Pregnancy and Food Aversions

by Melissa Hartwig, who in her sixth month STILL isn’t down with the smell of bacon cooking

When we say, “pregnancy and food,” most people think of the crazy cravings pregnant women report having—pickles and ice cream, salsa and M&Ms, anything and everything doused in lemon and vinegar. (That last one is mine.) But a pregnant woman’s relationship with food isn’t just about what she wants — it’s also about the foods she can’t stand to eat. Or smell. Or even see, sometimes.

“Aversion” Isn’t Strong Enough

Studies show that up to 85 percent of expectant mothers experience some kind of food aversion, most often in the first trimester. And for those of you who haven’t been there before (many women, and all you guys), let me break it down for you.

It’s not that you don’t want this food. It’s not that you’d prefer not to eat this food. It’s that the smell, taste, or idea of putting this food in your mouth provokes a reaction so violent, you’d think someone asked you to eat fermented salmon heads covered in poo and rolled in dryer lint.

You’re thinking, really, Melissa? It’s that bad? Yes. It’s really that bad. This is why I’ll never take pregnancy food advice from someone who hasn’t been pregnant herself—because you have to be there to understand that the word “aversion” is a gross understatement. They should call it Food Loathing. Or maybe Food Repugnance. Or Food Aw-Hell-No.  Yeah, that’s probably more accurate.

This is for all you guys out there supporting your pregnant women, but secretly thinking things like, “Why won’t you just try to eat the eggs?” or “Do you have to be so picky?” Imagine this: you’ve just done three rounds of an all-out 500 meter row. (Or three blocks of all-out 400 meter sprints. Or, god help you, a 300FY on the Airdyne.) You literally went all out—gave it all you had, each of the three attempts. You fall off the rower/Airdyne/track gasping for air, nauseous, tunnel vision, the whole works… and your honey brings you a big plate of smoked salmon, creamed spinach, and guacamole. And says, “Eat this right now.”

You know how you feel in that moment? That’s kind of how we pregnant women feel in the face of a food aversion. Now you know.

Common Aversions

During pregnancy, women can become grossed out by any and all foods, but protein is a common trigger. (Some suggest this has an evolutionary purpose, as too much protein may prove harmful to your baby’s health.) Eggs, chicken, and red meat commonly go from “yes, please” to “no way,” but aversions aren’t limited to meat, seafood, and eggs. Women report being turned off from everything from leafy greens to the vitamins and supplements to the smell of coffee brewing in the morning—even spices like garlic or cinnamon.

So what’s a health-conscious Good Food consumer to do when her beloved pastured eggs, grass-fed beef, Whole30® Approved bacon, or SFH fish oil start making her gag? Here are some healthy-eating strategies that worked for me during the worst of my aversions.

Strategies for Working Around Food Aversions

Employ any and all of these strategies during your worst food aversion time period. (And keep your chin up, because most women find these improve tremendously after the first trimester.)

Bring the whole darn grocery store home

Having a huge variety of foods on hand was tremendously helpful during this time. My aversions varied from week to week, but if I could go “shopping” in my own fridge or cabinet, I’d eventually settle on something I wanted to eat. This is hard if you’re used to Groundhog Day (eating the same foods every day), but if those foods are what are giving you trouble, you’ll quickly learn to branch out.

Start by downloading our shopping list and pinning it to your fridge, flipping through your favorite Paleo cookbook, or trolling through the grocery store. Go through your options one at a time, and when something strikes you, eat it! I ended up eating things I don’t normally eat (canned salmon like crazy), and I never would have thought of it unless I saw it in a recipe and thought, “I would totally eat that.”

This does require more frequent trips to the grocery store—but it’s only three months, and this is what husbands/boyfriends/partners are for.

I found that some foods weren’t okay one time of day, but were fine during others. I couldn’t do eggs when I first woke up, but sometime around 11 a.m. they became palatable again, so I’d whip up a quick scramble and sneak ‘em in. Be flexible and methodical about your food evaluations—just because you passed on the chicken sausage at noon doesn’t mean you won’t want to eat it at 3 p.m.

Also, get used to planning meals at the last minute (and warn your family, too). There’s a good chance you won’t know what you want to eat for dinner until 10 minutes before you start making it, so planning too far in advance could be problematic. (Sure, steak sounded great this morning, but now it’s just not happening—and those grass-fed rib-eyes have been thawing all day.)

We ate a lot of Pre-Made Paleo meals during this time period—they go from frozen to hot on the plate in 10 minutes, and because they are packaged with such a variety, you and your family can eat totally different meals with the same amount of prep.

Relax on perfect portions

At this stage in the game, especially if you’re also suffering from morning sickness, it’s not about creating balanced meals three times a day—it’s about getting calories into mom so she doesn’t get run down and even more exhausted. If every meal doesn’t have a palm-sized serving of protein, don’t worry. If you eat nothing but carrots for three days in a row, that’s fine. If you need food-in-a-blender just to get something into you, fire it up.

Do the best you can with what you have, and if some meals consist of two avocado, a pile of romaine doused in lemon juice, and a can of cold sweet potato (guilty), consider it a success.

This is the last point I’ll make, and I’m going to make it carefully. While pregnancy is not carte blanche to give into every junk food whim and desire, you also have to be kind to yourself, and not expect perfection. Your everyday diet may be pretty close to Whole30, but pregnancy is a different ballgame.

My first trimester, the only thing I could eat first thing in the morning was yogurt. No meat, no eggs, no veggies (especially warm ones – ew)… just yogurt. Now, I’ve done many Whole30s, and know I tolerate yogurt well. And I have access to a full-fat, grass-finished, organic sheep’s milk yogurt—the plain flavor, not sweetened. It’s not something I normally eat (in fact, I haven’t had one in months), but for a few weeks, this stuff was a lifesaver. And that was A-OK with me.

If you are going off your normal eating habits during this time, at least try to find things that won’t mess you up. You may be craving toast with peanut butter, but if you’re sensitive to gluten, those calories are going to do more harm than good. Always try to find a healthy option first… and branch out only if and when you need to.

It Gets Better…

So if you’re in the middle of some serious food aversions, hang in there for just a few more weeks—and follow our strategies for dealing with this difficult period of adjustment. Want to share your crazy food aversions with us? We bet you’re not alone. Drop your thoughts in comments.

Header photo credit to DylanRat on Flicker

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