lowering carbs for fertility. Here’s the problem- white carbs (sugar, sweeteners, pasta, white rice, potatoes, and high glycemic foods like bananas) cause insulin spikes in the body. These mess with your hormones which can upset egg development. It can also cause inflammation in the body, weaken the immune system, and increase insulin resistance (especially problematic for PCOS). It’s just terrible for fertility. And the worst part is we don’t really know when in the 90 day egg cycle the effect is the greatest. So I advise never ever cheating big time on this. No slices of cake, no brownie sundaes, no pack of cookies. No full bananas, no bowls of white rice, no maple syrup laden paleo desserts. I’m so, so, sorry, but yes, it does all cause insulin spikes. What you CAN do is take small tastes of gluten and dairy free sweets or fruits as long as you keep your sugars low. If you can avoid an insulin spike, then you are okay. For example, ONE small square of organic 85% dark chocolate is a good option for once in a while (but not every day). You can have one bite of banana. You can have one spoonful of white rice. If you make a dark chocolate avocado pie with a little maple syrup sweetener, you need to calculate how many sugars are in each slice and then determine if you can take one spiteful or two. I always tried to never have more than 6 sugars at a time. I think this is the most important part of the diet- it has the most science backing it up AND one big insulin binge could theoretically ruin your eggs for 90 days. So WHY would you risk it?? If you are going to cheat (more than a taste) then do it with something else.
Gluten– The research on coeliacs and fertility is very clear – if you have coeliac disease and you eat a regular diet with gluten you are more likely to have a short cycle, be infertile, and have recurrent miscarriages than if you are on a strict gluten-free diet. There are multiple studies that show this. The theory is two fold- the irritation of the gluten in your system cause inflammation and gut destruction. The inflammation makes your body unwelcome to an embryo and the gut destruction makes it hard for your body to process the needed vitamins and minerals. Only going on a STRICT gluten-free diet cures the woman and heals the infertility. Here’s the problem- even if you don’t test positive for coeliacs there are many, many people who are extremely sensitive to gluten and to the pesticides used on wheat. So, you might still be having low level inflammation and gut issues that lower your fertility. Given the amount of research we have, I think it is wise to go completely gluten-free if you are already diagnosed with infertility or have had recurrent losses. I would not cheat at all. Now, if you don’t have coeliacs, and you one day out of your 90 day egg health diet accidentally get a tiny bit of wheat in something, don’t freak out. The idea is to keep your body calm and inflammation free. A tiny accidental bit isn’t going to set everything off again if you’ve been good. But this isn’t one of the foods that you should be tasting bites of.
Dairy– I basically stick with the same advice for dairy as for gluten. For those of us with lactose and casein (the protein in dairy) intolerances or allergies, dairy can wreak similar havoc on your system as gluten can for the gluten free. AND a ton of people have issues with dairy they don’t even realize. Ditching dairy for me was incredible for me- not only did I get pregnant quickly, but I lost 10 pounds, my acne cleared up, and my blood pressure dropped. I also went from, ahem, many many err, bowel-related bathroom visits per day to just one. It took my years to realize this. I have a whole blog post up where you can read about all the theories and science behind going non-dairy for fertility. So my recommendation is the same as with gluten- don’t cheat at all. Technically ghee should be alright because it is lactose and casein free, but I avoid it out of an overabundance of concern when trying to conceive. Now, if you accidentally get a tiny bit of butter in something, don’t freak out. But do not take a bit of your husband’s ice cream. You want your body to totally chill out and not be getting little hits of the inflammatory substance.
Processed Foods– So the reason for the ban on processed foods is that most of them are filled with so much junk and not nutritious that it isn’t really safe to include them in your diet. HOWEVER, if you are food additive savvy enough to be able to figure out of the ingredients are safe, then you can occasionally include some healthy, organic processed foods that otherwise meet the requirements of the diet. Some examples that I love are organic olive tapenade, coconut culinary milk, unsweetened cashew and coconut milk, organic almond butter, the occasional paleo-style gluten-free cracker (made from nuts and seeds), and for emergencies while traveling organic meat bars like Mighty Bar.
What other parts of the diet do you want me to talk about?
What is the hardest thing for you to avoid cheating on? What is your favorite safe”cheat?”
Leave a note in the comments!