This week marked 20 weeks into my first pregnancy. I am halfway to meeting my precious baby boy! Pregnancy has been interesting so far with large ranges in emotions, weird sleeping positions, frequent trips to the bathroom and an ever-changing body (and I’ve still got 20 more weeks of it!).
It’s interesting to me that when a woman announces she’s expecting it seems that her body becomes fair game for discussing and critiquing. A friend of mine was told that she looked like she was due any day, although her due date was months away and a friend of my sister’s was recently told that she didn’t look far enough along based on her due date. Recently a co-worker commented saying, “Wow! It’s like you went on break for Thanksgiving and came back pregnant!” and a family friend said, “I know you must be having a boy because of the way you’re carrying your belly!” The best was yesterday evening when I was leaving work and a man on the elevator exclaimed, “Baby bump!” The women in the elevator became uncomfortable at his comment and one even said, “I wasn’t going to say anything.” Apparently some men don’t know the unspoken rule that even if a woman is 9 months pregnant and actively in labor, you NEVER assume she is having a baby unless she tells you! I laughed and told the man, that he was right and that my bump was a baby. As we were getting off of the elevator, I joked with him and told him that I should have said, “Nope! Just finished up dinner!” He laughed in return and said how embarrassed he would have been. The other women chuckled. They knew this assumption could have gone so wrong!
Sweet comments that I’ve enjoyed hearing have included remarks from the Salvation Army volunteer woman ringing her bell outside of Hobby Lobby and telling me that I was glowing as I was returning my shopping cart. Not sure if the glowing was from my pregnancy or the 50% off I saved, but I’ll take it! The most precious comments I have received have been when friends and family speak directly to my baby inside my growing belly. It takes the focus off of my body and places the attention on this little man in the womb. Comments from my mother-in-law like, “GiGi loves you!” or my mother saying, “You’re going to love playing with your big cousin Hayden!” My husband talks to my belly every night and he has said some of the most meaningful and downright hilarious things!
What amazes me even more are the comments that I get from people regarding eating. “You’re eating for two now!” “I bet you really appreciated Thanksgiving this year since you have the excuse of being pregnant!” “Enjoy it all now while you can!” It’s as if some foods are suddenly off-limits once you are no longer pregnant, like when the clock strikes twelve and you have to go back to being “good” with your eating. I find these remarks to be interesting for one thing because, from a nutrition standpoint, I know that the old saying of “You’re eating for two” is a myth and that women typically only need about 300-500 additional calories in the second and third trimester of pregnancy which really only equates to ½ a peanut butter sandwich and an 8oz. carton of milk… hardly a feast. Though well meaning and never intentionally harmful, the concern with these comments is that they send the unspoken message that food can only be enjoyed under certain circumstances and that we can only indulge in foods we love during special times in our lives.
I’ve met with so many patients who tell me that they are scared of experiencing hunger. Some may constantly eat throughout the day to avoid experiencing the slightest hunger pang and others may restrict to the point of dulling all physical sensations such as a stomach growl. The main reason for this, they report, is a common fear of being out-of-control with their eating. The worry of, “If I feel hungry, I may actually eat something and then be unable to stop.” They may have trouble differentiating between physical and emotional hunger and may oftentimes find themselves eating for reasons unrelated to hunger. They view their body as the enemy instead of an ally. They never stop to think that maybe their body might be trying to tell them something, something worth stopping and listening to.
Throughout my pregnancy, I’ve been following an app on my phone called The Bump. Each week I receive updates in regards to the size and development of my growing baby along with changes to expect with my body. Around weeks 19 and 20, new moms are told to expect leg cramps, heartburn/indigestion and shortness of breath (Oh yay…). We are also told to expect an increase in hunger during this time. This is due to the baby growing at a much more rapid pace creating increased nutritional needs for both mom and baby. Up until this point, I haven’t experienced many changes in my hunger or eating patterns. There were occasional food aversions early on in the first trimester (cooked vegetables…gross!), but I haven’t experienced the stereotypical desire for ice cream and a pickle or an unquenchable thirst for anything in particular (other than red wine…womp, womp…sparkling water will do for now). This week, as I enter into 20 weeks of pregnancy, I am definitely noticing an increase in my hunger level. In the past, when I was struggling with eating and body image issues, hunger would scare me much like it scares my patients today. I feared that if I ate every time I was hungry that I would gain weight and feel off balance somehow. I didn’t believe that I could trust my own body, that it somehow innately knew what it was doing. I felt that I needed to be the one in control. Little did I know that ignoring hunger cues can be similar to pulling back a rubber band and that you can typically only pull back so far until eventually it flies across the other end of the room, leading to out-of-control eating. For me, ignoring hunger, typically lead to overeating later in the day. Other times, it lead to inappropriate dietary restriction which sent me down the path of an eating disorder.
Through my own personal experience of making peace with food and becoming an intuitive eater combined with my professional experience of working as a dietitian specialized in the treatment of eating disorders, I have learned that our bodies are amazing tools helping us to navigate hunger, fullness, balance and enjoyment if we will allow them to. We are truly fearfully and wonderfully made and can trust that our bodies know exactly what they are doing and exactly what we need. Just like my body knows how to grow and nourish a child in the womb for 9 months (mind blown!), my body also knows when I need an extra burst of energy via food.
Instead of viewing my body as an enemy or hunger something to be feared, I now view it as a guide leading me ever so softly through the process of mindful eating. I know that if I feel my stomach growl and ignore the sensation by continuing to work and not stopping to eat that I could become fatigued, irritable and even lightheaded. I’m aware, through past experiences, that this could also trigger me to overeat later in the day. When my body sends hunger cues, I now know that this is something to be listened to and respected and I can trust that fullness cues will help me to eat just the amount that my body needs. I know that at times I’ll overeat simply because the food tastes so good or maybe even unconsciously to deal with an unmet emotional need, boredom or fatigue. I know that other times I may under eat due to being rushed for time or having a lack of available food depending on where I am. All in all, I know that my body is something to be trusted. It knows how to digest food, absorb nutrients and store energy. It works in perfect balance keeping me in a place of homeostasis.
This pregnancy journey has been an interesting one, full of emotional ups and downs and learning curves along the way. It’s been nothing short of a miracle and I’m grateful to my body for knowing exactly how to provide for and protect my precious unborn son. I’m learning that hunger is nothing to be feared, but rather something to be embraced and that our bodies truly have something to teach us about eating, health, pleasure and creation if only we will let them.