The Adia Interview: Katie Dalrymple ANutr – Our Nutrition Expert
20th December 2019
Nutrition is one of the cornerstones of our overall health and it’s never more important than when you are planning to start a family. From your fertility diet, to what to eat when breastfeeding, our mealtime choices can have a huge impact on our chances of conception and our baby’s developmental health. As we prepare to launch our first preconception nutrition course next year, we sat down with Adia’s nutrition expert, Katie Dalrymple to talk balanced diets, the importance of exercise and why we should be taking a proactive approach to our preconception care.
“I always loved biology and the workings of the human body and I also loved cooking!” Katie tells me, as we catch up a few weeks before Christmas ”I did a biology degree and then I realised that I wanted to understand how the food we eat has an impact on how we function and that’s how I ended up in nutrition.” Katie chose to specialise in nutrition for women’s health, focusing on how diet during and before pregnancy can impact on the health of both her and her baby. “The benefits of a healthy diet are multifaceted. It not only puts the mother in a really good position once she’s given birth but it also helps the child’s development as well.”
As part of her current role at King’s College London, Katie lectures the nutrition and medical undergraduate students as well as supervising a number of students for their final year research projects. She has written several research papers in the field of women’s and children’s health and has presented at national and international conferences. Katie is also a Member of the CMO Expert Working Group who have recently developed postpartum physical activity guidelines she has certainly succeeded in her goal of merging her two passions of science and food!
Her passion for reproductive health and her vast experience in nutrition made her the perfect person to join Adia’s panel of experts when we launched last year. A mutual friend introduced her to Adia’s founders, and she was instantly excited by our mission. “I think it’s fantastic that Adia is a company focused solely on women’s health and it has real potential to help so many women,” she says, “I love that they support women at every stage of their reproductive journey, providing them with a tool that is so modern and accessible.”
Katie shares Adia’s passion for driving a more proactive and informed approach to reproductive health. Like all of our experts, she believes that education is key – and that earlier intervention is needed, rather than women simply tuning in to the topic of preconception health when they are already thinking about starting a family. “I honestly think we’re should be going to adolescents, when they are going through puberty – that’s the time to educate them on being healthy and looking after themselves,” Katie says. “This information will benefit them in everyday life but also they will feel empowered and informed when they do finally get around to having a baby.”
A proactive approach
One of Katie’s biggest beliefs is that women leave it until they are pregnant before adopting healthy lifestyle choices – which may mean they will struggle to conceive and may find it harder to make dietary changes during pregnancy. “There’s an interesting stat from a survey conducted by the charity Tommy’s that says most women put more time into planning their holiday than they do planning a pregnancy,” Katie tells me.
This same research indicates that fewer than half the women surveyed did not change their diet at all before or during pregnancy and that nearly 20% didn’t take folic acid at all – despite it being an essential supplement for protecting against birth defects. But these statistics come as no surprise to Katie. “I have seen this with my friends and even other nutritionists. Some of them said to me ‘Oh, my husband and I just decided to start trying’. So it’s decided and literally the first time they have sex, they got pregnant. They weren’t taking any vitamins, they weren’t taking any supplements. In terms of healthy nutrition – they weren’t ready.”
Another big passion for Katie is busting myths around diet and nutrition – especially during pregnancy. “A lot of people think you can’t eat any cheese and actually yes you can, as long as they are a hard cheese and they do not have a rind” she tells me (putting a smile on the face of cheese lovers everywhere!) “People also think you can’t eat prawns – but you can, as long as it’s in moderation and they are properly cooked.”
“The public health guidelines around pregnancy are quite vague,” Katie says. “There is also a well-known consensus that during pregnancy a woman should be “eating for two” however, this isn’t the case and a woman doesn’t need to increase her daily calorie intake until the final trimester, at which point she is recommended to increase daily calorie intake by 200kcal a day during the last 3 months.
The subject of BMI and weight loss can also be confusing for women who are trying for a baby. Being overweight can lead to difficulties conceiving and complications during pregnancy, but Katie is keen to point out that weight management should be approached in a healthy, balanced way. “Obviously, there are foods that you can’t eat, and BMI is important, but we don’t want women to cut calories when they’re pregnant,” she says. “But you can make dietary changes in pregnancy. So changing things like changing the type of carbohydrates, so avoiding foods with a high glycaemic index, in your diet or lowering the saturated fats is a good idea.”
Whilst most of us are looking forward to a break over Christmas, Katie is working towards the end of a 3-year long PHD, within the Department of Women and Children’s Health at King’s, which she’ll complete in January. “I’ve been so lucky that I love my research topic. I focus on the pregnancy environment and how it impacts the development of a child.” Katie tells me. “It’s just such a fascinating area and one that’s still developing, That’s one of the reasons why I love it so much – there is still so much more to find out!
Katie’s PhD is focused on diet and physical activity in pregnancy and the influence it has on the child’s health outcomes. “One of the most surprising things I’ve found through my research is just how important the preconception period is. If women start pregnancy healthily – they’ve got a good exercise regime, they’re eating a healthy diet – it can make such a difference to the pregnancy and the postpartum period”
Nutrition and Exercise
Whilst Katie’s main focus is nutrition, she believes that exercise is an essential counterpart to a healthy diet, both before and after conception. “Diet and exercise are totally interlinked” she says. “To be physically active and to enjoy exercise, you need to have a balanced diet. – they compliment each other incredibly well.”
Women can often be concerned about the risks of exercise when pregnant, or the impact it can have on their fertility, but Katie is keen to reassure women that whatever your body is used to, is totally safe to continue when trying to conceive or expecting. “If you run before you get pregnant, you can carry on running pretty much throughout your entire pregnancy. If you go spinning you can carry on doing it – for as long as you feel comfortable”.,” she tells me.
Like Adia, Katie is also a huge advocate for the way exercise can improve our emotional wellbeing, and help pregnant women or those TTC feel less isolated. “I love things like pregnancy yoga classes, I think they are fantastic because you become part of a community as well as getting fit – and you’re all doing it together.”
The Adia Nutrition Course
Whilst Katie may have a PhD shaped hole in her life come January, she will be throwing herself into many more exciting projects, including her nutrition course with Adia! Katie will be bringing together her years of experience and passion for empowering women, to deliver a course that teaches our community that preconception nutrition is all about balance and understanding what works for them.
“If two women came to me asking for help with their preconception diet, although the key themes would be very similar, I would give them both very different advice. If someone says ‘I cannot stand broccoli’ I’m not going to stand there and be like, ‘you have to eat broccoli because it’s so good for you’ – it just won’t work!” she explains. “ I tend to ask people “What are the foods that you like?” If you have a bit of a sweet tooth – you really like having a chocolate biscuit and a cup of tea in the afternoon – that’s absolutely fine. But it’s then about counterbalancing that with some other healthier choices as well. I like to give women a personalised approach.”
“I hope my course with Adia will be a lot about reassurance. I think the most important thing to know is that everyone has their own approach to diet. It’s an incredibly personal thing. It’s not about overhauling your diet, but it’s, it’s about making it work for you.”
If you would like more information on nutrition for fertility, and access our Nutrition Course 101 – sign up to Adia for free today!