Rarely in life are we as motivated to eat well as when we learn we are pregnant with our first child! That’s exciting, and taking advantage of your desire to give your baby the best possible nutrition is a wonderful way to take care of yourself as well. Unfortunately, many people find it hard to eat during pregnancy. This article offers tips for combating many of the common reasons it is hard to eat during pregnancy.
Excellent nutrition during pregnancy will help alleviate pregnancy discomforts, support hormone function, give you more energy, and prevent depletions that can weaken bones and teeth when you grow old. Good nutrition during pregnancy also reduces complications, and provides your baby with the optimal nutrients for growth and bodily ease.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to eating well now is one that is rarely mentioned. You are in a period of incredible change, and times of change are times of pattern-setting. If you eat well over the next year, particularly in the months after the baby is born, you will probably eat well for a lifetime! Eating well over time is one of the most powerful actions you can take to increase your vitality and decrease the risk of chronic disease – so eating well is worth the effort! And not just for your baby, but for yourself and your grand-babies as well! The work you put in now will help you be a vibrant, lively woman for years to come.
The Pregnancy Pitfalls
Making changes in the way you eat can be a challenging endeavor anytime, and there are a lot of things about pregnancy that can make it hard to eat during pregnancy. Luckily there are also some things in pregnancy that make it easier!
- Great motivation
- Increased support from your loved ones
- Time of new needs, lots of change, loss of old patterns
- Clear insight, acute sense of personal needs
- Food aversions
- Physiological limitations (nausea, morning sickness, high blood sugar)
Tackling diet modification during pregnancy, or just after you had a baby, demands an approach unique to this period. It includes acceptance of the things that make it hard to eat during pregnancy, and strategies for overcoming them, as well as emphasis on the natural catalyst pregnancy provides. Using strengths is essential when approaching a challenge, and we want to embrace both your unique strengths as a person, the supports you have available to you, and the particular ways in which pregnancy offers a boost.
The key to successfully eating well during pregnancy is planning, and if you are finding it hard to eat during pregnancy, you must plan with your situation, needs, and personality in mind. The planning technique that works best for most people is the approach I lay out in Pregnancy Meal Plans which also has a companion pregnancy meal plan planning guide. But if you are having a hard time eating, you will also benefit from the additional tips below.
For people who need more education about nutritional guidelines for pregnancy, Nutrition During Pregnancy provides detailed nutrition information. And for people who find meal planning too cumbersome, the the tips in Healthier Eating During Pregnancy: 5 Simple Tips are a good place to start, though for people who are finding it hard to eat during pregnancy more planning is usually necessary.
11 Tips for Those Who Find it Hard to Eat During Pregnancy
1. Accept Limitations
If foods make you vomit, you can’t eat them. If they make you so nauseous you are miserable, it’s usually not worth it either. The USDA food recommendations are evidence-based and there is science behind them, but while that is true, it is equally true that women with nausea are statistically more likely to have a healthy pregnancy; and a lot of them live on mashed potatoes or frozen fruit bars (substitute whatever is working for you here) for a month or more. Follow this link for tips on relieving morning sickness and nausea.
2. Personalize Your Plans
Would you most enjoy preparing things at night after the kids are in bed, or are you an early morning type? When do you like to eat out? Are there times in a day when you are too hungry to make food? Figure out your stoppers, challenges, and obstacles and incorporate them into your planning. Begin with plans that closely fit your current habits. For example, if you eat out a lot or buy a lot of convenience foods, plan them right into your week’s plans. You can slowly replace less beneficial choices with healthier options if you wish, but don’t begin with an elaborate plan that is a total shift from what you currently do.
3. Tap Supportive People
Who in your life would be willing to do the shopping or put your breakfast in your hand on your way out the door? Think ahead about the patterns that will help you, enlist help, and plan for strategies with your personality and habits in mind. Are you currently a breakfast skipper? Plan for a very small simple breakfast that doesn’t take much time.
4. Aim to plan for 4 days at a time
Planning takes effort, especially when its hard to eat during pregnancy, and therefore planning gets dropped from the daily list of things to do. When you do make plans, make it worth your while by thinking through the details of the next few days. Four days is often a successful time frame because it is immediate enough that your schedule is somewhat set and you can foresee what challenges and opportunities lie ahead. It’s also long-term enough that your plans will really make an impact in a way that one good day doesn’t. If you plan for four days you will likely be able to eat for a week since you will end up with a surprise lunch outing or leftovers from time to time.
