You have been counting calories or macros and are now pregnant. Where do you go from here?
I understand how having a strict, regimented diet has gotten you great results on the scale and in the gym.
Maybe you have followed a popular diet plan, possibly even hired a nutrition coach, and done several cuts finally hitting your goal weight. The accolades from friends and family about how good you look can become addicting and where we find our self-worth.
It can be really hard to make that pivot into gaining weight if you have never seen gaining weight as a positive thing.
Maybe even considered it the worst thing you could imagine.
Pregnancy can be a really hard transition for some women. You are not alone if you fall into that group. Adjusting your mindset into allowing change to happen does not come easy and takes a lot of mindfulness, submission, and acceptance.
First off, most women will need to gain weight to support the growth of the baby. But that weight gain isn’t all tiny baby, your blood volume increases by as much as 60%, you have grown an entirely new organ - the placenta, your breasts have begun to fill with milk, your uterus is full of amniotic fluid, this is just to name a few things that contribute. In addition, the fat that you gain is used for energy during labor and breastfeeding.
Weight gain can be very important to keep the baby healthy as well. Mothers who have low weight gain during pregnancy place their babies at risk for severe complications such as premature birth, which can lead to lung and heart problems.
So, unless there is a medical reason and you are working with a registered dietitian or your entire livelihood is dependent on how much you weigh (which I doubt) I do not recommend counting macros or calories.
Hang with me, I’ll explain.
Most women need to gain weight to support the growth of their babies. Your care provider may tell you what group you fall into, lose, maintain, or gain. You can view the weight gain as proof that you are nurturing your growing baby.
Macro counting does not provide the ratio of vital nutrients needed to ensure optimal human formation. You are creating eyes, nervous system, heart, lungs, a freakin BRAIN!!! Your body needs a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods to accomplish this and believe me egg whites don’t cut it.
Some women have extreme nausea and cereal is the only thing that sounds good. Or some just have aversions. Stressing out about not hitting your macros because you physically can’t, does not support a relaxed state of being and adding any stress to your life leads to other health problems, including mental health disorders.
Your body is adaptable and different seasons of life require a unique outlook and different tools. What you did to get lean for a physique competition is not the best plan for pregnancy.
Quality over quantity. For real, this is a time maybe more than ever where what you are putting in your body matters much more than how much. If you are more worried about not going over on your fat macros than eating an avocado, that could be problematic.
What should I eat then?
Here is a list of the vitamins and minerals necessary during pregnancy and where you can find them. I also recommend the book, Real Food for Pregnancy, by Lily Nichols as a must-read for pregnant women.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that women generally do not require additional calories in the first trimester. However, later in pregnancy, your body will require more calories to support fetal development. Your body is smart, it will take everything it can from the food you eat for the baby, but you also need the nutrition so that you can be healthy and thriving. That is why I suggest adjusting your expectations around weight gain and instead focus on eating high quality, nourishing foods, eat slowly, eat when you are hungry and stop when satisfied.
If you thrive with structure and that’s why you count macros, which I totally understand, then making a list of habits can be a great way to rethink your nutrition and give you boundaries:
Drinking your water
Stopping eating when you're full
Make sure your plate is full of nutrient-dense foods if you can tolerate it.
This type of eating style that promotes a healthy attitude toward food and body image is known as intuitive eating. Intuitive eating harnesses our feminine energy, compared to weighing and tracking which is masculine energy.
I truly believe that leaning into your feminine energy during the motherhood transition allows you to fully submit and evolve with the process. Surrender and freedom are gifts we can give to ourselves during motherhood, allowing grace to be our rallying cry.
How will I know if I am gaining appropriately?
Did you know that you do not have to weigh yourself at the doctor’s office? You can decline this, especially if you have a history of disordered eating or the number on your scale affects how you feel about yourself for the rest of the day. If for some reason they need a number, make sure you face away from the scale and ask them not to tell you.
You don't technically need to obsess over how much you are gaining. If necessary, your care provider can suggest diet modifications without you ever knowing a number. It can be so liberating and freeing and you are in control of your health. It is your body and baby.
If it’s too much for you to completely ditch the scale, make small changes. It is actually better that way over time to feel autonomy over your choice making. I would suggest weighing your food for the week and then practicing intuitive eating on the weekends. And then have fewer and fewer days of weighing until you have food freedom.
Also, why are we so afraid of gaining weight? What has culture brainwashed into thinking that weighing more is a bad thing? Yes, there are certain complications that can arise with a higher amount of body fat, but most women who are athletes and were counting macros before conceiving already have a healthy level of body fat and that isn’t the first worry.
Ideally establishing healthy foundational eating habits prior to conception is the best-case scenario. However, it is never too late to create healthy eating habits. And now that you are sustaining an additional life, what better time to do so. Besides eating a diet rich in whole foods and nutrients, additional behaviors you can begin to control without resorting to calorie counting include:
Eat slowly, savor your food, think about taste and texture
Eat when hungry and stop when satisfied not stuffed, think about 80% full
Eat a portion of protein, vegetables, healthy fats and higher carbs with each meal
Drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day. Water does not include tea, coffee or other beverages. Adjust the amount based on physical activity and thirst.
When you can focus on creating healthy sustainable habits for optimal wellness that will carry over into postpartum and beyond, you may never have to count or weigh again. How cool would that be!?
Stay Strong Momma!
**Disclaimer: This article is my own opinions and thoughts as a mom, athlete, trainer and nutrition coach from evidence-based research, anecdotal evidence, and experience working with women.
The information in this article is not to be taken as medical advice. You should ALWAYS consult your doctor regarding exercise and nutrition, especially while pregnant. What works for one person may not work for you.