If you’re seeking a prenatal-diet role model, don’t look to me. Before I was pregnant I was the kind of girl who generally ate very well. I regularly cooked with organic ingredients, steered clear of processed foods, stuck with a mostly wheat-flour-free regime due to an allergic reaction to the stuff, and indulged modestly by finishing the day with a bowl of Häagen Dazs ice cream. But the minute I became a walking incubator, my willpower went out the window with tampons and birth control. I feasted on what ever I wanted whenever I wanted, was drawn toward junk food and wheat like never before (I ignored my allergies), and ended up practically wiping cake crumbs off of my own face with pregnancy book pages that discussed the “make every bite count” theory.
When pregnancy books suggested that I gain between 25 and 35 pounds over the whole duration, I reflected on my many mommy friends who packed on double those amounts and lived to slip back into their pre-pregnancy clothes. So I gave myself a generous top-out weight goal of 35 pounds and abided by a simple rule: eat whatever appeals to me whenever I’m hungry – with the exception of the handful of pregnancy no-nos ( I didn’t abide by all of them; I ate sushi and sipped wine on occasion).
Often I ate very healthfully – broiled chicken, sautéed vegetables, and my favorite pregnancy salad. But other times it was at least 12 Oreos with two tall glasses of milk in one sitting. As the indulgence menu mounted, I reasoned that devouring a trough of chicken enchiladas or a few handfuls of Cheetos didn’t block the benefits of the broccoli and the other very healthful food I was eating; it just added a little more cottage cheese to my quickly expanding thighs.
And boy was I right. I passed the magic weight-gain number at 33 ½ weeks – and ultimately headed for the delivery room towing an extra 41 pounds. But I didn’t feel badly about it. I reveled in the notion that for the first and only time in my life I was supposed to gain weight. I reasoned that my body was telling me what it wanted and, as a good mother, it was my job to respond. I was probably fooling myself as I imagined my daughter begging for a uterine delivery of chocolate cake and milk. But the truth is, I simply couldn’t help myself. I felt a little better knowing that despite doubling up on dessert I still ate a lot of the good stuff and waited for that promised day when the baby would be so big I’d permanently feel “full” for the rest of the pregnancy. Unfortunately, that day never came.
Looking back, I know that some of my cravings were very real and undeniable. But other factors that contributed to my diet were convenience and comfort.
Whenever split-second starvation descended upon me and a meal was not within arm’s reach, I did not think to stop by a health food store and get nourished on beet salad, grilled tofu, and quinoa. I dashed, mouth agape, toward my favorite comfort foods. Thankfully, stocking up on healthy snacks and bringing my lunch wherever I went stopped me from making a habit of desperation dining.
Do I wish that I had eaten with more restraint? Absolutely. Am I kicking myself for it now? Not at all. I had a healthy, seven-pound, three-and-a-half ounce girl, and a year and a half, a couple of cleanses, and many yoga classes later, I am four pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight. If I were to do it all over again, I’d like to think that I would limit my indulgences and look as fabulous as those celebrity moms parading around in slinky dresses five seconds before – and after – they push out a golden child. But who am I kidding? First off, I didn’t look like a superstar to begin with. Secondly, I’m betting I’d mainline Oreos all over again, and at the end of the day I can live with that.
I’m not recommending you use my convenient rationale to have your way with a whole sheet of cake. But if you do find yourself uncontrollably shoveling in your favorite snacks, at least you’ll know you are in good company.
What ever the case, remember this: What you put in your body right now directly affects the growth and health of your fetus, so good nutrition is critical. But just as essential is that if and when you fall prey to the seduction of ridiculous treats, you give yourself some slack and go on with your fabulously fattened and satisfied self.
THOUGHT FOR FOOD: A FEW TIPS
Try to eat a well-balanced diet.
In a perfect pregnancy world, the ideal diet is a healthy, well-rounded one. In reality—due to cravings, aversions, nausea, or the sudden need to devour the nearest edible object lest you start gnawing on your office chair—you may not have the luxury of practicing pristine eating habits all the time. Still, even if you partake in lots of pecan pie it’s a good idea to embellish it with more healthful stuff, specifically organic fruits, vegetables, whole grains, good carbohydrates, meat, fish, and chicken, or vegetarian protein alternatives.
Keep in mind that you are not really eating for two.
Common consensus is that if you’re carrying a single tot you really don’t need more than 300 extra calories per day—and that’s only if you were consuming a moderate 2,200 calories daily beforehand. So when you head to the fridge remind yourself that “servings” does not mean a heaping Fred Flintstone-size helping. One portion equals about as much as you could palm in your hand-—one apple, 1/2 cup of broccoli, one cup of yogurt, two eggs…you get the idea. You could cheat and use Shaquille O’Neal’s palm as a barometer, but the only one you’ll be fooling is yourself.
