Sarah was a strict vegetarian for 15 years, until she got pregnant and then suddenly all she craved was steak. Barbequed, roasted or grilled, meat was suddenly, and unexpectedly, a daily need. When Sarah was pregnant with her second, she was surprised to discover that in addition to the steak cravings, she developed a serious aversion to fish. Even the smell of it made her sick.
What causes a craving or food aversion? Many experts suggest that pregnancy hormones are to blame. From the early onset, mom’s body will be completely gripped with hormones that continue throughout the pregnancy. Experts, such as the authors of What to Expect When You’re Expecting suggest that “cravings and aversions are sensible signals from our bodies”. For example, a craving for ice cream is your body’s way of saying it is lacking calcium. But, there is no reason to explain some of the more bizarre cravings.1
“While a craving may be a sign that mom to be is deficient in some nutrients, we still don’t know why some women have unusual cravings,” says Cindy Zizek, Registered Nurse. “What I often tell pregnant women is that they should indulge in healthy cravings and try to limit their portions of unhealthy foods.”
The opposite may also be true. Mothers who normally drink coffee but suddenly have a strong aversion once pregnant might be trying to tell their body what’s not good for them. “Women should listen to their body and unless they are avoiding an entire food group, they shouldn’t push themselves to eat or drink anything they don’t want.”
For other pregnant women, an aversion may manifest itself in smell. The thought of eating certain foods is enough to make their stomach turn. Pregnant women should make sure that if they are avoiding healthy foods because they are experiencing strong aversions, they are not missing key nutrients, vitamins or minerals.2
So how do you curb cravings? Here are some tips3
Indulge in healthy cravings. Give in to cravings for fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy or other healthy foods
To curb hunger pangs that lead to cravings, try eating small meals throughout the day
Consider small portions of a less-than-healthy craving. Enjoy a spoonful of ice cream instead of a full bowl (or at least a scoop instead of the entire tub!)
Replace unhealthy cravings with healthier options. Consider a bowl of plain, unsalted popcorn in lieu of a bag of chips
When all else fails and all you can think about is downing an entire chocolate cake, drink a glass of water, go for a walk or call a friend to get your mind off food
If you find yourself craving clay, detergent, soil or crushed ice you may be showing symptoms of Pica, which could be a sign of nutritional deficiency. Make sure you talk to your doctor
“It’s natural and normal for most pregnant women to experience a craving at one point or another; however, if expectant mothers continue to crave food throughout the entire pregnancy, there may be another underlying issue. Moms should make sure they are not turning to food for comfort when what they really need is some love or a hug from their partner,” explains Zizek.