Although for many, being pregnant is an exciting time, it involves a lot of changes. These can impact your body, mind, and lifestyle. With all this in mind, is it possible to eat intuitively whilst pregnant?
Intuitive Eating is a set of ten principles that teach you to remove yourself from diet culture and reconnect with your body’s hunger and fullness signals. The ten principles and framework of Intuitive Eating were set up by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch(1). Intuitive Eating, and other non-diet approaches have become more popular as many of us have looked to building healthier relationships with bodies. Intuitive Eating isn’t anti weight loss per se but removes it as the main way that we measure health.
Common symptoms that can impact how much you eat in pregnancy are morning sickness, indigestion and appetite fluctuations. On top of this, food aversions and cravings can impact what you even want to eat. This can make listening to your body much harder when pregnant.
Your body will also change a lot, both in your growing bump, and places you might have not have expected. If your Intuitive Eating process has involved improving your relationship with your body, this can be really tough. So how can Intuitive Eating fit in with all these changes? It involves being prepared to step back from your usual expectations of your diet, but there are a few key points to support you along your way.
If you experience nausea or morning sickness in your first trimester, you may only want to eat quite bland food. If you’re used to eating a varied diet full of vegetables, this can be disconcerting. It is worth remembering though, that many of these foods are fortified on top of the nutrients they already contain. Bread, flour and cereals especially are commonly fortified. In the UK, some foods such as white bread, are legally required to be fortified with certain nutrients, whereas others are fortified on a voluntary basis (2). To be sure, check your food packet for the nutrition label. Iron and vitamin D are commonly included in flours and breakfast cereals. Many non-dairy milks contain calcium and even vitamin B12 or iodine. Give yourself permission not to eat a perfect diet -you can always take a pregnancy multivitamin to set your mind at ease. You may need to change multivitamin as your pregnancy progresses as your first trimester requires more folate than the other two.
Following on from the previous point, have a bit of a play with some nausea-reducing tricks. This won’t guarantee you a sickness-free early pregnancy, but it may help. Tips include eating plain toast or crackers first thing -potentially before you’ve got out of bed. This is as your stomach will be empty first thing, which can worsen nausea. Try to eat little and often, even as much as every 1-2 hours to avoid an empty stomach triggering sickness again. This might look like dividing your main meals into two and having snacks in-between.
You may wish to avoid fatty, spicy, fried or strong-smelling foods if these trigger you. Keep sipping water or other drinks throughout the day to stay hydrated and try ginger tea or sugar-free lozenges to settle your stomach. These tricks can help to manage any morning sickness, and keep you eating food.
Although it is okay that your body’s hunger signals may be have changed, you may need to guide them too. If you aren’t feeling hungry a few hours after you taste ate, you might need to eat something anyway. Or, you might need to add something like hummus to plain toast to add in extra nutrition. Use what you know about nutrition to nudge yourself towards getting a better array of nutrients, carbs, protein, fats and fibre.
The NHS recommends including fruits and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates (whole grain where possible), lean protein and dairy or non-dairy sources of protein (3). Your diet might not always meet these recommendations, but take what little steps that you can towards these guidelines. And as your pregnancy progresses, you may find that you have an improve appetite for these foods.
The most recent NICE guidelines recommend eating an extra 200kcal during the last trimester (4). But how are you supposed to know what that extra 200kcal looks like without counting and focusing on calories? Chances are, your appetite will increase as your pregnancy progresses, so listen to your changing hunger cues. To help you visualise it, 200kcal could be 2 tbsp hummus with half a pitta bread and some veg; half a cup of yoghurt with berries; dark chocolate dipped in peanut butter with a piece of fruit. Other countries have higher recommendations for additional calories across pregnancy, so if you are hungry, eat.
Your body goes through a lot of changes in order to create another human being when pregnant, so allow yourself to let go of expectations. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion during these months, and the ones that follow when you have brought your little one into the world. And don’t forget to reach out for support if you need it, whether from a loved on or health professional.
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