When we talk food issues and pregnancy, I think the most common conversation we have is, “How will I lose this baby weight?” But if you were to ask me what my most common complaint is, it would be more along the lines of, how am I going to make it 9 months without a ham sandwich? My particular challenge with my changing pregnant body and the new restrictions on what I can and cannot eat is that years before I got pregnant, I made a rare choice, but one that a growing number of women are choosing.
I don’t diet. At all. Ever. At some point in my mid-20s, maybe five or six years ago, after much time spent beating myself up over it, I just stopped, and it was the most radical feminist choice I’ve ever made in my life. I did the unthinkable and decided to just accept myself the way I was.
It wasn’t and it isn’t easy. It took plenty of time and work to get where I am. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there’s a powerful multi-billion-dollar beauty and weight loss industry out there quite committed to keeping you from just being fine with yourself. So I’ve tried hard to change, but of course, I still struggle. Of course I have days when I’m disappointed an outfit in a store doesn’t fit, when I’m not as kind to myself as I want to be, when I want to chuck a brick into the TV screen over a Special K commercial.
My most effective trick for overcoming this is to give myself permission to eat whatever I want whenever I want, with no limitations. Any calorie counting, food tracker apps, food journals, 30-day challenges, so-called “lifestyle changes,” or other “plans” are off limits. I have armed myself with as much real unbiased scientifically backed up information as possible about nutrition and exercise and now I just trust my rational adult brain to make choices for itself.
No more standing at the dessert counter for me, agonizing over whether or not I can buy that cheesecake! I can! I just listen to my cravings and my hunger and honor them. Until I have an actual health problem because of my diet, then I’m in charge of what I eat. I’m not allergic to any foods. My body handles gluten and lactose just fine. I don’t have diabetes or a heart condition. I have great blood pressure. I enjoy and frequently do exercise but I also only do the kind of exercise I enjoy, like swimming, dancing, and long walks. I call them my “date night workouts.”
The reasons I made this choice are plentiful, but everything boils down to this one thing. On the pyramid of the most important things I could be, being thin is at the very bottom. Kindness, intelligence, strength, courage, and compassion live happily at the top. Dieting has never helped me or anybody I know maintain long-term weight loss and it sure as hell hasn’t helped anybody maintain long-term happiness. There are hundreds of studies and articles out there that confirm the dangers of dieting to your body and your psyche, so I’m done with it.
The dirty little secret of this change I made, that I feel almost hypocritical mentioning, is that I actually lost weight in the beginning. I gradually lost about 15 to 20 pounds and went down exactly one jean size. It wasn’t a big deal, but it happened and so did many other positive changes. Without doubt, I am more confident than I was. My fear of fashion has been replaced by a deep love of accessible affordable fashion made for all sizes. I don’t shy away from bold lipsticks or horizontal stripes. I wear what I like, what fits well and what I’m comfortable in. I’ve never felt more physically beautiful, and by the way, not that it matters, but after I stopped dieting, it started raining men.
The most common compliment I get is “Have you lost weight?” I haven’t at all, not since the very beginning. I still wear the same size and everything, but that is what we associate confidence and beauty with… weight loss. I’ve learned to say boldly, “Nope, not for years, I just feel great.”
So what about now that I’m pregnant? Naturally, this confidence hasn’t been as easy to come by. My closet full of beautiful clothes don’t fit for one thing, and I am not the biggest fan of maternity wear. My body has changed so much, and I struggle with it all the time. My baby weight gain, although healthy, has me back at my heaviest weight I ever was, and I will just continue to grow. The boobs I didn’t like before are basically destroyed and maintaining my NO food restrictions rule, is out the window.
I have to have food restrictions! They’re required for putting my kid first. I’d heard not to smoke, drink alcohol, avoid roller coasters… you know, the standard stuff, but no soft cheeses? What? All the pregnant women I know are constantly comparing notes on the guilt and chaos around the chore of food.
As if four straight months of debilitating morning sickness wasn’t enough to drive me crazy, I just really miss deli meat (one of my former hangover cures, which would have come in handy). My coffee addiction was so bad pre-pregnancy that I had no idea how I could cut down to the recommended one cup a day, so in the beginning I went cold turkey, which sucked. I only relented on the one cup rule three months in, after my doctor reassured me, and my mom pleaded with me. She couldn’t take my morning grumps anymore. I don’t miss the headaches either.
All this drama about food is something I just wasn’t used to, but unsurprisingly, the things I learned and the work I put in before are helping me deal. I think it can be helpful to all, not just those of us blissfully indulging in all the cheesecake we want.
First, I do something I learned to do way back when I first stopped dieting. I honor my cravings. If I want a grilled cheese, I am not eating a salad. If I want something cold, I am not touching a bowl of soup. It’ll probably just make me sick to my stomach anyway. I allow enough room within my limitations to let my body tell me what to do. Second, I have some food rules, but they’re easy to follow. I love seafood, but I don’t want to eat too much because of the potential mercury in it, so I just wait for the weekend to eat it. Simplifying that choice and others removes a lot of the anxiety about doing the “right” thing all the time.
Third, I actually keep a dreaded food journal, but with some conditions. First of all, I don’t beat myself up if I don’t do it every day. I keep it short, and just write down what I ate, more than anything, to have some rational and peaceful reflection about how I’m doing and to then just leave it on the page. It feels good to see the variety of food I eat. I also write about my feelings and daily routine. I want to emphasize that the food isn’t the only thing that matters. Some days I weigh myself and write that down too. Most days I don’t. I don’t want that number taking up too much space in my brain and if my doctor’s not concerned, I choose not to be either.
I try to maintain the love in my diet. I love kale and Brussels sprouts. I know, I’m a freak, but I also love Snickers bars, so there’s a stash in the candy drawer. Remembering that this is all temporary is a big help. Oh, and as for losing that baby weight? It’s just not nearly as important to me as being a mom. I can’t wait to not care about it while I’m finally enjoying a ham sandwich in a few months.
Photo: Leslie Moniot