Friday, September 13, 2013

Apparently I'm on "Rantmode"

Almost before my first trimester was over, I had scoured the internet and bookstores for information on pregnancy. I like to know what information is out there and I like to read a lot of it to see all the different perspectives. One "piece of advice" that came up time and time again was to "remember you're not eating for TWO! You only need about 300 extra calories a day!" This advice always came, without fail, with an example of what these three hundred extra calories would look like: "that's the equivalent of a small bagel - WITHOUT cream cheese!" or "that's only a small apple and a piece of whole-wheat toast - NO BUTTER".

 Maybe it's something about the way that this advice always felt so criticizing, as if pregnant women were so stupid that they needed to be told in the most basic terms that food, surprise, has calories.

I'm not saying that we, as a human population, don't have problems with estimating portion sizes and the amount of calories in a meal or snack. I am saying that the way to teach someone about portion sizes is not to wait until they are at their most emotionally vulnerable (aka being pregnant and hormonal and probably seeing numbers on their scale that they don't want to) and then start shouting about how many calories are in that bagel they ate for lunch.  And don't forget to use all-caps when you assure this hypothetical pregnant woman that this calorie count is WITHOUT cream cheese. God help you if you added cream cheese to that bagel.

I don't know. At first I thought it just bothered me because it felt criticizing. I tried to rationalize it. I thought to myself, well, maybe a lot of women see being pregnant as a time when they really can eat anything and maybe we need to address that somehow.

But, no. Not like that.

While it is important to know that pregnancy doesn't require more than 200-400ish extra calories (depending on the individual person and the pregnancy), there's no reason we need to be so critical. I would argue that 90% of the reason that most women feel like they can eat anything while they're pregnant is because being pregnant is the only time in their entire lives that they feel like they don't have to be hyperaware of what they are eating and it is the only time in their lives that they feel like they can just enjoy what they eat.

As women, we spend a lot of time thinking about what we eat, and how much of it we should eat, and how much society will hate us if we eat the wrong amount of the "wrong" stuff. Aren't there always studies coming out about the high percentage of teenaged girls who say they need to lose weight and who say they have dieted within the last few months? Isn't it obvious that we are messing up girl's minds?

So then we have a problem. On the one hand, we need to fix society somehow and work towards having a healthy relationship with food. In the meantime, what do we do with this condescending eating advice for pregnant women?

This is the part where, if I were a smarter person, I would lay out a solution. I don't really have a solution.

Healthy eating (and living) starts with a simple concept - eat less and move more. Be mindful of what you eat and make an effort to move around during the day. And then it gets complicated by foods that taste really good but have a ridiculous amount of calories and by social norms and by entire industries (beauty, food, diet, etc) that might not have our best interests at heart. It gets complicated by the fact that each person will respond a little bit differently to the information they hear.

I do feel that if we could start with a healthier relationship with food, pregnancy might not be viewed as the only time that a person can "cheat" on their life-long diet.

With that in mind, I'd love to hear your opinion on whether or not I'm overreacting! Smiley says I might be reading just a bit too much into everything. I'm always game to hear what other people think!


  1. I think your points are valid - yelling at pregnant women is generally a bad idea, we as a society have a bad relationship with eating and overall things need to change in order to improve everyone's mental and physical health. On these points I completely agree with you.

    But, I must also add some ideas coming from the opposite end of the food spectrum. I have had a long term love-hate relationship with food and struggle daily with what I consider a semi-legit food addiction. This problem leads me to delude myself into thinking that a) I EARNED this food (from the bad day or long work hours or small amt of exercise I did); b) "this delicious food can't be THAT many calories" / "if I just cut out the fries this meal will be totally healthy" / "it has fruit in it, must be healthy to eat this dessert covered in chocolate!"; c) My short walk to the store totally negates the latte and chocolate muffin I'm about to eat"; or d) all of the above. So, probably the only positive thing I'd be able to find about being pregnant is that I could tell myself that I'm eating for two so I can go wild! And yes, I am educated, informed, rational and should know better. But I would fall into that trap. And if it weren't for my recent restricted calorie diet and calorie logging, I would be sure that 300 calories means I can have the brownie sundae from Outback.

    My second and last point is that my sister experienced gestational diabetes twice. This apparently predisposes her to real diabetes later. And it jeopardizes the health of the fetus. She was good and had the motivation she needed to restrict her diet and control it. But I could see how that could be an issue if someone isn't trying hard to avoid it or is diagnosed but then doesn't know how best to change their diet to accommodate the new low carb needs.

    In summary, the answer comes down to somewhere in the middle. I think we need to educate people before pregnancy (hell, all through childhood, really, and thereafter too!), but I dot think we should as a society skip educating pregnant women on the importance of healthy eating and what that really means (since many of us either don't know / realize the crazy amount of calories in some foods and since delusion can be powerful). Though perhaps it could be done a bit more gently :)

    Thanks for stimulating an interesting discussion!

    1. Do you think it would have made a difference in your life if you had gotten some sort of education on nutrition in school? A lot of things you mention, particularly the "I earned this" mentality seems to me to be exactly what the food industry is all about - creating a society where rewards for are chocolate and where depictions of "normal" portions as bigger so they can sell more product. Would learning about advertising tricks in school help or hurt people?

      When I was a junior in high school, we had one semester of gym and one semester of health class. This health class was the only time I remember doing anything like learning about food nutrition labels and it seemed like too little, too late. I don't know what the ideal time frame is for introducing children to nutrition but it seems like it's earlier than high school.

      And what would we teach? I think to when trans fats were introduced and people were encouraged (with science backing) to use margarine instead of butter to reduce "bad" fats. We now know that trans fats are worse. But that serves as an example to how much misinformation occurs and how we're all kind of a living science experiment in terms of what we eat and what we believe about what we eat. Another example is that breastmilk used to be considered dirty and mothers were instructed, by doctors, to feed their babies a blend of corn syrup and condensed milk.

      Hopefully we can teach people to eat whole, unprocessed foods, but then we get stuck in the next problem where time and money might not allow people to follow that and therefore reject it as something only "rich" people do. I think that can be helped in some cases by teaching HOW to cook. It absolutely is easier to make a boxed dinner than cook from a recipe IF the recipe seems intimidating. And the government can say "eat whole-grains, lean meat and less sugar" all they want, but for a lot of people, without a solid way to implement these ideas, they won't make a change.

      Gestation diabetes, as you mentioned, has the potential to be very dangerous for both the mom and the baby. I'm not sure if it's required or what, but as far as I know, all women are asked to take the glucose tolerance test in their second trimester (sooner if they have other risk factors or have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes in the past). I hope that when the results come back, doctors are sitting down their patients and explaining what this means and what an ideal diet would look like.

      I've heard anecdotal stories of people wanting to "beat" the glucose tolerance test so they wouldn't have to go on a restricted diet, but when I was on forums, it did seem like the women there got good advice from their doctors and seemed to be trying to follow it. Of course, this is an unrepresentative sample since the people at risk are probably the ones without computer access/internet access.

      TL;DR - Katie makes great points and I give stories about my experiences with those points.