Overeating in pregnancy: no more 'eating for two'

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When you’re pregnant it’s easy to use the age-old cliché of ‘I’m eating for two’ to justify increased portions and the overwhelming consumption of particular foods, such as chocolate.  

But the reality is that during pregnancy we actually don’t need to consume copious amounts of extra food - and it can have an adverse result for our children.

The recommended amount of additional food for women during pregnancy is only 300 calories a day, with a weight gain (dependent on pre-pregnancy weight) of no more than 18kg. 

“If you are overweight to start with, we recommend that you gain no weight at all during your pregnancy,” says Professor Hannah Dahlen, spokesperson for the Australian College of Midwives.

Prof Dahlen says that risks associated with excessive weight gain in pregnancy include pre-eclampsia, premature birth, emergency caesarean sections and development of gestational diabetes.

“Uncontrolled blood sugars during pregnancy can be a risk to your baby,” explains Dahlen.

Studies have also revealed that women who gain excess weight in pregnancy are more likely to have larger newborns, who then have a higher risk of childhood obesity.

Despite this, for some the temptation to overeat is too much to withstand.

“Once the nausea of my first trimester was over, I definitely ate more than I needed,” says Mira Smoljko, a mum of three.

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“It did become a habit and, because I was pregnant, I think I did use that as an excuse to really tuck into as much food as I could.”

Smoljko admits to overindulging in foods such as pasta and ice cream, and confesses to a particular passion for cheese in her third pregnancy.

“I would text my husband to bring home huge blocks of tasty and mozzarella cheeses, and would easily go through a 500g block of cheese every second day,” she says.

As a result of her eating habits, Smoljko gained around 28kg in her first two pregnancies, and close to 35kg in her third.

She has since lost all the weight, bar 5kg, but admits that it took hard work and determination to get there.

And her advice for anyone else?

“Forget the ‘eating for two’ rubbish,” she says. “My biggest suggestion would be to keep exercising during the pregnancy, as I believe this has a big impact on the types of foods and quantities of foods that you then eat.”

Tracie Hyam, accredited nutritionist, says there are a number of reasons why women overeat during pregnancy.

“If a woman has an unhealthy diet, it’s common to overeat as the body is demanding certain nutrients and will signal hunger until needs are met,” she explains.

“This is the same situation with water and hydration, as a dehydrated pregnant women can crave more food in a mistake for needing to hydrate.”

Hyam highlights that overeating during pregnancy can be an emotional act, a traditional or cultural behaviour, or may stem from the general misguided message of ‘eating for two.’

“During the first trimester, women of healthy weight range will need little to no extra food or energy intake,” Hyam explains.  

“As the baby grows the need for extra energy increases, and during the second and third trimester it’s recommended to include an extra small meal and snacks when needed.”

Hyam suggests snacks such as an extra small bowl of rice with tofu or meats and vegetables; wholegrain sandwich with avocado, salad and salmon; or a handful of fruits with milk and yoghurt made into a smoothie.  

She also says that snacking between meals on raw nuts, a boiled egg, avocado and crackers, or with fresh vegetables and hummus are great ideas for added nutrients and satisfying hunger.

“Don’t feel that you need to ‘eat for two’ when pregnant. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and eat a wide variety of healthy foods, including regular snacks and balanced meals with carbohydrates, healthy fats and proteins to ensure you feel satisfied,” says Hyam.

“Avoid eating too many processed foods or high sugar snacks that have very little nutrients as they can leave you feeling hungry and often sick.”

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