As of today, I’m 27 weeks pregnant, and well over halfway through my pregnancy now. While the time seems to fly on one level, it’s also standing still in other ways, especially since I’m still dealing with all day “morning sickness” and other fun things like migraines and sciatica. Pregnancy is amazing, but it’s also not the glamorous walk in the park that many would have you believe. (Don’t worry, this blog won’t go into that!) One very real thing about pregnancy that no one seems to exaggerate are the cravings and food aversions. Many have asked me how I manage to stay Paleo when I’m craving things like pizza, ice cream, and fried pickles, so here’s my rundown on making the most of your Paleo pregnancy without losing your mind.
I Hold Onto The Big Picture
Why am I Paleo? Because I want to eat for my health, and now for the health of my baby-on-the-way, too. I’m not Paleo because it’s cool or because I want to stay thin. I’m Paleo because I value real food and because my autoimmune issues necessitate careful monitoring of the quality and kind of food I put into my body. That being said, I know my body well enough to know where there is leeway and where I need to continue to be strict.
Everyone may have slightly different reasons for being Paleo, but I think there are always ways to allow yourself some wiggle room, even with a Paleo diet, without sacrificing too much or completely throwing real food out the window. Paleo isn’t a legalistic food plan for me, it’s a health-supportive tool in my life. As such, I don’t get lost in the details.
I Cut Myself Slack When I Need It
Pregnancy is hard on many levels. Physically, emotionally, psychologically. Some days I’m so nauseated I can barely stand the idea of eating at all, but since I know that I need to, I’m a little more lenient with what food goes into me. If I think I can handle French fries and cantaloupe, then that’s what I eat. What, you might be saying? A Paleo nutritionist eats French fries!? Scandalous! Not really, when you consider that lots of thought goes into what I do or don’t allow myself to eat. Nothing is ever a spontaneous “see it and eat it” kind of a thing. Anyone with food allergies, Celiac disease, or other health issues will know that those things always backfire.
So yes, I eat French fries sometimes. But I make sure those fries are gluten free, because that and my other food allergies are areas I won’t stray into no matter how badly I might want to. Eating gluten free French fries which don’t really fall on the healthy scale is not the same as indulging in foods that I’m allergic to and will cause a cascade of digestive and autoimmune payback reactions. Again, my health is my ultimate priority, but I have allowable lines for indulgence, and I think that’s a healthy part of anyone’s diet or lifestyle. Your lines of indulgence might be stricter or freer than mine, but since you know your body best, you also know what those lines are.
Cheese has also become something I’ve craved, and which has been one of the few protein-containing foods I’ve been able to manage on many days. Somehow protein became one of the hardest macronutrients to consume during the first and second trimesters, which makes sense when you consider that meat always has distinct smells, and can also be a little harder to digest. So while I don’t tolerate most dairy well, I do tolerate quality hard cheeses, and since I know this about my body, I have allowed myself to indulge in cheese when needed or wanted. I have, however, not given into the desire for real cows’ milk ice cream, because that would produce an allergic reaction and actually make me far more miserable in the long run. Even knowing that, I’ve still craved it, but because I am allowing other indulgences, it’s easier to remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing and not feel deprived or sorry for myself.
The final area I really relaxed on during my pregnancy is sugar. Prior to conceiving and for all of the first trimester, I ate no sugar. Not refined sugars, not honey, not maple syrup, nothing. I desperately wanted it, but decided that since I have so many autoimmune disorders and a long history of recurrent pregnancy loss, I wanted to steer clear of something that had potential to mess with my immune system. As my pregnancy progressed, and my sickness got worse, I started to loosen up my sugar boundary lines. Now, knocking on the door of the third trimester, and having passed my gestational diabetes screening with flying colors, I allow myself to indulge in sugar—both Paleo and occasionally refined versions—because in some cases it helps to settle my nausea (soda, free from all forms of corn sweeteners), and in other cases it’s something that I crave and again, isn’t a line that I need to fully adhere to.
