Weight Gain, Cravings, and Hunger - Oh, My! How to Trust Your Body During Pregnancy

healthy-eating-pregnancy

When I was pregnant with our first baby, I had been in eating disorder recovery solidly for a couple years.  Being pregnant in itself was miraculous, considering everything that I had put my body through.  

Knowing that my body was capable of growing our baby had me motivated and inspired to do everything “right”, to make sure I was taking care of myself as best as I could to have a healthy pregnancy.  

I poured over pregnancy books, read and re-read every worksheet, pamphlet and flyer that came in my “new pregnancy” bag from my OB, all to prepare myself for what was to come.  

Let me tell you. Nothing, and I mean nothing, prepares you for the overwhelm that is experienced with all the physical and emotional changes you undergo during pregnancy, especially the first time around.  

Body Changes During Pregnancy

Around 8 weeks of my first pregnancy, I remember vividly waking up in the middle of the night with a stabbing feeling as though I was starving.  Like hunger pangs that actually penetrated my entire body.  I literally ate refried beans out of a can, washed it down with a glass of milk and thought - "WHO AM I?!" 

While intuitive eating was foundational to my recovery and way of living, pregnancy definitely put a different spin on what I felt like eating, as well as intensify my hunger and fullness cues.  

In the first trimester especially, I learned the importance of following my body’s lead when it came to what and how much I needed to eat.  I suddenly couldn’t stand the sight or smell of many foods that I used to enjoy eating, and I would have cravings for random things and food combinations. Cue green apple slices with lemon juice and hot sauce. Um, yeah.  

The most beautiful thing that was reinforced to me during each of my pregnancies was that my body was always right all along and knew exactly what I needed to grow each of our precious babies.

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And guess what?  Yours does too!  

Though, let’s be real.  When you are in the thick of pregnancy and faced with countless doctors appointments, being weighed every few weeks, poked, prodded and questioned, it doesn’t feel like you can trust your body.  

Pregnancy is perhaps one of the few times in a woman’s life where weight is scrutinized, and the number on the scale becomes the hyper focus of attention.  On top of this, we are often given “information” about our weight throughout our pregnancy that has us questioning how we’re eating or if we can truly trust what our bodies are needing.  

Healthy Eating For Pregnancy

The truth is that nobody knows better about what you are needing during your pregnancy than YOU! Not the pregnancy books, websites, or forums, not your well-meaning relatives who mention how “big” you’ve gotten or the random stranger that asks you if you’re having multiples.

NO ONE.  

If you quiet the external noise long enough, you can find that your body does know exactly what you are needing - whether it is an extra snack before bedtime, a power-nap midday, or avoiding a certain food that just doesn’t seem appealing.  

The important thing to remember is that what your body is telling you - whether it’s a random food craving or ravenous hunger, are not things to FEAR but rather, the nudging from your body’s innate ability to grow a baby.  

The best thing you can do is HONOR what your body is telling you and trust the capacity your body has to carefully guide you through this beautiful time in your life.  

Weight gain too, is often something that is feared, but this is a crucial component to a having a healthy pregnancy and baby.  Eating mindfully in pregnancy can support healthy weight gain, and qualitative research in this area has shown that intuitive eating during pregnancy has been associated with appropriate gestational weight gain and improved glucose control [1].

Pregnancy Tips For New Moms

Pregnancy is already filled with so many unknowns and vulnerabilities, and seconding guessing how you are eating will only add unnecessary stress.  

Here are some suggestions to help you navigate the uncharted waters that you may be experiencing in pregnancy, and just remember, you are NOT alone!

  1. Get support!  Setting up a solid support system can be one of the most invaluable resources during and after your pregnancy.  Whether by joining a support group, meeting with a therapist and/or dietitian, or having someone you can lean on when you need encouragement can be life-changing.  
  2. Ditch the Scale:  Unless you have a medical condition that warrants strict measuring of your weight, consider ditching the scale during your pregnancy (and thereafter).  If your health care provider is recording weights, consider asking for blind weights (where you are weighed without seeing the number).  You would be surprised what this might do for your health and sanity throughout the duration of your pregnancy.  Most women will gain an adequate amount of weight for their body type and pregnancy and be JUST fine, even if it doesn’t fall exactly within the “recommended” weight guidelines.  
  3. Eat your macros! Macronutrients, that is.  Not that there is anything wrong with eating sour patch gummy bears as a mid-afternoon pick me up or temporarily living on crackers because that is the only thing you can manage to keep down.  The most important thing here is that you are listening to and honoring your body.  If and when you can, think about eating small, frequent meals throughout the day, grouping together your main macronutrients when possible (ie carbohydrates, proteins, and fats).  This can help you better manage some of the symptoms you are experiencing, not to mention, keep those hunger pains at bay.  Examples might be graham crackers with peanut/almond butter, fresh fruit with cheese, greek yogurt with granola, etc.  

What’s most important during your pregnancy is not how much weight you've gained or what the number on the scale says but rather, that you are solidifying a healthy relationship with food and your body.  This will be essential for establishing an overall healthy pregnancy and positively supporting you and your baby as you begin your motherhood journey.  You've got this mama, and more importantly, you absolutely can trust your body to guide you through the miraculous process of growing and nurturing your baby and your body.

Let's Chat More!

What concerns have you had about cravings, nutrition or weight gain during pregnancy? 

*Disclaimer: While I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)  and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in the United States, the information shared on this topic should not be construed as medical advice nor does it constitute a doctor-patient relationship. In order to best identify an individualized care plan for you during your pregnancy, please discuss with your healthcare provider.  Always seek the advice of your own medical providers regarding your own health. Information online should not replace in person assistance from your own health care professionals.  

Reference:

[1]: Helen Paterson, et al.  Women's experiences of changes in eating during pregnancy: A qualitative study in Dunedin, New Zealand.  New Zealand College of Midwives Journal 2016; 52, 5-11

Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC

Crystal Karges Nutrition

Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones.  Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.