Why Is It So Hard for Women to Eat Right During Pregnancy?

Jenny Benjamin
14

bbq platesIf you spent a lot of your first trimester hunched over a toilet bowl, then by the time you get to that euphoric second trimester, you might be thinking, "Finally, I can eat all the hot fudge sundaes and fried chicken dinners I've earned!" Yes, a lot of women feel like since they're eating for two (or three or more) and feel pretty huge as it is, now is the time to go buck wild at the buffet. 

But not so fast there, Sister Snacks-a-Lot! Sure, if you're underweight or even normal weight, then it's probably okay to cut yourself some slack and enjoy many of those guilt-filled goodies you used to pass up (within reason, of course). If you're overweight or obese though, gaining too much weight is not only unnecessary, but dangerous as well. 

Right now, in a trial being conducted in the UK, obese pregnant women are being given the insulin-reducing drug Metformin to curb the size of their unborn babies. The hope is that they will be able to reduce the incidences of large babies, who are twice as likely to become obese children and adults. When one of the researchers was asked why they weren't simply trying to combat the problem with diet and exercise, Professor Siobhan Quenby, responded:

It's a fact that pregnancy increases appetite. There are exercise classes held through Coventry Primary Care Trust but I haven't yet come across a patient who wants to go -- and we can't force them to. At least with this trial all the woman has to do is take tablets -- so it should be easy to stick to.

Uh, what?!?! So according to the researchers, obese women can't be bothered to do the right thing for their unborn babies? These women don't really care about hypertension and gestational diabetes and pre-term labor because they just can't resist the lure of double cheeseburgers and the comfort of their couch? 

Here's where I'm coming from: I've always been a curvy girl, and I'm overweight. Early on in my pregnancy, my doctor told me that I didn't need to gain that much weight, even with twins, because my body was already healthy enough to carry two babies. He didn't say, "Don't gain weight!" just recommended that I watch it. Well, I didn't want to pack on the pounds either, especially if I didn't need to for my babies, so I asked him what I could do to stay healthy, without dieting (I am pregnant after all -- this is no time for Jenny Craig!). His advice was simple: do light exercise regularly and cut down on the carbs, especially at night.

So, that's what I did. Instead of cereal, I started eating Greek yogurt and fruit for breakfast, I swapped out my pretzel snacks for string cheese, pistachios, and carrot sticks, and I limited the pasta dinners that my husband loves to just once a week. When I got weighed in a month later, I'd only gained one pound! My doctor was impressed and even more surprised that I actually took his advice -- I guess not everyone does.

Since then, my weight gain has been healthy, gradual, and fairly minimal, especially considering that I have two babies in there. Maybe it's just genetics, but I continue to take yoga once or twice a week, I'm walking regularly, and I'm eating healthy. It's not just for me, it's for my babies as well. That's not to say that I don't splurge or treat myself because I absolutely, totally do, but I am overweight, so I can't afford to look at my pregnancy like it's a baby-feeding, junk-food-frenzied, free-for-all.

Now being overweight is one thing, but obese pregnant women need to be especially vigilant about their health, the same way a woman would if she were diabetic, asthmatic, or had digestive disorders. Sure, it sucks to watch what you eat, especially when your appetite is huge and you're craving sweet, salty, fatty stuff all freakin' day. But it's possible, and as far as I'm concerned, you do what you have to in order to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. I hate to be righteous, but if eating right is the biggest worry you have during your pregnancy, you're damn lucky.

Of course, there are plenty of women who don't have issues with their weight (or maybe were even told to put on a few pounds), and while they still should probably choose the right baby-fueling foods, they don't need to worry about counting calories. To those women, I say, have at that pint of Haagen-Dazs, skinny girl! (And for the record, I only resent you a little bit.)

Are you taking an "eat right" or "go to town" approach to diet and exercise during your pregnancy?


Image via Richard Moross/Flickr

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