Intuitive Eating During Pregnancy – My Journey
It’s been a hot minute since I put up a blog post. To be completely transparent, I enjoy writing, but it has been tough for me to get into the groove the past few years. I could write several paragraphs as to why, but instead, I’ll sum it up with this: imposter syndrome, procrastination and perfectionism is a pain in the butt. Alas, I’m showing up now. And I hope to work through my vulnerabilities to get onto a more consistent blogging routine because I’ve got a lot I want to share with you all about mom life, health, food/nutrition, and all things intuitive eating + Health At Every Size®. So, let’s get to it!
For those of you who are new around here, my husband and I had our first baby, Virginia “Ginny” Rae, a little over 5 months ago (which honestly blows my mind it has already been 5 months!). I’m writing this post to share a bit about what intuitive eating was like for me throughout my pregnancy. Before I get started, please keep in mind that what’s true for me is certainly not true for everyone. My personal experiences are just that – my own. You may or may not relate! And that’s okay either way. My hope in sharing is that you may gain some insights about how intuitive eating looks “in real life,” specifically for me, during pregnancy. In this post, I share how I navigated taking care of myself and my growing babe without food fear, diet mentality, or rigid, black-and-white thinking around food/movement.
First Trimester: Nausea and Naps
Once I was about 6 weeks along in my pregnancy, I began dealing with daily bouts of nausea that persisted until I made it to the second trimester. I never got physically sick, but definitely had a few close calls. Along with feeling nauseated, I was also extremely fatigued. Despite getting adequate, restful sleep most nights, it felt as though I could just sleep all day! I would often come home from work and swiftly make my way to veg on the couch. I took more naps in my first trimester than I had in years!!
So, not only was I so tired that the thought of putting much effort or energy into cooking was completely out the window, eating was a challenge from the nausea. Of course, I knew I needed to still eat! I also knew that NOT eating enough (especially carbohydrates) would create blood sugar dips that would worsen my nausea + not help towards my energy levels (reminder, food = energy). What did I do? I basically did my best to eat what sounded good and to be gentle with myself. Here are some of the low-effort, quick and easy foods that became staples for me and just seemed to “hit the spot” on the many days where NOTHING sounded good to eat:
· Pastas and soups such as ramen noodles, mac and cheese, chicken noodle soup, tomato soups, and my most fave: hubs homemade chicken and dumplings
· Bagels with generous gobs of full-fat cream cheese
· Pickled stuff (I know, stereotypical…haha): pickled beets and pickled okra were faves
· Huge salads with all kinds of toppings + oil vinegar dressing from the salad bar at work
· I developed an aversion to meat so the main proteins that sounded good were non-meat or plant-based protein sources like scrambled eggs, tofu, and dairy
· Plain, full-fat Greek yogurt with honey added
· Full-fat milk
· Saltine crackers (would keep some by the bed in case I woke up nauseated)
· Roasted, lightly salted almonds
· Fruit, especially citrus and pineapple
Overall, my first trimester was filled with rest and eating little bits of carbohydrate rich foods throughout the day with some protein and vegetables thrown in when I felt up to it (this meme from Feeding Littles could not be more relatable).
As far as exercise goes, that took a big dip for me as my heart rate started doing some wonky things with my usual jogging routine + the fatigue as a I mentioned before left me with little motivation for extra activity. Thus, I stuck to walking and low-impact activities when I felt up to it or thought it might help my energy levels (sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t). I knew that the “big picture” was that I was doing my best to give my body adequate energy intake and rest, taking my pre-natal vitamins, and was hopeful the nausea would lessen up after my first trimester – which thankfully, it did!
Second Trimester: Appetite Improvement, Maternity Clothes, and Constipation
The second trimester for me was a big improvement as far as my appetite and nausea subsiding. I felt “back to normal” and I started being able to eat my typical volume of food + incorporate more variety. The only major symptom I had going on in my second trimester was “getting backed up.” Yeah, I’m going there. I’m a dietitian, I’m used to talking about digestion. What goes in, must come out, right?! Pregnancy can indeed impact bowel movements, largely in part to hormones slowing things down in the digestive tract. I also struggle with IBS, so I think it made it even worse. I’ll never forget going on a weeklong road trip with hubs to celebrate our wedding anniversary and having to stop and buy me prune juice at a grocery store! I kept it real classy and served it up in a wine glass found at the cabin we were staying in. We celebrated when it did the trick the next day. TMI? Sorry. #keepingitreal
This is when I made a conscious effort to incorporate plenty of fiber and fluids into my diet as these two things can help keep things moving along down there. I was also trying to focus on getting adequate protein, as protein needs are a bit higher during pregnancy. I made sure to plan ahead and pack up protein and fiber rich snacks + meals for busy work-days. Additionally, I fully embraced my cravings for burgers (hello, iron and protein!) and found myself going through the Steak n’Shake drive thru more than I had ever in my life (outside of marathon training, when burger cravings struck often then too). Reminder: deprivation and restriction of foods you crave or love more often than not backfires, resulting in feeling out of control around food and experiencing guilt/shame. Ain’t got time for that when you’re busy growing a babe or just trying to live your life.
Last but not least, in my second trimester, I began “showing.” I recall feeling excited about this but also a little flash of negative body judgment came about as I was comparing myself to others around me (seriously, it was INSANE how many pregnant friends and co-workers I had that were close in due date to me, I think at one pointed I counted and it was at least 10!). I remember thinking things like, “Hmm…should I have a “bump” already?! They don’t have much of a bump yet… etc.” This is where I incorporated body respect and practiced some CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) skills on myself that I often help my clients with.
