Pregnancy Hunger & Intuitive Eating 

You’ve heard the joke about pregnant women, eating for two, right?  While this is a funny notion, it’s not entirely true, at least from a calorie standpoint. Breastfeeding actually requires more calories compared to pregnancy needs. In theory however, you are eating for two. It takes a lot of energy and good nutrition to build another human being. 

Some women do experience feeling “hungry all of the time” in some stages of their pregnancy. For myself, hunger has most definitely intensified, or what I like to call, “next level intuitive eating.” I’ve been practicing intuitive eating for awhile now, and this pregnancy has been such an amazing gift for me to surrender even more to my body, to my appetites and hungers. 

If you are new on the intuitive eating path and find yourself wondering about getting pregnant, or you are pregnant, these changes in hunger and changes in the body might seem a bit scary or even confusing. 

When you experience hunger in pregnancy, you might be wondering:

  • “Is it normal for me to feel so hungry?”
  • “Does my body really need more food right now?”
  • “Can my body be trusted with extra calories?”

Pregnancy hungers can come on suddenly and that can feel chaotic and or out-of-control. Especially if this is your first pregnancy, you might be wondering also about weight gain. Common fears are: “If I honor my hungers, will my weight gain spiral out of control? Or, will I gain too much weight?” These fears are so normal. 

When I went to my last prenatal doc appointment, where I always get weighed, I had a mini freak out moment. Normally, I do not weigh myself, so I’ve been unaware of my weight in general. This pregnancy is my fist and curiosity got the best of me, so I have been looking at the number on the scale at these visits.  When I saw the number was increased by a lot, I was surprised to notice some fears come up about gaining “too much weight.” I had a worrisome thought that I was actually gaining weight too fast and that maybe I should slow it down! Then, I realized that this was my old residual diet mentality! It was from some part of my psyche that used to worry about weight. The scale literally triggered that part of my brain again. It was honestly surprising to me, but also an interesting reality check. Thankfully, I was able to quickly come back to my intuitive wise self and she told me to chill the F out. She told me that my body is gaining the perfect amount of weight and that all is well. I deeply trust my body and I also deeply trust the process. Weight gain during pregnancy is a good thing and it is not to be controlled or feared. 

Your body is fully capable of doing what it needs to do to keep you and your baby healthy, and most of all, your body can be trusted.

Pregnancy Hunger is Intense Hunger!

To begin with, more intense hunger during pregnancy is completely normal! Your body is working so hard and undergoing so many changes in a short period of time to grow your sweet little munchkin.

My First trimester hungers:

For most women, the first trimester is marked with intense nausea, morning sickness (which should be called, all day sickness), decreased appetite and extreme fatigue. 

For me personally, I felt like I had the flu for the first 10 weeks. The intense nausea kicked in around week 5 and this made eating really challenging. I knew I needed to eat, I had sporadic hunger, but nothing really sounded good. I mostly ate a bland diet of cream of wheat cereal, toast with butter and jam, ramen noodle soup, yogurt, fruit and ice cream. I could stomach some soups, like chicken noodle but overall I had no desire to eat ANY VEGETABLES! Normally, I love my veggies! 

The good news is that for most women, this stage will pass. You will begin to feel better soon and with that a more normal appetite as well. Don’t worry about suddenly becoming nutrient deficient if you aren’t eating enough vegetables. Your body has stores it draws upon and a couple months of eating a more limited diet will not impact your health. You body stores will be used towards the growth of your baby. It’s always a good idea to take your prenatal vitamins during this stage just to be on the safe side. 

If you’re coming out of the first trimester, you may feel more intense hunger than normal, or you may feel hungry more frequently. This is especially true if you experienced weight loss in early pregnancy, if you had morning sickness and or frequent nausea. Also, if you had an increase in movement/ activity in any particular day. If you are continuing to breastfeed another child while pregnant you’ll also feel more hunger. And, if you’re carrying multiples, then you are eating for three or four.. If you have a history of restricting or chronic dieting, this will also increase your hunger as your body is trying to restore yourself as well as build your baby. 

