Babies are on the brain over here at A Couple Cooks. Now that we’ve shared the news that we’re adopting, we can post this without confusion. Our friend Nicole Gulotta is the beautiful writer behind the fabulous blog Eat This Poem, where she pairs poems + recipes and shares literary city guides. We first met Nicole a few years ago and have since developed a lasting friendship. So we were stoked when she approached us about contributing to our Healthy + Whole series on the topic that’s foremost in her mind, her new bundle of joy due in October! The topic of eating during pregnancy is new to A Couple Cooks, but the principles of balance and listening to your body are no stranger. Nicole’s words and philosophy are inspirational even if you’re not expecting. Hats off to Nicole — we can’t wait to welcome her little one into the world! And make sure to check out Eat This Poem for more of her fantastic writing and food. (Photo by Kelly Burson)
I’m excited to be joining Alex and Sonja’s Healthy + Whole series today, with a new topic I’ve been exploring over the past several months: healthy eating during pregnancy!
I’ve long been a healthy eater, avid cook, and lover of fresh, seasonal produce. Prior to starting my pregnancy journey, I’d spent the past couple of years learning more about what my body liked to eat and developing intuition around food.
Then I saw two pink lines. A few weeks later, nausea arrived, and that’s when I started eating toast for breakfast. I couldn’t predict how I would feel hour to hour, so my usual attempts to meal plan were quickly thwarted, and I entered survival mode.
One week I ate a few scoops of lavender honey ice cream after dinner, another week I craved peaches every day, and the week after that I ate an English muffin for breakfast every morning, sometimes with almond butter. Then I wanted peaches again. There was also a week of starting my day with applesauce, as well as a baked potato phase.
I even bought boxed soup for emergencies. (This turned out to be a mistake, as even the organic, low-salt versions with 20+ ingredients tasted far worse than what I made at home with only five ingredients. Lesson learned.)
The second trimester has been infinitely smoother. Gone are the days of being repelled by smells coming out of the refrigerator, and I’m back to cooking every night and eating with enthusiasm when my appetite is in full swing. But with a baby boy due this October, my eating habits have certainly shifted since discovering I was expecting, and I’ve had to be more gracious with myself. So how do pregnant women retain a sense of normalcy and control?
The first thing to remember is everyone’s pregnancy is different. It doesn’t matter how much you trust your mom’s wisdom, or how many times your best friend says the cure for her morning sickness was drinking ginger ale. Part of the journey is about discovering what works for you. With this in mind, I’ve taken most advice I’ve received with a grain of salt.
Try a simple Google search, and you’ll discover endless opinions about how you should eat, the best foods to include in your diet, and debates about the benefits and drawbacks of prenatal vitamins. A lot of the messaging, while well-meaning, is rooted in fear.
If I don’t take prenatal vitamins for at least three months before conceiving, I won’t have a healthy baby. If I don’t gain any weight in the first trimester, my baby won’t develop properly. If I gain too much weight in the first trimester, I’ll have a 10 pound baby! If I eat mayonnaise, I’ll immediately get salmonella. If I don’t eat the correct ratio of omega 3’s, fiber, and folate, the end is near!
Instead of giving in to the paranoia that comes with pregnancy, attempting to achieve the opposite has been my goal. If you’re pregnant, it’s definitely not the time to disengage with your body, especially if you’re not feeling well.
I spent about six weeks eating carbs like pasta, toast, and potatoes, all day, every day. Between bouts of vomiting and all-day nausea, it was all I could stomach. I often felt worse when I took my prenatal vitamins, even the non-GMO/vegan/raw versions, and with the clearance of my doctor, stopped taking them all together.
I could have easily felt guilty. I was certainly frustrated on more than one occasion, but always tried to remember that the first trimester was a temporary period, and I’d soon be able to resume a regular cooking and eating schedule.
Since every day can be different, I’ve tried to eat when I’m hungry and listen to cues from my body when food cravings ebb and flow. Over the course of nine months, there’s nothing predictable about pregnancy, so I’ve found the best approach has been to both rely on my healthy eating habits, but also remain open to what my body might be telling me it wants and needs. And if it tells me to have a scoop of ice cream (ok, my body might not need ice cream the same way it needs lentils, but still), I allow myself to enjoy a few bites. If it wants a giant kale salad (and my body certainly has), I go for it. I also never leave the house without dried cherries and almonds in my purse.
Something that gave me peace of mind early on was knowing the healthy and whole lifestyle I devoted myself to for so many years is part of the reason I was able to get pregnant in the first place. This knowledge, combined with the reassurance from my doctor that my weight is on track and the baby is healthy, is a great recipe for calm during a period when so much feels out of control.
I still make my own almond milk, avoid processed food, and eat pasta (I am Italian, after all!). And whether you’re pregnant or not, healthy eating is always a long-term lifestyle. With that, there are bound to be periods of time when something changes. Perhaps you’re in the middle of a move and forced to eat takeout pizza for a week. Maybe you recently discovered an allergy and are attempting to adapt with new recipes.
Or maybe you’re pregnant,learning to navigate morning sickness and balance cravings with the desire to eat the healthy foods you ate before pregnancy. No matter where you are on your health journey, staying mindful is always an important step, because it means you’re paying attention, listening to your body, and trusting it to guide you.
More from Healthy + Whole Series
- How to Make Exercise Part of Your Lifestyle
- Managing Disease Through Diet
- Cooking as a Couple
- Eat More Plants and Help the Planet
- Real Food Tip: Grow Herbs
- What We Eat
- …And more!
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.