Being pregnant I have been poked and prodded, had countless blood tests and learnt to pee on demand (quite easy when there is a tiny person resting on your bladder). I’ve also been questioned about my weight way more than usual, and not really from my Gynaecologist and midwife which I was expecting (my midwife’s only comment on the subject was that because I was slightly underweight to start with I could put on up to 20kg /44 pounds (!!) and it would be fine, and the Gynaecologist just seems happy that the baby is an average size and moving lots so hasn’t said anything), but more from friends and acquaintances and sometimes by people I’ve just met at social gatherings.
I find it a bit odd being asked so directly (I am very typically English in that respect), but people do seem to be very curious about how much you put on at each stage of pregnancy and how you are feeling about it. One of the first things the pre-natal teacher taught us at our antenatal classes was what all the weight we were putting on was made up of, to try to reassure us that we didn’t have to worry about it and it was all totally natural (apparently it’s about 2.5kg in water, 1.5kg in blood, 800g in placenta, 1kg in Uterus, 1.5 kg in Amniotic fluid, 3 kg Baby, and 2.5 kg in fat stores on your boobs and elsewhere.So somewhere around 13kg depending on your starting weight). There are whole chapters in pregnancy books dedicated to weight gain and charts that you can check up your progress against, and a zillion different methods of ‘getting your body back’ post pregnancy.
So, hang on, when people tell me I shouldn’t worry about something I automatically get worried so how worried should I be about my weight at the moment?!! A 20kg weight gain sounds a bit excessive but should I at least buy some scales at home so I can monitor it? Is weight gain during pregnancy a completely natural part of the process which given your bodies amazing ability to grow an entirely new life within you from the combination of two cells and a whole bunch of hormones is perfectly able to control, or something that you need to worry about and obsess about to make sure that you put on enough for your baby but not too much that it’s going to be difficult to lose afterwards?
In April (pre pregnancy, and lacking in any inkling that I might get pregnant soon) I had an overall of my eating habits after visiting Australia and reading my friends book on the Paleo diet (Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfillipo) . At the time I had chronic pain in my forearms, knee joint and ankle pain, and a micro-prolactinoma in my pituitary gland (a tumour on my pituitary that was causing it to produce high levels of prolactin , which before I started on the medication had caused my periods to stop and for me to start losing bone density – a DEXA scan in 2013 showed I had oesteopenia- the beginnings of oesteoporosis) so despite having a slim build I certainly wasn’t healthy. I’d also been to enough doctors to know that beyond giving me Cabergoline to inhibit prolactin production and shrink the tumour, there wasn’t anything they could do about my chronic pain bar give me painkillers and steroid injections which didn’t work. So the Paleo book, which promotes the idea that you can eat yourself healthy and control chronic diseases and inflammation by eating well really interested me. The delicious paleo options available in cafes in Brisbane also really helped! (When i’m back on caffeine again post pregnancy, I need me a date, coconut milk and iced coffee frappe.)
When I returned from Australia I started to do more research into the Paleo diet, and also came across Robert Lustigs talk on Sugar: The Bitter Truth , Gary Taubes ‘Why we get fat’ lecture and Sarah Wilsons recipe book ‘Sugar Free for Life’. (Amongst other things, but those were the main ones I would recommend having a look at. I did also get weirdly addicted to watching old Supersize vs Superskinny episodes, and it’s amazing on them how often both the super skinny person and the super sized person have an addiction to sugary beverages. Now whenever I see somebody drinking one, even the diet versions which are filled with even more chemicals, I just want to scream NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! and take it off them- which makes going to the cinema very difficult).
These books/lectures, especially Sugar: The Bitter Truth completely upended what I thought I knew about nutrition – one calorie is NOT the same as another calorie! What type of food it is completely changes the way your body digests it and how much energy is taken from it and stored or how much is available for use. And fat is good for you! (Hello butter my old friend, I have missed you) But unfortunately your bodies beautifully designed endocrine system that signals to your brain when you are hungry and when you are full can get completely messed up if you are eating too much sugary processed foods and drinks and becomes insulin resistant- insulin being the hormone that triggers food to be stored as fat.
So the old what you eat minus what you burn= what you store as fat can be turned around to what you eat-what is stored=how much energy you have to burn. And then it becomes much more about what you are eating, than what quantity you are eating. I.e. if you are eating the right things your body will be in balance and you can trust the signals it gives you as to whether you are hungry or full, and you can feel happy and energized by what you have eaten, instead of getting that sinking guilty feeling that you know exactly where that biscuit has ended up on your thighs, but you are still going to eat another one anyway.
