So you just found out you are pregnant. Congratulations! This is the exciting beginning of a whole new adventure for you... especially getting to know your body's inner workings in very new, intimate ways. Say hello to pregnancy cravings, and the weirdest food combinations you never thought to dive into in the middle of the night! I have yet to meet a pregnant woman, who doesn't crave something out of the ordinary. And who can we blame?! Yes, of course our hormones. Pregnancy is a hormonal roller coaster: you are probably crying more often than usual, you swing from lovely feelings to panic attacks within seconds, and you may also feel your body's thermostat turned up high. These all result from a change of hormones in your body in order to grow a healthy baby.
Just because cravings are normal hormonal occurrences, does that mean we should give into every craving? Well, if we were to listen to every article and doctor out there, they will all tell us no. "Eat a healthy, balanced diet throughout your pregnancy, and don't gain too much weight", is the standard guideline. Seriously, I don't know about you, but when I needed that tenth piece of candied bacon in my second trimester, anyone coming between me and that bacon would have been killed. Pregnancy cravings are real, they are strong, and they sometimes feel like life or death. No apple or salad will help with that! So what can you do?
With all my one-on-one clients, I always work on digging deeper into what the cravings mean. They are a story your body is telling you, if you are willing to listen. Understanding your cravings better, often means that you do not in fact have to give in to all of them, but you can prepare and plan ahead. So today I want to share the top 5 stories your pregnancy cravings could be telling you, and what you can do about them:
1. The "eat something now or I will kill someone" craving
This craving may not be for a specific food, but rather just food in general. I have never gone from "ooooh, I can feel hunger coming" to "GIVE ME SOMETHING NOW!!!!" in 10 seconds flat until I was pregnant. This was some serious live or die scenario, and I felt helpless over my body. It was the weirdest, and also the most frustrating thing I have ever experienced. All my life I had spent learning to be in tune with my body, and listening to what it needs. Now all of a sudden it was making all the decisions without me.
What this craving really comes down to is a crash in your blood sugar. During pregnancy, your blood sugar is not as regularly flowing as usual, because baby takes a lot of your sugar for its own growth. This means you can suddenly be left with a huge drop in blood sugar. When you are not pregnant, this would definitely lead to a sugar craving. However, when you are pregnant, it becomes super urgent right away for your body to have more intake. The worst case of low blood sugar is that your body could fall into a coma, and of course your body wants to avoid this at all costs for the sake of yours and baby's health. That is why your body will scream "HUNGER" so much more loudly than usually.
What can you do?
I found the best thing was to have something in my handbag or my pockets at all times, that could give me a quick little lift. In the first trimester, all I could keep down was saltines, so little snack packs of those were my go-to for the whole pregnancy. Once I could stomach more, I also had sprouted seed crackers, apple slices or a banana with me. Candy and chocolate were also popular choices. Other options depending on your cravings could be a smoothie to sip on (this was my favorite one) , nuts, veggie sticks, energy balls (have your pick over in the recipe section), cookies, muffins or really anything that will make you feel better!
Also think about drinking more water, and maybe sitting down to take a little rest. This craving often happens if you moved around a lot or exercised, where your blood sugar was burnt away quickly.
2. The craving for spicy food or ice chips
This craving has to do with the discomfort of your body. I am usually a person, who always feels cold. Well, during my pregnancy was the first time I felt like I could go up in flames, every minute of the day! Both ice chips and spicy food can help cool the body down - even though they seem like total opposites. Spicy food will help to make your body sweat from the inside out, and sweat naturally helps your body cool down. Ice chips give you a cool refreshing feeling in your mouth, BUT be warned. Having cool foods like ice chips, ice cream or ice water actually make you hotter. Your body needs to work extra hard to bring the cool food and drinks to body temperature in order to digest them, which means you are heating up even more.
What to do?
First of all, try to avoid icy foods and drinks. Even though they feel good in the moment, they will make you feel more uncomfortable afterwards. Then try to see what you can do to your environment to make yourself more comfortable. Perhaps can you take a layer of clothing off or can you dress in lighter material? Is it possible to open a window for a breeze or turn on an AC for colder air? Can you use a water cloth drenched in cold water, and place it on your forehead or your ankles to help cool you down? Use this craving to help make you feel more comfortable. And of course, go ahead and order that spicy Mexican or Indian food if you want :-).
In case you are craving a lot of ice chips, get your iron levels and red blood cells checked. Often ice chips cravings can be a result from anemia, so it's a craving worth talking to your doctor about.
