Eating During Pregnancy: Indulge Yourself
by Laura Shanley
“When you’re afraid of your food, you don’t digest it well.”
-Julia Child, “The French Chef”
Pick up most any book on pregnancy and you’re sure to find a section on nutrition. Perhaps there will be some sort of table containing information about what nutrients your body and your baby need during pregnancy, along with the prescribed amounts. It will all sound very scientific, and the author no doubt will back up her/his theories with “sound medical research.”
What you won’t find in most books are these two words: indulge yourself.
“Blasphemy!” you say, “By not eating right you’re endangering not only your life, but the life of your unborn baby!” I beg to differ. First of all, you’re assuming that if you truly indulge yourself you’ll eat only “bad” foods. You’re also assuming that the human body is an incredibly delicate “mechanism” that can only thrive in “optimum” conditions with “optimum” food. If this were true, the human race would have died out long ago.
The fact is the human body is extremely resourceful. It can take just about anything you give it and make good use of it – provided you don’t stand in its way. And here we have the key to why so many people in our society suffer from digestive problems. It’s not what they’re eating that’s bad, it’s what they’re believing about what they’re eating.
A. T. W. Simeons, M.D. gives a good explanation of how your thoughts affect your body in his book, Man’s Presumptuous Brain. When you eat a food you believe is bad for you, the fight/flight response is instantly triggered. Your fear of the forbidden food puts your body into a state of distress. It assumes you’re in a dangerous situation, and in an attempt to conserve energy, all non-essential functions are shut down. Blood and oxygen are drained from the organs your body believes are not necessary for your immediate survival, and sends it instead into your arms and legs. This enables you to fight the danger or run from it. Your body does not understand that this “danger” is merely a piece of candy or a slice of pie. For all it knows, you are about to be attacked by a lion, and so it acts accordingly.
When fear triggers the fight/flight response, the digestive system shuts down. This is why your mouth may get dry when you have to give a speech. Saliva production is the first step in the digestive process (which is why your mouth waters when you think about eating). Without saliva, you are more apt to experience heartburn – one of the most common complaints of pregnancy. You are also more likely to get cavities. It is a well-known fact that saliva protects the teeth from decay. Because of this fact, it is dangerous to continually tell children that sugar is bad for them. They are most likely going to eat it anyway, but their fear of it will shut down saliva production, and as a result, they will develop cavities. Sugar will of course be blamed, but it is not the sugar that has caused the problems. It is their fear of the sugar.
This same phenomenon is often responsible for the stomach-aches people report after eating “bad” foods. Their fear of the food has shut down their digestive systems. The food then sits in their stomachs, undigested, and consequently they feel sick.
“Ah ha!” they say, “I knew I would feel sick if I ate that food.” And they’re right. Their bodies have responded to their thoughts.
As a childbirth writer, I have seen this again and again. A woman writes to me saying she has given into desire and eaten a “bad” food. Within hours she’s sick. She’s thankful, of course, that her body has (supposedly) given her this message – “Please don’t eat this food. It’s bad for you.” And so she attempts to “control” herself. Sometimes she succeeds and sometimes she doesn’t. When she doesn’t, her body “pays the price” by becoming ill.
Some people even theorize that morning sickness is the body’s way of ridding itself of “toxins.” If this were the case, you would think that I would have vomited left and right during my pregnancies, as I ate – according to some – a bad diet. Yet in all my years of pregnancy I only vomited one day. I had just discovered I was pregnant with my first child and was understandably afraid. I said belief suggestions that I wasn’t afraid of pregnancy, birth, or motherhood and I never vomited again. Good genes, you say? My mother and both my sisters had morning sickness with every pregnancy. Perhaps I’m just lucky? I don’t think so.
The fact is most people assign far too much power to food, and far too little power to their own minds. I’ve known quite a few women who have had “excellent” diets during their pregnancies and still felt sick a good amount of the time. If the “toxin” theory was correct, why are these women vomiting? Could fear of gaining weight cause pregnant women to reject (or eject) their food? In our weight obsessed culture, I wouldn’t be surprised.
One woman who was especially critical of my “inferior” diet vomited throughout her pregnancy. When someone asked her why she thought I didn’t vomit up all the poisonous food I was eating she replied that it must have been because my body had simply given up. It was so overwhelmed with bad food that it didn’t even try anymore. As to why she vomited despite the fact that she ate only “good” foods, she didn’t have an answer.
Of course, the medical profession would say – and many people would agree – that morning sickness is just one of the normal symptoms of pregnancy (in spite of the fact that it is rare in tribal cultures). It has nothing to do with diet and everything to do with hormones. But why should “changing hormones” cause a woman to feel sick? It makes much more sense to me that fear of changing hormones causes sickness rather than the hormones themselves. Pregnancy is not a disease. It is the ultimate manifestation of health. In fact, if a woman is unhealthy, she may not be able to conceive.
Needless to say, not many people agree with my views about eating during pregnancy. Occasionally women write me nasty letters about it. How can I possibly tell women to eat what they want?! Why, they’ll gain a hundred pounds and feel horrible about themselves! Or will they?
A woman who indulges herself during her pregnancy will not necessarily overeat. Nor will she eat only foods high in fat and sugar. She may crave those foods but she will also crave fruit and vegetables. Women who truly overeat in pregnancy are most likely denying themselves pleasure in other areas of their lives. They may not be allowing themselves to experience sexual fulfillment, or they may have partners who are unwilling to accommodate them in this area – either because they are afraid it will hurt the baby, or because they don’t consider pregnant women sexually appealing (I disagree!). Women also overeat if they are anxious about the pregnancy and birth. This is why it is essential for a woman to understand that birth is not inherently dangerous or painful.
My advice to pregnant women is this: love your body as it is (your body knows how you feel about it). Eat what you feel like eating and trust that your body can easily digest it. Be willing to face your fears of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood, and believe you can overcome them. If I can do it, so can you.
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Chocolate During Pregnancy May Make Mom and Baby Happier
Expectant mothers who are chocoholics can take heart in a Finnish study that finds chocolate appears to reduce maternal stress and produce happier babies, the online version of New Scientist magazine reported. In a study of 300 women, babies born to those who had eaten chocolate daily during pregnancy were more active, smiled and laughed more, and showed less fear of new situations, University of Helsinki researchers found. The researchers – while cautioning that their study does not prove a definitive link between chocolate and happier infants – speculated that chemicals in chocolate associated with positive mood may be passed on to the fetus in the womb, the magazine’s report said.
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