I know all this to be true especially now that I’m pregnant. Processed foods (anything that is in a packet with more than one ingredient- because one of those ingredients WILL be sugar of some sort) and baked goods (mmm croissants…) I can eat any amount of and not feel full. I can’t have Fruit n’ Fibre or Dove Farm Gluten Free Cereal flakes in the house because I will eat the entire packet in one go without blinking. But if I eat real, whole foods (i.e. non packaged actual food instead of a ‘food product’ or ‘edible item’) like vegetables (including root veges like potatoes and sweet potatoes), fruit, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, rice and oats etc then I know when I’m full and I feel good after eating them. To this list I also include some dairy products , butter, full fat natural yogurt and full fat milk, and for a bit of sweetness honey and maple syrup. The only processed food I eat on a regular basis is a couple of slices of gluten free bread with marmalade in the morning and half a glass of orange juice (gluten wise I think I have a slight intolerance to it because of the vast quantities I’ve eaten in the past, and not eating it I find I am less bloated and flatulent). I want to try and cut down on these items because of the sugar content, but I found during the nauseous first few months of pregnancy orange juice diluted with water really helped settle my stomach first thing in the morning- if I just drank water I would throw it up. And the toast is my guilty processed palm oil containing saving time option until I learn how to make my own gluten free bread at home.
This cartoon shows a typical days menu.It does require a lot more cooking than shovelling in some cereal or making a sandwich does, and it means more trips to the shops for fresh food, but I’ve found eating is much more satisfying when you take more time over it, and cooking in itself is really enjoyable. When I go out for food I avoid fast food restaurants, and choose those that are hopefully cooking from scratch, and I have the occasional dessert/piece of cake probably about once every 2 weeks or so when I’m out with friends, but annoyingly I’ve started to enjoy them less and less because things just taste too sweet now I’ve cut down on sugar!
Its not quite paleo (which disagrees with any grains including rice and oats) and its not completely sugar free, but its an achievable balance of the two that does mean I feel good about everything I eat.
I had this changed diet for about 3 months before I got pregnant and despite eating a lot more fat (I cook in butter for pretty much everything now) and more in quantity terms than I had done previously (when I would avoid carbs in the evenings but would eat lots of processed cereal, bread and granola bars and processed meats like frozen fish fingers, sausages and chicken kievs, not to mention more ice-cream and coffee frappuchinos and sugar in my coffee ) I didn’t put on any weight and started to feel healthier. My prolactinoma disappeared (this is also down to the medication obviously, but eating better i’m sure did not hurt), inflammation steadily went down in my arms and my knee and ankle joint pain went away (physio exercises also helped with this) . As a bonus although my boyfriend has not lost that much weight in kg terms, he is always getting compliments from people that he hasn’t seen in a while that he is looking much leaner (his standard joke is that his girlfriend is starving him WHICH I AM NOT!) – his waist size has dropped 3 inches and his face is thinner, but he’s put on muscle mass on his chest and arms.
Now that I’m pregnant of course I have put on weight (about 11kg at 35 weeks) but having made the change to unprocessed foods I haven’t worried about it yet and I’m not going to start despite all the questions, because I trust my body to tell me when I need to eat more and when I’m full. When I’m particularly hungry one day I know it must be because the baby is going through a growth spurt or because I’ve done more exercise than normal (on the exercise front I don’t do very much – on average gentle walking for half an hour a day, gentle physio exercises and stretches for my knee and arms for ten min or so , and prenatal pilates once a week. So a trip to the shops is enough to mean I’ll eat an extra banana and more rice at dinner!). My highly complex endocrine system is smart enough to get my body to store the right amount where it needs to, and so me counting calories is a ridiculous waste of time.
Going to antenatal classes and learning more about pregnancy and labour has also been reassuring in that I’ve learnt the human body is even more frickin amazing than I thought and if it has dealt with the frankly unbelievable process of a)growing a whole new person inside a person and b)getting the whole new person out of a tiny hole in the bigger person with a complex series of hormonal triggers, it can deal with the everyday basic need of eating – just don’t confuse it by eating things that may technically be edible but are not actually food- just food products manufactured to be as tasty and addictive as possible.
We’ll see how all this goes post pregnancy but for now a no monitoring, eat as natural as possible and trust my body approach is working just fine – the baby is an average weight and length and moving around loads, and the weight I’ve put on is mainly on my belly and boobs, and at no point have I felt hungry or like I was denying myself food during pregnancy.
This is what I looked like before compared to what I looked like at 7 months pregnant in the same outfit. I think having a nearly 6 pack again after the baby is probably wishful thinking but for now I’ll keep fielding questions about how much weight I’ve put on without worrying about it- either in terms of my health, or the babies health.