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Confessions Of a Pregnant Nutritionist

From Churning to Yearning

It figures a nutritionist would crave grapefruit during her pregnancy. My friends just rolled their eyes when I told them. I didn't want chocolate or ice cream, but for the first six months of my pregnancy, I simply had to have grapefruit. There was just something so ultimately appealing about the astringent sweet-tart juiciness of the fruit. My mouth waters thinking about it even now.

Some would say that my body was ultimately craving what it needed, and that doesn't sound too far off with regard to grapefruit. My body probably did need the vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber, fluid, and folic acid that grapefruit provides. But no one really knows exactly why we crave what we crave. And we can run into problems when what we crave most is mocha almond chip ice cream or New York cheesecake. When I did get hit by that rare sweets craving I had two tactics: 1) try to find a healthier substitute, and 2) if number one fails, go for the "real" thing, just don't go too crazy. So if I wanted ice cream, for example, I'd opt for low-fat whenever possible. But if nothing but the rich and creamy full-fat variety would do, I'd just have a small scoop.

More difficult for me to wrangle was my constant craving for starchy foods like bagels, pasta, and potatoes. It's not that these foods are bad, in fact they are an important part of a prenatal diet, especially the whole-grain varieties which provide essential minerals, fiber, and other trace elements. All good stuff, when prepared healthfully. I just had the tendency to want these carbohydrate-laden foods to the exclusion of most others.

Unfortunately, my interest in protein was just the opposite. The baby's rapidly growing cells are all made of protein, significantly increasing the mother's need for this nutrient. Plus, protein foods are excellent sources of key minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc, all important for expectant moms. Aim for three to four servings of dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese, and three servings of proteins such as meat, chicken, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts each day.

Easier said than done, sure, but not impossible. Throughout my pregnancy I had to make a real effort to balance out the carbohydrates I really wanted with the protein I knew I needed. For example, I'd have half a bagel with an egg, top my baked potato with broccoli and cheddar, and make my pasta with a lean meat sauce.

One thing that shocked me about my cravings was how irrational they made me. Thank goodness my husband isn't easily spooked by demons because I was possessed one day during what I now call my "egg meltdown." That morning in the shower I was hit with the urge to have eggs for breakfast. By the time I dried off and dressed, I was a laser beam of focus, a woman on a mission. Eggs for breakfast.

But when I reached into the fridge, I found that -- horror of horrors -- all the eggs had been eaten. I went ballistic. I literally ranted and raved, shouting at my husband, "How many eggs can you possibly eat in one week?" I was in tears. He offered to make me a number of my favorite breakfast foods, offered to go to the store for eggs. But I was inconsolable.

Eventually I calmed myself down and managed to find something agreeable to eat. Although I laugh now, I was shocked at my behavior. The thing about cravings is they can really take you over, completely demolishing your ability to reason. I found that whatever your cravings, however irrational you become, the key is to be patient and forgiving with yourself -- and hope your loved ones can be, too.