Congratulations! Whether you are thinking about having a baby, are currently pregnant or are trying to optimize your nutrition post-pregnancy, you are probably curious about the “ideal” diet. You have already spent countless hours reading books or consulting “Dr. Google” about the best foods for you and your baby. Unfortunately, when it comes to nutrition, there will always be multiple sides claiming that a specific diet strategy works best. There is no ‘one’ way that works best for everyone. Your mission should be to find choices that fit with your beliefs and to make choices that support your body. Let me help guide you along the journey by making sure you do not miss out on some of the fertility basics with this next series of blog posts.
In this first post, I will break down some simple steps for you so that you have a better understanding when it comes to optimal pre/post pregnancy nutrition. The next posts will focus on specific vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates that are important for the mom, baby, and even for dad! (Yes, sympathy weight can happen!)
Step #1- Do not fear the good fats!
While the majority of us have been brain-washed for years into thinking that low-fat diets are the creme de la creme, a low fat diet can compromise the health of you and your baby. Fat does much more than just add flavor to foods, so if you need to use grass-fed butter, olive oil or coconut oil in order for you to choke down plain veggies, you are actually doing your body good! You are smarter than you think! The right types of fats (avocado, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, grass-fed/pastured meats, seafood) should compromise the majority of the calories in your diet. Stay away from the industrialized seed oils (canola, sunflower, soy, corn, etc.) as they are highly processed.
Fat is a structural part of every cell in your body. It is also a large proportion of your brain’s mass. Human breast milk contains about 50-60% fat. Still think you need to eat a low-fat diet? Mother Nature & physiology would have to disagree with you. We will get into the specifics of what fat does for pregnancy in a future post.
For those of you concerned with weight, fat in your diet will not make you fat. Sure, it makes sense in theory, but fat consumption in the context of a whole-foods based diet will actually work in your favor when it comes to an ideal body consumption. I was skeptical for many years myself and followed a very low-fat diet. Let’s just say my body, mind, friends, and family thank me for overcoming that fear. I am a much happier and healthier person because of this change. Pregnancy is not the time for trying to hit those ‘weight-loss’ goals. For those of you who are having a difficult time getting pregnant due to excess weight or blood sugar imbalances, reducing your carbohydrates and increasing your fat intake could definitely work in your favor.
STEP #2- Cut out the junk!
By “junk” I am referring to a majority of the items you find in the middle aisles of the grocery store. Processed “junk foods” include not only the obvious choices like chips and cookies, but really anything with a long list of added flavorings, colors, and chemicals. These choices fall into the “DO NOT EAT” category. A majority of the foods in your grocery cart and in your kitchen should be of one ingredient and come from the perimeter of the grocery store. Better yet, if at all possible, your foods should come from your local farmers. It is tempting to pick less nutrient-dense whole food choices when you are tired, hungry, irritable, and stressed… but remember that your food choices are no longer just affecting you anymore. What you are putting in your mouth directly affects the health of your baby, even before you become pregnant. When you start to reach for those comfort foods, comfort yourself with some deep breathing, yoga, a walk or a favorite hobby instead.
STEP # 3- You don’t actually need to “eat for two” in terms of calories!
Sure, it is a fun thought, adding additional calories to your diet, but let’s be honest here. The calories should come from high-quality foods, not an additional bowl of cookie dough ice cream or a large serving of cheese fries at midnight. In all honesty, you do not even need to eat that many extra calories to fuel your pregnancy. Energy requirements only increase by about 300 calories per day during the second and third trimesters. This is not to say you should watch or limit your calories, but do not use pregnancy as an excuse to binge. A treat should be a treat, not a daily occurrence. When you do fall off the ‘healthy-eating band wagon,’ which you most likely will at some point, enjoy every bite of it and then move on. Do not dread on the fact that you indulged. An indulgence should not prompt you to give up on healthy eating!
STEP #4: You don’t have to wait until you’re pregnant to focus on nutrition!
Ideally, you should start looking at cleaning up your diet six months or more prior to becoming pregnant. You want to begin making changes so that your body can replenish its stores of nutrients prior to having a baby. Cleaning up your diet prior to pregnancy will help you combat cravings as your taste buds will change. You may also realize how lethargic and ‘off’ processed foods actually make you feel. You may notice that these foods make you crave unnecessary sugars and possibly may even make you feel depressed… all of which are awful, especially during pregnancy. You may want to consider taking a prenatal vitamin prior to ‘trying’ for a baby.
STEP #5: Dad matters too!
It is easy to get caught up in the health and nutrition for the mom, but dad’s health and nutrition also plays a large role in becoming pregnant, supporting the mom’s nutritional habits, and providing dad with the energy to help out when the baby arrives! Too often, we only consider what the mom is putting in her body, but dad’s health matters as well. There is no need to shoot for perfection, but having an understanding of food and its physiologically and psychological effects can help both parties get through the ups and downs of the process. BE A TEAM!
STEP #6: Food is only ONE piece of the puzzle
You can eat a perfect diet and still have trouble getting pregnant & getting through the process. A healthy diet will certainly help, but making sure you are getting enough sleep (roughly 8-9 hours a night), working on stress management, not over or under-exercising, and increasing your spirituality (through yoga, mediation, prayer, etc.) are all crucial pieces of the pregnancy puzzle.
Evaluate where you stand with each of these components. You may choose to tackle one at a time or all of them at the same time. The key is to have balance in all areas of your life. For example, without adequate sleep, you will have a harder time making the right dietary choices. You may feel more stress and not have the energy to get your work done or workout in. This leads you to be upset with yourself, only causing more stress so you do not sleep well the next night. See how the vicious cycle can operate? Do not be too hard on yourself, evaluate where you can improve, and start with small changes.
There are so many more tips and strategies that we will discuss in future posts. Start evaluating your current diet, sleep cycle, stress levels and spiritual practice so that you can better understand your specific situation. There is no better time than the present to get a grip on your lifestyle behaviors so that those good habits can be passed on to your little one. Your journey starts now!