Pregnancy Cravings & How to Deal With Them
According to a recent survey, women reported spending an average of over 44 minutes each day thinking about what they wanted to eat- can you relate or can you relate? (And that’s just the amount of brainpower spent on what you want to eat, not even taking into account the time spent thinking about what you already ate). When you consider that expectant mothers dealing with hormonal swings are eating for two, pregnancy cravings are legit. So, while the weight loss industry is pervasive and unrelenting, pregnancy is sometimes seen as a rare hall pass to eat Whatever. You. Want.
There are a million theories about why pregnant women experience such intense cravings. And there’s a difference of opinion about why we’re suddenly drawn to something we’ve never liked before. Either it’s 1. a product of our weird relationship with food and we want foods that were previously off-limits, or 2. a specific food contains some element your body needs. One proven reason we crave these foods is that our sense of smell and taste, like so many of our body parts, evolve over the course of our pregnancy.
Pregnancy Cravings Are Common
Let’s cover this first: you are not alone. Approximately 50-90% of expecting mothers report a craving for a specific food during pregnancy. Other than pregnancy, the week before your period marks a time where caution about what we eat might be thrown to the wind. The body wants what the body wants, and I want two pounds of chocolate and a milkshake, is that too much to ask for?
Why We Crave Certain Foods is Anyone’s Guess
There’s differing theories about why pregnancy cravings happen. The first says that there’s too many reasons, emotional and hormonal, that you’re better off not worrying about the why. The second theory is to outright blame pregnancy hormones (always the easiest to blame). And we’re no stranger to how crazy those are.
A third theory is that pregnancy cravings are your body’s innate knowledge of what it needs. Nowadays this might be more along the lines of what’s called intuitive eating. This isn’t so far fetched when you take into consideration how crazy it is that women can sync up their periods just by being together (sounds weirder every time we say it).
All goes to say, nobody has a direct answer as to why pregnancy cravings are a thing.
Beware of Emotional Eating
If emotions influence when, what, and how much you’re eating, it’s worth asking yourself if you’re an emotional eater. One sign is that you feel guilt or shame after eating. Another is that you turn to a specific food when emotions overwhelm you. Emotional eaters often find they don’t remember the process of eating and in rapid succession go from the first bite to an empty plate.
Redirection is an underutilized tool when it comes to emotional eating (and parenting, but that’s for another time). One piece of advice is to make a list of things you can do that don’t revolve around food. Or try to identify the exact emotion and make sure your snacking alternative satisfies it. So if you crave comfort, snuggle up with a book, call a friend, draw a bath, go for a walk (or waddle) or call an old friend (seriously, when was the last time you called and didn’t text?). Another approach you can try is intuitive eating, which is based off of the idea that you shouldn’t restrict yourself (but in turn, learn: 1. how to read what your body is craving, 2. when you should stop eating, and 3. what foods nourish and feel good to eat, as opposed to ones that bloat you or make you feel icky).
You’re Eating What Your Body Needs
There are a few categories of pregnancy cravings that deserve attention not only because they’re satisfying but because they could indicate that your body is making the right choice for you.
First up is our favorite, cheese. A craving for large amounts of cheese might be your body telling you it’s lacking calcium. So have your cheese but also mix in other calcium-rich foods like seeds, yogurt, almonds, and dark leafy greens.
Next, chocolate. Good news: in moderation, dark chocolate is actually beneficial for pregnancies. This has been proven in many, many studies. Benefits include reducing the risk of blood pressure, and improving blood flow to baby and to mama.
Spices - You may have heard that spicy foods like Thai or Mexican become more appealing during pregnancy. When you’re pregnant, your core body temperature rises. Extra spicy pad Thai = sweat = a lower body temperature. Way to self regulate!
Meats - While it’s not recommended to eat raw or pink meat during pregnancy, eating medium-well or well-done meat is totally fine while pregnant. If you’re feeling especially carnivorous, it may mean your body needs more protein or iron.
Citruses - Some of you, when pregnant, may want to eat a lemon-like it’s an apple (no judgment here). Because hormonal changes wreak havoc on our taste buds, salty foods may become saltier while bitter or sour foods become less so. Try sipping lemon water to help digestion, reduce constipation, lower blood pressure, and pack in the Vitamin C. Just don’t overdo it as lemon’s acidic nature could take you on a trip to heartburn city.
When Your Pregnancy Cravings Strike At:
Home: Boil some eggs, steam some vegetables and throw in a little salsa. You know there’s always a jar in the back far right (or is that just us)?
On the road: Take a pass on those Doritos and other salty snacks and satisfy that craving with dried fruit or a fresh apple.
Going Out to Eat: At an Italian restaurant, opt for a green salad and pasta with veggies and skip the white sauces. Cream-based sauces, heavy in butter, could trigger acid reflux, common during pregnancy because of increased levels of progesterone that slows digestion.
Pho, a Vietnamese staple, is delicious and nutritious but skip the bean sprouts (if raw, they can carry salmonella, listeria, or e-coli), and don’t order your meats rare in case they don’t cook enough in the broth.
Grocery Store: Nut butters, hummus, bagged carrots, and bagged salads with dark leafy greens will be your go-to. Leafy dark greens are packed with magnesium that will help your baby’s teeth and bones. Other magnesium-rich options are pumpkin seeds/sunflower seeds, brown rice, quinoa, squash, beans, and lentils.