Can Jessica Simpson’s Pregnancy be a Teachable Moment?

by LindsayHill

I hate to pick on poor pregnant Jessica Simpson, especially when half of the idiots on Twitter are commenting on her weight and when I find her girl-next door charm refreshing. However, she is leaving me no choice.  According to media interviews and her Twitter feed, she is stuffing herself with delicacies such as buttered pop tarts, fried Twinkies and her own invention, the “slut brownie” which involves baking chocolate chip cookie dough and Oreos into a fudge brownie (okay, it sounds kinda good). Like many women, Jessica believes pregnancy is a time to indulge every craving. As a fellow curvy girl who enjoys food, I won’t comment on her weight, but I will take her to task for flaunting her unhealthy pregnancy diet. By doing so she promotes the profoundly exaggerated idea that one should “eat for two” while pregnant. A celebrity with access to the best nutritionists and personal trainers should know better.

The truth is that while you need more calories than usual when pregnant, you only need about a hundred more a day during the first trimester and 300 more a day during the second and third trimesters.  You also need MORE nutrients so ideally those extra calories should come from nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, legumes, lean protein and unprocessed whole grains.  The extra calories should not come from junk food and especially not sugar bombs like donuts, brownies and heaping bowls of ice cream given the health risks associated with consuming too much sugar while pregnant.  

Eating too much sugar during pregnancy increases your chance of developing gestational diabetes, of having a c-section and of having an overweight toddler. In fact multiple studies link excess sugar consumption during pregnancy to neonatal and maternal health problems, while I have yet to find a study linking light alcohol consumption (one to two units once or twice a week) during pregnancy to increased health risks for the mother or baby.  Everyone knows to avoid nicotine when pregnant, yet most people wouldn’t bat an eye if they saw an expectant mother eating M&Ms, which contain dyes the Center for Science in the Public Interest warns cause ADHD and other behavioral problems in children. Eating loads of sweets is a socially acceptable vice for pregnant women although it may be just as dangerous as those considered taboo. So, why all the confusion and what does this say about us as a society?

Our attitude regarding nutritional choices during pregnancy reflects the larger problem with our attitude toward nutrition in general.  Women say “I love being pregnant because I don’t have to watch what I eat.”  For most Americans the expression “watch what I eat” means some form of counting calories or following a new fad diet when really watching what you eat should mean ensuring you get the nutrients you need from food on a daily basis.  Our focus, during pregnancy and at all other times, should be on eating nutrient-dense whole foods. If you set about getting the nutrition you need to function at your optimal energy level, you will naturally maintain a healthy weight and feel great.  

Being pregnant was actually a huge turning point for me, and I think it can be for all women if we stop thinking of pregnancy as a calorie free for all. Being pregnant inspired me to eat or avoid certain foods for health reasons, not just because I deemed them “good” or “bad” for maintaining a certain weight (the whole ideal weight thing was kind of out the window anyway!).  Pregnancy forced me to recognize that my body is a much better judge of what I need than my mind.  Sure I ate a little more than usual and baked cookies now and then, but overall I rarely craved fattening foods because I was not preoccupied with avoiding them for vanity’s sake.

Eating what your body wants is different that eating what your mind craves. Your body wants nutrients; your mind wants donuts.  Your body needs iron and minerals; your mind wants fast food because you just saw an ad for it on TV.  It’s an important distinction.  With the exception of perhaps the first trimester when morning sickness can leave you unable to stomach much of anything, pregnancy is a great time to start focusing on proper nutrition and the naturally nurturing and healing properties of whole foods.  When you are pregnant what you eat affects not just you but your baby.  Thinking this way is good practice for what’s about to come because it’s never going to be just about you again!

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