I love food. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. As a registered dietitian, it’s my job to talk about food, nutrition, and health all. day. long. So naturally, when I became pregnant I assumed I would have no problem figuring out which foods were best for me and my baby.
Spoiler alert: it was not easy and to say the least, I was a bit stressed. The list of “must-eat” foods was long, but the list of “must-avoid” foods seemed even longer.
In fact, trying to figure out the best way to eat during pregnancy is like being caught in a real life version of an Eat This, Not That book. Your doctor recommends one thing, but your friend with four kids recommends another. On top of it all, you’re probably told the health of your baby depends heavily on how much weight you gain over the course of the next nine months. Not too much, not too little – channel Goldilocks and make sure it’s just right.
Plus, being pregnant can be physically and emotionally challenging. Along with all the excitement and joy comes a body that’s constantly changing. A body that may or may not respond well to your previous eating habits or exercise routine. And honestly, the pressure to be a “good” mom and properly nourish your baby from the start is downright stressful.
Somewhere along the line I decided enough was enough. While there are certain nutrients – like folate, iron, and protein – that are essential for pregnant women to consume enough of, eating for two doesn’t have to be so complicated. I believe we can be kind to our bodies, respect our bodies, and nourish our bodies in way that eliminates pressure while still being beneficial to our babies. We can eat like mothers.
Eat like a mother. What does that mean exactly? It means choosing to eat from a place of love, respect, and kindness the same way you would offer love, respect, and kindness to your child. It means choosing foods that are not only nourishing but taste good, too. Hate kale? That’s OK – it’s completely possible to have a healthy diet without ever eating a bite. Love kale? That’s cool, too!
While everyone’s health needs are different, the majority of pregnant women can follow the guidelines below to help find more joy in eating during pregnancy. However, certain medical conditions, such as gestational diabetes or a risk for low birth-weight, do require medical nutrition therapy, and your diet should be assessed with the help of a registered dietitian or doctor.
Eat a Variety of Foods
There are no “good” foods or “bad” foods – there’s just food. An apple or a piece of cake don’t have morals. They do not have the ability to make us feel guilty or proud, and we sometimes allow them to do so. In fact, food plays so many different roles in our lives – it fills us up, we use it to celebrate, it helps us cope with emotions – it’s unfair to assign it a label.
While it’s true some foods may be more healthful than others and offer our bodies more of the nutrients we need, it doesn’t mean there’s not room in the diet – especially during pregnancy – for a variety of foods. In fact, eating a variety of foods not only helps to ensure we’re getting a good mix of the nutrients we need, it helps to make eating a satisfying experience during a time when nausea and taste aversions sometimes reign supreme.
Choose Mostly Whole Foods
Fact: your body does not keep a food log. It does not calculate the amount of protein you eat each day or how deficient in vitamins and minerals you’ve become because you could not stomach a single vegetable that day. Instead, your body thrives on the rule of averages – on what you do most often. Therefore, if you’re filling up on whole, minimally processed foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins, your body is likely getting everything it needs, even during pregnancy.
We all rely on convenience foods from time to time and that’s OK too. If you have the time and the means, you can bump convenience foods up a notch by adding whole foods, such as vegetables. For example, fresh vegetables can easily be added to a can of soup or on top of a frozen pizza. Granola bars or yogurt can be paired with a piece of fruit for a quick grab-and-go snack.
Let Go of Perfection
It’s hard to imagine how real mom guilt is until you experience it for yourself. When you love someone so much, it can be hard to not take on the burden of anything that you may feel you’ve done wrong or could have done better. But the reality is, you will likely be fine and your baby will likely be fine, even if you don’t eat perfectly throughout your pregnancy.
In fact, there’s no such thing as perfection when it comes to eating (or in anything), whether you are pregnant or not.
Always remember, everyone’s health needs are different and nutrition is highly personal. If you need help figuring out what’s best for you, talk with a dietitian or doctor who can help you tune into your body and its needs.
Offer yourself kindness and grace, and know you are doing the best you can on this journey.