Weight Gain, Body Image and Pregnancy: A Dietitian’s Take

  Jan 3, 2018  |  #Pregnancy

Hi! I’m super excited for today’s post about body image and pregnancy. It’s so real and raw, you guys. I think body image is a topic many of us can relate to, pregnant or not. To some extent, I knew pregnancy would be a big change across the board for my body.

And I’d be lying to you if I said I figured it would all be rainbows and butterflies throughout the changing process.

This is on my experience with weight gain this far (27 weeks) throughout pregnancy. I’m not going to use numbers because I don’t want to start a discussion about comparison. That’s not what this is about.

Being Impressionable 

I think it’s important to state I’ve never had a history of an eating disorder or disordered eating. That’s not saying I have never second guessed what I’ve put into my mouth at times or how many calories are in a certain food, but overall, it’s never been a huge trigger for me.

I grew up playing three sports, so food was always an accomplice to and vehicle for performance. I wasn’t a girly girl, either, so I never read beauty magazines or got excited about prom dress shopping, or anything like that.

Actually, I hung out with and played sports with a lot of boys. Looking back, these interests probably shielded me from wanting to be “skinny” or go on a diet.

In college, my coach constantly told me I needed to gain weight to get stronger. The strength and conditioning coach would always throw protein shakes at me left and right.

I still never really thought much about my body and/or weight and for that, I’m grateful. Because at age 18, we are very impressionable human beings. If I was going through college in this day and age, I don’t know if that would be the case.

As a health practitioner now, I’m especially aware of the prime focus everyone puts on weight these days. For me, though, ignorance was bliss.

Nonetheless, I’m thankful for my experiences growing up, a family and friends that never prioritized or focused on weight, and a learning environment that didn’t micromanage health.

Pregnancy and Weight Gain

I know body weight is a very controversial topic. It’s not a prime measurement I use with my clients. I think many of us still focus on numbers, when in reality, health is so much more. That being said, as women, we’re subject to messages from diet culture everyday.

Things on tv, in magazines, or overheard in store lines. Ways that women are trying to cut weight, slim down, drop a quick 10# and everything will be alright.

I could go off on a rant about this talk in more detail, but for now, I’m going to leave it be.

I think I started gaining weight fairly quickly once learning I was pregnant. Everyone is different, but my appetite was at an all-time high.

I was fortunate to not have much morning sickness in the first trimester, where many women tend to lose weight. T

he weight gain has become more gradual since then, but still, there are times when I question if I’m doing everything right.

Still, I’m not immune to body image issues.

Body Image and Pregnancy
7 weeks pregnant

Weight Gain and Body Image 

I don’t think it’s an easy process for ANYONE to see the scale going up. Primarily because all the messages in our culture put such a strong focus on the opposite.

Aside from physical changes, gaining weight is a huge mental process too, as most people who’ve been through it probably understand.

It’s easy to doubt things when it comes to body changes. I doubted (and still do) my weight gain during pregnancy multiple times – am I gaining too quickly? Am I not gaining enough? Is my bump big enough/not big enough?

Should I be eating more/less vs listening to my body? It’s a time of change where sometimes nothing has seemed certain but change itself.

It’s especially easy to second guess yourself when you hear comments from others, like “You look so tiny,” or “You’re definitely showing.” Or, “You’re all belly,”, “How far along are you? Let me guess….” I know these people mean well.

I think part of it is the awkwardness of not knowing how to approach or what to say to a pregnant woman if you’ve never experienced pregnancy yourself. Believe me, I get it and I used to be the same way.

Body Image and Pregnancy

Thinking back, in the past, when I wanted to congratulate and compliment my pregnant friends, it was standard to say “You look great,” or “Look at that bump!”.

Now, I try to take the focus off of weight and say something like, “You’re glowing,” or “You must be so excited!”

But in reality, our culture doesn’t really know how to take the focus off of weight changes. Not yet at least…

Pregnancy, Weight Gain and Body Image

Our weight is out of our control

As a dietitian, of course I know the standard weight gain recommendation guidelines for pregnancy. Many of the weekly pregnancy emails I get remind me of the weight gain.

