nutrition and exercise in pregnancy

The other day, I got this comment from blog reader Kate:

I was wondering if you would mind covering a post on healthy eating during pregnancy. Or perhaps what things you have been concentrating on or NOT.


It really got me thinking about food and exercise during pregnancy. I am not even close to an expert on this topic but I suppose I can share my perspective on things since you asked:)

Nate and I have always been fairly healthy eaters but we definitely don't deprive ourselves of the 'bad' foods we love. Everything in moderation is truly a statement to live by, don't you think? That certainly has not changed since I got pregnant and honestly, I don't think my diet has been altered at all---besides saying goodbye to my beloved caffeinated coffee and red wine. I've never believed in the saying 'eating for two' during pregnancy and basically, when I'm hungry I will eat. Perhaps my portion sizes are a little bigger these days and I definitely allow myself more sweets when I crave them. But overall, not much has changed in my diet.

Some of the staples we get at the grocery store every week include: hearty whole wheat bread, oranges, apples, bananas, spinach, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, skim milk, deli-sliced turkey breast, and chicken. Then you'll probably find a few yummy frozen pizzas in the mix along with a life-supply of peanut butter, cheese, and bagels.

Every morning I eat the same thing: peanut butter and honey on a bagel with a glass of skim milk. Every freaking day. I love it and it's the only thing that stays with me until lunch time. Since I got pregnant I've needed a mid-morning snack and my favorite is a Quaker Chewy granola bar, preferably the peanut butter and chocolate chip kind. Mmmmmm. Every day I pack my own lunch and it's usually pretty healthy: either PB&J on whole wheat bread, or possibly a deli turkey breast, spinach, and cucumber sandwhich. I'll have two pieces of fruit, some chips (my vice!) and maybe another granola bar. This will usually last me until dinner, when Nate and I always cook something together. Lots of soup/sandwich combos, pasta with chicken, salads, chili, or of course...pizza is what we mostly eat in the winter. More often than not, we'll make a yummy spinach/carrot/tomato/crouton salad, too. Sometimes if I'm hungry after dinner I'll have a bowl of cereal or treat myself to a cookie or two. When I look at this line-up for the day I really don't think any of it has changed since the pregnancy except maybe the extra granola bar and the tendency to allow myself more cookies. Life is too short, you know? :)

The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy by Vicki Iovine is my most recently read pregnancy book. I liked it a lot but at the same time, the whole chapter on 'exercise and pregnancy' really rubbed me the wrong way. Now granted, the book was written back in the 90's so there are definitely some parts that are obviously outdated....like the exercise part, in my opinion. Basically, the author believes that pregnancy gives you a free pass to be lazy and in fact, she believes pregnant women should AVOID working out if at all possible. Huh? She goes on to say that 'you'll just get fatter anyway' and staying in shape will not actually help you during labor, nor will it help you lose the weight faster after you deliver. The whole chapter pretty much ticked me off because she makes it sound like those of us still at the gym are just in denial and possibly damaging our babies in the process. She says that those who continue to exercise rigorously are frantically trying to take back control of a life they think is spinning out of control. Give me a break, lady.

I work out because it actually provides me with more energy than I'd have if I laid on the couch every night. I have always sincerely enjoyed breaking a sweat and for my own mental sanity, my own self-confidence, I absolutely have to stay in shape because after about 4 days without working out I start to feel like a sluggish blob. I whole-heartedly believe that if I remain somewhat fit during this pregnancy then my body will perform with more endurance and stamina during labor. I also like to hope that my body will bounce back to it's former self faster if I maintain some kind of fitness during this pregnancy. Apparently this author thinks I'm nuts but whatever.

