For many women, the first trimester of pregnancy is rough. Nausea, vomiting, food aversions, and exhaustion (to name a few) can really put a damper on the excitement of the precious little one growing in your belly. I was positive that as a Dietitian I would not let any of those pesky pregnancy problems get in the way of my healthy eating. After all, everything I was putting into my body was now going to affect not only me, but my child, too!
Several weeks into my first trimester I was in for a big surprise: the nausea and exhaustion were real. When I got home from work I was so tired that I couldn’t even think about cooking. When I did try to cook, especially fresh meats, incredible nausea would start and thinking about eating made it worse. As awful as that was, I started developing aversions to almost everything healthy accompanied by cravings for everything fried, salty, and sweet! I would try to eat a salad with grilled chicken, but NOPE, the nausea would hit and I just could not eat the good stuff. But, put a fried chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and a chocolate shake in front of me and I could scarf it down in no time. I ended up gaining about 35 pounds during my first pregnancy and struggled to lose the weight after my son was born. My eating habits were completely off track during most of this first pregnancy. My body and mind became used to living off junk food. It was extremely difficult to discipline and retrain my brain to crave healthy food. Soon I discovered that breastfeeding produced an even greater desire to eat unhealthy foods.
Flash forward two years, I am pregnant again! I feel more prepared this pregnancy and now that I know what to expect, I have taken measures to avoid getting into the junk food rut. I am entering into the second trimester of this pregnancy and I feel really good. I have managed to discipline myself to eat healthy by getting myself in the right mindset and by being prepared for all of the fun pregnancy symptoms throughout the first 13 weeks. Here are some tips for eating healthy during your first trimester and beyond.
1. Eat Small, Frequent Meals and Snacks
By preventing myself from getting overly hungry, my nausea has been decreased and my energy level has increased. The strategy is to eat healthy and eat often. I focus on:
- Eating within the first hour of waking up and about every 3-4 hours throughout the day.
- Consuming 2-3 healthy snacks a day and trying to include a protein and carbohydrate.
Examples: Hummus with veggies, cottage cheese with fruit, plain Greek yogurt with nuts or granola, whole wheat bread with almond butter, apples and peanut butter
2. Prepare Meals Ahead of Time
Studies show that up to 85% of women experience food aversions during pregnancy. The most common food aversion is protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, pork, fish, and eggs. I discovered that if I actually see, handle or cook raw meat shortly before eating, my nausea kicks in and my mind and body just won’t let me eat. With a two-year-old at home I have had no choice but to figure out how to cook without making myself sick! My saving grace has been my crockpot. I found that if I prep meals in the morning, stick it in a crockpot and let it cook itself, I have no problem eating! This has been an absolute lifesaver! Here are some links to my favorite crockpot meals from allrecipes.com: Slow Cooker Pot Roast, Pulled Pork, Whole Chicken, and Meatballs.
3. Find Healthy Substitutes for Cravings
As far as cravings go, if you plan out healthy meals and snacks and don’t let yourself get overly hungry, you should find it easier to control cravings. My major cravings are sweets and salty stuff. My strategy to curb these cravings has been to avoid keeping these items in the house and simply find healthy substitutes.
- Nuts– Instead of snacking on salted nuts look for nuts and seeds that are roasted and unsalted. If need be, add a small amount of sea salt to your snack.
- Chips– Avoid potato chips, which are full of salt and empty calories. Substitute plain popcorn with a small amount of your own butter or sea salt. Better yet, try making your own chips using fruits and vegetables such as apple, carrot or kale chips.
- Dark Chocolate– When I do eat chocolate I indulge in dark chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa content, the more antioxidants. Look for 70% dark chocolate or higher. Studies have shown that small quantities of dark chocolate can reduce blood pressure and lower risk for heart disease. The problem is, all dark chocolate is not created equal. Look for dark chocolate that doesn’t have any sweet stuff added to it (caramel, dried fruits, mint, etc.) and remember that moderation is key, limit yourself to 1-2 squares a day.
- Ice cream– My thoughts on ice cream are that it is high in sugar and high in calories but it does contain some nutrients such as Vitamins A, D, E, K, and calcium. If you want to indulge in ice cream, don’t make it a daily habit and watch your portion size! If ice cream once a week just isn’t going to do it for you, think about some healthy alternatives. My favorite ice cream alternative is making my own smoothie. I blend ½ banana, ¼ cup frozen berries, ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt, a splash of orange juice, a handful of fresh spinach or kale, and some ice. It is delicious and you can’t even taste the green stuff . . . toddler and husband approved!