I even filled out information to see this chart, based on the “normal” recommendations.

Body Image and Pregnancy

What if I didn’t fall between the two lines, or as I progress, if I move out of the two lines? The more I dive into Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size, the more I believe that weight is out of our control. And some bodies need to gain more or less weight than others.

And damn the medical community for making you feel guilty if you gain more or less than that. No one can really tell you how much weight your body needs to gain.

These recommendations don’t apply to everyone, and trying to stay within a certain range is worse for you and your baby in the long run. Pregnant women should never be dieting, and I fear that some get this message from their care providers.).

Lindsay, at the Nurtured Mama, has put out some great content about this and how not all health practitioners are up to date on this. Promoting women gaining less weight during pregnancy is actually very triggering and detrimental. She also shares great content about postpartum nutrition, body image and dieting. I’m sure that will be a whole new transition to adjust to as well. I’m curious if there are any postpartum mamma’s reading who could shed some light.

Focus on the Positives

With my clients who have amenorrhea, or who are trying to gain weight, the mental aspect is often the hardest part.

I always tell my clients to focus on the positives – whether that be getting a period back (to prove your body can do it, and/or to prepare for a future pregnancy), improving your running and fitness, gaining muscle, improving your relationship with food, becoming happier and less stressed, etc.

If we can’t come up with a reason for our intervention, or a light at the end of the tunnel, things become more cloudy. We are clear in the first appointment to figure out why the client is seeing me and what the ultimate goal is.

So, for me personally, I too am focusing on the positives – growing a healthy human. In pregnancy, you need to gain weight to make your body stronger and more stable.

You need to create a fun little “playhouse” for the baby, with enough room for him/her to grow. At least that’s how I look at it.

I want this baby girl to grow as much as she needs to, and I don’t want to hinder or alter that by under-eating or not gaining enough weight. Things like this have helped with my mindset.

Body Image and Pregnancy
19 weeks

Where am I now?

I don’t weigh myself often. However, in other stages of my life, like during marathon training, it was a great gauge to know. Weight helped me ensure I was fueling and hydrating enough, especially after a long run on a hot day.

The scale was harder to see at early doctor’s appointments when I felt like the weight gain should have been slower. There’s really no reason I should have felt that way, except for those dang numbers that hang over your head.

Those numbers known as the “normal recommendation range.”

Now, though, the numbers mean nothing to me. I could get blind weighed if I wanted to, or I can just look at the number neutrally.

I know it should be increasing at every appointment, so it’s a little nod that “hey, kid, you’re doing alright” when it does.

Heather wrote a great post about the numbers when they don’t bother you.

Body Image and Pregnancy
27 weeks

The number on the scale doesn’t consume me. I’m sure the next few months could bring about some uncomfortable changes as I continue to grow. But, I know these feelings are completely normal as I adjust to a new transition and period in my life.

I’m not going to beat myself up for them because I’m human, and everyone has days where they aren’t 100% about their bodies.

I’m happy with my bump, no matter how big or small it is. Because it signals strength, life, vitality, experience, and HUMAN GROWTH.


Holy moly, I am so grateful for what my body is capable of. My biggest priority is providing it everything it needs to work properly.

Pregnancy really is like intuitive eating. When you relinquish control of your body, you will be in a better place. Instead of micromanaging, let it do what it needs to and be where it needs to be.

I’m thankful for pregnancy and all of these lessons. I hope in the future I can help other pregnant women and soon-to-be mama’s as they navigate their own journey to self discovery.

[Tweet “Instead of micromanaging your body, let it do what it needs to and be where it needs to be #pregnancy #intuitiveliving #intuitiveeating”]

Have you navigated uncomfortable situations where you’ve learned alot about yourself? Where you’ve had to just sit back and let things happen naturally?


32 responses to “Weight Gain, Body Image and Pregnancy: A Dietitian’s Take

  1. Oh my goodness…Thank you so, very much for posting this TRUTH! I am 21 weeks pregnant and body image is huge in this game! Your simple reminder + wealth of insight is just what I needed to read this morning! I absolutely love your website 🙂

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