The Nutrition Advice They Don't Tell Pregnant People
Now that the cat’s out of the bag, I can share more about my experience of body image, movement, and intuitive eating as a pregnant person. I’ll post a series on these topics, which I am writing for a not pregnant audience as well. If you have gestating buddies, feel free to forward them my emails (or they can sign up for the newsletter at the bottom of this page.)
Image of me, loving these bodies of mine.
The first topic: nutrition advice in pregnancy!
I have not done an extensive review of all the prenatal nutrition advice out there, so I am writing this based only anecdotally on the books and blogs I happen to be reading, and the conversations with my doctors and midwives.
Based on this, I have noticed a few things that they all say about nutrition:
Diet is important
You should eat healthy food
This will be good for you and your baby
Yet none of them clarify these points*:
You don’t have to eat a perfect diet to eat well
There is no such thing as a perfect diet
Trying to eat perfectly will not guarantee that nothing goes wrong in your pregnancy or labor (or life)
And perhaps most importantly: excessive worry about eating right will increase your stress, which is not good for you or the baby.
We live in a culture that is increasingly orthorexic; we have elevated food to such a high status that it seems like one meal could kill or cure you (and unless we’re talking about choking or severe allergies, it can’t).
Image: 3 eggs, having feelings; scared, sick (or possibly stoned), and concerned. It's not super relevant to what I'm talking about, but eggs are both about pregnancy and food, so there ya go. Pop-nutrition is more and more common these days, so when a doctor says to “eat healthfully,” someone is likely to interpret “healthy” according to the current nutrition trends in pop culture.
(e.g in our carb-phobic present, someone might interpret “healthy” as never eating bread. In the past they might have interpreted “healthy” as trying to avoid oils. In fact, both carbs and fat are very important for your health.)
The reality is that while “eating healthy” generally does mean eating a wide variety of foods, beyond that, it varies person to person. Healthy eating includes foods that connect you to your heritage, that don’t break your budget, that taste good to you, and that feel good in your body. And it also includes having an emotionally healthy relationship to food (AKA not worrying about it!).
Not worrying... easier said than done. Maybe you can be like this dog wearing shades and swinging in a hammock? All of this is to say that if I was to join the hoards of people giving pregnancy advice, mine would be this: if you’re able to, develop a good emotional relationship with food before getting pregnant, or as soon as you can.
Intuitive eating has been a great framework to have while pregnant; it helps me incorporate nutrition advice while keeping the following things in mind:
I don't have to get it exactly right
It’s good to listen to my body and what it asks for
I can get blood tests done to confirm my various levels are ok
I can do my best to eat a diverse range of foods (trusting that my body will probably start craving foods I haven't eaten enough of**)
I can eat food I like and enjoy
And other than that: I'm not gonna worry too much.
I’d much rather let my kiddo grow in a reduced stress environment. (BTW all of this is generally good advice for non-pregnant people too, IMO).
*As I’ve said, none of the books, blogs, doctors or midwives I’m engaging with have emphasized the "you don't need to get it right" vibe, but I’m sure there are people out there who are. It just doesn’t seem to be the dominant advice. In a culture rife with eating disorders, we should all be more careful about what we say when telling people to "eat healthy." ** Stay tuned for a future post on pregnancy cravings and intuitive eating.