Everyone is different, so experiment. If you end up finding that it is more helpful to plan fewer or more meals go for it! If it is overwhelming to think about four full days, begin smaller and increase as you get used to the routine of meal planning. Try planning in advance for three evening meals, or attach a snack plan for the week.
5. Ask someone to join you
Involve your spouse or your kids in the planning stage, or ask a friend to drag you through this.
6. Make it a self-care treat
Go out to a coffee shop to plan your meals. Make it an hour to yourself that you’ll enjoy.
7. Connect to your motivators!
Create a compelling statement about why great pregnancy nutrition is worth it, and write it at the top of your pregnancy meal plan worksheet.
8. Put your meal plan on your calendar
Once you decide what you are having for the week, get out your calendar and plan for how to make it a reality. When will you shop? If muffins are on your list, jot down the time when you plan to make muffins. If there are foods that you need to pick up from a particular place, make a note of when you will swing by. If you find that your meal plan looks over ambitious on your calendar make adjustments! Substitute toast for those muffins, pick up pre-cut veggies at the store. Ask your spouse to make the smoothie every morning. Get to the point where you are at least 70% confident that you will carry out your plans. If you are less than 70% sure you will follow your plans, they are too ambitious. When your plans for are made, complete the calendar step by planning for your next meal planning time.
- Involve your spouse or partner with the calendar step! Have them take on as much of the work as they can.
- Find some times that can become routines. For example, make every Sunday morning a time when you prepare breakfast casseroles for the week ahead.
- Incorporate current habits you enjoy. If you love going to the farmer’s market on Saturdays – keep going! Buy the produce you are drawn to, stop at a favorite park on the way home, plan your meals with the produce in mind, and schedule your shopping trip for later on Saturday or sometime on Sunday.
- Include the times you know you will be eating out on your calendar, and make a quick note about the servings you should look for when making a selection. For example, if you are planning to get three veggies and a dairy in during your meal out, make a note of it. Do your best to fulfill what you need from your menu selection.
9. Gather recipes if needed & create shopping lists
You planning time is not over until you have a list for the store in hand. For any meals on your plan that you cannot make out of your head you will need a recipe.
- Make sure your recipes are easy to retrieve when you need them. If you use a web site such as allrecipes.com, print them out or create bookmarks. If your recipes are on cards, lay them out. If they’re in books, write down the title and page number.
- If you’re not sure if you have something on hand, add it to your list. When your shopping list is complete, you can go through your pantry and cross off everything that you already have.
10. Be kind to yourself
Be proud of the steps you are taking to improve your diet, and gentle on yourself regarding the gap between where you are and where you would like to be. Transforming your diet is a lifestyle change that takes time. Take time to reflect on how you felt about the improvements to your diet. Are you happy to be eating better? Did you feel any benefits? Are there aspects of the meal planning that were too stressful or overwhelming? Make adjustments to the process that will make it a happy, lasting journey for you.
11. Talk to a pregnancy coach
Another option is to utilize Pregnancy Coaching. Sign up for pregnancy coaching and make meal-planning an activity you do with your coach. Pregnancy coaches are uniquely qualified to help you improve your pregnancy diet because they are both wellness coaches trained to help people make lifestyle change in support of their health, and also childbirth professionals who know what to eat during pregnancy, how pregnancy and postpartum impact appetite, and what pregnant/new parent life is like. This professional level of support, accountability, and strategizing can be invaluable.
Finding hope when none of this works
Take heart! It won’t be hard to eat forever. If you are not able to reach your goals during pregnancy, revisit them after the baby is born. Things in your body will normalize again, and great nutrition after pregnancy can renew the vast majority of depletions that you may experience during pregnancy. Without this recovery, poor nutrition during pregnancy can have a lot of negative consequences for you, but when recovery is strong, it becomes a confined temporary situation with minimal impact beyond the childbearing year. Revisit the reasons why pregnancy nutrition matters and notice how excellent nutrition is truly to benefit your long term health, while avoiding severe malnutrition is really the only super critical goal for your baby’s wellbeing. This can be done with a holistic look at the childbearing year.
The nutrition your bring into a pregnancy, and the nutritional habits after the baby is born, go a looooong way towards good health. Which leads to one final tip: Now that you know how hard it is for you to eat during pregnancy, commit to boosting your nutritional status before becoming pregnant again. Most women who find it hard to eat during pregnancy will find it hard again with a subsequent pregnancy. My article on the pillars for preconception reviews good foods to eat to prepare for pregnancy. Don’t fret if you didn’t eat this way before this current pregnancy… but tuck the knowledge away, because now that this current pregnancy is proving to be a huge tax on your body, you will want to rebuild particularly well before the next one.