“You’re eating for two,” says your great-grandmother, as she glances at your bulging belly and pushes another plate of cake your way. “You’re supposed to gain weight during pregnancy, so go ahead and eat up!”
Unfortunately, that old wives’ tale is still around, but it’s one of the most dangerous myths about pregnancy. “Eating for two” during pregnancy may seem sensible; after all, there’s a little person growing inside of you who is being nourished by the food you eat. But remember that your baby is just that – little – and doesn’t need many calories to grow and mature.
Current nutritional guidelines suggest that a pregnant woman should only add about 300 extra calories a day to her normal diet. Women who begin pregnancy at a normal weight should gain between 20 and 35 pounds over the gestation period. If you began pregnancy overweight, however, you’ll want to talk to your doctor about adjusting that number, and reduce your extra calorie intake accordingly.
How much can you eat to fill that extra 300 calories? Probably not as much as you’d like to think. Three hundred calories is about the number of calories in a peanut butter sandwich, or one avocado, or a bowl of cereal and milk. And you’ll want to make those calories nutritious too, which means trying to get them from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins.
Eating too much, or eating unhealthy foods to bump up your calorie intake, can actually harm both you and your baby. It can lead to a higher risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, backaches, or the need for a cesarean delivery. Not only that, but the excessive weight gain can often be very difficult to lose after your baby is born.
While eating for “one and a bit” sounds great in theory, it can be very hard for an expectant mom to put into practice. During the first trimester, you may be blindsided by morning sickness that makes it difficult to keep anything down. And although pregnant moms aren’t “supposed” to gain more than a couple of pounds during the first trimester, you may discover that you need to eat constantly to keep morning sickness at bay. The solution? Try to stick to healthy, low-calorie foods, like rice cakes, and eat just a bite or two each time you need something to settle your stomach.
Food aversions and cravings also hit during the first trimester. To stop these from sabotaging your efforts to gain no more than the recommended amount, try to find the healthiest option from the foods that you can eat (or can’t live without), and eating them in small amounts rather than downing a bag of them in one sitting. If you’re craving chocolate, try some dark chocolate drizzled on a melon. If you feel like eating pint after pint of ice cream, try some all-fruit sorbet instead.
During the second and third trimesters, as your morning sickness (hopefully!) quiets down, you’ll want to focus on eating nutritious foods to keep your baby as healthy as possible. And don’t be embarrassed to eat a broccoli and banana sandwich if that’s what you’re craving. As long as your cravings are healthy, take advantage of them to give your baby the most nutritious start that you can.
So although you’re not eating double the quantity of food, in a way, you are eating for two. You’re eating nutritious foods to keep the two of you – you and your baby – healthy. Maybe that old wives’ tale about pregnant women “eating for two” does have some value after all!
By Keren Perles