3. The craving for mom's cooking
A lot of us will suddenly start to crave foods from our childhood. Suddenly I wanted white asparagus with hollandaise sauce (a typical German feast) and mac and cheese; foods that reminded me of my mom, and of her comfort. I literally dragged my husband to the only German restaurant in town to get the white asparagus. It wasn't very good food, but it hit the spot for comfort for me.
During pregnancy, we often feel alone. While we may have supportive partners, the aches and pains of everyday pregnancy are still ours to carry around. Feeling sorry for ourselves, and just wanting out of this pregnancy are common feelings, that we shouldn't be ashamed of. And often in these helpless situations, we want our moms by our side. We crave our mom's warmth and comfort, and so in turn we may crave comfort food from our mom.
What to do?
Like I say with all cravings, that's ok! Indulge in your mom's cooking if she's around. You probably don't feel much like cooking anyways, so have her spoil you a little bit. I lived very far away from my mom when I was pregnant, so I did resort to some boxed mac and cheese once in a while. It's all good! :-)
If you are keen to cook during your pregnancy, why not get into the kitchen and try to recreate your mom's cooking. Maybe you can even make a healthier version of it. There are so many more nutritious versions of comfort food out there. Instead of ice cream, maybe you blend up some frozen banana with coconut milk for a delicious snack. Instead of boxed mac and cheese, make it from scratch with real cheese, and maybe add some extra zucchini and cauliflower for more nutrients. Or again, just have the boxed one, feel comforted, and move on with your life!
4. The lemon craving
I never thought I would just bite into lemons like they are apples. But I did. Every single day during my pregnancy I ate 2-3 lemons, with the peel. I know, all dentists out there are cringing right now. My husband sliced lemons every night and put them on my nightstand, in case I would wake up with crazy lemon cravings in the middle of the night. He was so patient with me!
It's a weird craving, but the more I talk to other moms, it's a super common one. The reason is that is helps with nausea, and that was my nemesis number one during pregnancy. Lemon helps to soothe your stomach, even though it may seem counterintuitive at first. Even though lemon taste acid, in your body it works to alkalize. During pregnancy you can often have too much stomach acid - again a side effect from those pregnancy hormones. Eating lemons will help to balance out this acid, so naturally it helps with acid reflux, heart burn, and nausea.
What to do?
Go ahead, eat the lemon. Try to get organic as much as possible to limit the pesticide intake from the peel. And also try to always wash it down with some water. The water will help to balance out the acidity in your mouth, so your teeth don't get too attacked from the lemons.
5. The "But I don't eat [fill in the blank like meat, gluten, dairy, etc]" craving
I am vegetarian, mostly vegan, and have been for 15 years. I occasionally will try a piece of meat, but during my pregnancy I was ravenous for anything meaty. It made me feel disgusted with myself, and I didn't want to give in in the beginning. The more I fought it, the more I craved it. And then I realized, maybe my body needed nutrients from the meat that it was missing for the baby. So I decided to give in. I had above mentioned candied bacon for a week, then got sick of it, and voila, my meat cravings also went away.
Even though there may be things you may be avoiding at all costs in your every day life, once you are pregnant you can't stop thinking of this "forbidden" food. It may be bread in case you don't usually have gluten. It could be cheese in case you don't eat dairy. And it raises the big question, am I making myself unwell when I eat these foods?!
What to do?
There is probably a very good reason you decided to omit these foods from your diet. It could be bloating, maybe better energy, a healthier digestion or other nice benefits. So of course you are concerned about giving into this craving and maybe feeling even worse. Don't worry. Having this food once or twice is not going to make a huge difference in how you feel. And maybe - just maybe - you will actually feel better eating it. During pregnancy our body changes how we react to food, especially food allergies and intolerances. Your body needs to get as many nutrients as possible for baby's growth, so it is willing to live with a bit of extra gluten or dairy.
There are two options here: if you really don't want to have the "forbidden food", see if you can have a "fake" food instead: maybe gluten free bread that feels satisfying to eat, a veggie burger in case you don't eat meat or alternative cheese for your dairy intolerance. Often these "fake" foods can help to satisfy the craving when it comes to the texture and taste.
Option two is to just give in and have it. Denying yourself this food will just make you crazy. Often just having it once will satisfy the craving, and you can move on with your life. Don't be so strict with your dogma during this time of constant change. You can come back to your "diet" after birth. You will continue to live. It's all good.
I hope these tips help you to deal with your pregnancy cravings. Don't worry, they will go away, and you will begin to feel like yourself again!
All the best,