Our HMHB Content Coordinator Chelsea successfully completed a #PregnantWhole30 during her twin pregnancy and maintained Whole30-inspired eating throughout. This occasional series followed her progress as she tries to honor her intention of having a healthy, happy pregnancy and postpartum.
This pregnancy, I had a rough first trimester with frequent nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite. Because of this, I let myself eat basically whatever I was able to choke down. Sometimes that was cucumbers, and other times it was refried beans with tortilla chips. Read more about my first trimester here.
Now that I’m past my first trimester sickness I’ve been thinking about cravings. It’s on the minds of our HMHB Mamas as well.
Recently Lauren C., a mama in our HMHB Facebook group, asked a great question. She said, “Pregnant Whole30 question: should I manage cravings any differently? I’m on Day 3 of a Whole30 reset right now and I want sugar. I’m also kinda hungry, but not ‘steamed fish and veggies’ hungry. If I weren’t pregnant, I would definitely just suck it up and power through. Since I’m pregnant, I’m not sure if I should snack, and if I wasn’t Whole30’ing I would definitely snack. This would be very straightforward if I weren’t pregnant, but the pregnancy seems to give an air of leniency that can be a double-edged sword. So … should I just drink some water or a La Croix and power through until dinner? Is this a dumb question?”
This is definitely not a dumb question, and it made me realize that I’m not the only one thinking about pregnancy cravings!
My first pregnancy was before I found the Whole30, so I didn’t give much thought to pregnancy cravings. I constantly craved (and ate) gluten-free bagels with cream cheese, hash browns from McDonalds, gluten-free freezer waffles with syrup, and banana splits. Four years and five Whole30 resets later, the way I view food has totally transformed. As a result of that I find myself looking at pregnancy cravings differently.
Let’s be honest: pregnancy carb and sugar cravings are real. Since I was more lenient during first trimester (and I have no regrets; it was survival mode at that point!), I’m not sure how to treat my cravings now. I acknowledge that my carb cravings are stronger during pregnancy, but I’m not necessarily craving sweet things. Also, hunger during pregnancy is a funny thing. The constant flux of hormones plus shrinking room for my stomach means I typically swing between too full or starving. I’ve settled on eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. I also find that I need to have a snack before bed, because otherwise I wake up in the morning (or sometimes in the middle of the night) feeling ravenous.
None of these things are the norm for non-pregnant me, but I’m trying to balance all of this with the cultural idea that pregnancy gives you carte blanche for eating however you want. With these things in mind, here are my tips for managing pregnancy cravings.
*Note: The advice that follows may be better suited for mamas who either are past first trimester morning sickness or haven’t dealt with that at all. If you’re struggling during your first trimester, consider waiting until second trimester or beyond and giving yourself extra grace those first few months.
Decide ahead of time what a reset during pregnancy looks like for you.
Melissa Hartwig describes the concept of designing your own reset in her book Food Freedom Forever. Maybe you don’t want to do a Whole30 during your pregnancy, but you’d like to design a reset that suits your specific needs. In my case, for example, I did a few mini resets during pregnancy that included white rice. I know that I tolerate rice normally, so I feel fine eating it occasionally in my Food Freedom, and eating something heavy like rice helped settle my stomach. I find that if I’m going to be cooking at home anyways, I can easily make better choices if I set myself up for success by giving myself guidelines ahead of time. During my second trimester I was also able to successfully complete a full Whole30 reset and I felt FANTASTIC (read about my NSV’s here!).
Consider how you would treat the craving if you weren’t pregnant.
In Lauren’s case, she rationally thought through what was happening. You can do the same. I’m having a craving for sugar, and I’m kind of hungry. If I wasn’t pregnant, I wouldn’t give into the craving, and I wouldn’t snack. I want to have a snack since I’m pregnant. Then you have a choice. You can either a) give into the craving and have something sweet (even if it’s a piece of fruit or a larabar) or you can have a snack that looks more like a Whole30 mini-meal. Your choice may depend on whether you’re currently attempting a #PregnantWhole30 or not.
Remember that you don’t have to eat what you’re craving.
When I was in college, I had a friend a few years older than me who was married and pregnant. I remember sitting on her couch listening to her talking about pregnancy cravings. I asked her, “When you have a craving, do you actually have to eat that thing?” She laughed and said, “I don’t HAVE to have it, but it’s just the BEST if I do.”
Like Lauren in our Facebook group said, in pregnancy there’s an air of leniency. The sentiment is, “I’m pregnant! I deserve to eat whatever I want!” I totally get that! Sometimes you have a hard pregnancy day and you want to just indulge in a banana split (or is that just me?). In the grand scheme of your life, it’s all a part of your Food Freedom journey. But if you’re looking for some of that infamous Whole30 tough love (heavy on the love, obviously!), here it is: You do not have to give into your pregnancy cravings.
The great thing is that you have a choice. As Melissa often says, you’re an adult with money, agency, and the ability to make a decision. Some days you might decide to mindfully have that banana split, and other days you might decide that what you actually need is to go to yoga, vent to a friend, or treat yourself to a pedicure.
Keep your goals in mind.
What limitations are you working with? You might be concerned about developing gestational diabetes or gaining weight too rapidly during your pregnancy. Depending on your context, you might actually need to lose some weight to be at your ideal health. Your health is worth way more than a momentary enjoyment of a junky treat. As Lauren said in another comment, “I might be kinda hungry, but really I know it’s because I ate ALL THE THINGS last week, and my brain is wondering where the sugar went. Nutrients are one thing; mindless snacking and indulgence are another — particularly when I really need to manage my weight gain.”
A Final Note
At the end of the day, this way of eating requires you to be honest with yourself. A Whole30-inspired style of eating teaches us to trust our hunger signals and treat food as fuel for our bodies. This requires mindfulness around food. Even though your pregnancy cravings might be stronger than cravings outside of pregnancy, only you can know if you legitimately need a snack or if you’re feeding your sugar dragon. Only you can decide what foods are worth it, or which foods will make you feel worse in the long run.
The good news is that you don’t have to do this alone! We provide tips and encouragement for pregnant mamas on our Instagram account, and if you’re looking for an even more, consider joining our Healthy Mama, Happy Baby program for the highest level of support that we offer. Our mamas love the supportive environment that we’ve created in our private Facebook group, and we’d love to welcome you in!
Header Photo: Brenda Godinez
Chelsea Long is the Content Coordinator for the Healthy Mama, Happy Baby Program. She lives in San Diego with her husband, three year old son, and infant twins (#thelongtwins). In addition to her work for HMHB, Chelsea is a yoga teacher, writer and meditation facilitator. Formerly an English as a Second Language instructor at the University level, Chelsea shifted her interest to holistic health after giving birth to her son. Her degrees in Communications and Education serve her well as she works with the Whole30 team to help other moms thrive during preconception, pregnancy and postpartum. Chelsea is passionate about helping others find healing through yoga, meditation, and nutrition, both through her contribution to the HMHB team and through her personal website.