The Mommy Diet: Tips and Tricks for Pregnancy
Alison Sweeney rounded up her nutrition- and fitness-expert buddies to contribute to her new book, The Mommy Diet, which aims to guide women through conception, pregnancy, and postpartum in the healthiest way possible.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Robert Trachtenberg
“Right off the bat [by working on The Biggest Loser], I was just so much better informed about the choices I was making and that’s the part that’s just impossible to quantify,” says Sweeney, on how she felt healthier during her second pregnancy compared to the first. “It’s just how much more information I’m aware of in terms of calorie counting. It’s not just calories, but how unhealthy or bad for you some foods are in general. When you’re considering your pregnancy, and how important it is to get certain nutrients into your diet for you and the baby, I just took that into consideration on such a more informed level than I did the first time.” (Test yourself: How well are you eating during pregnancy?)
Talk to Your Doctor About a Fitness Routine
How much you should exercise during pregnancy really depends on how active you were before you conceived. “Here’s the deal: Usually the rule is that if you weren’t active before pregnancy, don’t start going to the gym,” says Jesse Brune, a personal trainer and professional chef who contributed advice to The Mommy Diet. “Your body is going to be doing a lot of shifting and changing. That can be a real trip to a lot of people. It really is a call to women to just take care of your bodies, no matter what, because you can’t decide, ‘Oh, I’m pregnant. I feel weird. I don’t feel sexy—or whatever—so I’m going to start exercising.’ That’s not the game you get to play, unfortunately. Your body has to be used to the exercise or else you can actually do more damage than good.” (Get to know your
pregnancy fitness essentials.)
If You Get the Go-Ahead, Get Going
If your doctor has cleared you to maintain an exercise regimen while pregnant, then do your best to keep it up (with safety-minded modifications, of course). Sweeney, who stayed fit during her first trimester with a combo of spinning and prenatal yoga, among other activities, consulted with trainer Elise Gulan for
The Mommy Diet. She suggests keeping a variety of movement in your routine like walking, spinning, hitting the elliptical and, if you were already a runner, some jogging.
Don’t Make Excuses
The Mommy Diet reminds us that while, yes, part of being pregnant is putting on that baby weight, it’s not the time to toss all of your nutritional values out the window just because you’re going to be adding some extra pounds anyway. “I wasn’t really the worst case scenario of this, but certainly it was true of me, too,” Sweeney says. “Before you get pregnant you think, ‘Oh, this will be the last glass of wine I’ll have,’ or ‘I won’t be able to do this after.’ In between pregnancies women tend to say, ‘I’m going to get pregnant again anyway,’ so they don’t try to get back in shape. Just be honest with yourself about the choices you’re making. With my first pregnancy, I was like, ‘Oh, this is the one time in my life I get to not diet.’ When you fall off track you have to know you’re doing it and be in touch with the treats you’re giving yourself.” (
See why you’re not really eating for two.)
Push Through Morning Sickness with Exercise
This sounds like a near impossibility, but Sweeney, who suffered from horrible morning sickness during her second pregnancy, swears by getting active to lose the nausea. “Sitting on the couch doesn’t make you feel better,” she says. “It just gives you nothing else to think about except how you’re not feeling well. I had the attitude of ‘I just wanted to be distracted.’”
If getting to the gym or even out for a walk, while pregnant or otherwise, feels like the last thing you want to do, give yourself a reason to get moving. “I have my own rewards system,” explains Sweeney. “For example, I only watch Grey’s Anatomy at the gym. I had to be at the gym, on the treadmill or on the bike. I get 45 minutes to work out and watch my show. Of course then I cry at the gym and that gets awkward. But it does help motivate me because it gives me that reward for doing it.”
Treat Yourself, Too
In the book, Sweeney confesses her love of dark chocolate and red velvet goodies, but emphasizes the importance of keeping those sugary portions small. She’s certainly not alone. “I say that you could eat 10 percent of your total calories for the day with a treat, whether it’s chips or chocolate, so it usually ends up being 100 or 150 calories,” says Meg Werner Moreta, a registered dietitian. “It’s more controlled than contained. People are usually really satisfied with that—just knowing that they can have it. Sometimes they don’t even use [the junk calories]. But hearing that they can’t have it, then they want it more.”
Find Nutritious Foods that Your Stomach Can Stomach
Whether you get relief from morning sickness after your first trimester or battle it until delivery, there’s (sadly) no single cure for making that upset stomach go away. “It’s very individual,” says Moreta, of how to banish the morning sickness blahs. “Usually I’ll tell people to keep some whole-grain crackers next to their bed. Really, having something before you even get out of bed can help the nausea, or having something light like Cream of Wheat or oatmeal in small amounts in the morning. I’m a big person [for] soups, especially vegetable-based soups. You get the nutrition in and the vegetables are softer so it’s easier to digest. Try smoothies or Greek yogurt, putting things into the yogurt—everyone is so different, but it’s really finding out what they can tolerate.” (See what else to keep on hand to combat nausea during pregnancy.)