Once I cut through the overall crap of this chapter, I was able to take home an amazing point that really rang true to me--something I need to embrace during the remainder of my pregnancy. She explains that the female body is a pretty amazing creation and during pregnancy our bodies are meant to gestate a living being, growing that baby in a healthy and safe environment. In order to do this our bodies must morph into this baby-growing machine, which means gaining weight, gaining a belly bump, possibly some whacked-out hormones, and lots of other fun symptoms that come along with pregnancy. Here is my favorite quote about this:

"The greatest lesson in life, and particularly in pregnancy, is to BE NICE TO YOURSELF. It is time to really understand that your body was intended for more than just being a vehicle through which you amuse yourself, promote yourself or abuse yourself. It is designed to gestate a baby. Nature has wisely put you on automatic pilot because she knows that, if left to your own devices, you might mess the whole thing up. All you have to do is behave moderately and surrender; nature will do the rest."


It's so true. My body is no longer a vessel with which I can cross marathon finish lines. It no longer fits into my size 4 jeans. I can no longer get all jocked out and become a meat head at the gym who lifts weights and runs 30 miles a week. That part of my identity is now on hold as my body changes into something else: the home for my baby boy. I have to believe that my body knows what it's doing. You hear that phrase all the time when people talk about labor and delivery--it's a natural process and the female body knows what needs to happen. Isn't that the same for all of pregnancy?

Although my appetite hasn't changed too much and I'm still exercising, I'm gaining weight like it's a freaking competition, which totally ticks me off. But you know what? My body needs to gain this weight in order to grow my baby boy. As long as I'm not laying on the couch, downing whole bags of chips and cookies and slurping mass amounts of milkshakes I should feel pretty good about the changes my body is making. After all, I'm becoming a mommy now and therefore less self-centered and I'm sure my priorities in life will completely change once I stare into his adorable little eyes. My vanity has to go out the window as I embrace my pregnant body and all I can do is hope to return to a version of my former physical self. I'd like to be all mature and say that the numbers on the scale don't bother me but let's get real: I'm a girl. Don't we all have a few body issues going on here? I think for us pregnant ladies, the best we can do is be kind to ourselves and try not to be alarmed at the distorted reflections in the mirror. It's all temporary, right? :)

I'm both lucky and cursed in this pregnancy because of my job. As a PT in the hospital setting, I am literally on my feet all day long, lifting people in/out of bed, pushing, pulling and squatting down as I teach people how to move, walk, and exercise again. It's a physically demanding job for sure and I'm feeling it a lot more by the end of the work week. On one hand it's great for me to stay active and on my feet but on the other, I'm scared I won't be able to make it until my due date because it's such a physical job. My co-workers have been very protective over me and you should see some of the nurses when I attempt to help boost a patient up in the bed---they practically shoo me out of the room, as if I'm disabled or something. I guess I'll take it right about now because I need to last another 9 weeks, you know. Gotta work until I deliver to have the full twelve weeks off with little man after he arrives....no need to waste those days off by myself at home, pregnant and miserable:)

So I guess what I have to say on the topic of nutrition and exercise during pregnancy is this: everyone is different, every body is different, but for me staying active in my job and also at the gym helps me stay sane. I haven't had to overhaul my diet during pregnancy and I tend to stick to the same ol' staples. But packing my own lunch and nearly ALWAYS eating at home versus eating out is what works for us. I figure the rest is up to my pregnant body and I do my best to treat it right. I only stare in disbelief when looking into the mirror about once a day lately....so we are getting somewhere! :)

24 comments:

  1. I am on my third pregnancy and all three Dr's have said to keep on working out (I walk/jog now) because it will help with delivery and recovery. With my first two kids I gained 35/28 lbs and afterwards I gpt back to my inital weight (my body had changed for sure but the scale had the exact same number as when I first started). And your body will tell you when you need to slow down or stop. It has taken me three pregnancies to finally just say "Go with it"...eat healthy but as often as I need too, it's ok if I sneak in a fatty snack, jog until I feel uncomfortable, and enjoy my big belly, and totally ignore the scale. :)

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  2. I am a newish reader and just wanted to comment about having to work up to your delivery. I am sure that will be hard in your job! Where I live (Mexico), maternity leave is mandated to begin 6 weeks before the due date and end 6 weeks after. How weird is that? I hear it is meant to protect people with physically demanding jobs in factories, etc. but for those of us who work in offices it seems odd. When the time comes, I would much rather work up till delivery and have the full 3 months afterward with my baby. But I guess there'll be plenty of time to decorate the nursery!
    Sloane
    http://www.sloaneandpuffy.com

