How I Dealt with a Pregnancy Weight Gain “Crisis”

Not my belly. But cool pic, huh?

Yesterday I filled you guys in on the body image speedbump I hit around month five in my pregnancy. Today I wanna share the fun convo I had with my doctor  a little over a week ago. It started like this…

I stepped on the scale at my obstetrician’s office at my 24-week appointment, and because the office was short-staffed that day, my doc herself is the one who weighed me. We both watched the scale balance out and settle on a number—and then she turned and gave me a concerned look. Uh-oh. This was a conversation I had been dreading, and hoping wouldn’t happen: The “You are Gaining Too Much Weight” conversation.

I asked her if the number she saw concerned her. Here’s what she said: She didn’t care about the number itself—but what made her nervous is that I had put on about 10 pounds in the previous month, a month when the average weight gain is supposed to be just four pounds. “I don’t want you to end up with a 10-pound baby,” she said. (And I agreed: I don’t want to deliver an extra-large baby either!)

So, before I left her office she gave me my homework assignment: I was to concentrate on gaining only half a pound a week for the next four weeks. That means that by my next check up, she’s hoping that the scale will only have gone up by two pounds. If I was having trouble meeting that goal, she said, she wanted to me to eat more protein and cut out carbs.

Now, as someone with a history of yo-yo dieting and binge eating disorder, I know that “cutting out” something—anything—is not a smart answer for me. Not being “allowed” to eat something only increases the desire for that food and sets me up for failure. My doc didn’t seem to have time for me to get into the whole binge eating disorder history conversation with her (like I said the office was short-staffed and she seemed slammed), so I just nodded and made a mental note to consider her advice very carefully but to make my own determination on what would be best for me to do, physically and mentally.

I felt a little sad right after the appointment. Sort of like I’d done something wrong. The perfectionist in me always wants to be the best, be the good girl, do what “teacher” (or doctor, or boss, or whatever) wants, so I felt a bit like I’d failed. But I just let these feelings wash over me, not really getting stuck on them or letting them overtake me—and I shared them with my husband, John, when I got home, and then with my mom the next day on the phone, and even with a couple of close coworkers at the office who’ve had children.

Happily, I was able to stop well short of beating myself up and my mind didn’t spin out into any crazy cognitive distortions or negative body thoughts. I considered what my doctor had said about carbohydrates though, and realized something important: Because I had been so darn sick up until about week 15, I had gotten into the habit of eating a lot more sugar and simple carbs (easy-on-the-tummy stuff like white bread, macaroni, bagels, etc.) than usual. And even after the nausea left me and I was able to stomach more fruits, veggies, and fibrous carbs like whole wheat bread and brown rice, the habit of eating the more-refined, less nutritious stuff had stuck around.

So, while cutting out any group of foods—no matter how lacking in nutrition they are—isn’t a good option for me, choosing more wisely (for the good of myself and my baby) certainly is. And that’s what I decided to do—gently. So, the next day I swapped out my mid-morning toast (second breakfast is key in pregnancy!) with milk, an orange, or an apple + peanut butter, switched my afternoon pretzels/granola bar/popcorn for a Greek yogurt with honey (another snack I love); I left the boxed mac ‘n’ cheese in the cupboard in favor of brown rice and baked salmon (with lemon salt…mmm); and started having an egg and wheat toast for breakfast instead of pure-carbohydrate cold cereal. I still had a nightly popsicle or Skinny Cow ice cream cone (dessert is a must-have for me most days). And on Saturday while walking around the neighborhood with John, I bought—and thoroughly enjoyed—an ooey gooey chocolate whoopie pie. But in general, my daily staples had become more nutritious, more rich in protein, and less heavy on the simple carbs and sugars.

And guess what? Within just a few days, I noticed less swelling in my ankles and feet, I felt more energetic, and, when I got on the scale to check my progress on Sunday, I was happy to see that my weight gain is now right on track.

The fear of being thought of as “bad” for putting on too much pregnancy weight—and the fear of having an uncomfortable conversation about weight with my doctor—was actually much worse than the reality of my situation, which was that I had developed a couple of not-so-smart habits while I had morning sickness that, once remedied, put me on a healthier track.

I know that this is not the experience that every woman has during pregnancy. Food- and body-sanity can be gravely challenged during this time—in fact, it was a letter from reader Lacy, who had relapsed into bingeing at nine months pregnant, that spurred me to talk about my own pregnancy issues with all of you. (Read Lacy’s story here.)

