Related: What Pregnant Women Should Eat—According To Doctors From Around The World
But after reading a New York Times story, “The Chemicals in Your Mac and Cheese,” I became extremely freaked out about my dietary choices, and their possible effect on my baby. The article stated that many products, even those labeled organic, tested positive for high levels of phthalates, a harmful chemical with some potential serious side effects for infants whose moms ingest them while pregnant—side effects like neurodevelopmental and behavior problems such as aggression, hyperactivity, and cognitive delays. (Here's more on what you need to know about whether you can still trust the organic label.)
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From there, I went down a rabbit hole of pregnancy related internet searches. It seemed everything was unsafe. I clicked through endless related articles, even pulling up pictures of deformed newborn babies who were exposed to chemicals during pregnancy. By the end of my search, I was horrified and almost certain that I was growing a misshapen fetus inside of my womb all because of my dietary decisions. Those fears grew at a time when my hormones were shifting, my body was changing, and my anxieties about the future (and pregnancy insomnia) were already leaving me restless at night.
Related: The 10 Worst Packaged Foods According To Nutritionists—And How To Make Them Healthier
I was also constantly being given contradictory dietary advice from people I respect. They were trying to be helpful, but it was making things worse. I would hear, “Avoid dairy at at all costs,” “Drink as much milk as you can!” and “You can have a glass of wine a week,” and “I didn’t drink at all during my pregnancy.” It’s become a constant game of trying to somehow shush all of these conflicting outside voices and zone in on the fact that it's my body, and my baby.
Trying to eat healthier? Check out how to make four servings in this easy, one-pan prep video.
Finding a balance
I eventually decided to tune out my friends, to close the computer—to stow it far, far away—and to meditate and reflect. I tried to visualize what motherhood looked like to me, realistically. I tried to imagine my baby girl latching on to breastfeed and me eating crunchy salads and cooking quinoa in bulk for the week. I pictured walking to the farmer’s market for groceries with my baby wrapped snug along my chest. I tried to visualize a healthy relationship with food and what went into both of our bodies. I knew becoming pregnant would shift my view on diet, but I wanted to find balance and not be too restrictive, just like my mother had been when she raised me.
Related: 6 Organic Store-Bought Baby Food Pouches That Are Just As Good As Homemade
I had found that many nutritionists suggested eating only “whole foods,” foods that have been processed or refined as little as possible and are free from additives and other artificial substances; but even as a healthy eater, this seemed a bit unrealistic to me to commit to all the time, and difficult depending on cravings. So I came up with my own rule list to balance out the health of what goes into my body while pregnant, without going over-the-top. Of course, every mom needs to come up with her own method of cutting through the (sometimes extensive) BS and finding a path that feels comfortable and healthy for her and her baby.
Related: 6 Moms Share The Times They Felt Like Total Failures
Below, my personal method of not driving myself crazy, but still eating healthy.
I eat organic whole foods first.
Instead of eating only whole foods, I decided to put everything I wanted to eat on my plate at once—but I always ate the organic whole foods first. This way I fill up on the good stuff, and just pick at the rest. When I started this method of whole foods first, I was surprised at how full I got, without even touching some of my plate. (Here's a healthy, veggie snack that tastes even better than junk food.)
Related: 14 Vegetarian Foods That Have More Iron Than Meat
I eat out less.
By making meals at home, I can control and know exactly what’s going into my body. Oftentimes restaurants put so many more additives into dishes than we’re aware—that’s why they taste so good—but when trying to be healthy, it’s smarter to prepare meals yourself and know all the ingredients that are going into your food.
Related: 5 Science-Backed Tips For Feeding Your Baby
I am smarter with my meal prep.
I started storing and serving food with glass, wood and stainless steel materials and ditched all the plastic. If plastic is going to be in the food, at least I can control what touches the food to lessen my food’s contact with plastic. (Here are a bunch of great glass food storage containers.) If you can’t go full switch, at least try to discontinue plastic use with hot items that can melt and open up plastic particles. There are some great and inexpensive glass, wood and stainless steel options for food storage at Ikea.
I make my own guilty pleasure favorites.
Rather than depriving myself of favorite processed foods, I learned to make many of them. I love Ina Garten’s macaroni and cheese recipe which can be found on the Food Network website. (And check out this butternut squash mac and cheese.) Another processed guilty pleasure of mine, TastyKake’s Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. I love you TastyKake, but your ingredient list is longer than my bucket list. This recipe from AllRecipes.com is great. After they cool off, I love slicing them up and storing in freezer, just like I do store bought TastyKakes. Great for a late night sugar craving. (And if you need to watch your sugar intake, try these low-sugar chocolate peanut butter cupcakes.)
Related: 7 Healthy Swaps For Your Kids' Favorite Junk Food Snacks
I read labels back to front and bottom to top.
Instead of being lured by the marketing terms on the front, I’m now flipping the box over to read the back first. Then, instead of reading the list top to bottom, I start with the last listed and work my way up. This way, even if there’s a small amount of something harmful or unfamiliar on the ingredient list, I’m having that resonate with me first. Surprisingly this has been very effective.
Related: 12 Sketchy Ingredients To Avoid In Your Food
I don't let myself feel guilty when I splurge.
Life’s about balance. If I eat mostly well and splurge once in a while on a bag of peanut M&M’s on my way to yoga class, I don’t beat myself up about it. I enjoy the little things and remember that one unhealthy meal isn’t going to kill me, just like one healthy meal won’t be a cure-all. I'm finding a balance that works best for me—and the baby.