If you have ever been pregnant (or you currently are), you know that in the first trimester you can be downright adverse to a lot of foods that you would normally happily eat. Not only that, but even foods that are tolerable aren’t actually great.
I definitely had that experience, and I’d like to share how I got through the first trimester still eating a pretty healthy diet. I’m not going to say I never indulged in totally empty calories (I found the equivalent of starbursts that were organic at my local health food store, people!), I did a few times, but my overall goal was to make sure I was still getting good nutrition to the little gremlin growing inside of me that was going from a few cells to something that actually almost looks like a normal human baby in about 10 weeks.
If you haven’t been pregnant and didn’t know: most of the time, even if you are a super healthy eater, during the first trimester you don’t feel so hot and often have food aversions. This isn’t just aversions like “meh, I don’t like that food,” it’s aversions like “I swear if I even think of that food I get nauseous or want to puke. As an aside, I’d like to thank my body for taking after my mom and allowing me to not vomit at all and not have that bad of nausea.
I want to give the quickest definition of “healthy” here. I do not believe in any one diet, like vegan, paleo, low carb, Weston A. Price, etc. Sorry, most of it is kinda bull (I say as I offend every healthy eater on the planet). Nutritional science is complex, constantly changing, and you can prove ANYTHING you want to by selecting certain studies and dismissing others. So then what’s healthy? Overall, eating well includes eating whole foods, eat a variety of foods, ideally eating organically (or better yet from farms that you know their practices), avoiding foods you may personally be allergic/sensitive to, avoiding foods that make you feel like crap, and eating foods that give you pleasure (yes, pleasure is part of healthy eating). Eat intuitively, there is no one right diet for everyone and if you are eating whole foods your body will know what to do.
Now, back to eating well in the first trimester…
For me, a few things were VERY out the window. Rice, which is something I eat daily, if not at almost every meal, was terror inducing. The thought of cooked leafy greens made me want to gag. Chicken, which naturally is not my favorite food but I eat because it’s a cheaper meat… Ugh, I still don’t even want to think much about chicken at 15 weeks.
When I first started getting aversions, the only thing that sounded good was BREAD. This is super common. Unfortunately, I had been avoiding gluten, corn, dairy other than butter, soy, and chocolate (I know, sad) due to developing persistent reflux and being tested as allergic to those foods. There are better quality breads if you aren’t sensitive to wheat, though, like the sprouted Ezekiel bread. Sometimes bread can help be a vessel for healthier choices, too. You might think a salad is just too much, but a sandwich with raw veggies might be totally doable. If that’s the case for you: Eat the darn bread! First trimester is survival mode, and hopefully you had a good diet before getting pregnant and your body still has a lot to work with.
Eating out is helpful. There is something about smelling the food while it’s cooking that makes you not want to eat it anymore. I personally have very few organic/farm-to-table restaurants or cafes close to where I live and the ones that do exist tend to be REALLY expensive, so I was not often able to eat out. But a few times I went to pot-lucks or out socially and was able to eat things that I know I couldn’t have eaten if I tried to make them myself at home. If you have someone else that can make you food that’s a good option, too.
Eating cold or room temp food is helpful. Hot food smells more, and smells make you not want to eat the food. I would often cook something and leave it to sit until it got room temperature before I would eat it.
Eating often helps. I ate every 1-2 hours and ALWAYS ate something right before bed. In the morning I’d usually start with a few bites of fruit, since that was the most appetizing, and then move on to other things like eggs. Basically, your aversions and nausea will get worse when your blood sugar is low. Try not to let it get very low.
My staple foods during the worst part of my aversions ended up being:
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes in all of their forms: Mashed, roasted, baked, home-made hash browns (you have to salt the gratings, let it sit, and then squeeeeeze out the excess water in some kind of cloth or else they will be soggy and not crispy), etc. Sweet potatoes especially are great for you and have a good amount of calories, so they are a nice dense snack or side.
- Gluten free quesadillas. I was VERY lucky to find a local company that makes (good) organic brown rice tortillas, and I ended up having to give in and eat dairy despite the fact that I hadn’t been for about 5 months. Dairy was so so necessary for me to get in enough calories and to feel full and satisfied during the first trimester. I ended up eating these multiple times a day during the worst weeks. Anyway, I want to point out how I ended up eating these because I think this is a good way to slightly “healthify” your first trimester. I didn’t want to eat ANYTHING, but of course I was starving. I finally realized something that sounded really good was grilled cheese. I went to the store to see if I could find gluten free and organic bread and the answer was no, but I DID happen to find gluten free organic tortillas. I figured, hey, why not try a quesadilla. So if you have a craving and it doesn’t seem to be something that’s very healthy, don’t hesitate to give something similar a try, or hide a veggie in there, or something to make it a bit better.
- Carnitas and eggs were my protein. I tried eating beef a couple times and couldn’t do it. I didn’t even want to think about chicken. Make sure to give as many things a try as you can. Neither carnitas or eggs sounded particularly appetizing to me, but I found that once I was eating them I was fine.
- Fruit fruit fruit fruit. Pretty much all fruits were acceptable. It was especially good to take at least one bite of fruit in the morning before I tried to start eating other things, since it was so palatable compared to most food, even the food I was able to eat. Smoothies were awesome.
- Rice in forms that weren’t just the plain grain. Rice pasta, rice tortillas, rice cakes, rice krispies (I got these organic and in bulk at my co-op!), rice crackers. I NEED grain. I know some people are all paleo crazy. Not. freaking. me. If I eat nothing but meat, eggs, and produce I am sooo hungry and I will skip days of pooping (TMI). How I normally eat grains sounded really unappetizing, though. I couldn’t just make dishes with the regular whole grains, I had to eat things that were made from rice flour or more dry carby things. A lot of people do well with plain rice, though.
- Salad! Even though I could not manage cooked greens (other than broccoli), I could eat a lot of different raw veggies and fruits that are like veggies. I’d do lettuce, cucumbers, red peppers, tomatoes, and avocado. For dressing the best thing was tahini based dressing with tahini, lemon juice, salt, and a bit of apple cider vinegar. This was especially helpful for me to feel like I was getting a lot of nutrients in, but obviously was not going to sustain me based on calories.
- Buckwheat pancakes/waffles (waffles were better, but I only ate them once because I don’t have a waffle maker). I can’t eat that many different types of grains because the glutenous ones and oats are out currently due to sensitivity. As you can see the section on rice, I need grains. Buckwheat pancakes were a good way to get in some more calories, help settle nausea (as grains tend to do) and get in some good nutrition, too.
- Infusions. Herbal infusions have tons of vitamins and minerals and taste kind of like iced tea, so most people can get them down. Especially with a little ginger and lemon (both of which can be helpful for nausea).
That was basically what I ate during the first trimester. Don’t beat yourself up if your diet isn’t that varied. Don’t beat yourself up if you literally can’t even eat as healthfully as I was (which, honestly, I thought I did a pretty good job). Remember, I didn’t even vomit during the first trimester. If you are still early and anticipating aversions but haven’t gotten them yet enjoy yourself and eat well, if you start getting them you will be glad you did. And, of course, if you are not pregnant yet but thinking about becoming pregnant sometime in the semi-near future make sure you build up your stores and eat a lot of nutritionally dense foods.