“Food, Fitness, Festivities and Your Fertility” guest post by Jelena Vulic in conjunction with myMindBodyBaby
While the holidays are a joyful time for many, they can often be difficult to endure for those navigating infertility. Unfriendly fertility indulgences at every turn, family gatherings full of children, and friends and family announcing their pregnancies. Not to mention, the well-intended but painful questions from family and friends like “You’d be a great mom! When are you having kids!?” are just painful reminders of what your reality is.
So how do you navigate this time of temptations and turmoil? In the first part of this article Jelena Vulic, Psychotherapist helps to provide a framework for managing anxiety and pain during the holiday season with the implementation of loving and firm boundaries. In the second half, Michelle Strong, myMindBodyBaby Registered Nutritionist helps to provide simple strategies for keeping your health top of mind during this season of festive treats and sweets. Lastly, myMindBodyBaby fitness expert Lyndsey Clabby brings it all together with some gentle movements to help keep energy up, hormones in check, and your mental health at the forefront of your holidays.
What exactly are boundaries?
Boundaries are how we communicate our personal limits. They allow us to create space between ourselves and a person or situation so that we can have a healthy and authentic relationship without abandoning ourselves and our truths. Boundaries can seem intimidating but are, in fact, the key to healthy relationships and, more importantly, essential to mental health and self-care.
There are four kinds of boundaries and they include physical boundaries (speak to our personal space and physical limit needs), emotional boundaries (speak to how we feel around certain individuals and situations and what information we share about ourselves), resource boundaries (speak to our needs regarding our time and energy), and material boundaries (speak to our personal resources and how we choose to use them).
The holidays are a sacred time but can invite an invasion of personal boundaries, especially when it comes to the topic of infertility. Here are four examples of how to set boundaries around this sensitive topic during the holiday season:
- Physical Boundaries: “This has been a challenging week. I am going to take some uninterrupted time for myself.” (Because self-care comes first.)
- Emotional Boundaries: “We are not ready to share any information at this time. We will share when we feel the time is right for us.” (Because people are well-meaning but can ask hurtful and triggering questions.)
- Resource Boundaries: “Unfortunately, I cannot come to dinner but hope that everyone has a great time!” (Because it can be hard being around children, babies, pregnant women, etc)
- Material Boundaries: “We have decided to only purchase gifts for our immediate family this year as this works best for us at this time.” (Because IVF is expensive!)
Food and festivities
Now that we know how to set social boundaries, let’s look at food boundaries.
‘Tis the season for over-stepping uncles and nosey neighbors, right? These are the EXACT people we need to set firm boundaries with. Yes, the holiday season is a time of celebration and socialization – but along with this often comes overindulgences.
And while I’m not opposed to indulging in grandma’s infamous shortbread or the handmade holiday truffles calling my name, for those going through fertility treatments and trying to keep hormones balanced – too much of the good stuff can pose a potential problem.
What the research says
I often get questions about sugar and the impact this can have on our fertility potential – so I’ve compiled a few studies that highlight the importance of keeping hormones and blood sugars in check.
- This study shows us that high carbohydrate foods/drinks (aka sugar) were associated with lower fecundability (the ability to get pregnant on a given cycle).
- A study by Chavarro et al published a “fertility diet” based within the Nurses’ Health Study II population. This study found that women who followed the fertility diet had a 66% lowered risk of ovulatory infertility and a 27% lower risk of infertility. This diet was characterized in part by low glycemic carbohydrates (aka low sugar diet).
- This study shows that a “greater carbohydrate intake and dietary glycemic load were associated with an increased risk of infertility due to anovulation”.
3 strategies for avoiding holiday OVERidulgences
1. Make it too difficult to indulge
My goal here is 3-fold. Create as many obstacles between me and the goodness as possible. My Strategy: Chew gum – do you really think you are going to grab a gob out of your mouth in public just to stuff in something else? Keep your hands full. Hold a drink, a camera a plate of veggies – just keep your hands busy, I promise this works! Lastly, location location location- don’t stand front and center to the treats you love the most. You are less likely to mindlessly much if your poison of choice is on the other end of the room.
