Managing pregnancy cravings

Have you already been feeling like it’s really difficult to stop at eating just one of your favorite cookies? Or maybe you’ve been seriously hankering for a veggie dish you never normally eat? Whether these cravings are sweet, salty, strange, or of the healthy variety, these feelings are common among expecting moms. And when the cravings hit, they can sometimes feel overwhelming. Luckily, once you better understand these cravings, there are some very real ways you can manage them and continue to eat healthy.

Why do you have these cravings?

There isn’t clear evidence that explains exactly what causes you to hunger for that ice cream or be hankering for those dill pickles. It could be your body’s need for more food to nourish Baby. But, like so many unusual events during pregnancy, it likely has to do with hormones. The hormones surging through your body can make your sense of smell stronger, which can cause you to find certain foods irresistible. (The flip side of this is that your new superhuman sense of smell could also make certain foods seem disgusting, even foods that might be a totally normal part of your regular diet.) So if your body does seem to be driving you crazy with cravings, just how do you manage?

Do you actually need to be ‘eating for two’?

The tough part about these cravings is that many women experience them most strongly during the first trimester, which - if you’re of a healthy weight at the start of your pregnancy - is when you don’t really need to be taking in any extra calories yet. By the second and third trimesters, you should be taking in some extra calories. For most women, this means roughly 300 more calories a day during the second trimester and roughly 500 more than your baseline during the third. (But you should, of course, check in with your healthcare provider to make sure these recommendations make sense for your own unique nutrition needs.) So if you’re experiencing some healthy cravings later on, know that you’ll need a little something extra added to your usual diet anyway. But early on, intense cravings can sometimes pose a problem. Fortunately, there are a few tricks that can help you manage.

What can you do to manage your cravings?

  • Eat a good breakfast: Eating a hearty, healthy breakfast will keep you feeling full and limit your cravings, especially in the morning. Skipping breakfast will make you more susceptible to cravings, so make sure to eat up early!
  • Exercise: Exercise provides numerous benefits during pregnancy - which is why it’s recommended that you get about 30 minutes of it each day - and one benefit is the possible curbing of cravings. A good workout routine allows your body to produce endorphins, which help you to feel happy and satisfied without the extra snacks.
  • Anticipate: Keeping healthy snacks on hand to have in between meals can allow you to stay satiated before a craving even sneaks up or can help satisfy your craving in nutritious fashion once it makes itself known. Plus, many pregnant women find having a number of smaller meals throughout the day or snacking healthily between larger meals helps to keep them feeling their best, especially early on when morning sickness might be rearing its ugly head. And in later trimesters when you do need those extra calories, having healthy snacks on hand will help set you up for making nutritious choices. 
  • Make smart choices: Sometimes, focusing on what’s at the core of your craving can help. Need something sweet? Instead of cookies, indulge in fresh pineapple. How about salty? Instead of french fries, try some lightly salted popcorn. Creamy? Skip the ice cream and go for some yogurt loaded with healthy fats. And if you’re craving a healthy dinner of herb roasted chicken, yummy sautéed spinach, and mashed sweet potatoes? Just go for it!
  • Control portions: Sometimes a craving for a specific food that’s not the most healthy will be particularly intense and it might feel like nothing else will satisfy you. In these instances, let portion control be your guide. So if, for example, you feel like nothing other than potato chips will do, place a serving size in a bowl, put the full bag of chips away (even if it feels like you could easily polish the whole thing off - and sometimes it might), and then really enjoy those few chips. Portion control of cravings can be difficult, but if you can master it, you’ll be treating your body well and the next craving won’t seem so intimidating.
  • Find stress relief that works for you: It’s possible that cravings are just one way the body wants to handle the stress of pregnancy, and engaging in some other type of stress relief might help. Exercise, engaging in a favorite hobby, and enjoying time with family and friends are all ways to do this away from the siren call of the fridge.
  • Beware the really strange: Again, many women will crave strange foods when pregnant - pickles on ice cream, anyone? However, if you find yourself craving non-food items, such as soap, dirt, or ice, you might be suffering from a condition called pica, so be sure to mention it to your healthcare provider. 

Every woman and every pregnancy is different, so be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about what a healthy pregnancy diet means for you. Remember, no matter what stage of pregnancy you’re at, even when cravings feel intense, making healthy food choices provides your growing baby with the nutrients she needs to grow big and strong, and helps you stay healthy all the way through your pregnancy.

Read more
  • Colette Bouchez. "Pregnancy Cravings: When You Gotta Have It!" WebMD. WebMD, October 8, 2008. Retrieved July 18 2017.
  • John D. Jacobson, et al. "Eating right during pregnancy" Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, October 4 2016. Retrieved July 18 2017.
  • CN Nyaruhucha. "Food cravings, aversions and pica among pregnant women in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania." Tanzania Journal of Health Research. 11(1):29-34. January 2009. Retrieved July 18 2017.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "Pregnancy weight gain: What's healthy?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, February 15 2017. Retrieved July 18 2017.
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