How to Manage Pregnancy Diabetes When You Love Food

I want to get something off my chest. Something that only a few people around me knew about while I was pregnant. A few days into my third trimester, I was diagnosed with Pregnancy Diabetes. Yup. I had to take that three-hour test of fasting, drinking that sugary orange drink, and waiting to find out that my body was mad at me (at least, this is how I described it).

November is National Diabetes Month.

“Gestational diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in pregnant women. It is a temporary type of diabetes caused by genetic risk factors and the body’s changes during pregnancy.” - Kaiser Healthy Beginnings Newsletter

Pregnancy Diabetes (aka Gestational diabetes) develops due to hormones in your body while pregnant. It's super common, yet somehow it's easy to feel shame about it. You feel like you did something wrong when you get the diagnosis. My first reaction was embarrassment. One of the stereotypes of people who have diabetes is that only people who are unhealthy get diagnosed with it. I live and work in a foodie-centric area, and I felt shame. Even two years later, I am finally coming clean, yet these words are hard to write.

Having Pregnancy Diabetes as a Foodie

Kaiser was a great resource for everything during my pregnancy. With my diagnosis, I had to take a series of nutrition classes and connect with a nurse on a weekly basis to discuss my process. I never had to take insulin shots, but I have friends who did.

Pregnancy Diabetes looks very different for everyone. For me, it meant I had to focus on balancing my meals. This meant I wasn’t allowed to eat only strawberries all day (which yes, I did one day during my first trimester when I couldn’t seem to keep anything else down). I also had to find ways to incorporate more protein in my diet and lessen my carb intake.

Seems simple, right? Wrong. Carbs AND sugar are hidden in everything. Seriously, everything has sugar, from salad dressings to orange juice and bananas. I had to rethink my meals throughout the day. It was especially difficult for me because I am a vegetarian who loves beans and lentils.  However, those both have a lot of carbs, so I had to eat more tofu.

A Day in the Life of Having Pregnancy Diabetes

6 a.m. : Wake up and test my blood sugar level. Eat one Luna Bar with extra protein. Back to sleep until...

7 a.m. : Take a second test to measure blood sugar level.

11 a.m. : Morning snack after my test. Usually one multi-grain toaster waffle with peanut butter, flax seeds, sliced almonds, and a protein shake with unsweetened soy milk and a very small amount of my husband’s coffee (or sometimes cottage cheese with ½ a banana). Take a quick walk around the block.

12 p.m. : Work until I had to prick my finger for another test.

2 p.m. : Lunch after my test. Sometimes a tofu hotdog with a side salad and sauerkraut. Other times, a vegetarian tostada comprised of a corn tortilla loaded with veggies.

3 p.m. : Work until I had to prick my finger for another test.

6:30 p.m. : Dinner after my test. Usually a veggie burger with cheese, a side of veggies, and a small portion of lentils. This was followed by a longer walk with my husband and dogs.

7:30 p.m. : Watch TV until I had to prick my finger for another test.

10 p.m. : Nightly snack after my test (usually a handful of almonds or some cottage cheese.)

11 p.m. : Another test and then bed.

As you can tell, my days were very regimented, and I had to work and play around my eating schedule. Once I got the hang of it, I could do more like go to events (as long as I brought my toolkit for my blood sugar tests) and hang out with friends. The first few weeks of my new schedule were pretty lonely, but it did get easier.

Pregnancy Diabetes Actually Helped My Relationship with Food

After the first few weeks, I discovered that my new healthy meal plan actually made me feel better throughout the day. What a concept! A balanced diet of mostly veggies with daily walks actually made me feel better. When I had this “Ah-ha!” moment, I remember taking a sigh of relief. It is one of those moments where you know that eating healthy and exercising can make you feel better, but you have to actually FEEL it to truly understand it. I never would have come to this realization if it weren't for my diagnosis.

Even now, three years later I have tried to keep up my balancing act with food. I try to limit my bread and sweets intake to a few bites, and I attempt to incorporate protein, carbs, some dairy, and veggies in every meal. I also include more fruit in my diet. 

Tips for Managing Pregnancy Diabetes That Worked for Me

  • Focus on balancing your meals. Mostly veggies, some protein, and a small amount of starch (aka carbs).

  • Portion control: pay attention to what a portion actually is.

  • Read the ingredients on food labels.

  • To quote Michael Pollan, “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” LOAD up on veggies in your fridge. Have ready-to-go snacks of baby carrots, cut bell peppers, broccoli, etc.

  • Take a walk after every meal. Pregnancy Diabetes usually occurs during the third trimester, and for many women, exercising is the last thing on your mind. But a short walk around the block will make you feel so much better.

  • Eat slow and pay attention to your body. It will tell you when you’re full.

  • Drink even more water. This is great advice for everyone.

  • Don’t beat yourself up over anything. Pregnancy is HARD. Adding this diagnosis adds to the stress of it all. I realized that I couldn’t beat myself up if I had a high blood sugar level test, but I could learn from my mistake and move on. <3

  • Seriously, don’t beat yourself up. We're human. We make mistakes. Especially when it comes to eating too much sugar.

Shana’s Note - These are things that worked for me. Please contact your doctor to create a personalized plan for you because we all struggle with Pregnancy Diabetes differently.

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