2. Fill up before you blow up
Don’t go to a party hungry…I repeat, DO NOT GO WITH AN EMPTY STOMACH. I don’t care how much willpower you possess or your ability to withstand the pressures of your inebriated uncle Bill…but you will cave. Instead, load up on protein, healthy plant-based fats like avocado and nuts and seeds prior to a party to ensure your stomach isn’t doing the thinking for you.
An example post-game meal could look like this. Grilled salmon, ½ medium baked sweet potato, baked green beans, and a ½ avocado in the side. Drizzle the olive oil over the sweet potato and sprinkle with sea salt and voila, a balanced and filling meal.
3. Choose wisely
Listen, you know as well as I do, there are good, better, and best options on that never-ending spread of goodies. And I don’t mean, good, better, best in terms of health, I mean choose the ones you like the best and skip the goodies that are just “meh”. So, for me, I’m definitely choosing homemade cookies vs. chocolate and candy that have been purchased – I allot my treats to just what I absolutely love.
Exercise and holidays
I know what you must be thinking – “so now I gotta manage my food intake, pay attention to boundaries, AND still exercise amidst the lingering stress of my fertility challenges? NO, thank you”.
But, hear me out.
The holidays can be tiring. Even if this year you aren’t traipsing from party to party, the stress of present buying, managing family expectations, and trying to create holiday cheer can be draining. Add in fertility treatments and you might be downright exhausted (see below for a free energy-boosting workout). Plus, if you’ve indulged in a few cups of eggnog or a couple of extra cookies – getting off the couch and getting moving might be so far down your list of things to do, it might as well be in 2022.
We know that regular, moderate exercise is beneficial for your fertility. But we also know it is important to give yourself grace – especially when things get hectic. And the holidays, during a pandemic, in the midst of fertility treatments is HECTIC. With that being said, trying to find ways to get moving – even just a little, can do wonders for your energy levels and mental well-being.
3 strategies for fitting in exercise over the holidays
1. Schedule it
Add it to your To-Do list. Buy presents – check. Send out holiday cards – check. Complete 10-minute yoga flow – check.
2. Make it easy
Don’t be put off by the fact that you can’t get to the gym (if it’s even open right now), or if the weather doesn’t permit you to go outside. You can get moving at home – even without a lot of space or any equipment. Turn on an exercise video, dance to a few favorite songs or try something new – like the workout below. It doesn’t have to be complicated!
Try to move through these exercises at your own pace – once you get to the end, go back to the beginning. Fit in as many rounds as you can in 20 minutes (this is also known as an AMRAP workout – As Many Rounds As Possible)
Squat Jumps (or Squats without the jump) x10
Pushups (on toes or knees) x10
Lunge Jumps (or lunges without the jump) x10
High Knee Runs (or marching on the spot) x10
Butt Kickers (kick your heels towards your booty) x10
3. Listen to your body
If you’re not up for a 30-minute treadmill session, don’t do it. Try something gentler on days you’re feeling a little run down. A relaxing yoga flow is perfect for giving yourself time to focus, move, stretch, and recompose yourself.
Many of us have a difficult time setting boundaries as they can be perceived as self-serving and rude when in reality they are quite the opposite. It is important to remember that how an individual responds to your boundaries is none of your business. Boundaries, after all, come from a pure place of self-compassion.
So, this season, give yourself a little extra grace, treat yourself to just a few of your favourites and find a few moments to move your body – your January self will thank you.
Jelena Vulic MA, RP (Q), is a psychotherapist with experience in chronic anxiety management using Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Jelena works with clients to help them regain a sense of agency over their lives during turbulent times and manage difficult emotions through the power of choice and mindfulness.
To get in touch with Jelena: firstname.lastname@example.org