Weight Gain, Body Image and Pregnancy: A Dietitian’s Take

  Jan 3, 2018  |  #Pregnancy

Hi! I’m super excited for today’s post about body image and pregnancy. It’s so real and raw, you guys. I think body image is a topic many of us can relate to, pregnant or not. To some extent, I knew pregnancy would be a big change across the board for my body. And I’d be lying to you if I said I figured it would all be rainbows and butterflies throughout the changing process.

This is on my experience with weight gain this far (27 weeks) throughout pregnancy. I’m not going to use numbers because I don’t want to start a discussion about comparison. That’s not what this is about.

Pregnancy, Weight Gain and Body Image

Being Impressionable 

I think it’s important to state I’ve never had a history of an eating disorder or disordered eating. That’s not saying I have never second guessed what I’ve put into my mouth at times or how many calories are in a certain food, but overall, it’s never been a huge trigger for me. I grew up playing three sports, so food was always an accomplice to and vehicle for performance. I wasn’t a girly girl, either, so I never read beauty magazines or got excited about prom dress shopping, or anything like that. Actually, I hung out with and played sports with a lot of boys. Looking back, these interests probably shielded me from wanting to be “skinny” or go on a diet.

In college, my coach constantly told me I needed to gain weight to get stronger. The strength and conditioning coach would always throw protein shakes at me left and right. I still never really thought much about my body and/or weight and for that, I’m grateful. Because at age 18, we are very impressionable human beings. If I was going through college in this day and age, I don’t know if that would be the case. As a health practitioner now, I’m especially aware of the prime focus everyone puts on weight these days. For me, though, ignorance was bliss.

Nonetheless, I’m thankful for my experiences growing up, a family and friends that never prioritized or focused on weight, and a learning environment that didn’t micromanage health.

Pregnancy and Weight Gain

I know body weight is a very controversial topic. It’s not a prime measurement I use with my clients. I think many of us still focus on numbers, when in reality, health is so much more. That being said, as women, we’re subject to messages from diet culture everyday. Things on tv, in magazines, or overheard in store lines. Ways that women are trying to cut weight, slim down, drop a quick 10# and everything will be alright. I could go off on a rant about this talk in more detail, but for now, I’m going to leave it be.

I think I started gaining weight fairly quickly once learning I was pregnant. Everyone is different, but my appetite was at an all-time high. I was fortunate to not have much morning sickness in the first trimester, where many women tend to lose weight. The weight gain has become more gradual since then, but still, there are times when I question if I’m doing everything right.

Still, I’m not immune to body image issues.

Body Image and Pregnancy
7 weeks pregnant

Weight Gain and Body Image 

I don’t think it’s an easy process for ANYONE to see the scale going up. Primarily because all the messages in our culture put such a strong focus on the opposite. Aside from physical changes, gaining weight is a huge mental process too, as most people who’ve been through it probably understand.

It’s easy to doubt things when it comes to body changes. I doubted (and still do) my weight gain during pregnancy multiple times – am I gaining too quickly? Am I not gaining enough? Is my bump big enough/not big enough? Should I be eating more/less vs listening to my body? It’s a time of change where sometimes nothing has seemed certain but change itself.

It’s especially easy to second guess yourself when you hear comments from others, like “You look so tiny,” or “You’re definitely showing.” Or, “You’re all belly,”, “How far along are you? Let me guess….” I know these people mean well. I think part of it is the awkwardness of not knowing how to approach or what to say to a pregnant woman if you’ve never experienced pregnancy yourself. Believe me, I get it and I used to be the same way.

Body Image and Pregnancy

Thinking back, in the past, when I wanted to congratulate and complemint my pregnant friends, it was standard to say “You look great,” or “Look at that bump!”. Now, I try to take the focus off of weight and say something like, “You’re glowing,” or “You must be so excited!” But in reality, our culture doesn’t really know how to take the focus off of weight changes. Not yet at least…

[Tweet “Pregnancy is a time of change where sometimes nothing seems certain but change itself #pregnancy #bodyimage”]

Pregnancy, Weight Gain and Body Image

Our weight is out of our control

As a dietitian, of course I know the standard weight gain recommendation guidelines (25-35 pounds) for pregnancy. Many of the weekly pregnancy emails I get remind me of the weight gain. I even filled out information to see this chart, based on the “normal” recommendations.

Body Image and Pregnancy

What if I didn’t fall between the two lines, or as I progress, if I move out of the two lines? The more I dive into Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size, the more I believe that weight is out of our control. And some bodies need to gain more or less weight than others. And damn the medical community for making you feel guilty if you gain more or less than that. No one can really tell you how much weight your body needs to gain.

