Intuitive Eating During Pregnancy

By Alexandra Caspero on September 6, 2017

And Intuitive Eating During Pregnancy. 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 to find a balance between nourished eating and intuitive eating during pregnancy. 

On a walk last week, at 37 weeks pregnant.

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 similar seasons.

Pregnancy is weird

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.

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With my sister at a wedding this Winter, at the end of my first trimester.

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 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. And I feel bad that I’m not eating more nutrient-rich foods for my babe. 

Once 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.

Emotions and cravings

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.

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First maternity dress. Close to 16 weeks here.

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.

Life-sustaining cravings?

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.

Remember, you are now second

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.

Ther are some foods I don’t recommend while pregnant for food safety reasons. This includes uncooked lunch meat, raw milk, unwashed produce and raw fish. See also: Is Ceviche Safe to Eat

Month 5! In Barcelona 🙂

Intuitive eating during pregnancy: 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.

Plus, heartburn

Additionally, I’ve dealt with some 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.

Listening to your body

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.

Nutrition plays a role

Even if you aren’t suffering from heartburn, you may be dealing with other common issues: gestational diabetes, fluid retention, constipation, etc. 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 from how you normally eat. This is one example of intuitive eating during pregnancy. 

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Same dress, two month later.

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. 

We carry how we carry

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.

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After teaching spin last month.

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.

Your body is your body

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.

Weight gain is hard

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 too much of a focus on having a ‘great body’ while pregnant. Like, what is this? Why do we do this to ourselves?

Renew your self-compassion

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.

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38 weeks with my boo.

I’ll say it again- you are perfect, you are beautiful. Intuitive eating during pregnancy may not come naturally, and sometimes shifting your perspective can help. 

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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Chef, and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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    1. Rachel
      March 16, 2020 AT 3:39 pm

      Thank you for this. Intuitive eating saved me from an eating disorder (after prescribed structured eating)- it gave me a truly healed relationship with food. Somehow I forgot that during pregnancy. I’ve had a few episodes of overeating, whether in one sitting or throughout a day, which I don’t do anymore; it just hasn’t been an issue in my life in the past 5 years thanks to IE. But I’ve been nervous about the weight gain, the nutrition for the baby- all of it so much that I have had food related guilt again for the first time in a long time. Lucky Charms, ironically, was the first thing I remember thinking “you can’t have that, there’s nothing healthy in it- eat fiber 1.” So I did, and the stress stayed. And the overeating episode ensued.
      Thank you so much for this reminder! I think I’ll do some brushing up on the foundation of IE & just breathe. Just. Breathe.

    2. Lauren
      November 20, 2018 AT 2:48 pm

      A late post but I am newly pregnant and just finding this post. In regard to the heavy starchy carb intake, there is some science to support that. The endometrial glands start storing large amounts of glucose as glycogen, which is then secreted to nourish the embryo during its first 11 weeks. A team of UK scientists examined womb, placenta and embryonic tissue donated by women who terminated their pregnancies. The samples collected at all stages of early pregnancy, helped them to analyse how the endometrium changed over time. They used a staining dye to see the localisation of glycogen in tissues. The glycogen was abundant in the recesses of the womb lining, where it was broken down into smaller molecules. These molecules then diffused and stored into a cavity just outside the placenta, the intervillous space. Some of the sugar stored temporarily in the intervillous space were used for energy generation for the growth of the embryo, and the rest is reconverted to glycogen and then absorbed by the placenta. They also tracked the transport of glycoproteins (containing sugar fragments and protein, that can be broken down into amino acids: the building blocks of tissue), a very crucial growth factor. Carbs=glucose=glycogen=baby food!

      1. Alex
        November 20, 2018 AT 4:15 pm

        Thanks Lauren! I haven’t heard of this study before, but will read it now! Thanks!

    3. Savannah Thaler, RDN
      September 11, 2017 AT 1:59 pm

      Amen! Love everything you said! I just had my baby 2 weeks ago. Pregnancy was wonderful and hard and everything in between. Sending all the good vibes your way!

