Hold the Pickles, Pass the Ice Cream

The Gummy Bear Files, Part III – Dealing with sugar cravings during pregnancy.

Snapseed (5).jpg“Are you having any weird cravings?!”  This is the number one question I have been asked since becoming pregnant.  And the answer is, NO.  I am not having any weird cravings.  No pickles and ice cream for me.  My doctor even told me about women that have craved fresh mud when pregnant (ew).   Definitely also not me.

Now let me clarify something.  I said I was not having weird cravings, but that does not mean I am not having any cravings.  Namely I am having cravings for one thing only: SUGAR.  Before getting pregnant I was on a very low-carb (almost zero sugar) diet.  Before I even knew I was pregnant my desire for cookies, cupcakes, brownies, and all things sugary and sweet skyrocketed and I did not understand why.  I found it really  stressful to deal with, and in the beginning of my pregnancy I gave in to those cravings.  A LOT.  I gained more weight in my first trimester than I needed to, but this is also my first pregnancy and I have definitely learned from this experience.

I told myself that it was okay to eat whatever I want because I was pregnant.  But in all honesty this is not actually true.  When you are pregnant it is even more imperative to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.  Everything that you put into your body is going to be broken down and digested by the baby as well.  And with my family history of diabetes, there is always a chance that I could develop gestational diabetes.

My challenge became: How can I manage my sugar cravings without completely going off the rails? 

Here are my tips for doing just this…

  1. Make sure you are eating a healthy, balanced diet. Include plenty of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, some starches, and healthy fats.  Whole foods keep you full much longer than processed sweets.  Oftentimes if I’m craving something sweet I literally just eat a regular meal of chicken and veggies.  I promise you there’s no more room for a dessert after that.
  2. Eat 5-6 smaller meals throughout the day, rather than eating 3 large meals.  Not only will this keep your blood sugar from crashing at any point, but it is also incredibly useful for keeping that pregnancy reflux and excessive bloating at bay.  Trust me.  If you eat too much your already growing and swollen belly will not feel very good.
  3. Keep sugar out of the house! This is pretty common sense, but if sugary foods are not easily accessible to you, you will think twice about having to do the extra work to obtain them.  Set yourself up for success.  If you know that you won’t be able to stop at just one serving of ice cream, don’t leave the grocery store with a pint of your favorite flavor!
  4. Fruits.  I always keep my fridge stocked with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and apples.  The fructose in these is usually enough to satisfy your sugar cravings, plus fruits have nutrients in them that you won’t find in that pack of oreos.  Win-win.
  5. Distract yourself.  If you’ve just eaten a meal and find yourself yearning for an unnecessary dessert, distract yourself by going for a 15-20 minute walk.  Not only are you getting a little bit of movement and exercise, but by the time you get back you probably won’t even be thinking about those donuts that were on your mind before you left.  Endorphins from exercise can be just as satisfying as the high you get from a sugary treat.
  6. Drink a glass of water.  When that mid-afternoon hankering for a cookie sets in, drink a full glass of water.  Sometimes your brain mistakes thirst signals for hunger.  You’ll get a little extra hydration, plus the water will take up the space in your stomach where that cookie would have resided.
  7. Delete food delivery apps if necessary.  Fortunately (and unfortunately) we live in a world where your significant other does not have to run to the grocery store at 10 pm to pick up whatever sweets you might be craving.  It is so simple to just push a few buttons on our iPhones and someone will deliver fresh baked cookies (or even Dunkin Donuts!) right to your door.  If you find yourself falling back on Postmates or UberEats on a regular basis, even if you are not keeping sugary foods in your house, do yourself a favor and just delete the app until your pregnancy is over.
  8. Don’t restrict ALL the time.  Allow yourself to a indulge a little every once in a while.  If you always say no, you will wear out your willpower muscle and this can lead to binges and overeating.  I like to set parameters with myself.  5 days of the week I do not allow myself to have any sugar.  That gives me two days of flexibility, so if I go out to eat with friends and decide to partake in dessert, I won’t feel so guilty.

One of my favorite ways to allow myself to indulge a little in dessert is to make healthier options to keep at home.  I love to experiment with low-carb and low-sugar baking.  If I have an absolutely unbearable craving for something sweet, I like to at least know exactly which ingredients (and how much) are in what I’m eating.  In fact, in my next post I’m super excited to share one of my favorite recipes for almond flour chocolate chip cookies with you all!

