Maybe I’m a little bitter that my during my first pregnancy I developed gestational diabetes. I wasn’t vegan, or even vegetarian back then. I started out seemingly healthy enough, even if all I could hold down for a couple months was grilled cheese and soup. But somewhere around month five or six, my appetite for junk became out of control, I overate like a maniac and never felt satisfied, and gained a ridiculous amount of weight that had little to do with my baby. My partner was not supportive of my pregnancy or, as it turned out, me in general. Upon returning from work each night, I would sit at my computer for hours and play City of Heroes (If I haven’t mentioned this before, let me do so now: I am a bit of a nerd). I still hadn’t lost all of that weight when I became pregnant this time around, and the impulse to eat comfort food when I experience flares of anxiety or depression is still strong within me. But I am getting better.
I am currently on spring break, which you may have figured as 1) I have been updating more often, and 2) I am a student at The University of Illinois. The stress of my final semester has been taking its toll: I am in high-level courses– mostly graduate level, I am presenting at my first conference in June, my research is in an area that I feel is incredibly important and rewarding to investigate but is often emotionally draining, prior to conception I decided to drop the medications that generally keep me on track and keep me from entering into a downward spiral of anxiety, and I am a mother with another on the way! No wonder I was drained, exhausted, feeling like I was on the verge of failing at absolutely everything! I’ve been using my week off as wisely as possible, by focusing on myself, my environment, and my family.
Given my history, I talked with my midwife and made an appointment with a nutritionist. This is important, because I am about to start talking about dietary changes that would be unnecessary for most people, but fit with my nutritional needs. If you are planning on making major dietary changes in general, and especially if pregnant, make sure you have professional guidance. The nutritionist and I reviewed the recommended diet for gestational diabetes. While I currently do NOT have GD, we decided to incorporate aspects of the diet now, as a preventative measure. This means restricting my starch intake, as well as eliminating my sugar and refined carb intake, and increasing my protein and fiber, particularly in snacks. I will say that my nutritionist was not very knowledgeable about dairy and meat substitutions, and didn’t seem to understand that regardless of my stance on the tastiness of cottage cheese, it would be inappropriate to include in my diet. This was particularly frustrating as I am not just vegan, but also lactose-intolerant. This is not to say that she was telling me that my vegan diet would be unhealthy, or “wrong,” just that she didn’t have a very good understanding of the options available (such as soy, coconut, and almond yogurt, fortified nut milks other than soy, tempeh, seitan, or even things like spirulina and sea vegetables) so I spent a considerable amount of the appointment explaining these things. Before selecting a nutritionist, I would recommend inquiring about their experience with vegetarian and vegan diets, just so you don’t waste time and money giving someone a crash course in analogues.
Additionally, through some researching on the impact of diet on anxiety and depression, I have decided to cut out gluten. Cutting out alcohol, caffeine, dairy, and sugar are also recommended for an anti-anxiety diet, but given my current state all of those have already been knocked out for other reasons. As such this isn’t much more of a step from dispensing refined grains and starches, and I am not, so far, lacking for delicious grains in my life: brown basmati, quinoa in every possible color, and the newest edition, certified GF oats. Ditching the sugar is a bit harder than expected, so I have been using a bit of agave nectar as a crutch until I get used to the wholesome flavor of oatmeal. I’ve been faltering a bit here and there, as strawberries with Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter proved far too tempting the other evening, and after a terrible migraine (hello, high pollen count!) we settled on PB&J for the main course at dinner. Even so, I think diet is already beginning to play a role in uplifting my mood and improving my focus.
Mental health is incredibly important. Mood disorders and psychiatric disorders are an unfortunately taboo subject in general, and especially during pregnancy. I stumbled across this well-written, well-researched blog called Do Not Faint that deals with deciding the risks and benefits of a medicated pregnancy and examines some of the pitfalls of media representation concerning mental health, pregnancy, and prescriptions. Additionally, I read Natural Relief for Anxiety which may be a good place to start for someone interested in incorporating a holistic approach to anxiety. I also read The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution, and fair warning, the writer of the latter book is a former vegetarian and makes it incredibly clear that she does not believe that one can have a healthy diet without animal protein. Personally, I found that stance grating and distracting, particularly as she offered no science to back it up and insisted on referring to meat as the only “good-quality protein” available. As such, I recommend avoiding that book.
My apologies for the wall-o-text post. I feel like it is important to examine the ways that our diet and lifestyle choices can affect our health and happiness, and I wanted to address the reasons this blog may be taking a dramatic shift in content. I plan on posting some recipes the next couple of days. For the record, the rest of my family isn’t going gluten-free and sugar-free, so it will be interesting to see how to incorporate different dietary needs and desires into the same meal time.