by Daniela Kende
Daniela Kende is a Los Angeles-based holistic nutritionist, health coach, and wellness expert. She supports busy professionals in learning how to develop healthy habits on the go, prepare simple and nourishing real food meals at home, and to create abundant energy to live the life they desire. Daniela specializes in helping her clients break free from food rules and deconstruct cravings with compassion in order to get to the root underlying need, be it physical or emotional. Daniela’s goal is to help others ditch the diet mindset and find freedom with food for good.
One of the first things I noticed very early on in my pregnancy was the fact that I simply could not ignore how my body was feeling. Afternoon naps went from a rare luxury to an almost daily necessity. And my food preferences were distinct, particular, and ever-changing.
Pregnant or not, our bodies always have distinct needs in order to thrive – pregnancy just has a way of amplifying those needs and making it harder (or sometimes impossible) to ignore them and push through.
I’ve coached a number of pregnant women and new moms in my private practice as a holistic nutritionist and health coach, but it wasn’t until experiencing pregnancy for myself this year that I had this aha moment: being pregnant offers women a unique opportunity to grow in compassion towards self – towards our cravings, emotions, and physical state. It’s an opportunity to embrace our needs on a new level, regardless of if they make sense or are convenient. Approaching our pregnancy cravings with compassion and patience can provide the perfect training for life with a newborn, where old expectations are replaced by a non-negotiable need to live in the here and now.
But what happens when your pregnancy cravings are for processed junk food you know you should avoid, and that chopped salad you used to love is a total turn off?
This is where we have an opportunity to become compassionate investigators, and dig deeper into our desires in order to understand our needs on a new level. When a craving arises, I find it usually falls into one of these three categories:
A distinct physical desire for an ingredient: ie craving something salty. It could be pickles, potato chips, or sauerkraut, as long as there is salt. This type of craving usually comes from an actual physical need.
A desire for emotional release: When we have feelings that we want to release, we often use food to help us feel a sense of expansion and freedom. This can take the form of a pizza or wine craving to find release after a challenging week.
An emotional numbing or distraction: This type of craving stems from not wanting to deal with difficult feelings when they arise, and will usually manifest in a desire for something creamy, sweet, and/or fatty, such as ice cream, nut butter, or chocolate.
During pregnancy (and anytime, really!), it helps to slow down and bring more mindfulness to our cravings in order to consider the underlying physical or emotional need behind each one. By doing so, we can upgrade our reward and give our bodies and souls what they actually need to thrive.
To help you bring more clarity and compassion to your cravings, here are two of the more common pregnancy cravings I’ve seen in my clients (and myself!), and some tips for how to get what you want and take care of your health in the process:
Common Craving #1: I scream, you scream, we all scream for ICE CREAM.
Creamy foods provide us with soothing comfort when we are overwhelmed, uncomfortable, or fatigued. Add sugar to the equation, and we’ve got an addicting new habit on our hands.
What your body and mind might actually need: An emotional hug and “time out” from the hustle and bustle of your life. Try establishing a healing nighttime bath routine following these steps:
Run a bath -- just not too hot for baby -- and add a large scoop of pure epsom salts (skip brands with artificial fragrance)
Add a few drops of essential oils right into your tub. I like using chamomile and lavender for night time, as they both promote deep relaxation.
Next, light a candle, dim the lights, put on some relaxing tunes, and BREATHE, using your bath as a time to slow down and reset pesky stress hormones.
Bonus points for bringing a cup of herbal nighttime tea with you to sip while you soak.
Sometimes, an ice cream craving means you’re going to have ice cream! Full stop, no discussion, no bath (or maybe ice cream in the bath?). For those times, try to prioritize the quality of product you choose, in order to lessen the negative impact on your health.
Upgrade your reward: Most ice creams on the market are made from non-organic dairy and have additives that disrupt your hormones and trigger bloating and indigestion. Instead, look for an organic ‘scream that contains just a few whole food ingredients. My favorite clean ice cream brands include:
Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss (dairy-free)
Three Twins Organic Ice Cream
Alden’s Organic Ice Cream
BONUS option: While it’s not ice cream, I find sheep’s milk yogurt to be an incredibly satisfying alternative. It is easier to digest than cow’s milk, has twice the protein, and a lot less sugar. Check out Bellwether Farms Yogurt.
Finally, a note about dairy cravings: Consistently craving dairy during pregnancy could be a sign that your body needs more calcium. Check with your doctor about adding a high quality mineral supplement (I personally take Osteoforce by Designs for Health), to help your body get what it needs to thrive.
Common Craving #2: Carbs carbs carbs!
Especially during early pregnancy, white bread, bagels, and crackers may be the most appealing option. It’s no wonder: simple, refined carbs require less energy to digest, and are void of any strong smell or taste that could trigger sickness. The downside, beyond the lack of nutrients, is that fluctuations in blood sugar caused by simple carbohydrates can exacerbate morning sickness, which is the last thing any of us want.
What your body and mind might actually need: Rest and more rest. While increasing your nightly Zzzs might feel pretty inconvenient if you’re used to getting by on little sleep, hitting the hay a few hours earlier is the best free medicine available. When we are sleep deprived, our brains scream for simple carbohydrates for a quick burst of energy. Try committing to at least 8-9 hours of sleep per night for a week and see how it impacts your cravings for carbs. Finally, sneak in afternoon naps whenever you can. Even a 10-minute nap can go a long way in reducing cravings and resetting your mental state.
Upgrade your reward: Rather than reaching for refined white flour products, focus on fiber-rich carbs to help slow the blood sugar spike. I’m a big fan of oat, coconut, and buckwheat, all of which are more nutrient-dense and less inflammatory than refined wheat. Here are some of my favorite comforting and nutritious carbs that were a lifesaver during my first trimester and beyond:
Oatmeal: Try the Trader Joe’s GF Ancient Grain & Super Seed Oatmeal, which includes flax, hemp, pumpkin, sunflower, and chia seeds -- all of which are fantastic ingredients for a healthy pregnancy. Stir a scoop of plant protein powder into your oatmeal to make it a more complete meal.
Sweet potatoes: Rich in vitamins A, C, iron, and potassium, sweet potatoes are pregnancy food all stars. Bake a few at the top of the week and try one topped with almond butter, peanut butter, or tahini for a boost of beneficial fats and protein.
Cream of buckwheat: For those times when you need something VERY bland and soothing, try organic cream of buckwheat (I like this old school brand!) cooked in water or unsweetened almond milk to help settle nausea.
Tortillas: I’m pretty obsessed with the tortillas from Siete Foods. They are soft and flexible like flour tortillas, but are totally grain-free. Warm one up and top with organic scrambled eggs and half an avocado for a balanced breakfast taco that’ll keep you satisfied and energized.
Chips: I love the crunchy coconut flour chips from The Real Coconut.
Pregnancy is a unique journey for every woman, and a special opportunity for us to listen to our bodies on a whole new level. If my work with clients has showed me anything, it’s that cravings are good - they tell us exactly what our bodies need. The trick is listening to them, specifically the emotion behind the craving. If you can do that, you’ll see how much power you have to create a peaceful and healthy pregnancy and transition into motherhood. I’m always here to offer customized support for mamas at any stage, so don’t hesitate to reach out.
In the meantime, try my Sunflower Lemon Zest Mighty Bites recipe for a pregnancy super snack filled with nutrient-dense superfoods that will support your energy and baby’s development, and find more healthy recipes at www.danielakende.com.