Hey friends! While this post is fairly specific to those who are mama’s to be or planning on becoming mama’s, hopefully my thoughts are applicable to those who have struggled finding a balance between nourished eating and intuitive eating during pregnancy.
Intuitive Eating During Pregnancy
I’ve been planning on writing this post for a while; with a zillion different thoughts circling in my head for months around this topic. Therefore, it may be a bit more scatterbrained than normal, but I believe it’s all important. In all honestly, I’m writing this one today as much for you as for me. The things that I knew, that I needed to be reminded of and that I wanted to share with those in a similar life space.
Pregnancy is weird. Especially when it comes to eating. While it’s true that my body has changed more in the last 9 months than it has in the last two decades, the same can also be true of my eating habits. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself, and then other times I become almost weepy when I consider how incredible the human body is, adapting and changing in such rapid time.
Finding peace in the first trimester
Talk to just about any pregnant woman, especially in the first trimester, and they’ll likely tell you all of the weird food happenings. Previous foods that didn’t even sound good are now being enjoyed round the clock while old standby’s can make the stomach turn at even the mere sight.
Dig a little deeper, and the first signs of guilt come out next. I know I need to be eating more vegetables, but I just don’t want them. I feel bad that I’m not eating more nutrient-rich foods for my babe.
I had a sweet friend tell me that she ate nothing but Lucky Charms for a week straight during her first trimester as it was the only thing that sounded good in the moment. I’m fairly certain she expected me to give her a lecture or some nutrition advice, but instead I just gave her a hug and let her know how OK it was. Because it is.
I get it. I experienced all of the same emotions during those first precious months. Reassurance that my all-day nausea meant that this pregnancy was likely a strong one followed quickly by guilt that I wasn’t giving my baby the most nourishing foods. It’s odd; the juxtaposition of knowing how important nutrition is during this time while also trying to honor my needs and cravings.
Especially when every book (and blog) you read talks about the importance of nutrition. That my first few midwifery appointments felt like I was already a failure because my diet wasn’t very green. Or red, or blue, or any other color of the rainbow besides beige. During the first trimester, if it wasn’t a bagel, I didn’t want to eat it.
Ironically, before I become pregnant, I was certain that I would have a different path. I daydreamed of this beautiful, nourishing pregnant time. Filled with lots of prenatal yoga, walks and vitality-rich food to help my little baby grow. Sure, some of my friends mentioned that it was hard for them to eat healthy during this time, but I was sure I would be different. Hi, I’m a dietitian!
If you’re rolling your eyes by now, know that I am too. By then end of my seventh week, I was high-fiving myself if I was able to eat a tiny piece of spinach in my fried-rice. That was an accomplishment.
And then, it clicked. I reminded myself that pregnancy, while so different, isn’t that different. At least when it comes to how I wanted to be eating.
It’s OK if your diet changes
This- all of this– is normal. And, you’re not the first pregnant women in history to subside on nothing but bagels, cheddar cheese and bread (or marshmallow cereal) for a few weeks. I have to believe that there is a reason why, at the time when we begin to sustain another life, our bodies reject most green things and crave starches in large amounts.
First, it’s because starches/carbs are energy. A literal life-sustaining macronutrient that is essential in growing red-blood cells, the central nervous system and the preferred fuel of every cell in your body. Yes, micronutrients are important, but so is honoring what your body needs.
If you were eating a nourishing diet before becoming pregnant, a few weeks/months of honoring your new cravings isn’t going to harm anyone. That’s what the prenatal vitamin is for, making sure you get daily doses of essentials (like choline, iron and folic acid), while allowing you to give into what’s feeling best. (See also: essential nutrients for pregnancy)
Also, a reminder that I tell myself often: you are now second. All of the essentials are going to the baby first; your body is so smart in taking care of what it needs to and, it will. Of course, that doesn’t mean that if nutrient-dense foods feel good not to eat them, it’s just a gentle reminder that it’s OK if your diet and cravings change.
It’s not always about the food
As I’m currently clocking in at 38 weeks, my attitude towards food has completely changed since that first trimester. While I’m almost at the end, food has a different feel. I gravitate towards being absolutely starving to not being in the mood for anything and almost having to be convinced to eat.
Additionally, I’ve dealt with some pretty nasty heartburn since the middle of my second trimester which makes eating some of my favorite foods painful. It also makes me have to reconsider my hunger levels; even if I want more food, that’s not always the wisest option since my heartburn is triggered by larger portions. On the flip side, I also get it if it’s been a while since I’ve eaten, even if I don’t have a desire to eat in the moment.
That’s all to say that as an intuitive eater, I have to remind myself that sometimes- it’s not about the food. That it’s OK to listen more to the needs of my body than my hunger and fullness levels. We forget this sometimes; or, at least, I forget this sometimes. I’ve become so attuned to listening to my hunger and fullness cues that I sometimes forget other things matter as well. I need to eat not only for myself, but for my baby, my energy levels and my symptoms.
Even if you aren’t suffering through heartburn, you may be dealing with other common issues: gestational diabetes, fluid retention, constipation, ect. All of which nutrition can play a role. It’s OK to use this time to focus more on nutrients and a specific pattern of eating that might be different to how you normally eat.
You are beautiful.
Lastly, to my pregnant mamas, you are beautiful. And, you probably don’t get told that enough. I know it’s hard, but try to let those well-meaning comments from others pass you by. As someone who is pretty against the idea of commenting on other peoples bodies, pregnancy seems to give others full-reign in letting me know what they think about my size.
I started to show really quickly, which is just the way my body responded. By 12 weeks, it was pretty clear that there was a bun in the oven and I was in maternity clothes by week 16. On the flip side, I have friends who are almost 30 weeks and barely popped. There’s not a magical formula for how you ‘carry’ your baby; unless you are able to manipulate your genes, we all carry the way we are going to carry.
I’m tired of hearing how large my belly is, how I ‘must have two babies in there,’ or that I’ve just ‘got a basketball!’ or are ‘all baby.’ I know pregnancy is super exciting and there’s a weird invitation for strangers to gravitate towards you; but I also understand how uncomfortable it can be to justify what’s happening in your body. I found myself doing this a lot in the beginning; fibbing about how far along I really was just to make my larger belly seem more normal.
You don’t have to do this. Your body is your body is your body. As my midwives constantly remind me, you will carry this baby the way you were intended to carry this baby. Sure, there’s an argument for the amount of weight gain that’s healthy- but that’s not what I mean. Whether you’ve gained 20, 35 or 40 pounds, I’m talking about the overall shape that your body will take over the course of 10 months. You are beautiful, you are perfect.
And, one more thing. Weight gain is hard. Yes, I know. We are meant to gain weight during this time. I also know that it can be a challenge to watch your body change so drastically and so quickly, without much control of where that extra weight goes. It can also be hard to shift away from what you used to be able to do with your body. Also, the media sucks. There is way to much of a focus on having a ‘great body’ while pregnant. Like, what is this? Why do we do this to ourselves?
As much as you can, use this time for renewed self-compassion. I’ve found that journaling (and reading a ton about what was happening) really helped open me up to this awe-inducing state. My body is literally carrying another life, that’s pretty magical and wondrous. It’s something it couldn’t do a year ago and I’m so thankful that I’m healthy enough to be able to carry my son into this world.
If you’re feeling in a similar state, I invite you to write a compassionate letter to your changing body. I do this exercise often with my eating disorder clients and while it can seem so cheesy in the moment, it’s a pretty awesome exercise that will reconnect you with the real purpose of this time: to have your body change, to grow and to become a momma.
I’ll say it again- you are perfect, you are beautiful. xo