Anorexia is a type of eating disorder where you severely limit what you eat due to an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. You may count calories, exercise too much or use diet pills. Eating disorders are common among young women, so you’re not alone.

This article has been verified by a medical professional

Impact of anorexia on fertility

Anorexia can make it more difficult to conceive because under-eating and having a low body weight messes with the menstrual cycle. It disrupts your reproductive hormone levels and can cause your cycle to become irregular – periods may stop altogether (a condition called amenorrhea) and you may stop ovulating. Without ovulation, pregnancy isn’t possible. Anorexia can also reduce the quality of your eggs.

During pregnancy, eating too little can affect the baby’s development in the womb because there isn’t enough transfer of nutrients through the placenta. Because of that, anorexia can increase the risk of preterm birth and having a baby with low birth weight. This eating disorder is also linked to iron deficiency and folic acid deficiency, as well as zinc and vitamin A deficiencies, which can play a role in pregnancy complications.

Potential causes of anorexia

Eating disorders occur as a way to deal with difficult emotions. Many factors can trigger the onset of anorexia – it’s often a combination of factors that play a role. Some people are predisposed to developing an eating disorder due to genetics, hormones, and personality traits. Your environment, peer pressure, family situation, and a culture that emphasizes thinness may also be responsible.

Symptoms of anorexia

Anorexia can cause certain changes in your body, namely:

  • Missed periods
  • Hair loss
  • Dry, pale, and yellow skin

Despite losing a lot of weight, you may still think that you are overweight. But not everyone with anorexia is underweight. Some people with anorexia may have a healthy body mass index (BMI) or be overweight; this is called atypical anorexia.

Diagnosis of anorexia

Healthcare providers diagnose anorexia according to the following criteria outlined by the American Psychiatric Association:

  • You have an intense fear of gaining weight that stops you from eating.
  • You eat less food than your body needs to function, which may lead to a significantly low body weight. 
  • You have a distorted body image, leading you to feel that you are overweight even if you are severely underweight.

Your doctor may do a variety of other tests to diagnose this eating disorder and rule out medical reasons for weight loss. These may include:

  • Physical exam
  • Blood and urine tests that check your liver, kidney, and thyroid function
  • Psychological evaluation
  • X-rays to check for bone, lung, or heart problems

Treatment to improve fertility

The good news is that research shows that anorexia doesn’t have a permanent impact on fertility. So by recovering from anorexia, incorporating healthy eating habits, and reaching a healthy BMI, your periods will return to normal and you will greatly improve your chances of conceiving and reduce the risk for anorexia-related pregnancy complications.

To treat anorexia, it’s important to find out what’s causing it. Speaking to a therapist can be very helpful to find new ways to cope with underlying emotional issues that have changed your relationship with food. You can also meet with a LEVY nutritional counselor who can offer guidance on healthy eating and come up with a personalized meal plan to help you reach your goals.

Recovering from an eating disorder isn’t easy. But with the right support system to back you up, you can have a healthy relationship with eating again and greatly improve your chances of a successful pregnancy.

This article has been verified by a medical professional

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