Take prenatal vitamins.
If you are healthy and maintain a good diet, your baby is likely to get all of the nutrients he or she needs. But these hefty horse pills are your safeguards. Designed to pick up any nutritional slack, they made me feel like I was taking care of business even on the rare days that I slammed a 10-pack of chicken nuggets and a large fries on my way home from work. Should you be too nauseous to keep these pills down, your doctor can offer advice on navigating the nutrients you need.
Drink water regularly.
Nothing wilts the pregnant flower like a lack of water. Drink at least 8 glasses a day at a minimum, but shoot for 12.
Know which foods are “no-no’s” for pregnant women. You can, and should, devour the Food and Drink No-Nos lists in the book. They include explanations of why a number of everyday foods are not recommended for pregnant women.
Eat smaller meals more often. A great way to keep the stomach satisfied early in the game, and avoid indigestion later on, is to snack on six small meals throughout the day rather than eating three big ones.
Limit your intake of stuff that isn’t good for you. The foods and beverages that weren’t good for you before pregnancy aren’t any better now, and since you’re officially force-feeding your unborn babe, you should think twice about trashing his tummy without his consent. In other words, go light on the usual edible foes: refined sugar, processed foods, hydrogenated fats, artificial colors and flavors, foods with preservatives, artificial sweeteners, sodas made with fructose, caffeine, and alcohol.
If you don’t want to eat junk, don’t keep it around. I tended to eat very well at home. Although I continued my pre-pregnancy nightly bowl of ice cream early on, it was easy to stop indulging the minute I stopped buying it. For me, out of sight really was out of mind. But beyond the house was a different story. I never bought and rarely ate cookies before, during, or after my pregnancy. But while in waiting, a delivery truck pulled up to my dot-com office once a week and offloaded enough snack food to keep a staff of 20 workaholics hopped up on sugar. While I occasionally reached into the cupboard for a breakfast bar or handful of cashews (or 10), I was more regularly wooed by my nutritional nemesis, the sweets drawer. Stuffed with those aforementioned Oreos and bags of mini Chips Ahoys, it serenaded me regularly and I answered its call at least once a week. If you have a similarly sweet work environment and the ability to easily fall from nutritional grace, my recommendation is don’t allow yourself to indulge in the free office bootie even once. The minute you cross over to the dietary dark side, it’s hard to go back.
Bring food with you everywhere you go.
Packing a picnic of healthy, ever-ready snacks and carrying backups in your purse and car works wonders. When sudden starvation hits, it’s the difference between immediate guiltless satisfaction and a carelessly caloric dash for the nearest drive-thru. For a list of easy edibles, see page 54. And don’t forget to tote a couple of bottles of water.
Eat good-mood food.
If you’re feeling extra cranky or exhausted, take a mental inventory of what you’ve been eating and consider redirecting your diet. Perhaps eating smaller, more frequent meals will boost your energy or settle your tummy. Maybe you’re not eating enough—that’ll tire you out, too. Or perchance you’re overindulging in sugar or caffeine, which can make a grown adult crash and burn as dramatically as a child who’s coming down off of a major ice cream high.
Consider a diet that avoids heartburn and indigestion.
The slowing of digestion that happens during pregnancy doesn’t just result in the occasional toot. It also impedes the effectiveness of the valve that connects your stomach with your esophagus, sometimes resulting in food moving backward, or coming back up into your esophagus, after it’s already made a pass-through and been mingling with gastric acids. When this acidic version of lunch makes its way back upward, it results in heartburn.
You may not be able to resolve it completely, but the key is to monitor your body’s reactions to the foods you eat and adjust your diet for optimum comfort.
Prenatal vitamins have your nutritional back, but certain foods help you face good mommy and baby nutrition head on. Scan the cheat sheet of essentials starting on the next page and see why they’re worthy in general and especially essential during certain trimesters, then—rather than obsessing about health—you can confidently munch on foods that deliver the gestational goods.
Mommy and well-known lifestyle writer Erika Lenkert is a frequent contributor to In Style, Everyday with Rachel Ray, and dozens of other national publications. She has authored several lifestyle books, including The Last Minute Party Girl: Fashionable, Fearless, and Foolishly Simple Entertaining and Raw: The Uncook Book. Known for combining wit and wisdom, Erika is
committed to helping today’s mommy-to-be shirk the prevailing pregnancy paranoia so that she can
confidently revel in all the weird, wacky, and downright funky stuff that comes with making human
from scratch. Check out her book, The Real Deal Guide to Pregnancy at Amazon.com
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