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4 common mistakes to avoid when eating during pregnancy

Eating right is crucial during pregnancy. But sudden changes to the body and endless advice can make mothers-to-be make poor dietary choices. Here are four mistakes to avoid:

With her body changing constantly, a pregnant woman may find it hard to choose the right food to eat during the nine months
With her body changing constantly, a pregnant woman may find it hard to choose the right food to eat during the nine months (Unsplash/Julian Encalada)

If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s being nauseous. During my pregnancy, my morning sickness was tremendously awful and I desperately tried to find any remedy I could to alleviate it. I tried every home remedy suggested to me but nothing worked. All of that changed the day I picked up mangosteen and tried it – the result was magic. The sourness cut through my nausea, and from then on, I ate an endless supply of mangosteen until my fingertips turned purple. Ironically, since my pregnancy, I haven’t touched another mangosteen.

Pregnancy is a special time in a woman’s life where everything she understands about her body can change overnight or from hour to hour, making simple everyday activities such as choosing food complicated. It can become overwhelming as you try and care for yourself and your budding new life. As a result, we are often inundated with well-meant advice that doesn’t end up serving us, and it’s hard to know what’s suitable for our bodies. Today, I want to tackle four common mistakes women make regarding their nutrition when pregnant, so you can make better-informed decisions (or provide better advice to friends and family!) when the time comes. 

Eating for two
Eating for two is well-meant advice, but sometimes, this advice gets taken too far when the quantity of food a pregnant woman consumes far surpasses what her body needs. When adhering to the “eating for two” advice, we often forget that we are not eating for two fully grown adults; we are eating for the needs of our body and our growing baby, which is substantially different.

An article titled “Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Reestablishing the Guidelines” tells us there is a danger in gaining too much weight during pregnancy as it can lead to complications such as Gestational Diabetes and, subsequently, macrosomia (large baby), high blood pressure and preeclampsia, amongst others.

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The American Council of Gynecologists and Obstetricians (ACOG) tells us that during our first trimester, our bodies don’t require any extra calories and that our little ones can thrive off the food we already feed ourselves, even if we are experiencing heavy morning sickness which causes us not to eat, or increased hunger due to our changing hormones. You can have your peace of mind knowing that your body already provides all the nourishment your baby needs in the first three months of pregnancy. 

In our second trimester, our little one is getting bigger. At this stage, our food requires more energy – approximately 300 kcal a day – to sustain the baby’s growth alongside our needs. It’s not a huge amount; it could be an extra snack in your day or an extra cup of yogurt or chicken breast with a meal. In your third trimester, your baby is getting ready to make their big debut, and they need extra calories to accommodate their rapid growth. You may need 300-500 kcal and two extra snacks. If you carry multiple babies, this requirement increases to sustain both babies. 

Restricting calories out of fear of gaining weight
On the other side of the pregnancy experience, for some women, there’s fear associated with their rapidly changing bodies. It’s essential for women to feel understood during this time – it can be challenging to relate to a rapidly changing body, appetite, hormones, and the range of emotions they will experience. However, pregnancy is not a time for calorie restriction. So, while you’re encouraged not to gain too much weight, it’s likewise crucial that you do gain weight. 

There are plenty of ways to focus on your nutrition without succumbing to the fear of gaining weight. Focus on the quality of your food, not the quantity. Aim to consume lean cuts of meat, high-quality sources of dairy and essential fats, whole/complex grains rather than processed foods, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, reduce your intake of processed, sugary foods and drinks. If you feel this fear or lack of control is overwhelming, don't hesitate to talk to your healthcare provider about your feelings, as sharing them and receiving help is essential. 

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Getting stressed when experiencing morning sickness
When experiencing morning sickness, you might become nervous about consuming too little nutrients to stay healthy and strong. When sick, women often prefer bland carbohydrates, dismissing protein or vegetables because their smells or textures can turn their stomachs. 

The key to dealing with morning sickness is to start with a healthy dose of self-compassion and do your best to ride each wave. Remedies, such as my mangosteen obsession, only worked for me and not my friends, so it’s best to find the solution that works for you. Some alternatives are to have a variety of food available in the house as your aversions may suddenly change. Bland foods such as steamed vegetables, pasta, chicken or white fish may be better tolerated than foods with heavy flavours. So, feel free to experiment with different foods and cooking methods to make eating more palatable for you. 

If your morning sickness becomes troublesome and affects you longer than your first trimester, please connect with your healthcare provider to find ways to ease your symptoms.

Not carrying snacks to the gym
Choosing to exercise when you’re pregnant has many positive benefits for your body and mind – but don’t forget to carry snacks to the gym. I recommend my pregnant clients to have a protein and carbohydrate-based snack 30 minutes before exercise and within 30 minutes of completing their gym session so they have a continuous energy supply to keep them going before, during, and after activity. Some high protein/carbohydrate snacks are apples with yogurt or bananas with peanut butter. The complex carbohydrate of the fruit will provide a direct hit of energy to your body, and the protein of its counterpart will slow the release of carbohydrates into your bloodstream to give you sustained energy during your workout.

Jen Thomas is a master women's health coach.

Also read: My motherhood journey: Caring for a child with a genetic disorder


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