One of the most misleading ideas about pregnancy is that you are eating for two. Sure, you are eating for two beings, but remember, one of them is very, very small. So don't get caught in the dangerous mindset that you need to eat double. In fact, you only need an extra 300 calories (450 to 600 if you are carrying twins) a day when you're pregnant. That's the equivalent of a yogurt with fruit and a little granola, a couple of handfuls of nuts and dried fruit, or a small sandwich. I always found that keeping this in perspective helped my pregnant clients put down that pint of ice cream. It helped me, too.
What I wasn't prepared for, though, was my raging appetite, which seemed to have its own ideas about how many calories I needed. One morning my growling stomach woke me at 5:30. The next thing I knew I was in my sweatpants at my corner diner eating the "Lumberjack" breakfast -- pancakes, eggs, juice, Canadian bacon - the works. It was just what I needed, and I felt great afterwards.
Although the gorge-fest was rare, my hunger often exceeded 300 extra calories worth of food. But that guideline is an average need: Some days you need more and some days you need less. I have always believed that the best way to insure the right caloric intake, pregnant or not, is to listen to your appetite. And I believe that even more strongly now. I know I couldn't have possibly ignored my insatiable hunger that morning.
By listening to my appetite and eating the right foods (most of the time), I knew I'd gain the right amount of weight. The problem I encountered was that the right pregnancy weight for me wasn't exactly what I had in mind. I figured I would gain about 30 pounds, an amount that sounded reasonable enough (after all, it was smack in the middle of the recommended 25-35 pounds). But when my weight edged past the 35-pound benchmark somewhere in my eighth month, I was enlightened (after I cried and panicked-like any red-blooded, body-conscious woman would, that is).
Once I calmed down, I came to a certain peace with the whole weight issue. By that point I was eating consistently well, swimming, and doing yoga regularly. My pregnancy was progressing beautifully. Apparently, this weight was where my body needed to be.
Now I believe that normal-weight pregnant women shouldn't obsess over an "extra" couple of pounds. Yes, weight is an indicator of your health and the growth of your baby, and you should keep an eye on it along with your obstetrician. But if you direct your energy towards eating healthfully and staying as active as possible instead of towards your weight, you'll probably be just fine.
My pregnancy made me a better nuritionist. I now know the real deal. I haven't just done the reading -- I've been there. Those perfect meal plans are a good starting point, but I've come to realize that flexibility, creativity, and patience are key to a good prenatal diet.
Those ingredients are key to motherhood as well. Now that my daughter is 2 years old, I realize that those fickle food cravings, midnight feedings, and tantrums I experienced in pregnancy were just a little taste of what I would deal with in the months and years ahead with my child. And they made me realize that I'd do anything (including forsaking red wine!) for that tiny person inside me.
Ellie Krieger is a registered dietician and freelance writer in New York City.