(Peanut Butter & Bacon Sandwiches – You”re welcome!)
I remember the day I announced to my Indiana – meat and potatoes – family that I was now a vegetarian. It was the result of a pig dissection in my sophomore year of High School – I was so grossed out by that particular unit in Biology, I swore off eating meat forever. I want to be clear, this wasn’t a philosophical thing for me – I was just really grossed out. My family’s reaction was that this was just temporary, and every night at dinner, my Dad would pass me the platter of meat and ask again, “Are you still a vegetarian?” I think this went on for at least a year before he finally dropped it. I’m pretty sure my parents thought it was “just a phase.” I’m guessing they thought I would grow out of it long before I actually did – when I got pregnant with my first baby 16 years later. That’s a mighty long “phase!”
When women become pregnant there’s all this talk of cravings – the crazy things that women will want to eat while growing their babies. There’s not a lot of conclusive science as to why normal pregnancy cravings occur. Some studies point to hormonal changes during pregnancy, some refer to the heightened sense of taste and smell having some causality, there’s been some thought that the woman’s body is lacking the particular nutrients in the food she’s craving (but, then – how do you explain chocolate?) I even read one study that talked about the ambivalence women might have toward a certain food – “I want it, but I shouldn’t eat it!” An attitude that pregnancy somehow confers permission for a woman to eat the “forbidden fruit” as it were, because she’s pregnant. That somehow, culturally, it’s not only accepted, but maybe even encouraged, that she indulge in her cravings.
Well, whatever the reason…
I initially had horrible food aversions when I was first pregnant. Everything made me sick. And there was nothing “morning” to it! I had “all-day-unless-I’m-sleeping-sickness” for the first 16 weeks of my pregnancy. And it wasn’t just nausea! I threw up 10-12 times a day and I ended up losing about 15 pounds in my first trimester. Don’t worry… I gained it all back, plus some change!
But when I was finally feeling well enough to eat, I had the most intense cravings for meat. Initially, I tried to ignore it. But I had been a really bad vegetarian over the years. What I mean is that real vegetarians know how to combine different foods to create complete proteins. I never learned how to do that. I just didn’t eat any meat. In my own mind, I must have really lacking in the protein my baby so obviously needed in order to grow and develop. Or at least that’s what I told myself as I secretly gave into my meat cravings and ate lunch at the Honeybaked Ham store and restaurant housed in the mall across the street from where I worked. For two full weeks, I’d slink over at lunchtime and order a “Pounder Sandwich” – which was a full pound of meat before you added any sort of toppings to it! I would hide in a back corner shoving this meat sandwich into my mouth like someone who’s been shipwrecked for months on an abandoned island with no food. I finally “confessed” to my husband that I was no longer a vegetarian. He shrugged and said, “I never considered you to be a real vegetarian anyway!” He was right. I’d always been just a poser.
After that initial binge eating of pounder sandwiches, I calmed down a bit and realized that I could have a little meat (and the other things that I craved…) without going too far overboard. But remember, if you are wanting to stay true to your veggie lifestyle, stay far away from the gateway meat: bacon. Once you go bacon, you’ll never go back! My favorite craving while pregnant with my first became bacon and peanut butter sandwiches. It’s delicious!
I think fulfilling pregnancy cravings in moderation is okay. The more ambivalent our attitude about what we’re putting past our lips while pregnant, “I would never eat this if I weren’t pregnant! Must be the hormones!” the more at risk we can become for over indulging in foods that are not particularly nutrient rich and best for our developing babies within. But if we never satisfy those cravings, they’ll only get stronger over time. And when you finally succumb and eat more than you would normally – you set yourself up for a really weird and unnecessary shame cycle around food. Plus, not all cravings are bad. Lots and lots of women crave fresh fruit (in December, which makes it really hard on the partners…) Meat, in itself, is not bad. Continuing to eat pounder sandwiches daily for the remaining 5 months of my pregnancy however, probably would have become an issue for me!
There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that the rates for gestational diabetes is on the rise and there are many complications that can result from what is starting to feel like an all too common diagnosis in pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can lead to issues for Momma and baby not only during pregnancy and birth, but also years down the road.
So, when listening to those cravings, pay close attention to what it is you’re really desiring. If you are wanting something savory and a bag of high-fat, high-sodium chips is calling to you, maybe switch to pretzels or popcorn: either will still provide a satisfying crunch and a little bit of salt, but won’t result in excess fat or sodium. If you’re dreaming of super deluxe extra rich strawberry ice cream, maybe what you really want is the flavor of strawberries – could it be satisfied by eating sorbet, yogurt or even fresh strawberries? If you’re craving chocolate – instead of eating en entire Snickers bar, try eating one square of extra dark chocolate. The more intense flavor might mean you don’t have to eat quite as much in one sitting, but you’ll still feel satisfied.
I’m not a fan of restrictive eating. I’ve always indulged my cravings, pregnant or not. But I try to do so with moderation. Life is more fulfilling when all of our senses are firing – and that includes our sense of taste. Pregnancy and birth shouldn’t feel like punishment.
Sometimes I’ll remind the Mommas in my classes that the baby’s brain continues to develop and grow right up to the moment that he or she is born. So when you find yourself before the vending machine and your cravings are telling you to go for the Flamin’ Hot Crunchy Cheetos and bottle of Coke, maybe you’d consider some Wheat Thins and water with lemon? Remembering that what we eat, the baby also eats can be helpful in making better decisions around food. Our cravings don’t have to control us. We can indulge them – just in moderation.
Note: If you are craving non-nutritive substances such as clay, chalk, ice, soil or sand you should let your provider know. This is a condition called pica. Pica is not considered to be a normal pregnancy craving. Your provider would most likely want to check for low levels of iron and zinc as the potential cause of your pica.
Did you have any cravings with your pregnancy? Did you satisfy them? What was your most bizarre craving food combination?