Tackle Exhaustion with Power Foods
Pregnancy can bring on feelings of exhaustion like you’ve never experienced. Give yourself a boost of energy through your meals and snacks. “I say go as natural as you can,” says Brune. “Where we get our natural energy is from our complex carbohydrates, found mostly in vegetables or multi-grains. When you’re becoming a mommy, or since you’ve become a mommy, you can start with all of those vegetable lectures by eating them yourself. It really is a super-important part of taking care of yourself.”
“I also suggest being aware of how you’re cooking your vegetables,” adds Brune. “The more you cook them, the less nutrients you’re going to have. I suggest steaming your vegetables for no more than three minutes and you can add a little sea salt and lemon.”
Get Yourself a Great Pair of Maternity Jeans
Just because your midsection is expanding doesn’t mean your wardrobe has to suffer. Don’t go crazy spending on maternity pieces, but if you are going to splurge on one item, make it your denim. “My maternity jeans are the best ever,” claims Sweeney. “It was really hard to give them up, actually, after the baby was born. They’re like comfortable sweats but they’re jeans—what a great idea that was!” From there, a few other favorite pieces round can help round out your maternity wardrobe. “I have a really long torso, so I loved long shirts and they make them super long for pregnancy,” Sweeney says. “Even now I still have one or two tank tops that I work out in because they’re so comfortable and long and soft.”
Prepare for the Second-Trimester Slowdown
Maybe you pushed through with moderate exercise during your first trimester, but Sweeney notes that you’ll probably find yourself getting tired much faster during your second. The actress modified her own workouts by going to spinning classes less often and using the elliptical more. In The Mommy Diet, Gulan encourages women in the second tri to keep walking, take up swimming, and take prenatal yoga classes that guide you through stretches safe for pregnant women. This, says the trainer, is also the time to start practicing regular Kegel exercises, which can make childbirth easier (who wouldn’t want that!) and lessen your chances of needing an episiotomy.
Give In to Cravings (Once in a While)
During each of her pregnancies, Sweeney craved different things. Her first featured savory items like Fatburger or an Egg McMuffin, and she admits to (probably) giving in more often than she should have. With her second, she longed for sweets. Although, a breakfast sammy did once bring her to tears. “I totally remember crying on a trip to McDonalds because they didn’t have an Egg McMuffin,” she remembers, laughing. “I asked to speak to the manager—I was very upset about it. It was 10:29 and they stop serving breakfast at 10:30, but I totally came in under the wire! I said, ‘My clock says 10:29!’ I was so upset at how casually the lady blew me off about my Egg McMuffin. I had been looking forward to it for four hours!”
Don't Think All Pregnancies Are Created Equal
Maybe you skated through your first go-round practically symptom free, or perhaps those nine months were so rough you actually looked forward to labor. Either way, don’t count on the same experience next time. “I was surprised by how different my second pregnancy was from my first,” says Sweeney. “I thought ‘my first pregnancy was A, B, and C, so my second pregnancy will be, too. I’ll have the same symptoms.’ But it was a totally different experience and that really threw me for a curveball.”
Don't Shut-out Your Spouse
Pregnancy is an intense period of change for women. Often times men just don’t know what to say (or what not to say), so they don’t say anything at all. Not good. So here’s an open message to the significant others out there: Communicate! “It’s always better to talk about what you’re going through and how your husband is feeling about it as well,” says Sweeney. “He’s seeing his wife go through all of these changes but obviously trying to be a sensitive husband and not say something that’s going to hurt feelings or offend, especially if you’re like me and totally emotional and a basket case about one wrong word. Try to address issues as they come up—about sex or romance or whatever it is—and not let things go unsaid because you’re embarrassed or uncomfortable.”
The Home Stretch: Keep on Trucking!
The Mommy Diet experts urge you, if at all possible, to continue doing cardio three to five times a week during the third trimester. For Sweeney, it required modifications to her routine. She switched to the recumbent bike, continued with the elliptical (at a slower pace), and worked with light weights to keep her arms toned. Walking and swimming are excellent choices for prenatal exercise, as well. Strength training could include prenatal yoga, the use of resistance bands, and moves like lunges and wall squats that use your own body weight to tone. Sweeney and her crew emphasize the importance of avoiding activity too intense for your current situation, and remind women to have a physician’s approval for any exercise regimen.
Say Goodbye to Heartburn
Thanks to the uncomfortable sensation of heartburn affecting many women during pregnancy, it may truly feel like your insides are on fire. Moreta recommends spacing out your meals. Eat six or seven light ones each day instead of three big plates, making sure you have both protein and whole grain carbohydrates with each meal and don’t go straight to bed immediately following dinner or your last snack of the day. Sit up for as long as possible while you digest.
Go Easy on Yourself
Between hormonal and physical changes, and countless doctor visits, it’s easy to get stressed during pregnancy. Brune offers this advice: “Your body changes so drastically that it can really, really mess with you, so I think people want to up the intensity level of their exercise and stuff. Take it easy. Allow yourself this time. This is such a cool time for you. Savor it. Really allow yourself the time to love your belly.”
About Alison Sweeney
Sweeney, who is busy taking care of two children and juggling two jobs herself, hopes to remind moms that you can be physically fit, look great, take care of yourself, and still be a wonderful parent. For more from Alison Sweeney, visit alisonsweeney.com or follow her on Twitter.
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