      1. Alex
        September 11, 2017 AT 2:11 pm

        Thanks Savannah!

    4. Anna
      September 11, 2017 AT 10:37 am

      I loved this post Alex, it was exactly the things that I went through during my pregnancy – thanks for being so honest and open! I wish my pregnant self would have read this post because it makes me feel so much better about the way I was feeling. Why do we beat ourselves up about what we eat? I felt guilty for eating a bit too much ice cream, bagels and pizza even though it was what my body craved. I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t eat my favorite healthy foods I used to – I felt that I was letting my growing baby down. There was so much responsibility on us moms to give it the nutrients it needs, but I couldn’t do it good enough. Looking back I realize it was all natural and at the end of the day, we all eat what our body craves and needs… and hey, that may mean something different for all of us. Thanks for the reminder!!! 🙂 🙂

      1. Alex
        September 11, 2017 AT 2:11 pm

        Yes! I know we already talked about this today on our little walk but I’m so glad that this post resonated with you. You are the best! xo

      2. Anna
        September 11, 2017 AT 10:38 am

        Oh and P.S. – You look amazing in all your baby bump pics!!!

    5. DessertForTwo
      September 11, 2017 AT 6:35 am

      This is such a good read! Thanks for sharing 🙂 I was the same way–I imagined eating all of the healthy foods, and then nothing sounded good! I ate banana slices in cow’s milk for breakfast the entire first trimester, and normally, bananas and cow’s milk make me gag! It’s so crazy!

      Well I think you’re absolutely beautiful and you’re carrying your baby in the most adorable way! I think when people say you’re “all baby” it means the rest of you looks normal and you’re only gaining weight in your belly. It’s meant as a compliment. Also another good one is “you don’t even look pregnant from behind.” Like what does that even mean? LOL

      1. Alex
        September 11, 2017 AT 6:49 am

        Totally. And, I know people mean those comments as a compliment. I just wanted to remind others that it’s hard to control where you gain weight- that’s true whether pregnant or not. Anyone who has lost or gained weight can attest that no matter what you eat/exercise, your genes are going to determine more of your body changes than anything else. Just wanted to remind everyone out there that they ARE beautiful, which can be a hard thing to remember when you feel like your body is changing so much.

        Isn’t it funny the foods we liked? I don’t even like bagels and I think I went through 16 dozen those first few weeks. And, I can’t stand chocolate and mushrooms right now- two of my previous favorite foods. Really hoping that changes once he’s born! I can live without ‘shrooms but please don’t make me live without chocolate. 🙂

    6. Jessica
      September 8, 2017 AT 9:02 am

      Hi Alex,
      Really great article. I am also a Dietitian and currently 33 weeks. I was so sick from weeks 6-13, I literally lived on saltine crackers, white bagels and sour suckers (the only thing I found to slightly help my nausea) and the sight of meat, fruit or vegetables made me want to gag!! Even as dietitians we can feel some guilt about food, it has been an eye opening experience for me and has helped me understand some of my clients better too! Things improved drastically in the second trimester as far as food goes, but then comes the other symptoms! I have also gotten similar comments, most people have good intentions, but they don’t know how what they say can impact a woman’s feelings/emotions. Thanks for the fantastic reminder to always love yourself, your body and what it is doing for the life growing inside it 🙂 Hope your remaining weeks go as smoothly as possible!

      1. Alex
        September 11, 2017 AT 5:55 am

        Hi Jessica, thanks for your comment! Totally agree, and it was a great experience to go through as an RD. Wishing you the same on the rest of your pregnancy! xo

    7. Josie
      September 6, 2017 AT 6:43 am

      This was a great read. 🙂 1st trimester here, and I’ve been feeling a little down about the lack of vegetables and usual healthy foods I used to love. Thank you for the reassurance that we’re just doing the best we can.

      1. Alex
        September 11, 2017 AT 6:43 am

        Yes. This. That’s really all I wanted to say in this long-winded post: we are all doing the best we can. (Now, pass me a bagel!) 😉