How to avoid gaining excess pregnancy weight

Many women think pregnancy means eating for two’but the reality is you only need an extra few hundred calories a day. Here’s how to satisfy cravings and hunger without overdoing it

How to avoid gaining excess pregnancy weight

Although many women don’t think much about taking off pregnancy weight until after they’ve had the baby, what you do during pregnancy can be most important to successfully losing the weight afterward.

Here’s a scenario we’ve seen happen (extreme, we know, but it does happen): the stick indicated "pregnant," and the woman grabs the TV remote and a bag of Doritos, swings by the freezer for a pint of Häagen-Dazs, and plants herself on the couch, where she practically lives for the next nine months. Then there’s the other extreme, where the woman feels panicky about gaining weight, counting every calorie and ramping up her exercise routine.

Now, neither of these scenarios may fit you exactly; you’re probably somewhere in the middle, allowing yourself to indulge more while still concerned about gaining weight and losing your figure for good. Don’t worry, we aren’t here to dampen the excitement and take away certain freedoms that traditionally accompany pregnancy. Every pregnant woman should feel free to indulge a bit more, but going hog wild (and we mean in a pork rinds kind of way) can set you up for disaster.

Although you do need to eat more to nourish your growing baby, eating for two is a misconception. Instead, think of your pregnancy as an opportunity to eat more of the healthier foods, and save some of the more indulgent foods as reward for eating healthy most of the time.

Eating and pregnancy go hand in hand

During pregnancy, a few hundred extra calories from healthy foods is all the "extra" you actually need. Since certain vitamin and mineral needs’like calcium and iron’go up, adding foods rich in these nutrients is also best for your body and the baby’s.

To successfully stay within the recommended guidelines and gain about 25 pounds, eat the same way you did before pregnancy, but add a glass of milk to lunch and dinner and a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts to your breakfast. You might also pick one of the suggestions below for an afternoon snack.

Here’s what a few hundred nutrient-rich calories look like:

‘ A slice of whole-wheat bread with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and slices from half a banana
‘ A whole-grain English muffin with a slice of Swiss cheese melted on each half
‘ One-third cup of dried apricots and two tablespoons of almonds
‘ Half a cup of low-fat granola with a tablespoon of semisweet chocolate chips and 1/2 ounce of raisins (about 30)
‘ Two tablespoons of chocolate syrup with 1/2 cup of sliced apples and 1 cup of whole strawberries (fresh or frozen, without any added sugar)
‘ A cup of low-fat fruit yogurt with 2 tablespoons of Grape Nuts mixed in
‘ A quarter cup of hummus with 10 baby carrots and half of a whole-wheat pita cut into triangles

Work with your cravings

Cravings can truly sabotage your attempts to eat healthfully. More than once, we’ve had women describe to us cravings for salty, fatty or sugary foods (or all three) and a repugnance for healthier, nutrient-rich foods. Some believe that these "cravings" are the body’s signal that it needs certain nutrients those foods contain. For example, some women tell us that a craving for a cheeseburger and fries signifies the body’s need for calories, protein and iron to support a growing baby. This is a very strong belief among pregnant women, and maybe it’s one you agree with.

Don’t let this idea fool you. In fact, scientists today believe that most so-called "cravings" are actually emotional or sensory attractions to certain "comfort" foods‘the salt and crunchiness of potato chips or the smooth melt-in-your-mouth sensation of a favourite chocolate treat’rather than actual physiological needs. Studies support the scientists’ conclusions. When researchers have fed people a desirable food, such as chocolate, as well as the isolated nutrients they suspect may be causing the craving, they’ve found that the food satisfies the craving, not the nutrients themselves.

That’s not to say that you aren’t truly craving certain foods. It means that your craving isn’t necessarily linked to a nutrient you or your baby might be missing. We’re staunch believers in listening to your body to achieve harmony and understanding what you need to be healthy and deliver a healthy baby (and this listening skill will come in handy after delivery). By being in touch with your body’s needs and signals, you can avoid giving in to unhealthful cravings’too often. We want you to strive to satisfy what your body actually needs as well as meet your emotional needs and wants. So we don’t advocate ignoring your "cravings"’but instead, either enjoy small portions of high-calorie foods or, when possible, choose healthier fare.

If you’re experiencing cravings for salty, fatty or sugary foods, you have the opportunity to choose nutrient-rich foods along with or as a substitute for your unhealthy desire. (You may need to watch your diet more strictly if you have risks such as elevated blood pressure or high blood sugar. Check with your doctor.) If you want potato chips, serve yourself just a small portion (eight to 10) or try a handful of nuts, which are also crunchy and may be salty. A spoonful of all-natural peanut butter may also satisfy you. Nuts and nut butters are fatty and salty but provide healthful fats and vitamins and minerals (including iron).

Other more healthful options for salty or fatty foods are cheeses, avocados and olives. (Again, these foods are full of calories, so you have to watch your portions.) If you choose an ounce of low-fat cheese instead of chips or fries, you benefit from the additional vitamins and minerals found in dairy foods. Avocados and olives provide healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, and heart-healthy phytochemicals (natural compounds found in plants that benefit health). If sweets are tempting you, go ahead and add some semisweet chocolate chips to nuts and dried fruit or granola, or drizzle chocolate on your favourite fruit.

Fitness is a must

Many women also think they should take it easy during pregnancy, but staying active not only makes it easier to get your body back to its pre-pregnancy weight quicker, but it also keeps the pounds from piling on too high. If you already exercise, you can continue your routine at a lower intensity’keep an eye on your heart rate so it doesn’t go above 150 beats per minute. If you’re a current couch potato, sign up for a prenatal class; it’s a great way to meet other moms-to-be and to stay motivated. Check with your doctor to get the green light to exercise.

Excerpted from The Baby Fat Diet: A Busy Mom’s Guide to Losing Weight and Looking Fabulous, by Monica Bearden, RD, and Shara Aaron, MS, RD. Copyright 2008 by NutCom, LLC. Excerpted with permission from Penguin Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without permission in writing from the publisher.