What happens when a lifelong habit of healthy eating meets mum-to-be cravings?

Pregnancy is a great excuse to ditch food guilt and tuck in without worrying about the calories — for most of us at least. But what if your changing body and the extra kilos is freaking you out, rather than being a cause for celebration?

With so much advice about how much we should really be eating, combined with stories about obesity in pregnancy and a culture of super-slim celebrities with barely there bumps, experts are concerned that "pregorexia” — a term that has been coined to describe an eating disorder during pregnancy — is fast becoming a trend.

Do you have an eating disorder?

According to surveys, one in four women are "highly concerned" about their pregnant shape, and a worrying one in 14 women (a rise from one in 50 in 2007) suffer from an eating disorder in the early months of pregnancy. Typical pregnancy symptoms like weight gain and vomiting can, sometimes, conceal an eating disorder. Thus, it’s vital to recognise the symptoms and have them treated as soon as possible.

Take charge of your body

So, why do so many of us have a troubling relationship with food at a time when it’s more important than ever to keep our body healthy? Psychologists believe that many mums-to-be suffer from anxiety and a feeling of not being in charge. This prompts us to dread the prospect of putting on weight, which results in some women taking unhealthy measures to prevent it when they are expecting.

Avoid fad diets

From Atkins’ low-carb and the South Beach good carbs/fats diets to juice cleanses, many of us get caught up in the latest lose-weight fads. Nutritionist experts say that part of the blame for our unhealthy eating patterns during pregnancy lies in our pre-pregnancy eating habits. It’s a testing time for women who are always on diets or if they’ve always battled with food issues, made worse by the guilt and worry about the health risks to their unborn babies.

However conflicted your relationship is with food, it’s important to remember that it’s still possible to give your child a healthy start in life. It just requires an understanding of what you need from food, nutritionally speaking, and getting the right help, if necessary.

Find out how much weight is good

You can put things in perspective by knowing how much weight you can expect to put on. On average, women gain between 8kg and 13kg throughout their pregnancy — although this will vary according to your genes, height and the size of your baby.

Most women put on between 0.9kg and 1.8kg in their first trimester, and about half a kilo per week for the rest of their pregnancy. Of your total weight gain, your baby’s weight makes up around 3.6kg, while the placenta, breast tissue and the amniotic fluid each weigh up to 1.4kg. The uterus accounts for up to 1.8kg of your weight gain, with extra blood at around 1.8kg. Only around 2.3kg and 4kg is actual fat.

Adopt a balanced diet

If you’re guilty of haphazard dieting, becoming a mum is a good time to address it. Pregnancy is the best motivation for you to eat well because your growing baby is depending on you for his sustenance; it is also a great time to experience more with your unborn and your family as you plan meals together. Start by eating balanced meals in smaller portions so your stomach is never empty and your blood-sugar levels don’t drop too low. And drink lots of water — you need to be hydrated to help your foetus develop.

On the flip side, if you find yourself hankering after unhealthy foods when you’re usually wary of over-doing starchy foods like potatoes, rice and noodles, moderation is key or try looking for a healthy alternative. It can be unsettling but this is normal as pregnancy often causes dramatic changes in the foods you feel like eating.

The good news is, many women actually find that an existing eating disorder improves when they’re expecting.

Photo: iStock

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