The Tragic Optimist

The fertility diet

I heard a radio program recently with Dr. Walter Willett, one of the authors of the book, “The Fertility Diet.”  It was an interesting discussion, he took a few questions from listeners.  I even submitted two questions online, but they never got to them (they weren’t particularly profound).

Quick disclaimer: I have not read this book.  I hate when people go off (positively or negatively) on a book that they haven’t read, yet here I am writing my own post about something I haven’t read.  But I did listen to the author talk for an hour, so I don’t feel too bad.  I will try to keep my thoughts to what was discussed on the radio show.

At the beginning, and in fact throughout the interview, Dr. Willett emphasized that this “fertility diet” was really intended for those women who have ovulatory problems, specifically PCOS.  Now that’s a significant percentage of women experiencing infertility, but by no means all, in fact, not even half.  So while I appreciate the Dr. Willett was specific in who he was targeting with this book, the title, and a lot of the marketing around the book (read the product description at if you’re interested) don’t make that clear, and that bugs me.

The diet itself seems to be a pretty common sense sort of diet.  Stay away from trans fats.  Eat more polyunsaturated fats.  Make sure you get exercise.  Drink mostly water, though moderate caffeine is probably ok.  Stay away from soda and sugary beverages.  Oh, but one of the different things was to drink full fat rather than low fat dairy.  In fact, he recommended a full serving of full-fat milk, or other dairy such as ice cream, each day.

So on the one hand, I think, great!  As I have PCOS, I’m one of the ones that this diet is targeted at, and if exercise and eating well – and eating ice cream – can get my cycles back (haven’t had a period in over 2 years) without drugs, then I’m all for it.

On the other hand, well, I’m a skeptic.  Particularly of things that claim to be the answer, to be better than other medical treatment, to get you pregnant when other things don’t seem to work.  Especially when it seems so simple and obvious – though not having read the specifics of the diet, it may in fact be neither obvious nor simple.

But back to the first hand, the diet is based on research – the Nurse’s Health study is a study that looked at 18,000 nurses over eight years.  And it is true that being at a healthy weight can help with PCOS.  So maybe there is something to this.

Which takes us to the second hand again, I’m afraid of letting something like this give me false hope.  Especially when I was at a healthy weight when we were having the fertility problems.  And I’m at a healthy weight now and generally do eat a healthy diet that’s heavy on the vegetables and extremely light on the meat, and yet I have ovulatory problems.  So again I’m back to being skeptical that this would make any difference at all for me.

But then one that first hand (which is getting tired of holding so much up), would it really hurt to try this?  The dietary advice is sound.  I like ice cream.  And since I do have PCOS, that increases my chances for type II diabetes, so I should be careful of what I eat.  Plus, I like ice cream.

Ok, last trip to that second hand.  Will this book increase people’s tendency to give unhelpful, and even hurtful advice to infertiles?  Do we need people telling us, in addition to relaxing, that we should just lose a little weight and eat some ice cream?

I think I will probably check the book out of the library and look it over.  And depending on what it says, I’ll probably try to be more mindful of the food I eat.  But no I’m not getting my hopes up.  At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.  And yes, I’d love that bowl of ice cream.



  1. So now I want some ice cream! I actully read something similar in an article that eating ice cream is good for pregnant women too! So ice cream must be the new miracle food.

  2. I like the way you balance your opinion here. You’re right to be skeptical–eating well is a good thing but certainly not a panacea for a lot of different health issues. My heart stung a little when you wrote “in addition to relaxing” in reference to fertility issues. I’ve always thought that was a bogus suggestion and unfair to anyone who is anxious about getting pregnant (I certainly was). And what does it mean to be “relaxed” anyway? It’s right up there with telling pregnant women not to get stressed out (and we’re talking normal daily life stress here, not wartime famine or anything) because it’s bad for the baby.

  3. I’m with you on the marketing issue…it took me a bit of looking around to realize that the fertility diet is for women with ovulation issues…which I think I don’t have.

    So I got all excited about ice cream for nothing. 😦 lol

    Thanks for saying hello to me at my new blog! I’m glad I’m finally part of the IF blogosphere.

  4. Mmm, ice cream.

    Thanks Sarah. The “relax” suggestion really is pretty obnoxious, though I know it is usually well-intentioned. I think it just makes for such a good story that people like to tell – you know, they’re friend or relative who had tried to conceive for so many years and then finally went on vacation, or adopted, and all of a sudden was miraculously knocked up. Even though there’s so many more stories of couples who try, and either never do conceive, or conceive with medical help (that most people don’t consider relaxing…). And yeah, who knows who is relaxed or not?

    Welcome SAHW! You can still have ice cream 🙂

  5. Thanks Ann 🙂 Some days you really need it!

    One of our friends who has been trying for about as long as we have is finally pregnant now, and while I’m so happy for her, she insists it was the relaxing that did it…she’s a sympathetic listener, but she’s so set on “you just have to relax” that it’s hard to explain to her that I’m pretty sure relaxing isn’t going to work for us.

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