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March 6, 2017

Whole30 101: Can I do the Original Whole30 while pregnant?

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Here’s a question we hear almost every day: Is it safe to do a pregnant Whole30? We asked registered dietitian Stephanie Greunke for her perspective. Today, she’s answering the question and addressing the four common concerns, to help you determine if and how the Original Whole30 can support your healthy pregnancy.

I love the “Whole30-while-pregnant” question! It shows me how serious someone is about their health and the health of their baby. As a registered dietitian, I’m happy to say that a Whole30 is safe for most pregnancies. And as a mom, I can lend you my support and encouragement, because I did a Whole30 while pregnant.

During pregnancy, it’s possible to complete the Original Whole30 exactly as outlined in the Whole30 program guidelines. However, I have a few additional recommendations to make those 30 days as smooth and stress-free as possible:

  1. Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations
  2. Listen to your body
  3. Make sure you are eating enough 
  4. If needed, shift to smaller meals and snacks

Now, let’s address three common concerns around doing the Original Whole30 while pregnant.

Will I have trouble gaining a healthy amount of weight on the Whole30?

During pregnancy, your body needs an additional 300-500 calories to promote the health, growth and development of you and your baby. On the Whole30, you can easily achieve this goal, but it may require careful meal planning due to the caloric differences and satiety factors between your pre-Whole30 diet and the Whole30 elimination phase.

During Whole30 elimination, you’re asked to remove foods that may be accounting for a large percentage of your total calorie intake. This is especially true if you’re coming to the program from a Standard American Diet. Your elimination includes:

  • Grains (like bread, wraps, muffins, bagels, pasta, cereal, rice, corn, and oatmeal)
  • Legumes (peanut butter, beans, lentils, hummus, tofu, and other forms of soy)
  • Dairy (ice cream, cheese, yogurt, milk, cream, and other dairy products)
  • Highly processed foods (chips, pretzels, fast food, etc.) made from these ingredients
  • Added sugar (as found in soda, chocolate and candy, cookies, coffee drinks, etc.)

You then replace those foods with vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, and protein. The foods you’ll eat on your Whole30 are incredibly nutrient-dense, but tend to be lower in calories, carbohydrates, and/or fat than processed foods. In addition, they contain natural satiety factors (like protein, fat, fiber, and water,) that highly processed foods are missing. Without a meal plan, this could lead to under-eating (as you’ll feel full, but meals may be lighter in calories).

On the Whole30, you’ll want to make a conscious effort to include enough healthy fats and protein with each meal. One serving of healthy fat at meals may not be enough to satisfy your increased energy demands. Don’t be shy about adding more avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, and oil-based dressings to your meals to support your energy and your baby’s health and growth.

In addition, you may want to purposefully include starchy vegetables (like potatoes and winter squash) and fruit at your meals to support your activity levels—especially if you’re an avid runner, frequent gym-goer, or play a sport. While there is lots of nutrition in broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach, there isn’t a lot of energy in those veggies. Purposefully including more carb-dense vegetables and fruit will provide nutrients and energy for your baby’s growth, while keeping your energy up and your blood sugar stable. And since fruits and vegetables in their whole form include fiber (which slows down the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream), they’re a fantastic source of carbohydrates for those navigating or at risk for gestational diabetes.

At any point during your pregnancy, if you’re losing too much weight or feel under-fed and exhausted, it may be time to push “pause” on the Whole30. Listen to your body, step away from the program, and consult with your healthcare provider for more specific dietary advice.  The Whole30 will always be here, if you want to return to it at a later date.

I’m having a hard time eating enough at meals—how do I adjust the Original Whole30 meal template?

Morning sickness, food aversions, and a developing fetus crowding your internal organs can make it hard to eat full meals. You may need to adjust our Meal Template by having smaller meals every three hours, or eating smaller meals and supplementing with snacks to tide you over. Smaller meals and/or snacks may also help to alleviate some of the nausea, which can be triggered by an empty stomach or low blood sugar. 

