Fat, the Brain, and Fertility – Part I

The first step to improved fertility is a healthy metabolism and balanced hormone levels.

Cover PhotoThere is no doubt; fertility is enhanced by healthy metabolic function.  Notice I say metabolic function and not weight loss as the two things are decidedly not connected! In my clinic, I’m never going to ask you about your BMI, or care about what is happening on the outside of your body.

Let’s start by talking therefore, about Adipose tissue. As little as 5% and as much as a 20% loss of Adipose tissue can make the difference between being able to conceive a baby naturally and having a good pregnancy and birth.  And this goes for women of all sizes, as adipose tissue exists in everyone. Adipose tissue is the hormonally responsive fatty tissue that, in women in particular, is lodged around our midriff.  Under normal conditions it provides signalling to the brain that influences our feeling of hunger.  But when we have a poorly functioning gut and sluggish metabolism it can disrupt the signalling so our brains get the wrong signal about when and how much we need to eat.  Excess adipose fat has even be linked to Type 2 diabetes.

Most significantly, in my repeated experience the presence of adipose fat also alters mood and can lead to an unhealthy cycle whereby we crave certain foods which sends the wrong messages to the brain.  How does it do this?  Well, adipose tissue is associated with higher levels of Leptin (which communicates with the hypothalamus and regulates hunger) and is also associated with genetic mutations of genes involving Melanocortins which are used in brain signalling and are associated with appetite. How we eat, how often we eat and what we eat all change our mood.  When we eat sugar or simple carbohydrate-based foods, the brain makes us crave them even more to try and create the pick-me-up we need in mood and energy, but they also lead to more adipose tissue and therefore fat accumulation, and consequently poor body image and an ongoing cycle of mood and energy lows.

The take-away from all this for me as a Practitioner who practices an HAES (Heath At Every Size) approach, is that to help you with your fertility – whatever size you are – I have to help you get hormonally and metabolically healthy and support you to approach your life and your relationship with food and exercise as joyous ones. If you want to lose Adipose tissue, and enhance your fertility, the you have to get healthy and happy – not skinny!

Bad food makes for bad moods

In my practice when I work with women who have excess adipose tissue (which is very common in treating Polycystic Ovary Syndrome [PCOS]) I start by talking about their state of mind, where they are in terms of their relationship with food, and find out about where they are with their body image.  For those for whom this is helpful, I ask them to fill out a food diary to determine the connection between these two states and see what their food intake is doing to their body and brain. For those for whom this would be difficult or shaming, we simply work with intuitive eating and focus on joy and health. Never, no matter what, on size.

Debunking some myths about a healthy diet

1. Dairy products aren’t good for you

In moderation, Dairy, including butter – and by dairy I mean proper, raw or whole milk dairy (more about this in the next blog post) is great for you.

2. You shouldn’t eat red meat

In my experience as a practitioner, you do need to eat animal flesh for your health, including wild and red meat and brown bits of the chicken (not just the anaemic skinless muscle called chicken breast) with the fat on, as this fat is important for brain function and even iron absorption.

3. Despite years of the media telling us the opposite, you can eat eggs every day without worrying about cholesterol

4. You should be adding salt to your food

Some salt – and by salt I mean unrefined sea salt which contains about eighty essential minerals and trace elements – is necessary and generally not eaten enough.  It will not raise your blood pressure unless it is in refined salt form used in industrial food preparation and what we call “table salt” combined with saturated fat and fried food on a consistent basis.

5. Salads are healthier with dressing

Liberal amounts of oil (as opposed to mayonnaise); olive, hemp, sesame, nut, and avocado are necessary to help your body absorb nutrients – especially salad vegetables. Eating salad dressing won’t make you put on weight due to the oil content.

6. Olive oil is not the healthiest oil for cooking

Cooking with coconut oil, ghee, rapeseed or rice-bran oils are even better for you than cooking with olive oil as it retains its nutrient value at a much higher temperature, thereby adding more goodness to your food once it has finished cooking. Stir-frying, therefore, doesn’t have to be bad for you.

7. “Healthy” ranges of ready-made meals are not healthy

There is no substitute for food you cook yourself, from scratch, which includes a balance of protein, complex carbohydrate in the form of vegetables and a good amount of oil, salt and fat.

Before and after

I thought it might also be interesting for you to see some samples from the before and after food diaries of one of my clients who, in just two weeks and without any exercise, reduced her metabolically unhealthy markers.

Before she was eating a primarily processed, carbohydrate and sugar-based diet, feeling tired all the time, snacking on foods that look quite healthy but were full of fructose and refined sugar, and having a good quality ready meal in the evening which didn’t really have the nutrient value she needed as it was pre-cooked and reheated, and the origins of such food are so unknown.

After changing her diet she was eating whole foods which were quick to make but very nourishing and, as a result, feeling much better in herself.

I’ll be writing more about this in blog posts to come including the connection between diet, bowel movements and fertility.


Time Food Feelings
9am At work: Toast or porridge, fresh fruit salad, coffee Tired, drained.
11am Fruit Tired, better after eating
2pm Pasta with vegetables, a bit of parmesan cheese, pine nuts or sandwich with ham and salad Tired, better after eating, headache
6pm Cookie, fat-free yoghurt OK, bit down, still craving sugar
9pm M&S ready meal with chicken, potato and vegetables Good


Time Food Feelings
9am 2 boiled eggs and/or smoked salmon with rye toast, butter and half a red pepper or a tomato Good, tired but brain working
11am No need for a snack Still full from breakfast
2pm Two sandwiches with chicken or roast beef and salad, bread from one sandwich thrown away and fillings placed together, or leftovers from last night’s meal Hungry, need to eat, starting to feel tired again.
6pm Hummus and carrot sticks, punnet of berries Left it too long between meals, bit of a headache, went away after eating
9pm Stir fry vegetables with wild rice, pumpkin seeds and sesame oil, grilled sea bass fillet Good, needed less to eat for dinner than usual.


So, here’s my thought for the day after writing this post, keeping in mind that I’m writing from the point of view as an enthusiastic foodie rather than a trained nutritionist or physician (so you may want to see medical advice before following my suggestions); try eating more of the good food I’ve identified above for the next week and see how you feel.  Let me know how you get on using the comments box below, or ask me for advice as to what to eat.

Enjoy your week!


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One Response to “Fat, the Brain, and Fertility – Part I”

  1. Anonymous

    With the right guidance from Naava changing my diet helped me a lot and I look at food differently now.

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