My Second Trimester:

I most definitely felt an increase in hunger after about week 11 or so. My nausea was decreasing and my appetite for vegetables returned! I also ate a fair amount of pickles too but didn’t necessary crave them more than other foods. I still wanted a lot of bland foods and especially higher fat foods such as ice cream, avocados, cheese, butter and creamy things. I was grateful to have my energy back and to not feel constant nausea!

Body Changes During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, your body is working hard to grow a baby and this requires additional nutrients and calories. 

Your body will respond appropriately by prompting increased hunger cues when you need more nutrition to support these changes. Roll with it!

What are the changes happening in your body that require extra calories? For the record, it’s estimated that the body needs about 300 extra calorie per day. 

It’s also reasonable to gain 25 to 40 pounds (on average) during your pregnancy.

Newborn babies only weigh a fraction of that, so where do those pounds go? 

Here’s a breakdown:

  • 1.5 pounds for the placenta
  • 2 pounds for enlargement of your uterus
  • 2 pounds of amniotic fluid that surrounds your baby
  • 2 pounds for breast enlargement 
  • 4 pounds for other extra body fluids
  • 7 pounds extras stored protein, fat and other nutrients
  • 7.5 pounds is average baby’s weight 

Because your body needs MORE nutrition and calories to support these changes, it’s common to experience periods of time where you feel as if your hungers are like a bottomless pit.

Remember that this intensity of hunger is nothing to fear. It’s simply your body’s way of telling you it needs more energy to do the job of building your growing baby.

Hunger is not something to control; nor does feeling hungry signal that you are out of control. It is a simple and basic bodily function for keeping you alive.

If you feel tempted to restrict your eating because the increase in hungers and food feels out of control to you, please know that your body can be trusted. If you feel unsure how to respond to what your body is telling you, remember that honoring your hunger is as natural as honoring signals when you feel tired or need to go to the bathroom. 

If you are worried you aren’t eating enough or struggling with fear of weight gain, please seek help from a registered dietitian who can make a plan so you feel safe as well as ensure the safety of your growing baby. Restrained eating during pregnancy can be especially dangerous and create adverse outcomes for you and your baby.

If you have had a history of an eating disorder or have been a chronic dieter, you may have a harder time reading the cues your body is sending you during pregnancy. It’s normal for chronic dieters to lose touch with their internal regulators of appetite, hunger, and satiety. And, pregnancy intensifies these cues which can feel scary for some. Feeling something as normal as hunger, fullness, or experiencing weight gain can be a chaotic experience for those with a shaky relationship with food and trusting their bodies.

Practice Intuitive Eating During Pregnancy

Being an intuitive eater means you are the expert of your own body and you trust your body as the ultimate authority of what you need. 

YOU alone are the only person living in your body and growing your baby, so you are the only one who can be the expert of your body.  

You are the only one who knows when you are hungry. You are the only one who knows what kinds of foods you are craving … pickles and ice cream anyone? And you are the only one who knows what exact foods will feel good to eat and satisfy. And, you are the only one who knows when you’re full and to stop eating.

During pregnancy, you need to rely on your body even more now to navigate what you need, because your body is responding according to what specifically your baby growing inside you needs.

You can read lots of books and blogs or listen to other mom’s about what you “should” be eating, but ultimately, your body is the authority on determining your exact needs. 

In order to become the expert of your own body, you have to learn how to reconnect and rebuild trust with your body. You need to learn what hunger feels like, what fullness feel likes, what tastes good to you and what foods don’t taste or sound good (food aversions in pregnancy is also similar to cravings).

Your body during pregnancy is in a state of constant change as your baby is growing and sending signals that can differ from day to day. Keep coming back to trusting your body. After all, isn’t it amazing that it can grow another human inside your uterus without any guidance from the outside? This is the ultimate trust and surrender to your magnificent body.

Pregnancy is a sacred time that we can use to really cultivate a deeper appreciation for what our body is capable of doing. Let’s welcome the hungers and celebrate the changes!

Much love, baby dust and blessings to all the Mama’s in the world, and Mama’s to be!

XO, Karen Louise

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Karen Louise Scheuner, MA, RDN

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