These recommendations don’t apply to everyone, and trying to stay within a certain range is worse for you and your baby in the long run. Pregnant women should never be dieting, and I fear that some get this message from their care providers (THIS is a very enlightening listen).

Lindsay, at the Nurtured Mama, has put out some great content about this and how not all health practitioners are up to date on this. Promoting women gaining less weight during pregnancy is actually very triggering and detrimental. She also shares great content about postpartum nutrition, body image and dieting. I’m sure that will be a whole new transition to adjust to as well. I’m curious if there are any postpartum mamma’s reading who could shed some light.

Focus on the Positives

With my clients who have amenorrhea, or who are trying to gain weight, the mental aspect is often the hardest part. I always tell my clients to focus on the positives – whether that be getting a period back (to prove your body can do it, and/or to prepare for a future pregnancy), improving your running and fitness, gaining muscle, improving your relationship with food, becoming happier and less stressed, etc.

If we can’t come up with a reason for our intervention, or a light at the end of the tunnel, things become more cloudy. We are clear in the first appointment to figure out why the client is seeing me and what the ultimate goal is.

So, for me personally, I too am focusing on the positives – growing a healthy human. In pregnancy, you need to gain weight to make your body stronger and more stable. You need to create a fun little “playhouse” for the baby, with enough room for him/her to grow. At least that’s how I look at it. I want this baby girl to grow as much as she needs to, and I don’t want to hinder or alter that by under-eating or not gaining enough weight. Things like this have helped with my mindset.

Body Image and Pregnancy
19 weeks

Where am I now?

I don’t weigh myself often. However, in other stages of my life, like during marathon training, it was a great gauge to know. Weight helped me ensure I was fueling and hydrating enough, especially after a long run on a hot day.

The scale was harder to see at early doctor’s appointments, when I felt like the weight gain should have been slower. There’s really no reason I should have felt that way, except for those dang numbers that hang over your head. Those numbers known as the “normal recommendation range.”

Now, though, the numbers mean nothing to me. I could get blind weighed if I wanted to, or I can just look at the number neutrally. I know it should be increasing at every appointment, so it’s a little nod that “hey, kid, you’re doing alright” when it does. Heather wrote a great post about the numbers when they don’t bother you.

Body Image and Pregnancy
27 weeks

The number on the scale doesn’t consume me. I’m sure the next few months could bring about some uncomfortable changes as I continue to grow. But, I know these feelings are completely normal as I adjust to a new transition and period in my life. I’m not going to beat myself up for them because I’m human, and everyone has days where they aren’t 100% about their bodies.

I’m happy with my bump, no matter how big or small it is. Because it signals strength, life, vitality, experience, and HUMAN GROWTH. Holy moly, I am so grateful for what my body is capable of. My biggest priority is providing it everything it needs to work properly.

Pregnancy really is like intuitive eating. When you relinquish control of your body, you will be in a better place. Instead of micromanaging, let it do what it needs to and be where it needs to be.

I’m thankful for pregnancy and all of these lessons. I hope in the future I can help other pregnant women and soon-to-be mama’s as they navigate their own journey to self discovery.

[Tweet “Instead of micromanaging your body, let it do what it needs to and be where it needs to be #pregnancy #intuitiveliving #intuitiveeating”]

Have you navigated uncomfortable situations where you’ve learned alot about yourself? Where you’ve had to just sit back and let things happen naturally?

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32 responses to “Weight Gain, Body Image and Pregnancy: A Dietitian’s Take

  1. I’m not pregnant but I feel like this can apply to anyone. I actually don’t weigh myself because losing fat means the number will drop down but if you gain muscle, it could creep back up. I think women need to start thinking in terms of how they feel in their clothes and how clothes fit instead of the number on the scale. Plus pregnancy is not the time to care about how much you weigh!

    1. Absolutely not! It’s too bad that there is so much stress about the weight for some people that it takes away from the wonderful experience.

  2. I think this is going to be a wonderful, beautiful article for any pregnant woman – whatever stage they are in – to read. I hope any woman who is pregnant can CELEBRATE their changing body and feel proud of what it is doing.

  3. I love this! I definitely agree that those recommended gains/progressions they give you when you are pregnant can get to you, or at least they got to me sometimes. I had periods in my first pregnancy where I gained really rapidly and was concerned about it. Fortunately, my doctor was awesome and was of the mindset that your body is doing what it needs to for the baby, and sometimes that might mean gaining more or less than what those apps tell you.

    Also, you look some happy and glowy!!!! What an exciting time.