Most importantly, remember to go easy on yourself! If you do eat something sweet you hadn’t planned on, don’t beat yourself up!  It already happened, just keep moving on and make sure to have plenty of vegetables in your next meal.  It is absolutely OKAY to treat yourself every once in a while, just make sure the bulk of your diet comes from healthy, whole foods.  This is true of anyone, but especially for pregnant women like me, who are using all of our resources to grow tiny and healthy humans!

Pregnancy, PCOS, and Paleo

The Gummy Bear Files, Part II

Let’s talk about some girl problems today. And perhaps you’ll start to see just why I consider me getting pregnant such a miracle. I have never had normal periods. From the time I was 14 years old I always struggled with debilitating cramps and pain, so bad that I would even stay home from school some days. Obviously this wasn’t normal. Soon after, my first gynecologist discovered that I had some cysts on one of my ovaries, and at the tender age of 14 I was put on oral contraceptives because this was the only way to make the cysts go away and achieve some sort of normalcy in my cycle.

Fast forward 10 or so years and I had more or less been on the pill consistently THIS. WHOLE. TIME. In fact, it got to the point that any months I spent not taking the pill I simply wouldn’t even get a period. I sometimes would stop taking it because of worries that long term use would affect my fertility. After one of these 3-4 month stretches of consciously not taking my pill and not having a period, I decided to bring it up at my annual check up.

I was about 23 or 24 and this time I was officially diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (or PCOS). Again, my new doctor told me that the only way to control the cysts is to consistently take an oral contraceptive. He also mentioned at this appointment (and I will never forget these exact words) “That when I am ready to start trying to get pregnant we will need to have a whole other conversation.” He made it very clear that it would be difficult for me to get pregnant naturally with PCOS.

This is not surprising, as infertility or complications with getting pregnant is one of the most common PCOS symptoms. My aunt suffered from PCOS and had to undergo many stressful and expensive fertility treatments before finally getting pregnant around age 35 or 36. Once pregnant, she also developed gestational diabetes. Not sure if these are necessarily related, but maybe. Insulin is one of the hormones involved in PCOS so it would make sense that these two conditions would be comorbid (comorbidity, noun, the presence of two or more simultaneous medical conditions, for you non-science geeks out there).

So with a familial history of PCOS (my maternal grandmother also had it) how did I manage to so easily and unexpectedly find myself expecting a little one?? Could LIFESTYLE have anything to do with it? Honestly, I 100% believe that this is the case. Let’s discuss further, but first a disclaimer.

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A DOCTOR, JUST SOMEONE WITH ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE WHO HAPPENS TO ENJOY EDUCATING MYSELF ABOUT NUTRITION AND THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY.

For those of you that don’t know, the symptoms of PCOS can include the following:

  • Abnormal menstruation – either a lack there of or extremely heavy menstruation; lack of ovulation
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Pelvic pain
  • Unwanted hair growth
  • Mood changes – mood swings, depression, anxiety (my adolescence was definitely wrought with plenty of depression…)
  • Acne
  • Infertility
Source

By no means did I experience all of these, but many of them have affected my life at one time or another. The depression was a big factor in my life up until the last couple years or so. I’ve suffered with mild acne, fatigue, and most definitely the complete absence of periods for months at a time. In fact, the doctor had a hard time determining my due date because I had been off the pill since about January 2018, had my first “normal” period on March 28 and then never had one again after. Yet there I was in early September already 9 weeks pregnant. That means I had gone at least 3-4 months without having a seemingly “normal” cycle. Yet apparently I was.

Around the same age I was diagnosed I had also become addicted to crossfit. And as so often happens when one discovers crossfit, my eyes were opened to a whole new universe of nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle changes. I didn’t embark on my crossfit journey without rearranging almost every aspect of my life to supplement that journey.

I started consistently getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night. I began educating myself about the structure of the human body and about how sports performance is affected by nutrition. I read books about the paleo diet and that evolved into me following a low-carb ketogenic diet for almost 2 years straight. I cut out ALL processed foods, sodas, almost all sugar. I couldn’t even touch a food item in a plastic wrapper without cringing. I taught myself how to cook (and VERY WELL, I might add) so that I could make all my healthy food at home. If I was ever in a situation where I didn’t know the exact ingredients present in the food I was eating, I almost couldn’t even bring myself to put it in my body.

