We Need to Change the Way We Think About Weight Gain During Pregnancy
An R.D. shares how to combat the food-shaming and body image issues that expecting moms face.
Despite the increase in body-positivity, self-love, and acceptance messaging we're seeing on social media (keep it coming!), we still have a long way to go with how our culture treats pregnant women. Let's be real-people say really dumb things to pregnant women about their weight and appearance. And then there's the invasive touching and unsolicited advice (about diet and exercise especially) which can all be extremely triggering for someone who's already on an emotional roller coaster.
That's why when I'm working with someone who's expecting, sure, we talk about the nutritional basics and guidelines for a healthy pregnancy, but we spend just as much-if not more-time talking about the mental and emotional stuff that comes up around food and body image.
One of the biggest hurdles? Fighting that culturally ingrained feeling that any weight gain is bad. Many women feel pressure to gain only the minimum amount of weight recommended and experience a lot of anxiety around what people will think and say about their changing body. I often see women wanting to avoid situations that make them feel especially vulnerable, whether it's brunch with their judgy mother-in-law or catching up with that friend who magically only gained 25 pounds and had six-pack abs again a week after giving birth.
There's also a ton of food shaming that goes on during pregnancy. A conversation with a fear-mongering relative (or a complete stranger) has brought clients to my office in tears, convinced that because she ate nonorganic greens last week (or whatever it might be), her baby is going to be born deformed. And while food cravings and aversions, or an unpredictable appetite are extremely common during pregnancy, they can make women feel like a failure at following "the rules." Generally speaking, as hormones fluctuate and preferences change, you're especially vulnerable to slipping into negative thought patterns and feelings of guilt about what you're eating. For example, many women get down on themselves if their usual salad lunch makes them want to barf or if previously "off-limits" foods like ice cream start finding their way into their diet. (Related: Weird Pregnancy Side Effects That Are Actually Normal)
Exercise is another touchy subject. Staying active during pregnancy can be helpful for managing stress and supporting stable blood sugar, along with helping you stay strong and build up stamina for labor. (Related: How Running During Pregnancy Prepared Me for Giving Birth) That said, it's smart to modify workouts as your pregnancy progresses so you stay comfortable and safe. Making adjustments can be emotionally tricky sometimes, though. When nausea or fatigue make it tough to hit the gym, many women beat up on themselves for-gasp-resting instead of making like those happy smiling pregnant ladies they see on social media crushing it at CrossFit. Because even though logically, we know that everyone curates, it's hard not to play the comparison game.
And while there is more real talk on social media about pregnancy, many women still feel like they can't talk openly about it when they feel less than glowy and excited. In fact, it's common to feel guilty expressing anything but love and wonder when it comes to their bodies during pregnancy and to not let on if they're feeling like anything less than a domestic goddess.
While it's a good idea to check in with a therapist or dietitian (more on that below!), here are some of the things I've found to be helpful for my clients:
1. Give yourself a reality check when you notice negative self-talk creeping in.
Seriously, you're growing a human. Lots of things are happening in your body, and it's normal to need to change up your eating and exercise routine. Also, it's okay not to feel "OMG I'm so excited and everything is awesome!" all. the. time. Some weeks you're going to feel like everything is going well that you're right on track, and others you're going to feel exhausted or overwhelmed or like you want to hibernate. Be honest with yourself about what you need. Remind yourself that the big picture is about having a healthy pregnancy for you and your baby.
2. Look at changes as an opportunity to try something new.
If you're too wiped or don't feel comfortable with your pre-pregnancy workouts, check out a gentler type of activity (like, prenatal yoga instead of heated Vinyasa), or book a few sessions with a trainer to learn some modifications to help you be active and stay safe. Or simply practice the art of resting, especially if rest days have made you anxious in the past. When it comes to your diet, listen to what your body is telling you it wants. If you're suddenly craving steak when you never did before, it could very well be that your body needs extra iron!
3. Shut down body-shamers.
People say stupid stuff. Like, astoundingly dumb. Even when they mean well when they comment on your size or the shape of your belly (and they usually do), it's often just not appropriate. While you may not be able to change the ridiculous stuff that comes out of their mouths, you *can* do something about how you deal with it. Talk to a trusted pal, friend, or therapist about it, vent on social media, journal-whatever helps you deal. Depending on your relationship with that person, you can also feel free to shut it down and say something, like, "Hey, I know you're trying to be helpful, but when you say that, it makes me feel ____."
4. Reach out to a doctor, therapist, or dietitian.
If you feel you need extra support, having a trained professional to share your questions and concerns with can be incredibly helpful at a time you're prone to overthinking. And if you're someone who's worried about what your life (and body) will be like after giving birth, talk to friends or family members who've been there. Remind yourself that it will be an adjustment but that you have options. If it will help ease your anxieties, make a plan for after you give birth to work with a trainer once your doctor gives you the okay. Talk with a nutritionist about what to eat to stay strong and energized while working toward your health and weight goals as you adjust to life as a new mom.
5. Fill your social feed with stuff that makes you feel good.
Look for pregnancy or motherhood-related content that makes you laugh or smile or feel understood-not insecure. (Emily Skye has been open about her issues during pregnancy.) Or totally abandon the pregnancy stuff and just follow accounts of cute puppies or whatever brightens your day. No reason you can't take a break from social media too!