I Embrace My Paleo Cravings
While there are some non-Paleo foods I’ve allowed myself to eat, there have been plenty of very-Paleo foods that I’ve craved. Since those foods are fully Paleo, I’ve let myself indulge in those as often as I want, whether it seems “balanced” or not. Many clients and blog readers have expressed concern to me over feeling like they must eat well-balanced meals for the entire pregnancy or their baby will suffer from malnutrition. That’s not exactly how it works! I struggled to eat vegetables for my entire first trimester, but you know what? My baby is growing and healthy. The body is designed to extract nutrients for the baby from very little. Taking a prenatal vitamin also helps to offset this very understandable time where food aversions, nausea, and general fatigue can make it difficult to eat lots of veggies, and sometimes even fruit. As a nutritionist, I don’t want to set unrealistic expectations for me or anyone else. Perfectionism is not helpful in any aspect of life, so give up the idea of eating a “perfect” diet (before, during, or after pregnancy, really) and focus more on meeting your body’s needs. Sometimes the two can be very mutually exclusive. I took a prenatal, but I also did the best that I could. When I craved a salad, I ate one. But when I couldn’t handle the idea of vegetables even living in my house, I ate fruits, fats, and seeds, and knew that in an hour, or a day, or a week, my food desires would change. Pregnancy is a wild ride on many levels, and diet is no exception. Sometimes the best plan is to take one moment at a time.
But thankfully there are plenty of wonderful Paleo products on the market that I have enjoyed during this pregnancy, and I wanted to share my favorites with you! Not only have I managed some quick, easy meals, but I’ve also satisfied tons of weird food desires, with minimal effort!
- Sir Kensington’s Mayo—This mayo is amazing. I literally can’t say enough good things about it. I’ve mixed it with hardboiled eggs for quick and easy egg salad. I’ve mixed it with canned wild caught salmon for a tuna salad alternative that was rich in protein and omega-3s. I’ve dipped my fries in it and eaten it with every kind of meat imaginable. It’s got that great mayo taste, without GMOs, soy, or other nasty ingredients. If they sold this by the gallon, I’d have gone through a half ton by now.
- Chicken Bone Broth—My pregnancy sickness has in some ways been more over the top that I’ve expected, and actually more so than my OB usually sees. Some women are just lucky to kind of be “allergic” to pregnancy—hah! At any rate, with the sheer volume of flu-like days I’ve had, chicken bone broth has come in handy for some quick nutrients that also settle the stomach. This particular product filled in the gap when I couldn’t fathom making my own bone broth. I added some organic chicken stock to it, some chicken, and plenty of sea salt, and made a very basic chicken soup that got me through many days of misery. Even if you don’t feel up to making soup, you can heat up a cup’s worth of this, add some sea salt, and sip it until you feel more ready to take on the world. Or get out of bed.
- Pickles—I can’t even tell you how many jars of pickles I ate in my first trimester. Yes, I was that stereotypical pregnant woman. There were days where I polished off three jars a day, and started to wonder if my son was going to actually have pickled blood when he was born. (The jury is still out on that.) The good news about pickles is that you get the benefits of fermentation when you eat a quality brand like this one, so apart from that downside of actually having pickle breath, you don’t really have any reason to feel bad about going to town on these. (True story: I ate so many pickles during my first trimester…apparently above and beyond what’s even “normal” for pregnant women, that my baby in utero gained the nickname Pickles from my friends.)
- Jerky—While I really struggled with protein intake, for some reason jerky was easy enough for me to get down. Maybe because it was in smaller portions, or maybe because I could toss them in my bag and take them with me wherever I needed to be, but I became obsessed with the convenience of jerky. Pregnancy starvation can often hit suddenly and randomly (I just ate an hour ago, how am I starving right now!?) but when it does, most women need an immediate fix to avoid worsening nausea or even passing out. Nick’s Sticks to the rescue!
- Coconut Chips—When you have a sweet tooth and you need a quick fix, these caramel coconut chips are perfect. They only contain three ingredients, and they’re lightweight and easy to take on the go, keep by the bed, or wherever else you might need them. Plus, they come with guilt-free snacking, since they’re Paleo and overall not a “cheat.” (I’m not really a fan of the concept of cheating on a diet… as I said above, I’m all about realistic ideas and making a diet serve you, not the other way around, but I digress!)
Yes, A Paleo Pregnancy Is Possible
I could probably go on and on, but my final note will be this: even if you don’t eat 100% Paleo for your entire pregnancy, that doesn’t mean you have failed at Paleo, or that you don’t have a Paleo pregnancy. Remember that many proponents of Paleo believe that it should be 80/20 anyway, and keep in mind that Paleo is a lifestyle, not a slave master. Paleo eaters are fans of real food, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a purist all of the time. Know your body’s specific needs and limitations, and embrace those! Make Paleo work for you, whether you’re pregnant or not, and you’ll be much happier and healthier!
Aimee McNew, MNT, Certified Nutritionist