(Peanut Butter & Bacon Sandwiches – You”re welcome!)

I remember the day I announced to my Hoosier-meat-and-potatoes-loving family that I was now a vegetarian. This declaration was the direct result of having to dissect a pig in my Sophomore year of High School. I was so grossed out by that particular unit in Biology, I swore off eating meat forever. To be clear, this wasn’t a philosophical thing for me – I was just really grossed out.

My family’s reaction was to consider this “just a phase” and so my Dad continued to pass the platter of meat in my direction every night at dinner and ask again, “Are you still a vegetarian?” (I think this went on for at least a year before he finally dropped it.) I’m guessing they thought I’d grow out of it long before I actually did – when I got pregnant with my first baby 16 years later! That’s a mighty long “phase” ya’ll!

When people become pregnant there’s a lot of talk about cravings – the crazy things that they’ll want to eat while growing their babies. But there’s not a lot of conclusive science as to why normal pregnancy cravings occur.

Some studies point to hormonal changes during pregnancy, some refer to the heightened sense of taste and smell having some causality, there’s also some evidence that the pregnant body is lacking the particular nutrients found in whatever the food they’re craving. This might help explain my increased craving for chocolate while pregnant! I guess our bodies understand how important those antioxidants and flavonoids really are! (Read more about this here if you’ve been feeling at all guilty about your personal chocolate consumption during pregnancy!)

I even read one study that talked about the ambivalence pregnant folks might have toward a certain food – “I want it, and I know I shouldn’t eat it, but I’m pregnant so I can’t really control myself!” An attitude that pregnancy somehow confers permission for a person to eat the “forbidden fruit” as it were, because they’re pregnant. That somehow, culturally, it’s not only accepted, but maybe even encouraged, that they indulge in their cravings.

Initially, I had horrible food aversions when I was first pregnant. Everything made me sick. And there was nothing “morning” about it! I had “all-day-unless-I’m-sleeping-sickness” for the first 16 weeks of my pregnancy. And it wasn’t just nausea! I threw up 10-12 times a day and ended up losing about 15 pounds in my first trimester. Don’t worry… I gained it all back (plus a little more – LOL!)

But when I was finally feeling well enough to eat, I had the most intense craving… for meat.

Initially, I tried to ignore it. But I had been a really bad vegetarian over the years. What I mean is that “real vegetarians” know how to combine different foods to create complete proteins. I never learned how to do that. I just didn’t eat meat.

In my own mind, my body must have been lacking the protein my baby so obviously needed in order to grow and develop. Or at least that’s what I told myself as I secretly gave into my meat cravings and ate lunch at the HoneyBaked Ham store and restaurant housed in the mall across the street from where I worked!

For two full weeks, I’d slink over at lunchtime and order a “Pounder Sandwich” – which contained a full pound of meat, before you added any sort of toppings to it! I would hide in a back corner shoving this meat sandwich into my mouth like someone who’s been shipwrecked for months on an abandoned island with no food. I finally “confessed” to my husband that I was no longer a vegetarian. He shrugged and said, “I never considered you to be a real vegetarian anyway!” (He was right. I’d always been just a poser.)

After that initial binge eating of pounder sandwiches, I calmed down and realized that I could have a little meat (and the other things that I craved…) without going too far overboard. But remember, if you’re wanting to stay true to your veggie lifestyle, stay far away from what I consider to be “The Gateway Meat” – BACON. Once you go bacon, you never go back!

My favorite craving while pregnant with my first baby was bacon and peanut butter sandwiches. They’re delicious! (Even though I’ve never had one since that first pregnancy…)

Fulfilling pregnancy cravings in moderation is okay. The more ambivalent our attitude about what we’re putting past our lips while pregnant, the more at risk we can become for over-indulging in foods that are not particularly nutrient rich and best for our developing babies within. But if we never satisfy those cravings, they’ll only get stronger over time. And when you finally succumb and eat more than you would normally – you set yourself up for a really weird and unnecessary shame cycle around food.

Plus, not all cravings are “bad.” Lots of pregnant folks crave fresh fruit (in December, which does makes it hard on their partners!) Meat, in itself, is not bad. But continuing to eat pounder sandwiches daily for the remaining five months of my pregnancy however, probably would have become an issue for me, my pregnancy and my baby!

There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that the rates for gestational diabetes is on the rise and there are many complications that can result from what is starting to feel like an all too common diagnosis in pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can lead to issues for pregnant person and their baby – not only during pregnancy and birth, but also years down the road.

So, when listening to those cravings, pay close attention to what it is you’re really desiring. If you’re wanting something savory and a bag of high-fat, high-sodium chips is calling to you, maybe switch to pretzels or popcorn: either will still provide a satisfying crunch and a little bit of salt, but won’t result in excess fat or sodium.

If you’re dreaming of super deluxe extra rich strawberry shake with extra whipped cream, maybe what you really want is the flavor of strawberries. Could that craving be satisfied by eating sorbet, yogurt or even fresh strawberries? If you’re craving chocolate – instead of eating en entire Snickers bar – try eating one square of extra dark chocolate. The more intense flavor might mean you don’t have to eat quite as much in one sitting, but you’ll still feel satisfied.

I’m not a fan of restrictive eating. I’ve always indulged my cravings, pregnant or not. But I try to do so with moderation. Life is more fulfilling when all of our senses are firing – and that includes our sense of taste. Pregnancy and birth shouldn’t feel like punishment.

Sometimes I’ll remind the pregnant folks in my classes that the baby’s brain continues to develop and grow right up to the moment they’re born. So, when you find yourself before a vending machine and your cravings are telling you to go for the Flamin’ Hot Crunchy Cheetos and bottle of Coke… Maybe consider some Wheat Thins and water with lemon, instead? Remembering that what we eat, the baby also eats, can be helpful in making your decisions around food. Our cravings don’t have to control us. We can indulge them – just in moderation.

Note: If you are craving non-nutritive substances such as clay, chalk, ice, soil or sand you should let your provider know. This is a condition called pica. Pica is not considered to be a normal pregnancy craving. Your provider would most likely want to check for low levels of iron and zinc as the potential cause of your pica.

Did you have any cravings with your pregnancy? Did you satisfy them? What was your most bizarre craving food combination?

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