Eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa affect every aspect of a woman’s health – including her fertility and ability to get pregnant. Can you get pregnant if you have an eating disorder? Do eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa cause infertility?
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for over a year and can’t conceive, it’s possible that anorexia or bulimia is affecting your fertility levels. Which leads to another question: Should you tell your husband or boyfriend about your eating disorder?
While it’s possible that eating disorders cause infertility by affecting your body negatively, it is also possible to stop the effects of anorexia or bulimia. In this article, I’ll share snippets of eating disorder and fertility research from the University of Helsinki. I’ll also share three ways to stop an eating disorder from causing infertility.
Do you have an eating disorder? I struggled with bulimia for years, and didn’t find healing until I was in my early 40s. My husband and I couldn’t get pregnant, but it wasn’t because of my eating disorder. Male factor infertility was the problem. If you can’t get pregnant and you struggle with bulimia or anorexia nervosa, your problem may not be the eating disorder. There are many reasons for infertility – and about 30% of them are unexplained.
That said, however, there is no doubt that eating disorders affect a woman’s overall health in dramatic, negative ways. It’s important to find healing from bulimia or anorexia not just so you can get pregnant, but so you live fully and blossom into the woman God created you to be!
What research says about eating disorders and reproductive health in women
This study was called “Eating Disorders Often Associated With Reproductive Health Problems” and published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. According to this research, women with eating disorders are less likely to have children than others in the same age group. The likelihood for miscarriage was more than triple for binge-eating disorder (BED) sufferers. The likelihood of abortion was more than double for bulimics than others in the same age group.
The likelihood of abortion was more than double for bulimics than for others in the same age group. Meanwhile, the likelihood for miscarriage was more than triple for binge-eating disorder (BED) sufferers. For women who had been in treatment for BED, nearly half of their pregnancies ended in miscarriage.
Women with eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa are less likely to have children than others in their age group. The discrepancy is the most apparent in women with anorexia. In this group, the number of pregnancies was less than half of that of the control group. But is this because eating disorders cause infertility, or because women who struggle with anorexia or bulimia don’t want or aren’t ready to have children?
3 Ways to Stop an Eating Disorder From Causing Infertility
“Early recognition, effective care and sufficiently long follow-up periods for eating disorders are crucial in the prevention of reproductive health problems,” says researcher Milla Linna from the University of Helsinki.
1. Learn how bulimia or anorexia affects your fertility and ability to conceive
The research about eating disorders and infertility doesn’t explain exactly why women with anorexia or bulimia can’t get pregnant. Is it physical, emotional, psychological – or a mixture of all three? Nor does this research describe exactly how to stop eating disorders from causing infertility in women.
Based on previous research, however, it seems likely that infertility and pregnancy problems can at least partially be attributed to eating disorders in women. Bulimia and anorexia affect a woman’s menstrual cycle; she may have irregular periods or no periods at all. Eating disorders also affect a woman’s weight and overall health. Women who are either underweight or obese have an increased risk of infertility and miscarriage.
The bottom line is that even if eating disorders don’t cause infertility in women, they certainly have a negative effect on her reproductive health and fertility levels.
2. Get counseling for your eating disorder – especially if you’re trying to get pregnant
The key is finding the right type of help for you. In Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back I describe how my counselor Nancy helped me heal from bulimia. She gave me lots of good psychological information and counseling, and even explained why bulimia had such a hold over me. But even though I intellectually understood why I was struggling with this eating disorder, I couldn’t overcome it. Even if I thought that my eating disorder actually caused fertility problems and even infertility, I still wouldn’t haven been able to heal on my own. Having information isn’t enough to heal our hearts or bring peace to our spirits. In fact, having information may not even be able to change our minds or behaviors! Knowledge alone does not help us grow forward.
My counselor also recommended books like 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder: Effective Strategies from Therapeutic Practice and Personal Experience. Learning how other women recovered from bulimia and anorexia was very helpful. I learned about the recovery process, what therapy entailed, and how common it was to feel guilty and ashamed.
How will you find healing from your bulimia or anorexia nervosa? It helps to learn how eating disorders affect a woman’s body and fertility levels…but that information won’t heal your heart. You’re struggling with deep pain and grief. The only way to find healing from these deep heart wounds is to change how you see yourself.
3. Sink into the love and healing power of God
Sinking into the powerful love of God was how I found healing from my eating disorder. God healed my heart and spirit, which gave me the strength and power I needed to overcome the bulimia. My relationship with Jesus changed my self-image; I started to experience and live out of the love, grace and compassion of the Holy Spirit. I saw God as my Father, which changed my self-image. And this, in turn, helped me heal from the eating disorder that overshadowed my life for two decades.
Overcoming bulimia didn’t help me get pregnant, though! My eating disorder wasn’t causing infertility. It was my husband’s azoospermia (lack of sperm production) that prevented us from conceiving a baby. We never did get pregnant, but I’ve left my eating disorder in the past…and I’ve never been happier.
What type of eating disorder are you struggling with? If you’re trying to get pregnant, does your husband know about your bulimia or anorexia? If you feel guilty or ashamed, remember that your eating disorder may not be causing infertility. Not being able to get pregnant is just as likely to be a male fertility problem (eg, sperm health issues or even a complete lack of sperm production).
If you’re looking for practical tips for getting pregnant when you have an eating disorder, read 6 Foods to Avoid When You’re Trying to Get Pregnant.
This information about eating disorders and fertility is from a press release from the University of Helsinki, called “Eating Disorders Often Associated With Reproductive Health Problems.” The study about eating disorders and getting pregnant was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.