Intuitive Eating and Body Image during Pregnancy -10 Tips from a Michigan Intuitive Eating Counselor
Updated: Dec 17, 2021
As I'm writing these tips, I am about 8 weeks (more or less) from meeting our daughter. Healing my relationship with food and my body has always been about me and my physical and mental health, as well as for my clients, as an Intuitive Eating Counselor. Now, I get to add my daughter to that list.
Without this work and healing, I know for a fact I would be caught up in all the ways diet culture targets pregnant women and new moms. Now, I am able to see it for what it is- a truly toxic marketing scheme targeting people at some of their most vulnerable moments.
If you are new to Intuitive Eating, working on improving your body image, or a new or expecting mom trying to navigate all the changes in a healthy way- these tips are for you.
Wear clothes that fit. This includes bras and undies! One of the biggest things that helps me feel comfortable in my new and changing body, is wearing clothes that fit comfortably. Even if that meant buying maternity jeans sooner rather than later. I received clothes passed down from friends and family, checked out thrift stores that sold gently used maternity clothes, and bought new for everything else. Then, I stored my pre-pregnancy clothes. That way I am not having to sift through a mixture of clothes that no longer fit every day.
Clean up your social media. Unfollow or Mute anyone perpetuating the “get my body back” narrative. This is both harmful and toxic. Your body did not go anywhere. This way of thinking pushes this expectation that we grow a human being, but should be ashamed by any evidence left behind? F that! Stretch marks are normal. Cellulite is normal. Weight Gain is normal. Begin to question who actually profits off of creating these insecurities…and sells the product that is the “solution”. Save your money and your sanity.
Practice body neutrality. You don't have to LOVE everything about your changing body, but it is SO helpful to have to respect for what its going through and engage in behaviors that honor your body. Recognize that you are SO much more than your body, especially now. These changes are normal.
Ditch the scale. While I haven’t had one in my home in a few years, I can only imagine how much of a distraction it would be, by having it around. Your body is going to do, what your body is going to do to accommodate a growing baby. While I gave permission to be weighed at my prenatal appointments, if this would be triggering for you, consider talking to your nurse or doctor and opting for a blind weigh in (turning your back to the scale, instead of facing it and seeing the numbers.)
Practice Affirmations. I took a 5 week hypnobirthing class, which has helped tremendously with my mindset around labor and delivery. The course also included some wonderful affirmations such as: “I embrace the changes that pregnancy brings”, and “I trust my body and my baby”. I was also able to utilize many of the affirmations from my printable Intuitive Eating and Body Image Deck. By using affirmations, I can quickly shut down any negative self talk around food or body image that sneaks up.
Quite the comparison game. Body diversity is a very real thing, including with pregnancy. Now I admit, I of course noticed other pregnant women close to a similar due date and had comparison thoughts in the beginning. But I quickly reminded myself of this truth, and I was able to avoid the tailspin of comparison and second guessing my own body. This also includes comparing what your eating. Each pregnancy is so different. Some people have food aversions, while others need to eat more frequently to keep nausea at bay.
Listen to your body. I have said that pregnancy is like a crash course to Intuitive Eating. I have felt heightened awareness of my physical and emotional needs and feelings. This includes hunger and cravings, fullness, and even the need for movement and rest. Of course things look a bit different, but I don’t have to put much thought around it when I am simply attuned to by body, and honor it as best I can.
Practice Self-Care that focuses on adjusting to these body changes. For me, this means monthly prenatal massages and chiropractic care (both after the first trimester and being cleared by my midwives), regular bubble baths, moisturizing my itchy belly at night, and prenatal yoga. By being consistent with this care, I was able to focus on how my body feels, as opposed to how my body looks. It helped me balance and move in my changing body while reducing any discomfort that began to arise.
Continue to practice Intuitive Eating. For me, this meant my first trimester included a lot of bread to keep the nausea at bay. In my second trimester, my appetite ramped up, and I didn’t even question it. I prioritized foods that would keep me satiated, and while my cravings were minimal, I certainly didn’t avoid them. Now that I am in my third trimester, things look a bit different again. I am fuller much quicker, and my hunger cue is not as prevalent ( likely due to the smaller space available for my stomach). So, I practice nourishment as self care- a simple self care plan for eating regularly, despite the absence of hunger cues. Although I don’t feel as hungry, I know I need to eat. So I have to be more intentional about smaller meals throughout the day to get adequate nourishment.
Come up with a postpartum plan (and no, not a diet and exercise kind of plan- I hope that’s obvious by now). Come up with a plan for support from your partner, friends and family and express what you think you may need, now, before baby comes. Maybe this includes meals to be kept in the freezer, setting up a meal delivery program, or someone to help with house cleaning. Discuss with your partner the expectations you both have around your new roles, and how you will each take time for self care, as well as how to stay connected as partners. Finally, discuss resources and a plan of action if there are signs of postpartum depression, and seek out mental health support when needed.
Personally, I get so angry and the pressure some new moms feel to “bounce back”. With all the changes going on, not to mention this new little life you and your partner are caring for, I can think a million other things that would take priority, than to fall into another diet culture trap.
I also acknowledge that many of these tools I talk about are a privilege to have access to, which is why I also aimed to included other suggestions that are more accessible.
Katie Valley is a Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor whose goal is to dispel the myths of diet culture and reinforce a holistic, health-focused approach to wellness. After her own experience with disordered eating and poor body image, Katie found true healing by practicing Intuitive Eating and Body Acceptance.
Now she has her own practice, Katie Valley Wellness, where she helps women who feel out of control around food learn to eat intuitively, pursue TRUE health, & feel confident in their own body.