Yes, I understand, it seems like a daunting task to stay healthy while pregnant. I mean, the cravings can be intense, taking a nap is always so much more appealing than working out, and your body is expanding in all sorts of directions, making you feel kinda gross the majority of the time. Or maybe that’s just me? I’ve made it through 1 pregnancy, and I’m about 2/3 of the way through my second one, so believe me, I know the struggle is real. But, it may also be one of the most important times in your life to be at your healthiest – you’re creating a human being for crying out loud! You want your body to be firing on all of those healthy cylinders while it works overtime to form a little life inside of you.
I am here to tell you that yes, it can be done. You can eat healthy, avoid those crazy cravings, persevere through food aversions, and workout (we’ll get more specific later) while you’re preggo. Not only will your baby thank you (someday, hopefully), but you will be much happier once you have the baby and you bounce right back in no time at all. Let’s break this down, shall we?
First, here’s my disclaimer: I only have my personal experience of being pregnant to truly go off of, and what I’ve heard from other people, but every pregnancy is so different. You may have a very different experience than me, and different medical needs. So, always listen to your body and your Dr. while you’re pregnant.
First trimester: Overcoming the exhaustion, nausea, and food aversions.
For both of my pregnancies the first trimester was pretty gnarly. Eating was the last thing I wanted to do, the exhaustion was something that I only understood because I lived through the first trimester of being pregnant, and I didn’t know it was possible to be nauseous for 3 months straight. Like All. The. Time. But apparently, it is. So, how in the world do you maintain a healthy eating routine when the only thing that doesn’t make you gag is bread- and even that’s not a guarantee?
Here’s my personal experience on this one: I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy whatever it was I was eating, and nothing actually made me feel better (not even the cheese-filled-carbs I thought I wanted), so I just chose to eat foods that were good for me rather than give in to unhealthy choices. Yes, it was that simple (but not always easy) – I made the choice. I used the little life forming inside of me as motivation to make good choices and struggled through my healthy meals so that it would be well nourished as it grew. Sometimes I made it through the meal, sometimes I only ate ½ and had a snack later on, but at least I tried to make a good choice in that moment to give my growing bump the nutrients it needed.
Some other advice for this difficult few months:
- It’s really hard to eat a salad when it’s the last thing you want. So, play around with other veggies and different preparations of healthy foods to find a way to incorporate them into foods that are appealing. If you want a grilled cheese- use Ezekiel bread and put some spinach and tomato in it. If you’re craving mac and cheese- use red lentil pasta and throw some cauliflower in there. You may have to get creative, but use the foods you are drawn to and incorporate healthy options with them.
- If you have to eat small meals and snacks throughout the day to help you get through, do it. Try to make them nutrient dense so you are getting good quality protein, healthy fat, fruits and veggies, and whole grains all day long. This may be a good time to try a smoothie – you can pack a lot of nutrients in there, and it may be more appealing than eating a whole meal.
- Always have healthy snacks available. You may go from 0 to starving/nauseous in 5 minutes time and need something to munch, so keep healthy choices ready in a pinch.
- Make sure you eat enough. Rather than not eating when you feel nauseous, try to find some options you know you can tolerate and fuel your body while it’s working so hard. Also, sometimes getting too hungry can make you feel even more nauseous, so don’t go too long without fueling up.
- Start off on a healthy foot. Set the tone of your pregnancy by committing to making healthy choices and staying active. Even though you aren’t feeling great, try to keep moving. Don’t overdo it, but get up and go for a walk- you may be surprised and feel a little better afterwards!
Eating for 2? Yes and No.
Let me explain. Yes, you are in fact eating for two. Everything you eat is getting to that little baby. You are literally forming a life in your body using the fuel you put in as the building blocks. That’s a big deal. If you put garbage in, you’re using garbage fuel. If you put healthy fuel in your body, you’re using that to power the formation of your baby. Think about that, it’s pretty amazing! So, yes, you are in such a big way, eating for two.
No, you don’t need to eat enough for two grown adults. As long as you are of a normal weight when you get pregnant, you don’t need any extra calories during the first trimester. During the second trimester, you need about 340 extra calories (which is equivalent to 2 hardboiled eggs, and 1 slice of Ezekiel Bread with 1 Tbsp peanut butter on it), and during the third trimester you need about 450 extra calories a day (just add one more slice of Ezekiel bread with a little peanut butter and you’re there). So, while you are eating for 2 in the quality department, you don’t really need to consume a great deal more food over the 9 months.
As rough as the first trimester can be, once you turn that corner, the second and third trimesters can offer much more in the way of cravings and general hunger. First, remember that you don’t need to consume much more food to meet your needs, so be careful!
And second, my personal take on cravings: Yes, they are real, but no you don’t have to give in to them and they are not an excuse to eat whatever you want. Sometimes when you crave something, it is your body telling you that it needs a certain nutrient. If you’re craving ice cream, maybe you need some calcium, if you’re craving a steak, your body may be looking for iron. Try to think about the foods you are craving and determine if there is something underlying that you may be wanting and give your body that. If it’s ice cream, try a plain Greek yogurt and add some fruit and nuts. If it’s a steak you want, have a good quality piece and make sure it’s cooked well or eat some dark green leafy veggies. If you’re craving sweets, go for fruit, and if you want salty, crunchy snack, have some nuts. Listen to your cravings, give your body what it’s asking for, but do it in the most healthy way possible.
Don’t eliminate too much
Now is not really the time to try your hand on Atkins, play around with intermittent fasting, or decide you are going to eliminate major food groups. Your body needs nutrients of all shapes and sizes. If you want to stay strict and healthy, that is totally fine, but make sure you’re not cutting out food groups your body needs to do it’s job. As always, I think it is smart to stay away from added sugars – even (especially) while pregnant – gestational diabetes is real and can have harmful effects on your baby now and later in life. But make sure you’re not taking out whole food groups in your quest to purge your diet of added sugars.
Do it. The long advised myth to not start exercising when you are pregnant if you did not regularly exercise previously is unraveling (check out this article here and the full text here). Research is showing that exercise is always a good idea (unless there are underlying medical issues going on – so check with your Dr., of course). Dr.s are encouraging patients to exercise more during pregnancy and seeing the benefits when they do. Pregnant women are encouraged to exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week at moderate intensity. So, even if you were not a worker-outer before you got pregnant, there is still hope, and you should start moving as soon as possible. Check with your Dr. first, then, once you have the green light, start out slow. Walking is a great form of exercise if you are just beginning. Throw in some light weights and resistance work, maybe some prenatal yoga or pilates, and your baby will be very happy! The healthier and stronger you stay during pregnancy, the quicker you will recover and get back in your pre-baby jeans.
If you regularly excised before you got pregnant, keep it up! You may need to back off the intensity, stop doing hot yoga (most definitely), lower some of the super heavy weights, or change up your routine a little bit, but you can still workout. Make sure you listen to your body. What was easy before may be enough right now and you may need more rest in between workouts. That’s ok. Just do what’s healthy for you and your baby, and you’ll be back to burpees sooner than you’d probably like once the baby gets here!
To Summarize: Make healthy choices even when you’d rather eat something unhealthy. Your baby eats what you eat and you are literally fueling their development- so give them the best fuel you can. Be aware of the extra calories you should consume throughout pregnancy – it may not be as much as you think. Food cravings are real, but not an excuse to eat whatever you want. Don’t eliminate major food groups from your diet. And, keep exercising!
Wishing you all happy, healthy pregnancies!