“Have an extra pack of cookies. Remember, you’re eating for two now!”
-Airline stewardess, Aug. 9th, 2014
In the media, we are taught that when a woman is pregnant, she is now “eating for two.” Therefore, she must ramp up her food consumption in order to nourish the growing human inside of her. And by ramping up, this means adding a hefty amount of food to your diet. An extra bowl of ice cream here. A second serving of dinner there. A stop at your favorite fast food restaurant for a large cheeseburger with extra large fries and a drink. When plagued by those intense hunger pangs, it certainly feels like a confirmation of your right to grab any food item in sight and a license to eat as much as you’d like, whenever you’d like.
Sadly, our idea of “eating for two” is a dangerous misconception, one which can harm you and your baby, or make your life unnecessarily difficult post baby. Some issues that may arise due to an unhealthy pregnancy diet include delivering a really large baby (10lbs+), making a vaginal birth impossible and perhaps requiring a C-section (which is no joke: it is a major surgery that carries its own set of risks). Or, your unhealthy diet can gift your child with a predisposition to being overweight later in life. For you, the mama, if you gain too much weight, you increase your risk of stretch marks (a vain concern, but important to a lot of women) and make the post-baby bounce back (aka, return to your pre-pregnancy physique), a very hard task. Imagine having to lose 55 or 60+ lbs! It’s hard enough losing 10lbs (or 30lbs like I did last year)!
At a doctor’s appointment early in my pregnancy (first trimester), I asked my doctor about nutrition. Remember, I had recently completed a year plus journey of losing weight and had completely overhauled my diet. I asked my doctor what types of foods I needed to eat and if I needed to boost my fat intake. My doctor said that the baby is so tiny during the first trimester that it doesn’t have any real caloric needs. And if I felt hungry, reach for some nutrient rich foods–fruit, nut bars, yogurt, etc. I was shocked–I always thought that pregnancy meant eating for two, aka, eating a ton. But if you really think about it, of the “two” you are eating for, only one is a full grown adult. The other is barely the size of a lime by the end of the first trimester (Babycenter.com). During the next two trimesters, your caloric needs increase, but not at the rate that most people think:
“While guidelines vary, the Institute of Medicine says if you’re a healthy weight, you need no additional calories in the first trimester, 340 extra calories a day in the second trimester, and about 450 extra calories a day in the third trimester. If you’re overweight or underweight, you’ll need more or less than this depending on your weight gain goal.” babycenter.com
“By the second trimester, though, you should up your daily calorie intake during pregnancy by 350 calories, and toward the end of your pregnancy, you can eat an extra 500 calories per day.” whattoexpect.com
“Eating for two doesn’t mean eating twice as much food. Pregnant women need about 300 extra calories a day. But where these calories come from matters.” National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Health
**of course these guidelines vary from person to person, especially if you are over/under weight prior to conception or carrying multiples. Be sure to check with your doctor before cutting/adding calories!
Although specific caloric guidelines vary from source to source, the idea is the same: Generally, having a baby does not justify a 1000+ calorie boost to your diet.
Pregnant women often use the excuse “eating for two” to indulge in things they typically wouldn’t. I mean of course I’m not getting any smaller, but I do know that the foods I choose to abuse now, I’ll still have to burn that off when [baby] arrives…Yes enjoy your pregnancy, but be responsible and continue to eat in moderation and exercise often.”
Recommended weight gain for an average size, healthy female is about 25-35 pounds. Here is the breakdown:
Where Does the Extra Weight Go During Pregnancy?
Baby: 8 pounds
Placenta: 2-3 pounds
Amniotic fluid: 2-3 pounds
Breast tissue: 2-3 pounds
Blood supply: 4 pounds
Stored fat for delivery and breastfeeding: 5-9 pounds
Larger uterus: 2-5 pounds
Total: 25-35 pounds
Food/caloric intake has a lot to do with your weight gain. And weight gain has a lot to do with a healthy pregnancy.
So what should you eat? I love the expression “nutrient rich foods”. Foods that aren’t processed or laced with a mega-ton of sugar. Foods that pack a punch in terms of the vitamins and minerals that you need for your growing baby. Foods rich in Calcium, Vitamin D, Folic Acid, Vitamin C, and Iron (just to name a few). If you are unsure how to include these items in your diet or how much of each you need, click on this link to the Mayo Clinic. Or do a google search for “sources of nutrients during pregnancy” and find a reputable source. You can also head to choosemyplate.gov, which I have used. The website makes a custom meal plan for you based off of your weight, height, activity, and being pregnant. There is also access to an individual counselor (I haven’t used this feature yet, but I think that it is awesome).
If you fill your diet with nutrient rich food, you will notice a decrease in your cravings. Or if you are noticing a craving, satisfy it with its nutritient rich brother. See this link to babycenter.com for some recommendations.
You can then sign up for myfitnesspal (there is an app for it too), and keep track of your food/nutrient intake. It is so easy to use! You just type in what you ate and the app will keep track of the calories and nutrients in the food. I wish they had a pregnancy version of this app. But you can adjust the weight goal by putting in that you hope to gain 25-35lbs by your due date. This is how I keep track of my calcium intake, which is hard for me because I don’t like milk. I also use this app to make sure that my sugar intake doesn’t get too high.
Please do know, by the way, that I am not perfect. I have lots of cheat days where I splurge on food. Just last week, my parents (I mean “I”) stuffed me like a prized calf and I allowed it. But I know that this week I need to recover and get back on track. I hope some people find this information useful. There is a wealth of information online to help you lead a healthier life. By researching and working with your doctor, you (and your baby) can be in the best shape possible. Also remember, diet alone is not the key to a healthy pregnancy. Exercise is important too (a point that even I struggle with) but just keep the image of a healthy baby in your arms while being a hot Mama in your mind! 🙂