Pregnancy, Body Image, and Intuitive Eating

Pregnancy has been a really good lesson in surrendering to my body. Week by week, some weeks subtle and others not, my body has literally changed before my eyes. It’s a very strange thing to have a similar body for most of your adult life, and then all of a sudden you don’t.

I’ve gotten some requests recently for a post about pregnancy, body image, and intuitive eating. In terms of body image, there’s no easy answer here – it can be weird and uncomfortable to find yourself in a body that you don’t recognize, or that feels foreign to you. It’s even weirder because as you get farther along in pregnancy people love making all sorts of comments about your body. My best advice is to try to focus on the science behind it all – how cool it is that you are literally growing a human inside you?! I mean, that’s actually insane. It’s been fascinating to read about what’s happening scientifically each week, both in my own body and in my baby’s. It’s also important, and this applies whether pregnant or not, to check the negative body talk. If you find yourself being critical about your body and how it looks, notice those thoughts, and then give yourself some compassion and a reminder that your body is doing some really amazing things. Embrace that your body knows what it’s doing, and that you just need to take care of it and let it do its thing.

Do you have to absolutely love your body? No, but you can work to accept it. So what if people think you are just gaining weight and it isn’t obvious that you are pregnant? Would it be so bad if you had just put on a few pounds?

The first trimester is especially challenging on this front because most don’t know that you are pregnant, of course. For me, the hardest thing wasn’t that my pants were getting awkwardly tight or that my dresses were starting to be hard to zip up (although that was annoying because it was hard to figure out what to wear that didn’t smush my stomach uncomfortably, and let’s be real, trying to get dressed when nothing fits is not super fun – again, this is true both pregnant or not – I always encourage my AnnetheRD nutrition clients to immediately buy some clothing that honors their body where it is, rather than where they think it should be), but rather that it was a big lesson in checking the ego in terms of fitness.

Being pregnant and watching my mile and lap times around the track slow rapidly made me realize that a lot of my self worth is apparently tied to my physical ability. Obviously I’m not an elite athlete or anything but I’ve always considered myself to be an active, physically strong person, and I didn’t realize how much of my identity was tied into that idea of myself. This makes sense – it was something that was always emphasized when I was a kid – but as a result, I really had to challenge myself to not try to justify or explain why I was running more slowly.

Stopping myself and acknowledging these feelings neutrally without judgment helped a lot – I would literally be out on the track or on a run and think “Hm, that’s interesting that I seem to really care if this person thinks I’m just randomly getting slow for no reason.” I really had to work to notice that, dismiss the thought, and move on. I mean, who cared if I was a little slower getting around the track? Did I really need to let my ego take over and blurt out that I was only going more slowly because I was pregnant? What if the others did just think I was slower and maybe gaining a little weight – did it really matter? Of course not. But it surprised me that I found it so challenging to not say anything and to just let people make their own assumptions or conclusions.

In addition to my body feeling foreign, my eating habits have been, too, especially again in that first trimester. Foods I didn’t usually crave were suddenly finding their way into my grocery cart, and foods I normally love and want to eat all the time were put on the back burner and oscillated between being slightly off-putting and totally revolting.

My cravings also changed more quickly than I could keep track off. One minute I was all, “Mmm, xxx sounds really good for dinner…” only to have that replaced (sometimes even minutes later) by “Ew, I can’t even think about eating that right now.”

My friend and fellow dietitian Alex (one of my Joyful Eating Program co-creators) wrote a post recently on intuitive eating while pregnant that I loved. “By the end of my seventh week,” she writes, “I was high-fiving myself if I was able to eat a tiny piece of spinach in my fried-rice. That was an accomplishment.”

So true. I love her gentle and realistic approach to nutrition while pregnant. Just like when you are not pregnant, you can easily read up on all things nutrition and drive yourself completely crazy trying to follow specific guidelines and plans. But in a way that is much more loud and forceful than when you are not pregnant, your body will let you know what it wants.

Pregnancy has actually been a really good way to revisit and refine my ability to be intuitive and mindful with my eating, and it has reminded me to listen to what my body is telling me rather than letting the clock dictate when I’m eating. Before getting pregnant, I was in a good routine with my food where I was still being intuitive and mindful, but I didn’t have to pay quite as much attention because I generally needed food around the same time most days, and I had learned what sorts of foods usually felt best for me at certain times, too. (Sometimes that changed, and I was fine with listening if that was the case – or with listening on days I found myself hungrier than usual – but for the most part, I knew what to expect most days food craving/need-wise.)

But with pregnancy, all of that went out the window. Not only did I need to eat more often, but it was much more urgent. Getting hangry was always something I was susceptible to, but having hangry also come paired with a face smack of nausea was a pretty good motivator to make damn sure I was listening to my body and staying ahead of that hunger before it was too late. I also had to challenge myself to revisit my ideas of what sorts of food I ate when. Middle of the afternoon and I needed a full meal? Sure, why not. Let’s do this. No judgment necessary.

Anyway – I don’t have any sort of brilliant advice for you guys, but thought it still might be useful to share some of the things I’ve learned and struggled with throughout pregnancy. I’m sure I’m probably not alone here, and surrendering to your body is a valuable lesson whether pregnant or not.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on pregnancy, body image, and intuitive eating, too! Feel free to share in the comments.

p.s. While on the subject of pregnancy/babies/kids, I wanted to share a post I loved that my friend Gina wrote this week entitled “The Quote that Changed My Parenting Mantra.” As someone who can get a little too “go, go, go”, I loved the post and am going to bookmark it to read again once our baby arrives!

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