Unless your healthcare provider advises otherwise, pregnancy is not the time to start a purposefully very low-carbohydrate diet (under 70 grams of carbohydrates/day) or limit your intake of healthy fats. Adding some form of starchy vegetables and/or fruit to most of your meals ensures you and your baby receive a wide-variety of nutrients and keeps your energy levels more consistent. Consider adding another serving of fat to meals as well, especially on days where you’re not feeling hungry. (Fat is a dense source of calories, and can be easy to add to meals in the form of more cooking oil in the pan, an oil-based dressing or sauce, a few slices of avocado, or an extra handful of nuts, seeds, or olives.)

Ideally, you’re not grazing all day, grabbing an apple here and a handful of pistachios there. Allowing at least a few hours between meals and/or snacks helps your body process that food effectively during its “rest and digest” cycle. Including at least two of the three macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs) in your snacks helps to better tide you over until your next meal, and helps to make sure you’re eating enough. This is especially true of fruit. Pairing fruit (and starchy vegetables like potatoes) with protein or fat can reduce the impact on your blood sugar levels. The more you can prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes, the better you’ll feel—and you’ll be less likely to develop pregnancy-related complications.

Many women experience protein aversions during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. If a palm-sized serving of protein at each meal seems impossible, you can try:

  • Having smaller, more frequent meals
  • Using a plain, unsweetened egg white, pea, or hemp protein powder (see this Epic Protein from Sprout Living)
  • Adding a scoop or two of collagen peptides to your beverages
  • Drinking a cup or two of bone broth 
  • Choosing easier-to-digest proteins like eggs or chicken sausage

Many who are pregnant find they feel much better once the second trimester hits, and can resume eating their normal protein staples. Do the best you can to honor what can feel like ever-changing needs during pregnancy. Remember, all of the food you’ll be eating during your Whole30 elimination phase is nutrient-dense, which should feel reassuring. If at any point, you feel as though you need to expand your diet beyond Whole30-compatible foods to keep yourself well-nourished, discontinue the program and speak with your healthcare provider.

What about the Scale Rule?

While the Original Whole30 program rules do ask you not to weigh yourself during elimination, that rule was not created with pregnancy in mind! Your prenatal care visits will likely require weight gain checks. If your provider asks you to step on the scale, you can ask them not to tell you the number, or avert your eyes. (Many find this a helpful practice for their mental health during pregnancy.) 

However, there may be reasons that your provider wants you to know your weight, and want to talk to you about it. If that’s the case, your provider’s recommendations always take priority over Whole30 program rules. If your provider is concerned with your pregnancy weight gain (or lack thereof), follow all of their instructions, including weighing yourself, adjusting the Whole30 elimination phase in whatever way they specifically recommend, or discontinuing your program altogether, if they feel it’s not the best approach for you at this time in your pregnancy.

Whole30 and pregnancy

Doing a Whole30 while pregnant can provide a host of benefits. The foods you’ll eat during your elimination phase are nutrient-dense, and are rich in important nutrients required for your baby’s growth and development.

The Whole30 can also reduce common pregnancy complaints like heartburn, nausea, headaches, and fatigue. The program helps you understand your response to foods, giving you a blueprint for creating a personalized diet for you through the rest of your pregnancy. Should you desire to (or are able to) nurse, eating nutrient-dense foods that work well for your body will also help your baby feel their best as they grow.

The Whole30 can also improve your confidence and self-esteem during a period when your body is constantly changing. In addition, a nutrient-dense diet during pregnancy will help your body recover well after you give birth, and support nutrient stores to keep you feeling as vibrant and resilient as possible.  

If you’re considering a pregnant Whole30, I applaud your desire to take ownership of your health. Completing the Whole30 will require both flexibility and grace. Flexibility, because your cravings and aversion are unpredictable. The dinner you planned may not be the dinner you want later in the day. Grace, because you will likely find some days easier than others. 

After completing a pregnant Whole30 myself and coaching hundreds of women through one, I can say without a doubt it will help you connect deeper with yourself and your growing baby. 

Disclaimer:

The information included in this post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation, or if you have any questions regarding conception, pregnancy, or your prenatal treatment plan.

The Plant-Based Whole30 is not recommended for those who are pregnant or nursing. The Original Whole30 may not be appropriate for every pregnant person at every stage of their pregnancy. The Whole30 is contra-indicated for those dealing with severe morning sickness or Hyperemesis Gravidarum; having difficulty gaining weight or experiencing significant weight loss; or have a history of disordered eating, diagnosed or otherwise.

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