  4. Great post and sooo true! I was sick 24/7 for the first 4 months so I lost weight and was terrified. Then, I worried I was gaining too quickly or not enough in the middle and end. My drs were all great and I gained on the lower end of the “normal” range but that was all my body needed!
    Postpartum recovery has been a whole other adventure with weight and much slower than I had anticipated. Not necessarily with getting the number on the scale back down, but just in how my body looks and how fat is distributed now. Any time I was having a hard body image day while pregnant or now postpartum, looking at an ultrasound photo or now looking at her sweet face reminds me of the amazing thing my body did and now continues to do. I grew a human and now am producing life sustaining milk for her. How incredible is that?! Wishing you a smooth last months of pregnancy and I’m here if you want to chat with another mama for any postpartum struggles! <3

    1. I am anticipating post partum to be another interesting learning experience with my body. So incredible that you are keeping a human alive! Thanks for reading, lady 🙂

  5. This is such a great post. I’m not pregnant, and I’ve never been pregnant, but it really resonated with me.

    Being a member of a Crossfit gym, I’ve seen a lot of pregnancies, and I’ve seen quite a few women really focused on how much weight they’re gaining. One girl I was very close with when I lived in Virginia was so hyper-focused on the weight she was gaining that, when I once asked her if she was excited, she couldn’t even answer in the affirmative. It’s like she hadn’t even thought about it because she was so focused on what her body was doing.

    I can’t help but get really angry with society for creating that sort of mentality. Even the strongest women can crumble sometimes under the weight of the expectations that society places on us. I hope that, when I eventually settle down and want to have children, I’ll be in a good enough place, mentally, where I can let the comments and expectations go by without doing me any harm.

    1. It’s a sad process if we can’t be excited about the idea of new life. I see this with clients as well – unfortunately, the weight stigma in our culture is so high that is affects many. Learning to tune it out and surround yourself with positive messages can be so helpful.

  6. This is such an important topic for everyone to read about! I haven’t experienced pregnancy yet but have many clients who feel shameful about gaining weight during pregnancy and this post touches many of their concerns. You don’t need to go on a diet, especially during pregnancy! Listen to your body and let go of micromanaging!

  7. Beautifully written post about an important topic. I can remember with both of my pregnancies that I was so sick in the beginning that I was so afraid I wasn’t gaining enough weight that I constantly tried to eat more and more, which definitely didn’t help with my morning sickness. I also couldn’t stand when People made comments like “wow are you have twins” or “you are so big, ready to pop?” when I had months to go.

  8. Great post! I am 29 weeks into my second pregnancy right now. With my first baby, I weighed myself every week to make sure I was on track. I still mostly ate intuitively and just went with the flow. But I was very focused on the number on the scale. This time around…probably because I’m just more relaxed overall in this 2nd pregnancy, I mostly just weigh in at the doctor’s office (our home scale has been out of batteries for weeks and I don’t care at all!) and focus on nourishing my body. I will say that I “bounced back” pretty quickly after having my son and I am a bit nervous about what my postpartum body will be like this time around, but we’ll cross that bridge later!

  9. What a great approach. My last child was born 15 years ago and sometimes it’s a little disheartening that we haven’t progressed as a society as much as I would like to see when it comes to women’s body image, esp. during and after pregnancy. You truly must be so excited!

  10. I think women are their most beautiful when pregnant, Sarah…great post to dispel and negative thoughts about it. Happy new Year to you and Mr Schlichter!

  11. This is powerful Sarah; it’s amazing how you just have to let go and let your body do what it needs to do to feed that baby. I love how you described it as creating a playhouse for your little one. I really really want to have more of that mindset about my body going through chances too, even though I haven’t been pregnant. I appreciate your honesty about your journey; I can’t imagine how different pregnancy is; I’ve actually seen that it’s been the vessel for some women to fully embrace recovery.

  12. Such a great reminder! I’m not pregnant but I’ve been through something similar having to gain weight to get my cycles on track. It’s even harder when you are doing something healthy for you but the world doesn’t understand because there is no bump. Well not harder, but each woman’s body is different and created to do great things like nurture and care for children.

  13. Great honest post. Much like marathon training, pregnancy and nursing are such important times to listen to your body. It knows what it needs. I never quite hit the 25 lb gain in pregnancy, but I did gain a few lbs while nursing and during marathon training (when many people lose weight). Our bodies respond differently to different things. Just go with it!

    1. So true that our bodies adapt differently to each situation – which is why I think these preset ranges don’t apply to everyone. I see a lot of similarities in marathon training and pregnancy – I’m sure nursing will be similar!

  14. Oh my goodness…Thank you so, very much for posting this TRUTH! I am 21 weeks pregnant and body image is huge in this game! Your simple reminder + wealth of insight is just what I needed to read this morning! I absolutely love your website 🙂

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