Every day for breakfast I had scrambled eggs with spinach and bell peppers, with 1-2 strips of bacon. For lunch I would always have chicken or ground turkey with kale or broccoli and carrots or cauliflower or some combination of vegetables. Every night we would cook dinner at home which always followed a simple formula: one type of meat, one vegetable, and a serving of healthy fats. One of my favorite examples of this is a little grass fed steak served with roasted Brussels sprouts and half an avocado. It became so incredibly simple to eat healthy. I just tried to include as many vegetables as possible, and the more I tried the more I loved them and loved experimenting with different ways to prepare them.

I was DISCIPLINED. I denied myself desserts, and the more I did the easier it became. It’s crazy how the more you eat vegetables and lean proteins and other healthy foods, the more your body craves that sort of food and rejects what was previously deemed “normal”. I was disciplined and I saw results. I lost that little bit of extra body fat (I was never super overweight), but more than that I saw my body composition changing completely. I developed muscle tone and I looked and felt FIT. Even more importantly, I felt STRONG and HEALTHY.

I started getting sick less and less and my stamina in my day to day life improved. I had (and more or less still have, despite growing a human inside me) SO MUCH MORE ENERGY. Two or three years into this lifestyle change I went back to my gyno and never had the cysts again. At this point I was still on (and occasionally off) the pill. So obviously, that had to be the reason for the management of my PCOS symptoms right?

There are plenty of anecdotes on the internet of women who have decreased or even reversed PCOS symptoms on a low-carb or ketogenic diet. I feel like I am one of those anecdotes. I genuinely believe that my fertility health was positively affected by my long term and consistent dedication to health and eating good quality foods. I spent so much of the first half of my twenties so anxious that I would never be able to have my own children. That I would never be blessed enough to get to experience growing a life inside of me. Even after hearing countless nutritionists and even Robb Wolf himself (go check out his podcast The Paleo Solution, it is geeky, informative and all-around awesome) declare the link between the ketogenic diet and improvement with PCOS symptoms.

For all the anecdotal evidence, there has unfortunately not been many scientific research studies done on the subject. One such study was conducted by researchers at Duke University, on eleven women with PCOS over a 6 month period. The women followed a low carb, ketogenic diet (less than 20g of carbs a day) and by the end of the study had improvements in body weight, percent testosterone, and fasting insulin levels. Two of the women in the study even became pregnant, despite suffering from previous infertility problems!

Now, as someone who’s respectful of the scientific method it’s important to point out that one study (or even a few studies) does not necessarily prove causation. At best, this study reinforces the link between insulin levels and PCOS and warrants more extensive research. Despite this, I think the myriad examples of anecdotal evidence of women whose lives have been changed by following a low-carb lifestyle merits giving it a try for yourself.

If you’re trying to get pregnant but have been finding it difficult, whether due to PCOS or not, take a look at your lifestyle. Maybe it’s time to evaluate some of your habits and change them for the better. It’s never too late to start exercising and it’s never to late to follow a diet rich in quality foods, and low in processed, sugar “foods”. (I put that in quotations because an apple is a real food. The unpronounceable chemicals in the ingredient list on a plastic wrapped cookie are NOT real foods.)

I believe that you have the power to create lasting, positive changes in your health based on your daily habits and the nutrition choices you make each day. Day to day it may be difficult to detect any differences, but then all of a sudden three years have passed and you realize how much weight you’ve lost, or that you can run three times farther than you ever were able before, or that you have a baby on the way when you never even thought you’d be able to conceive. Little changes add up to make a BIG DIFFERENCE.

Thus concludes part II of my pregnancy journey. (To read Part I click HERE). I’m so ecstatic to be sharing my emotions and experiences with you all. If you continue to follow along, even if you don’t learn something I hope to at least provide some entertaining reading material. Thanks for reading, and look out for my next post on DEALING WITH SUGAR CRAVINGS IN PREGNANCY in a few days.

Happy holidays and happy new year!!