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  3. This is a good article. Many pregnant women struggle with some of these issues. The Every Other Day Diet plan is great if you need to shed some pounds quickly. It is also great if you have been putting off dieting because you are too busy to starve yourself. If you need lots of energy, the Every Other Day Diet gives you that.

    http://fithuman.net/Weight.Loss.html

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  4. Whoa, I can't believe that book promotes a sedentary lifestyle during pregnancy. I would go insane. I know women have little energy during the first trimester, but I can only imagine that even moderate exercise like walking would make you feel so much better about yourself as you get bigger. And, exercise is such a good stress reliever and helps you sleep better.

    I find it fascinating what people say about their pregnant bodies telling them what they need to do/shouldn't do. My friend said that she stopped wanting to drink alcohol and found the taste repugnant before she found out she was pregnant with her first baby. In our society, we often ignore what our bodies tell us (e.g. eat when we're not hungry), and I find it interesting that pregnancy can perhaps get you in touch with your body the way you should be all the time.

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  5. I really liked this post! The whole part about our bodies being made to gestate another living being almost brought a tear to my eye! (Darn preggo hormones!)

    BTW, from your pictures you look perfectly healthy and normal, NOT FAT, no matter what your scale may say :) Keep embracing it!

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  6. What a wonderful and honest view on nutrition and exercise in pregnancy. When I do get pregnant I plan to do just as you are.

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  7. Keep up the great work Julia! I too read that book during pregnancy and ignored the 'don't workout' "advice" during pregnancy. I have always worked out and still wanted to during my pregnancy. I am by no means a stellar athlete, but I'm convinced that my workout routine helped me through my 4 hours of pushing!

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  8. I'm not pregnant but just had to laugh and share with you that I too eat peanut butter with honey for breakfast every day (albeit on an English muffin)! Skim milk is found in the coffee. And this has been my pattern for four years! Glad to know there are others who are as breakfast-consistent as I am.

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  9. I'm not sure which version of the Girlfriend's Guide to Preg that I have- but I interpreted the chapter on working out differently (I'm pregnant as well). I felt like she was saying, 'Don't kill yourself. You're gonna get fat anyway. If working out regularly makes you feel good- then by all means go for it. However, you're pregnant- be nice to yourself. If you don't feel like working out, it's going to be alright.'

    As a a pretty serious long distance runner, I found this chapter liberating. I need the reminder that during this time, I need to be kind to myself, realize that extra pounds are inevitable and GOOD & if don't beat yourself up about it if you're too tired to hit up the gym for a few days.

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  10. Hey Julia! My friend Tess is an OT and is constantly lifting people and it sounds like what you are doing, as well. I can't imagine what she will do when she is pregnant. I am sure that you don't want to feel disabled by being pregnant, but I know that your job is very grueling. It's ok to step back and get some help and take a few minutes to sit down. As far as your weight, you are a naturally skinny person who has been active throughout your pregnancy. Everyone I know that is like you has bounced back incredibly quick to their former bodies. I know you will do the same. And if not, don't stress. You will still be a hell of a lot skinnier than most of us out here ;)

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  11. Great post! I'm a RN and I know what you mean about being on your feet all day. Granted you do more physical stuff with lifting pt's. I remember when I was about 30ish weeks PG and one of the pt's on our floor was on the floor in the hallway. I instinctively ran to her (STUPID!), I was convinced I was gonna give birth that night. My tummy was tightening regularly, it finally calmed down & I still managed to make it to my due date. My co-workers tried to knock me out of the way also, but once I got closer to the end I felt like superwoman, lol. I didn't want people doing stuff for me. LOVE your blog!

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  12. Thankyou for an awesome post! It was really great to read your perspective - which seems so right :)

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  13. This is exactly the approach I took towards my pregnancy as well!