So, to those of you with kids, how did you deal with food and weight issues during pregnancy? And to those without kids, do these issues ever scare you? Are you worried you won’t be able to deal and stay sane about food? I was, but I’m so happy to say that the recovery foundation I built is still holding strong. And I’m so grateful! xo…Sunny

[pic via David Boyle]

10 Responses to How I Dealt with a Pregnancy Weight Gain “Crisis”

  1. Sarah says:

    Eek! I would hate to hear those words from the doctor. Like you I am a major perfectionist and I would definitely take those words personally. But at the same time, I’m glad you noticed where you might have changed your eating habits, aren’t all pregnancies different? Maybe you’ll gain weight more quickly early in your pregnancy then the weight gain will slow down? I’ve never had a child but I’m sure that you are super smart and will do an excellent job listening to your body.

  2. Victoria says:

    Hey Sunny, I’m glad you’re feeling even better now. And congratulations on your baby! That’s so thrilling. I really admire the way you are so kind to yourself, and so balanced in the way you treat your body.

    I haven’t had kids yet, but it’s certainly something that my partner and I are thinking about in the next year or two. I am a work-in-progress at the moment; often, eating issues don’t bother me for ages, then, out of the blue, I’m overwhelmed by them again. This last week has been particularly distressing. But I’m hanging in there :)

    What concerns me about having kids is not so much the way it will affect me, but the way my binge eating might affect a child. I’m scared to get pregnant whilst I’m still binging-restricting, because I’m pretty sure that’s not good for a baby… And I definitely don’t want to put my food issues onto a child! One more reason for me to get sane and happy around food!

    Take lots of care of yourself.

  3. shmoop1 says:

    sounds like you did a great job with substitutions. i would be very concerned with your doctors advice to cut out all carbs at any time but especially during pregnancy. You and your baby need those carbs for brain fuel, b vitamins and fiber. It saddens me that doctors have so little education in nutrition but seem to have no problem doling out advice that could potentially be harmful to you and baby. Kudos to you for taking that advice with a grain salt and making the positive changes that you did. P.S. what is a whoopie pie?

  4. You handled it so well! I’m definitely scared of new food issues during and post pregnancy so it’s important for me to establish healthy coping skills before any of that may be of concern :)

  5. Lindsay says:

    Pregnancy was surprising for me. When we were first actively trying to conceive, I was terrified of the impending weight gain. When I actually got pregnant and, for the first time since I can remember, wasn’t obsessing over trying to lose weight, I felt better, more at peace. Foods weren’t calling my name, I wasn’t bingeing or restricting. Things were awesome. I thought that maybe pregnancy helped to “cure” me.

    After my baby was born, it took about 3 months before the obsession came back full force. I did end up losing the baby weight, plus more, but now, 2 years later, am back up to pre-baby weight due to the past year being worse that the year before. Gosh, that’s a long, convoluted story. The point is, pregnancy was peaceful for me, but I am back where I was before pregnancy now. We now want to have a second child, and I am working on ME first.

  6. Mari says:

    I am so glad that you were able to overcome this obstacle… my husband and I have not had kids yet, but would like to someday… My greatest fear is that I will pass this distorted disease onto my children. I would feel terrible if that were to happen. It is nice to find hope through you!

  7. hH says:

    Going through this right now. 3 months pregnant and morning sickness is in full force. Like you, I’ve been eating bagels, crackers, rice, etc. stuff I rarely ate before pregnancy. This is my 2nd child. With my first pregnancy, I binged the entire time. Through all the Halloween candy, Thanksgiving feasts (yes, plural), Christmas and New Years. It was awful and because I had a previous pregnancy loss I was scared to exercise. I gained 65 pounds. Lost 40 and I’m now pregnant with my 2nd.

    I started therapy for BED in March so I have been better - not perfect but better. It is way harder to do this intuitive/mindful eating thing when I feel like puking every 2 hours if I don’t have carbs in my tummy. My morning sickness eased up after about 16 weeks with my Son so I have about a month of carb eating left unless it decides to let up quicker this time around. I’ll try my best to get back on track like you after I stop feeling so crappy.

    I’m still working out with a trainer and taking spin classes this pregnancy so I’m much more active this time around. I’m hoping not to gain more than 35 pounds this time around.

    Thanks for your posting and your point of view. Much appreciated.

  8. […] and binge eating disorder. I’m grateful that BED has stayed at bay, and that I was able to handle the weight gain without body hate. But I feel pretty out of sorts in my own skin. Like someone has replaced my body with one I […]

  9. Lorissa says:

    Thank you for sharing this! Your level headed, non judgemental and friendly attitude toward yourself is so inspiring! I am in such a similar boat right now.. 5mos pregnant. Feeling swollen and yucky.. BED and body image issues also rising to the surface with this same comfort food habit. I just so appreciate you.. And I know its a few years later but I wanted you to know your message is still relevant, still making a difference <3

    • Sunny Sea Gold says:

      Thank you for this note! I have been right there with you. I know what you’re going through, and I’m wishing you and your baby well.

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.