Losing control while eating for two

More than a 1/3 of pregnant women reported loss of control over eating during pregnancy

More than a 1/3 of pregnant women reported loss of control over eating during pregnancy

The cool, fashionable, fit mom image took over in the last few decades.

Just like 40 is the new 30, and 50 is the new 40, parenthood no longer implies a negative change in physique.

And while celebrity moms such as Beyoncé, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba and Gwyneth Paltrow seemed to bounce back from pregnancy and delivery as if it were a beauty nap, the reality is that many women fear the body changes and weight gain associated with pregnancy.

And for good reason. Celeb post-partum photos tell a story that doesn’t match to what women see in their own corner. Nearly half of the women in the US gain more weight than the Institute of Medicine recommends during pregnancy, and that excessive weight is hard to lose – studies show those extra pounds are often retained for a very long time. Women’s hunch is that pregnancy is a time of high risk for weight gain, because the usual patterns of eating are disrupted, appetite might increase, and the external cues that help regulate eating – such as clothes that used to fit – are no longer relevant.

Eating in moderation is hard at any stage of life, and at times of great change women are afraid to lose their balance.

Losing control

A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed a cohort of more than 11,000 pregnant women in Avon, England. This study is a long-term prospective study of parents and their children. Expectant moms filled questionnaires when they were pregnant, way back in 1991-1992. Weight gain during pregnancy was derived from medical records. The babies’ weights at birth and as 15 year olds were also studied.

The study found that more than a third of pregnant women reported loss of control over eating during pregnancy.

Loss of control was associated with higher caloric intake, especially from carbs. Loss of control led to more snacks and dessert foods, more added sugar from candy, cake and chocolate, and lower vitamin B6, C and A intake.

Women who reported loss of control over eating gained on average 8 pounds more than those who didn’t report losing it.

What’s even more interesting is that loss of control during pregnancy resulted in heavier babies, and a two-fold increased chance of being overweight or obese at age 15.5 years.

The authors, led by Nadia Micali, suggest that the outcomes in the kids might be much more than environmental influences of perhaps living in a home with more snacks.

“It has been suggested that metabolic and appetitive fetal programming might also be affected by imbalanced maternal intake in pregnancy. In rodents, high-sugar diets in pregnancy have been shown to lead to altered metabolic and inflammatory pathways and higher oxidative stress in the offspring.” 

For two, not double

We’re not supposed to look at other people’s plates, but I confess to being guilty of peeking from early on. I had a somewhat sad and unfailing realization: It’s the rare woman or man that remains thin beyond their 40s who isn’t watching what she or he eats.

In our time of abundance, the main nutrition message centers on how to moderate eating, how to not overdo what’s naturally tempting and fun to do.

“You’re eating for two” is often interpreted as “eat twice as much” which is, admittedly, more catchy and convenient than “you should eat well, gain some weight but not too much (and not too little)”.

What mom eats affects the developing fetus, and the message is apt regarding the importance of healthy, clean nutrition – almost everything mom puts in her body, including alcohol and medications, crosses the placenta. The extra calories needed for the pregnancy are, however, modest, and never even close to double of everyday caloric needs. (Generally, there are no extra caloric needs in the first trimester, and you need only about 350 calories extra in the second trimester, and 450 extra in the third.)

An expectant Mom’s diet and excessive weight gain may have a lasting effect on her child’s weight and health.

On the other hand, because pregnancy and becoming a parent are a time of enormous change, they hold the potential for positive, healthy transformation, too. It’s in these times of inevitable alteration that the possibility for lasting habit change can occur, and many parents adjust their behaviors, attitudes, speech and customs when they become aware that they’re becoming role models, and when they see that their actions might shape those they care about the most.

In that sense, every parent eats for two, or three, or five or however many are in their circle or influence for many years to come.

Dr. Ayala

Every parent eats for two, or three, or five or however many are in their circle or influence for many years to come