I outgrew my regular work pants and shirts and quickly found myself buying maternity clothes. I knew I would be comfortable wearing clothes that actually fit, instead of the other way around, trying to squeeze into clothes that were not made for my “here and now” body. I reminded myself that every BODY (which means pregnant bodies too) are all unique and diverse and that they change shape in different ways and stages in life. My body just decided to get to bumping out earlier, no shame or judgement in that and no sense in stressing out over it when I could be instead focusing on healthy behaviors like preparing for baby, nourishing my body adequately, honoring my hunger/fullness cues, managing stress/anxiety, etc..
Third Trimester: Glucose Tolerance Test Troubles, Heartburn Galore and Sleepless Nights
My third trimester was a bit chaotic and threw a wrench in my self-care game in a variety of ways. First, my husband and I decided that our tiny home we had been renting the past 5 years was not going to be a good fit for our growing fam. Thus, began the process of house hunting and first-time home buying. Talk about STRESS. It was a bit of a good stress, stress to be grateful for, but stress, nonetheless. I found myself relying heavily on SUPER quick/easy options for dinner as the end of my workdays were often spent doing all the house buying and preparing to move tasks mostly solo (hubs is a truck driver, and is gone during the week, for those of you unaware). I started stocking up on frozen meals to make life easier. For more on making meal planning less stressful by using frozen meal options or check out this previous blog post. Spooked about “processed foods,” like frozen meals? No need to fear! Check out this great post about processed foods and intuitive eating here.
Around 28 weeks, I had the dreaded 1-hour glucose tolerance test…which I BOMBED miserably. Commence the panic. I was aiming for a low-intervention, natural birth and knew that this could throw my plans for that haywire, as the midwifery service I was going through at the hospital considered gestational diabetes as a “high risk pregnancy.” Having this diagnosis would require some extra monitoring interventions during labor/delivery. To be very honest, I felt like my body had failed me. I was worried about what this could mean for my growing baby and for me. I quickly turned that around and got curious instead – I dug into the research on gestational diabetes, obtained a glucose monitor and started testing my blood sugar, and waited anxiously for the follow-up of a 3-hour glucose tolerance test to confirm whether or not I had gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is extremely complex, and I could cover more on this topic in an entirely different blog post. For now, if you are curious about gestational diabetes, check out these posts from some of my fellow colleagues who specialize in pregnancy nutrition, here and here. Long story short, I ended up passing the 3-hour glucose test and learned a lot along the way, which I may share more about in future posts.
The last month of my pregnancy was filled with heartburn and poor sleep. As far as the heartburn goes, I was a rebel and kept eating all the things you should avoid (especially spicy foods). And I paid for it. Thank God for TUMS. The poor sleep was largely because of having to wake and pee multiple times a night. No matter what I did, such as trying to cut off beverages 1-2 hours before bed, it didn’t work. I was still up several times a night to run to the bathroom, and sometimes couldn’t get back to sleep afterwards. Looking back, this interrupted sleep pattern was good preparation for life with Ginny, who still wakes to feed or need comfort from mama several times a night.
Last but not least, my appetite in my third trimester really ramped up, but I was not able to eat as large a volume as I could earlier on, likely because of the lack of space from baby pushing up on my stomach! This was frustrating. I found myself eating smaller, more frequently, incorporating foods with more “staying power” and leaning into my hunger versus judging it. Hunger is a sign your body is working for you, and is one way we can self-regulate our food intake without food rules. See more about getting to know and embrace your hunger cues in my blog post here.
Dealing with Body Comments throughout Pregnancy
During my pregnancy, I received an onslaught of unsolicited body comments. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory. I was asked outright (by a complete stranger, mind you) how much weight had I gained in pregnancy...was told that I “looked small,” “looked big,” was “lucky” for “being all belly.” People don’t know the harm this can cause and often mean well. I’m not trying to shame anyone who has made comments on a pregnant persons body (I used to be guilty of it!) but I really think we should stop and think before commenting on ANY body, pregnant or not. We have no idea what’s going on in someone’s mind about their body and how this could trigger them into disordered behaviors around food, exercise, and their body. What’s more, comments on body shape/appearance keeps us playing small. They are surface level. They don’t dig deep into the real, meaningful, amazing concept of what’s going on *inside* the body/mind and what our bodies are here for us to do — to live our lives — to create, to nurture, to experience, to share, to connect.
For someone who used to have terrible body image and disordered eating/exercise behaviors, I am so, so grateful I’ve recovered and have built up my toolbox of coping skills before going through pregnancy. I’m even more grateful for having formed a healthy relationship with food and my body. The old me would have been in a panic about all the changes my body my body was going through and the comments pre/post baby. The old me would have been hyper focused on everything I ate, my exercise routine, and would likely already be punishing myself with micromanaging my food and exercise to “get my body back.” Thank God those days are GONE. If you struggle with body acceptance, please know that you are worthy of love and respect, from yourself and others, no matter your size. It takes work to challenge our society’s harmful standards on health and beauty; don’t lose hope and reach out for support if you’re struggling.
So, there’s a bit about my journey through pregnancy navigating food, movement, and body changes. Maybe one of these days I’ll write up a blog post about the labor and delivery part, which was an incredible lesson in seeing just how much the human body is capable of and how much is beyond our control. And on a final note, for those of you who have struggled with fertility, with body changes pre/post-partum, or who remain hopeful to have a baby one day, I see you and send you loads of compassion and hope.