The Gummy Bear Files

About 3 months ago I wrote a post about my negative experiences with obsessively tracking macros, how it affected my relationship with food, and my subsequent gradual weight gain. To this day I still have not tracked any of the food I’ve eaten and followed a much more intuitive pattern of eating, but there is a very good reason for this. It turns out my expanding belly, exhaustion, and moody disposition was due to more than just nutritional inconsistency. On September 1, I found out I am expecting my first baby.

7 weeks → 12 weeks → 20 weeks

From Bawling to Blessing

I’ll be honest – my first reaction was tears, lots of them. We were NOT trying to have a baby, and in fact I didn’t even think it would be possible (or easy) for me to get pregnant [more on this later]. I’m going to be blunt here, since early July my boobs had been KILLING ME. They were tender and swollen and I just assumed I was “about to” get my period – for 5 weeks in a row.

My only other symptom was exhaustion. I became less and less motivated to push myself in crossfit as it subsequently became harder to lift big weights and catch my breath in intense endurance-heavy workouts. I continued to push myself and figured I was just kind of in a rut, a rut related to my recent food cravings and what I saw as “bad” eating habits. If I could just completely cut out carbs or completely cut out sugar somehow my performance would rebound.

One day I got out of the shower and my boyfriend looked at me and exclaimed (again, very bluntly), “Babe, your tits are HUGE! That’s not normal maybe you should show your mom.” So we went in the kitchen, I flashed my mother and her immediate reaction: “Claire I think you’re pregnant.”

No way. I didn’t believe it so decided to take a test that night. It was immediately and obviously positive. But maybe that one was just a fluke??? Nope. Next morning I took another one, it was ALSO positive! When I took the first test I started bawling. I couldn’t contain my tears, the emotions were so overwhelming. I have never been pregnant before and didn’t even know how to react. What about my body?!? How will I support the baby financially?! AM I EVEN READY TO GROW AND RAISE A WHOLE HUMAN BEING?!!!!

My boyfriend walked in, looked at the test, broke out in the biggest smile I’ve ever seen and said, “WHY ARE YOU CRYING?! WE’RE GOING TO BE PARENTS!” He was so happy it melted my heart.

After we finally made it to the doctor I found out I was already 9 weeks along *gasp*. The baby literally looked like a tiny gummy bear:

Tell me that is not the most gummy bear looking little guy you’ve ever seen.

I won’t lie, I mourned the loss of my abs and waistline. I stressed about having sugar cravings and being hungry all the time and feeling like I was eating way too much. I was horrified that my size 0 pants were beginning to not fit. Even though I was overjoyed (I’ve always wanted to be a mom) it took me a good month to accept that there’s a life growing inside me and that right now IT IS NOT ABOUT ME. It is okay to gain weight right now. I will have the opportunity to get fit again. It will be fun, like a project that I am starting anew. I worked so hard over the last 3 years for my health and fitness.

I have not stopped lifting weights and crossfitting throughout my pregnancy. I have had to make a lot of modifications and I am definitely not as strong or “toned” as I used to be. But I have been blessed beyond belief. I am grateful to have the opportunity to experience what it is like to bring a little person into this world, to give all of myself to another human being.

The Adventure Begins…

My life will NEVER be the same, but this will literally be the most amazing adventure we have ever embarked on. I know my baby daddy will be the most incredible father ever, and he has already been so supportive and helpful in every aspect. I’m 27 years old. I always envisioned that I would have a baby WHEN I was a certain age, WHEN I had a certain job, WHEN I had x amount of money saved up. If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that life never goes like that. Life just happens and then you figure it out. You just have to be present and enjoy each moment as it comes, rather than stressing about all the “what if’s”.

I’m totally new at this but I think I’d like to share some of my pregnancy experiences with you guys. If you all are interested, in the coming days I will be sharing about:

  • Lifestyle and PCOS
  • Pregnancy nutrition and dealing with sugar cravings
  • Working out when pregnant
  • Dealing with grief during pregnancy

The last bullet point is especially close to my heart. If my thoughts can inspire or help even one person I will be happy. If no one even reads this and I simply have an outlet to organize my thoughts and work through the emotional rollercoaster of life, I will be equally as happy.

The last thing I’ll leave you with is a picture of some teeny tiny feet. Because these teeny tiny feet are inside of me and I still cannot wrap my mind around what a miracle this is.