Before I got pregnant, I was confident that I’d be inspired to eat nourishing, balanced meals every day. The reality didn’t always live up to that ideal. Morning sickness and food aversions meant often all I could face were comfort foods like potatoes or buttered pasta. Struggling with junk food cravings? Here’s what I learned about eating for two.
The Truth About Eating for Two
Pregnancy may feel like the first time you’re not judged for eating what you want or gaining weight. You probably already know that “eating for two” is a misnomer. You really only need to add about 300 calories a day, not double your typical portion sizes.
More importantly, the calories and nutrients you eat are worth more than ever. In addition to fueling and nourishing your body, those vitamins and minerals contribute to developing a healthy new baby! If you’re not eating healthy during pregnancy, you or your baby could suffer from important nutrient deficiencies.
Folic acid and calcium are two important examples. Folic acid is critical for the healthy development of your baby’s neural tube. Deficiency can lead to spina bifida and other problems. A calcium deficiency hurts you more than the baby, because your body will leach calcium from your bones if you’re not consuming enough to build your fetus’s skeleton. Can’t stomach the dark, leafy greens or calcium-rich foods you need? Take a supplement or try fortified versions of foods you can tolerate.
Managing Unhealthy Eating Habits
Between morning sickness, food aversions, and powerful cravings, it can feel like nothing is normal when it comes to appetite during pregnancy. The healthier you can keep your diet, the more likely it is that you’ll gain the recommended amount of weight and optimize your baby’s development.
Depending on the severity of morning sickness (which can last all day), you may need to be gentle with your expectations in the first trimester. Focus on eating small, regular meals. If all you can tolerate some nights is plain noodles for dinner, that’s OK. Eat healthy when you’re up to it, and take prenatal vitamins, but now probably isn’t the time to hold yourself to a strict meal plan.
Cravings can knock you off your feet when you’re pregnant. Unfortunately, most of the time you won’t be struck by an overwhelming urge to eat broccoli. Trying healthier versions of favorite treats can be satisfying and nourishing. Depending on your willpower, you may have success designating one “cravings night” per week to indulge, and concentrate on balanced meals the rest of the time. The goal is to balance discipline without beating yourself up for unhealthy cravings. If you don’t have any stories about midnight slices of pie, are you even pregnant?
In some cases, overindulging may not be the concerning issue. Expectant mothers who have experienced eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia may find pregnancy to be particularly challenging. Gaining weight is a normal and necessary aspect of pregnancy. If fears about body image or food control are interfering with your ability to maintain healthy eating patterns, talk to your medical provider right away. Malnourishment is dangerous and even life-threatening for you and the baby.
Easy Ways to Eat Healthy
Try these quick tips to make your diet healthier:
- Drink plenty of water
- Take a daily prenatal vitamin
- Start dinner with salad or vegetable soup
- Eat at least one super-healthy thing at each meal
- Steer clear of fast food restaurants and processed foods
- Indulge in moderation (One measured serving of ice cream every night? Once-a-week dive into a pint? Figure out what works for you)