One of the most important things I've learned from intuitive eating is the truth about "healthy eating." So many of us get hung up on our own idea of what eating healthfully looks like, not realizing how narrow or simply wrong that concept is. That's why Simi Botic's story really threw me for a loop — in the best way possible. Pregnant or not, this essay will be a pleasant surprise (and great relief) to anyone who's struggled with uncomfortable food cravings. And, let's be real: we all have. — KM
On December 26, 2015, I was rocking my flannel, polar bear PJs, a slight sugar hangover, and a post-holiday glow from the previous day's festivities. I looked at the calendar and realized it was day 28 of my cycle. Yet, I felt way too awesome to be getting my period: My boobs didn't hurt, my stomach wasn't bloated, and my husband's every move didn't seem to annoy me. In that moment, I just knew I was pregnant. Hours later, a pregnancy test confirmed my joyful suspicion (okay, there were actually seven pregnancy tests; I'm nothing if not thorough). I was instantly committed to rocking a healthy, happy, super "zen" pregnancy. I wondered dreamily: Where do I get my flower crown? Unfortunately, my body had other plans for the first trimester — plans involving a lot of nausea, carbs, and panic. Years ago, I struggled with painful bouts of orthorexia and binge eating. I controlled every calorie and morsel of food that entered my body. I only allowed myself to eat precisely portioned servings of foods I had deemed "good." After days of punishing restriction, I would inevitably inhale a jar of (organic, sugar-free) nut butter and anything else that I could find to dip into it. This roller coaster was exasperated by obsessive daily workouts — torture lasting 2 to 3 hours. Thankfully, years of deep self-care work allowed me to heal my disordered eating habits and begin living with freedom around my body and food. So, on the day I found out I was pregnant, I truly felt like a different woman – a woman light-years away from that dieting daze. My days of restriction and peanut butter binges were gone. I now had full permission to eat well, and even enjoy Christmas cookies without guilt. I'd learned to trust my body to crave the balance she needed. This intuitive approach gave me the energy and desire to a healthy relationship with exercise, the end of yo-yo dieting, a stabilized weight, and genuine self-confidence. With all this intuition flowing through my veins, I knew I could rely on my pregnant body's wisdom. I vowed that I was going to love being pregnant. All of that changed when week six rolled around. My alarm woke me from my (pregnancy-fueled sex-dream-filled) sleep. As I opened my eyes, my stomach churned, my head spun, and my throat tightened. "Morning sickness" was a misnomer: this feeling didn't go away at any hour of the day.
Suddenly, my standard cravings for eggs, kale, and sweet potatoes completely vanished. In their place was assaulting nausea that kept me hunched over on my bathroom floor for hours, and bedridden for days. I would throw up over and over again until it felt like this baby was the only thing left in my body. I could barely sip water, my body physically rejected prenatal vitamins, and I hadn't seen an actual vegetable in weeks. I couldn't prep fresh food, let alone eat it. At one point, I literally had a friend come over to take all of the produce from my fridge because the thought of it sitting in my house made me want to vomit. In a moment of nauseous desperation, I begged my husband Tim to get me tater tots – a food I hadn't desired in years. I was shocked when the crunchy bites of potatoes actually seemed to help settle my stomach. It turned out that the only foods I could safely keep down were not-so-nutritious fare like white rice, toaster waffles, and pizza. Tim did nightly runs to our local Thai joint and the neighborhood grocery's freezer section. Like my little pregnancy handmaiden, he would crack the door to our darkened bedroom, prop my head up on a pillow, and gently set a plate in my lap. With each spoonful of take-out sticky rice, I could feel the unrelenting sickness slightly lessen. A few bites of these processed carbs were the only things that allowed me a brief moment of relief. After weeks of being stuck in bed and only stomaching food typically associated with picky kindergarten boys dressed like Spider-Man, guilt set in and I became seriously wracked with food shame. I panicked over every soothing bite of processed starch, like I used to when I was a dieting fanatic. I felt like a total food and pregnancy failure. It suddenly struck me that I wasn't as "over" my food rules as I thought. Formerly "bad foods" I'd come to terms with, like cereal, suddenly became the evil enemy again – and they were the only things I could keep down. I felt terribly that I couldn't fit greens into my breakfast, I wasn't hitting my daily water quotient, I skipped most of my regular workouts, and was basically living on salted carbs. Even though I was actually losing weight, I always feared that tomorrow would be the day I gained 25 pounds all at once. I'd believed these obsessive habits were behind me, but I wasn't so free, after all. I scavenged the internet and frantically texted friends, looking for something or someone to tell me this was normal. I worried that I was hurting my own health, or, even worse, the baby's. In actuality, I was just giving my body what it so clearly needed. I was simply afraid to trust myself because what I needed didn't seem "right" or in line with what I was accustomed to craving. After suffering for weeks in shameful silence, I finally called a dear friend in tears, confessing to how I was feeling. Shockingly, she told me she had felt the same way — and that it was all going to be okay. Greatly relieved, I reached out to other friends, my doctor, and my midwife. All of them confirmed that subsisting off of processed carbs to survive first trimester sickness is pretty commonplace. My midwife reminded me multiple times that my baby was getting everything it needed from my body's reserves and encouraged me to just eat whatever I could. My doctor also pointed me to studies indicating that my sickness was actually a sign of a healthy pregnancy and the increased cravings for carbohydrates could even be beneficial to the baby. She added that the guilt I felt was also very common, but rarely discussed. My experience and the experiences of the many women I've talked to since affirmed this sad fact.
Intuitive eating is a lifelong journey and a constant refinement of my relationship with my body and self. My first trimester food freak-outs forced me to get real with myself about some of the food rules I had subconsciously been carrying around with me. Unexpectedly, this pregnancy shook things up and took me to a whole new level of food freedom. As my new normal changed, I had to discover ways to become sane around food all over again. I have a feeling this won't be the last time I have to relearn "normality." As I progress with this pregnancy, I'm slowly and gently shifting away from the rules and the panic, settling back into reality — my baby is okay, food is just food, and I am learning how to listen to what my body needs during this pivotal time. And guess what? Today I actually ate something green for breakfast. It came from a box of Sour Patch Kids.