    I love hearing how at peace you are with your body now Julia. That was one of my biggest learnings. I have so much more appreciation for my body now, more than I ever did playing college soccer or training for my half marathon.

    I truly feel that while the baby may need the full 9+ months in utero, the mother needs it just the same to fully prepare for the physical and mental changes.

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  14. I must say, you've got a really healthy attitude. I think that is one of the things that draws me to blogs like yours. I need inspiration to keep going, lol. Usually on a daily basis, especially now.

    I have really been enjoying this pregnancy physically and therefore, I have definitely been eating more. I was so sick during my first pregnancy and didn't gain much weight. Oh, the comments I heard over and over! There's no way you can be 6 months along, 7 months along, 8 months along, blah blah blah. And the fact that I took my dog on VERY long walks every day when I was 8 months pregnant in July? Everyone thought I was crazy. But I didn't want to lay on the sofa all day! What good was that going to do me or the baby? I would break a sweat every day with my walks. It got my heart pumping and really made me feel good about myself! Prenatal yoga is amazing too!

    By the way, my sister is a nurse anesthetist and had a baby last May. She was on her feet doing 24 hour calls until she gave birth. She is one tough cookie and it sounds like you are too so I don't think you should be worried about work. Just like you said, your body will let you know when it has had enough especially in the last few weeks of pregnancy!

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  15. Great post! I can't imagine that exercising and staying fit wouldn't help you; I honestly haven't heard great things about that book, and maybe that's why.

    Your breakfast sounds yummy! I have Lower Sugar Quaker Oats Apples and Cinnamon oatmeal every single day (and have for probably 10 years), and everyone thinks I'm nuts. I say, don't mess with a good thing!

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  16. I just stumbled on your blog recently, and I'm finding it really fun to read about your experiences. I'm 30 weeks right now, and still going to the gym 3-4 times a week. A lot of people seem to think I'm crazy, but I feel so much better when I work out.

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  17. I agree with your assessment of "Girlfriends"...her philosophy was 9 months up and 9 months down, which, as I am closing in on 9 months, I know is total BS. So, you have a good thing going!

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  18. Just found this blog through my google alerts - My name is Nisha and I am a leading prenatal fitness specialist and author of The 9 Month Club - Pregnancy Fitness Coaching for Safe and Effective Pregnancy Health.

    After reading about your nutrition I have got a whole load of information for you that will make you take an entirely different perspective on what you see as healthy foods for pregnancy (and motherhood).

    So I have an offer for you. My pregnancy coaching program is a daily coaching program covering nutrition, exercise, wellness and complete pregnancy health. I usually charge £99 per trimester - but if you are willing to blog your progress every day you can get whichever trimester you are currently in for free.

    Take a look at http://www.the9monthclub.com and let me know what you think =D

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  19. See that you're on the "pro-deli meat" team. It's been a topic of discussion at the OB's office as of late.

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  20. yep, pro turkey deli meat but I just zap it in the microwave for 20 seconds before I eat it. Usually...not all the times anymore, though. I couldn't go without it even though I tried!

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  21. Loved this post! I have been reading your blog for awhile, and have read it more often now that I recently found out I'm pregnant my first child. You're experience is a wealth of knowledge for me! :)

    I was wondering if you could possibly elaborate on your exercise routine? How hard you worked out and how it varied during certain trimesters? I have been athletic all my life and have taken up running since college. My miles per week aren't nearly as impressive as yours but in the past few years they've varied from 10-16 miles per week. While I've read numerous articles on the benefits of exercise, the biggest question I have is how do you determine how vigorous you should work out? All of the articles say to make sure to keep your heart rate under about 140 and to make sure you don' raise your temperature to a certain degree. But how do you monitor this without taking a thermometer and a heart rate monitor to the gym (kidding, but hope you get my drift.)Any little tidbits would be wonderful.

    Take care and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  22. Yeah! Thank you for addressing my question! You rock! It is nice to hear your thoughts on the issue. Just got back from my run today and I also got a brand new dSLR for Christmas that I have been playing with non-stop. I love to read your blog, so keep 'em coming. You have lots of fans.....

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