7 Tips for Banishing Pregnancy Cravings
Ice cream for dinner? Pickles wrapped in processed cheese? Salsa straight from the jar? If you’re pregnant, you’ve likely experienced similar strange cravings.
While cravings are normal and it’s okay to treat yourself, over-indulging can have negative impacts on your health, even when you’re pregnant.
In this guide, we will outline what pregnancy cravings are and 7 tips you can use to control them.
How Soon Do Pregnancy Cravings Start?
About 50 to 90% of pregnant women experience a specific food craving, according to a scientific review. By week 13, 76% of women reported yearning for at least one food. Commonly craved foods include sweet and spicy foods and foods high in carbohydrates. According to WebMD, only about 10% of pregnant women desire fruits and vegetables.
Many women also experience a desire for strange food combinations, such as pickles and ice cream. In fact, the funny online cookbook Pickles and Ice Cream showcases some of the bizarre recipes expecting women create.
Cravings usually start before the end of the first trimester and involve an intense desire for a certain flavor or texture. During the second trimester, your desire for specific foods will become the most intense but will usually subside in the third trimester.
Once you give birth, your cravings will likely completely go away, or, at the very least, you’ll crave the food less often.
Are Pregnancy Cravings Normal?
Why do pregnancy cravings occur? Doctors aren’t exactly sure and there’s no one answer. One possibility is that the body craves the nutrients it needs. For example, a craving for processed cheese could represent the need for more sodium.
You may also find yourself craving foods that you disliked before pregnancy. Or you may discover that foods you previously loved now make you nauseous just from the smell—but it’s not just in your head. Studies show that high hormone levels during pregnancy can change your sense of taste and smell—which may explain the strange combination cravings.
The desire for weird flavors is normal during pregnancy. However, if you start craving non-edible items (such as dirt or soap), you should see your doctor. Having an appetite for items with no nutritional value can be a symptom of pica, an eating disorder that can be dangerous to you and your baby.
While you are eating for two, you only need about 300-500 extra calories daily, depending on which trimester you’re in. Cravings can be strong when you’re expecting, but you should still aim for a healthy, balanced diet and avoid overeating. Excessive weight gain during pregnancy can increase your chances of gestational diabetes, labor problems and preeclampsia (dangerously high blood pressure).
7 Pregnancy Craving Remedies
Find Out What You’re Actually Craving
One theory is that the mother will crave the nutrients her body needs. Next time you have a craving, pause and ask yourself what the food contains and try to find a healthier alternative. It may also help to consider what type of food you’re craving: Crunchy, smooth, hot, sweet, etc.
Experiment to see if your cravings can be fulfilled by healthier foods.
- A craving for a burger and fries may mean that your body is seeking out sodium and protein. Consider eating chicken or beef with a healthy source of sodium, such as spinach or beets.
- A craving for a rich ice cream may mean your body is asking for fat or calcium. Consider eating Greek yogurt or drinking a glass of milk.
- A craving for chocolate could mean your body needs more magnesium. Healthier sources of magnesium include beans, nuts, green vegetables and whole grains.
On the flip side, many pregnant women have aversions to alcohol, coffee and soda. Some people believe this is the body’s way of protecting a baby from harmful substances.
Although experimenting with your cravings is fine, it’s worth noting that some studies don’t show a link between cravings and nutritional requirements.
Vow Not to Deprive Yourself Again
Women who do not allow themselves to eat certain types of food may binge when they become pregnant. When they’re not pregnant, they have a diet mentality. When they’re expecting, they see it as a time to treat themselves, which may lead to cravings for foods they usually deprive themselves of. Studies show that attempted food restriction is associated with cravings for the same food (ever heard of the saying, “you want what you can’t have?).
For example, if you never allowed yourself to eat cake, you may find yourself constantly craving and eating cake during pregnancy. To get rid of these types of cravings, you’ll need to change your approach to dieting. Get rid of any guilt associated with eating the food. Then, vow to allow yourself to eat that food when you want, even after you’ve given birth. The idea is that once you know you can have the food whenever you want, you’ll start craving it less or not at all.
While it may sound simple, this approach is a process. To learn more about intuitive eating, click here.
Eat Smaller Portions
When you give into a craving, try to be mindful of how much you’re eating. While eating the food, keep checking in with yourself to see if you’re still hungry or craving it. To make mindful eating easier, try to eat without distraction. Instead of watching TV or reading, spend the time just enjoying your food. When your focus is on the food, you may be surprised that you only need half a piece of cake to fulfill your craving.
Avoid skipping meals and long periods of hunger. When this happens, your blood sugar levels drop, which can lead you to crave and eat more food. Instead of eating 3 big meals a day, you can aim for 6 smaller meals. Carrying around healthy snacks can also help keep your blood sugar levels stable.
Get More Sleep
Getting more sleep during pregnancy is a good idea because your body gets fatigued easier—and it can also help with your cravings. Not getting enough sleep can affect your hormone fluctuations, and your hormones can affect your appetite and lead to cravings.
Studies show that people who don’t get enough sleep are up to 55% more likely to become obese. A 2016 study also found that sleep-deprivation can lead to an increase in appetite and a desire for unhealthy foods.
Even if you’re tired, getting a good night’s rest while you’re expecting can be difficult. If pregnancy symptoms and discomfort are making staying asleep hard, check out our Ultimate Guide for Sleeping During Pregnancy.
Pregnancy is beautiful—but it comes with a whirlwind of emotions. With fluctuating hormones, daily stresses and anxiety you have about your baby’s health and becoming a parent, it can be emotionally taxing at times. To deal with these emotions, sometimes we turn to comforting foods.
Pay attention to how you feel when you’re craving a certain food. Do you feel stressed, anxious or sad? Are you using the food to distract yourself or take your mind off of a worry? If the answer is yes, try finding other ways to deal with your emotions. Here are a few ideas:
- Talk to your partner about your anxieties. He isn’t going through pregnancy, but he likely shares many of the same worries and can relate.
- Start journaling. Some people find that writing out their emotions or using journaling prompts can help to boost mood.
- Take a bath, read a book or find another activity that relaxes you.
- Take a brisk walk or workout. Cardiovascular exercise has been shown to increase endorphins and reduces stress hormones.
- Get into nature. According to a 2014 study, simply looking at trees, even if you’re in a city, can significantly help you recover from stress.
- Watch a comedy movie. Studies have shown that a good chuckle can relieve your stress response and aid in relaxation.
- If your emotions are becoming overwhelming, consider visiting a therapist.
You may assume that exercising will make you hungrier and increase cravings; however, physical activity can actually help you control your food desires.
According to a 2013 study, high-intensity exercise led to a decrease in cravings and calorie intake. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why, although some theorize it’s because your body has lower levels of an appetite-stimulating hormone after you workout. In addition, when blood lactate and blood glucose levels are too low, they make you hungry. Researchers found that intense workouts boosted both, possibly decreasing your appetite.
If you didn’t do intense exercise before pregnancy, now is not the time to start to over-exert yourself. However, you can start small since exercise is still recommended during pregnancy. If you’re wondering what types of exercise are considered safe, check out our post about Exercising While Expecting.
Are you experiencing pregnancy cravings? If so, comment below the weirdest food combination you’ve tried. If you have pregnant friends or family members, be sure to share this article with them, too!
P.S. Sometimes pregnancy cravings can be from emotions such as worrying about your baby’s health. Our fetal dopplers are handheld devices that allow you to hear your baby’s heartbeat through headphones—ensuring you that he or she is okay.