Is pregnancy really the time to eat whatever you want?
Pregnant with my first son, I craved ice cream. I would dream in explicit detail about the taste of it: seductively cold sweet cream vanilla interspersed with firm, sweet bursts of cookie dough. I’d count down the minutes to the end of the work day, when I could bolt to the store and stand twitching in line, sucking the drool off the side of my cheek. I’d watch the vanilla bean white hit the frozen marble and anticipate.
It’s no surprise that I gained over 75 pounds when I was pregnant for the first time seven years ago. Though previously somewhat careful with my diet and exercise (motivation: nothing but vanity) I saw pregnancy as an excuse to eat what I wanted. Food tasted extra delicious now for a reason, I rationalized, and I was going to get round and matronly and bloaty whether I ate asparagus tips or lemon meringue pie. May as well go for the pie.
I heard these comforting cajoles a lot as a pregnant woman:
“Now’s not the time to start a new exercise program.”
“Relax and put your feet up – you get to enjoy that cheesecake now…you’re eating for two.”
“You can lose the weight after the baby’s born, that’s the last thing you should be worrying about.”
“Don’t exert yourself! You’re pregnant.”
It seemed to me like pregnancy was a miraculous excuse to be a glutton. I could sit on my laurels, eat peanut butter straight from the jar, and put off running till next summer. I could blame the cravings for shockingly poor eating decisions, and I could sigh that it was Mother Nature’s inevitable pregnancy padding that was building up my thighs and bust to epic proportions – nothing to do with that middle of the night Crispy Crunch binge.
It was a crock. A nice one, considering all the bloating and gas and stretching and cramping and hormone dips and pitfalls I had to put up with in exchange for the self-deception – but still a crock.
I understand that every pregnancy is different and every woman’s body is unique. I know that some pregnant women cannot exercise for health reasons, and that others do indeed eat reasonably and healthily and still gain more than the recommended amount of weight.
But I also know that there are some universal laws, and that crazy, uninhibited binging on vanilla cookie dough ice cream is going to lead to an unhealthy amount of weight gain, pregnant or not.
Six months ago, I blearily eyed the two lines on the pregnancy stick, aghast and disbelieving and thought:
a) I need to buy six more pregnancy sticks because this was supposed to take at least a year and the Universe is likely messing with me. Then:
b) Oh god. That vanilla ice cream skin that hung down my postpartum belly six years ago. The fat-skinny skinfolds flapping uncomfortably around my armpits and hips. Matronly wraps over my bathing suit, strategically long sweaters to cover my expanded bum. I don’t want that again, I can’t do that again, especially now that I know what it’s like to look after my body, outside and in.
I eyed the blue lines on the counter, my still-flat midsection in the mirror. This pregnancy, I’d avoid the ice cream and keep up my diet of seeds, nuts, vegetables, fruit, seafood and meat. I’d continue to avoid carbs and sugars and breads and cereals throughout this pregnancy, and I’d exercise briskly five times a week.
I’d had friends say to me that they gained the same weight with each of their pregnancies, no matter what they ate, or how much they hiked and swam and ran. They claimed that Mother Nature puts on the weight where she needs to and that pregnancy is a time where diet and exercise do not control a woman’s body: the baby does. I wasn’t totally convinced. But I set out to experiment.
The first trimester was a bit of a bust. The smell of meat made me nauseous, the thought of eating some of my normal vegetables was less appealing than the thought of stapling a pencil tip to my eyeball. I ate oatmeal and noodles and it was so necessary I couldn’t feel any guilt about the drifting from my original resolve. But as the nausea faded and I forged ahead to the second trimester, I started avoiding carbs and sugar again, and started feeling much, much better.
I’m now into my 26th week, and I’ve gained 13 pounds of pregnancy weight, less than a third of what I’d gained last pregnancy at this far along. I feel strong and healthy: my cardio capacities have diminished a bit but I’m able to finish most Crossfit workouts at my gym at the same time as many of the others. I’m sleeping better than I was during my first pregnancy. No one is telling me that I should eat that brownie or put my feet up, and if they did I wouldn’t listen.
I don’t know who decided that pregnant women should get a licence for gluttony. I am nearly positive that my exercise and clean eating will enable me to lose the baby weight quickly, and provide me with the strength and endurance I need to care for a newborn for the second time.
I don’t dream of carrot sticks this pregnancy, and ice cream still sounds pretty damned delicious, but feeling strong and capable and firm is a lot more appealing than a couple chunks of cookie dough. I have three more months to see if my healthier eating and exercise makes a huge postpartum difference, and I’ll keep you posted.
Photo by amesis via Flickr