How My "Perfect" Diet Changed Once I Got Pregnant

Photo: Julia Fenner

Even before becoming a certified integrative nutrition health coach, I was a self-proclaimed "health nut," focused on eating all of the healthiest foods no matter what. I’ve been consistently obsessed with making sure I'm eating only organic, local, grass-fed, and pasture-raised meat, dairy, fruits, greens, and vegetables for as long as I can remember, and I've even cycled through all of the popular diets—from vegetarian and vegan to gluten-free, paleo, and grain-free.

The goal in all my healthy eating endeavors was to make sure I felt well: emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I’d been through a major health crisis and seen much of my family suffer from diseases that lifestyle habits and diets may have prevented. So I constantly made it my mission to not only eat well but to do so regardless of the cost or inconvenience.

After five years of transforming all areas of my life for the better, I finally settled on a way of eating that worked well for my body and mind. I found that by avoiding dairy, grains, added sugars, and gluten, I was free of the recurring sinus infections, yeast infections, skin rashes, digestive issues, panic, and anxiety.

And then I got pregnant.

Within days of finding out that I was unexpectedly (though happily) pregnant, I realized that I was going to have to start from scratch with my diet. Not only was I not able to eat much at all for months during my first trimester, but when I was able to eat, my body craved much of what I’d decided was no longer "healthy" for me. Specifically, I wanted grains—breads, pastas, crackers, and cereals. At first, I turned up my nose at those foods and decided I could power through this phase and stick to my previously "perfect" diet, but I lost that battle and the pregnancy hormones won out.

How hormones can change what's "right."

Hormones are an odd thing, and I’ve learned they can change everything about what is "right" for you and what feels good in your body. Plus, pregnancy is a wild animal that can’t be tamed. I’ve learned to let go of perfectionism, at least a little, and ask my body each day what it wants and find a way to give in to that, regardless of the rules I created for myself in the past.

Additionally, hormones make our pregnant bodies crave some of the oddest things. For me, it's been tuna salad and mandarin oranges. These days, I can eat 10 or more mandarin oranges in a day and still want more. As for tuna salad, it's something I've always liked—but never something I had to have. As a pregnant person, each day I wake up and start over with eating. I’ve had to learn to ask myself daily what is right for my body to eat (and do), and each day is different. One day it’s chicken soup, the next it’s pizza, and today I can't stop thinking about oatmeal. Forcing myself to eat only what I was eating before feels like a form of self-sabotage, not self-care.

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Did I stop eating healthy food completely? No way.

No, I didn’t throw in the towel completely when it came to eating well. But I found that forcing myself to be grain-free and dairy-free just wasn’t going to work anymore. So I found a middle ground: I’d allow myself all the grains my body craved, but I also made sure they were free of gluten, as I’d been diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Also, I allowed myself some butter and cheese—but in moderation.

Today, almost halfway through my pregnancy journey, I’ve come to terms with a few things. First, eating healthy doesn’t have to mean forcing myself to adhere to strict nutrition guidelines. Second, when making decisions about what’s "right" for my body, I connect to my intuition—my body’s messages and that sense of knowing. Finally, sometimes starting from scratch—when it comes to nutrition, diet, supplements, and exercise can be the best thing for me (and my baby).

This last one was a tough one for me, but I’ve found it to be true. I realized that a reset may be just what the doctor ordered. My body is constantly changing, even more now that I’m pregnant, and if I’m not flexible then I may be forcing a lifestyle and way of eating that is no longer serving me. I’ve decided to embrace this journey of starting over as a lesson and a blessing.

Interested in learning exactly what to eat during pregnancy? Here are six foods you probably didn't know you should avoid.

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