Pregnancy, Body Image, and Intuitive Eating

Pregnancy has been a really good lesson in surrendering to my body. Week by week, some weeks subtle and others not, my body has literally changed before my eyes. It’s a very strange thing to have a similar body for most of your adult life, and then all of a sudden you don’t.

I’ve gotten some requests recently for a post about pregnancy, body image, and intuitive eating. In terms of body image, there’s no easy answer here – it can be weird and uncomfortable to find yourself in a body that you don’t recognize, or that feels foreign to you. It’s even weirder because as you get farther along in pregnancy people love making all sorts of comments about your body. My best advice is to try to focus on the science behind it all – how cool it is that you are literally growing a human inside you?! I mean, that’s actually insane. It’s been fascinating to read about what’s happening scientifically each week, both in my own body and in my baby’s. It’s also important, and this applies whether pregnant or not, to check the negative body talk. If you find yourself being critical about your body and how it looks, notice those thoughts, and then give yourself some compassion and a reminder that your body is doing some really amazing things. Embrace that your body knows what it’s doing, and that you just need to take care of it and let it do its thing.

Do you have to absolutely love your body? No, but you can work to accept it. So what if people think you are just gaining weight and it isn’t obvious that you are pregnant? Would it be so bad if you had just put on a few pounds?

The first trimester is especially challenging on this front because most don’t know that you are pregnant, of course. For me, the hardest thing wasn’t that my pants were getting awkwardly tight or that my dresses were starting to be hard to zip up (although that was annoying because it was hard to figure out what to wear that didn’t smush my stomach uncomfortably, and let’s be real, trying to get dressed when nothing fits is not super fun – again, this is true both pregnant or not – I always encourage my AnnetheRD nutrition clients to immediately buy some clothing that honors their body where it is, rather than where they think it should be), but rather that it was a big lesson in checking the ego in terms of fitness.


Being pregnant and watching my mile and lap times around the track slow rapidly made me realize that a lot of my self worth is apparently tied to my physical ability. Obviously I’m not an elite athlete or anything but I’ve always considered myself to be an active, physically strong person, and I didn’t realize how much of my identity was tied into that idea of myself. This makes sense – it was something that was always emphasized when I was a kid – but as a result, I really had to challenge myself to not try to justify or explain why I was running more slowly.

Stopping myself and acknowledging these feelings neutrally without judgment helped a lot – I would literally be out on the track or on a run and think “Hm, that’s interesting that I seem to really care if this person thinks I’m just randomly getting slow for no reason.” I really had to work to notice that, dismiss the thought, and move on. I mean, who cared if I was a little slower getting around the track? Did I really need to let my ego take over and blurt out that I was only going more slowly because I was pregnant? What if the others did just think I was slower and maybe gaining a little weight – did it really matter? Of course not. But it surprised me that I found it so challenging to not say anything and to just let people make their own assumptions or conclusions.

In addition to my body feeling foreign, my eating habits have been, too, especially again in that first trimester. Foods I didn’t usually crave were suddenly finding their way into my grocery cart, and foods I normally love and want to eat all the time were put on the back burner and oscillated between being slightly off-putting and totally revolting.

My cravings also changed more quickly than I could keep track off. One minute I was all, “Mmm, xxx sounds really good for dinner…” only to have that replaced (sometimes even minutes later) by “Ew, I can’t even think about eating that right now.”

My friend and fellow dietitian Alex (one of my Joyful Eating Program co-creators) wrote a post recently on intuitive eating while pregnant that I loved. “By the end of my seventh week,” she writes, “I was high-fiving myself if I was able to eat a tiny piece of spinach in my fried-rice. That was an accomplishment.”

So true. I love her gentle and realistic approach to nutrition while pregnant. Just like when you are not pregnant, you can easily read up on all things nutrition and drive yourself completely crazy trying to follow specific guidelines and plans. But in a way that is much more loud and forceful than when you are not pregnant, your body will let you know what it wants.

Pregnancy has actually been a really good way to revisit and refine my ability to be intuitive and mindful with my eating, and it has reminded me to listen to what my body is telling me rather than letting the clock dictate when I’m eating. Before getting pregnant, I was in a good routine with my food where I was still being intuitive and mindful, but I didn’t have to pay quite as much attention because I generally needed food around the same time most days, and I had learned what sorts of foods usually felt best for me at certain times, too. (Sometimes that changed, and I was fine with listening if that was the case – or with listening on days I found myself hungrier than usual – but for the most part, I knew what to expect most days food craving/need-wise.)

But with pregnancy, all of that went out the window. Not only did I need to eat more often, but it was much more urgent. Getting hangry was always something I was susceptible to, but having hangry also come paired with a face smack of nausea was a pretty good motivator to make damn sure I was listening to my body and staying ahead of that hunger before it was too late. I also had to challenge myself to revisit my ideas of what sorts of food I ate when. Middle of the afternoon and I needed a full meal? Sure, why not. Let’s do this. No judgment necessary.

Anyway – I don’t have any sort of brilliant advice for you guys, but thought it still might be useful to share some of the things I’ve learned and struggled with throughout pregnancy. I’m sure I’m probably not alone here, and surrendering to your body is a valuable lesson whether pregnant or not.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on pregnancy, body image, and intuitive eating, too! Feel free to share in the comments.

p.s. While on the subject of pregnancy/babies/kids, I wanted to share a post I loved that my friend Gina wrote this week entitled “The Quote that Changed My Parenting Mantra.” As someone who can get a little too “go, go, go”, I loved the post and am going to bookmark it to read again once our baby arrives!


  1. 1

    Thanks for this! Very helpful. I am pregnant with my third, and the body image frustrations never get easier. I am a person who has always had to work to feel good in my own skin, through clean eating and exercise. I am not a naturally skinny person who just looks fabulous while pregnant. What I have tried to remember this time around, is that this is all temporary and I should enjoy what I can and be patient with myself. During one of my meltdowns, my husband reminded me that I can always get thin and fit again, but I will probably never be pregnant again, and I have tried to keep that in mind and focus on enjoying this time. While there are things I don’t love, I absolutely love the baby kicks, and the anticipation of whats to come. And nothing compares to meeting your baby for the first time… one of life’s truly special moments that passes too quickly but stays with you for your whole life!

  2. 2

    Just sending lots of <3 to you and the baby. Also, glad that your taste in tv shows is still in tact! ;)

  3. 4

    I am so glad you wrote this post. I’m about 19 weeks pregnant and one of the biggest mental/emotional struggles for me is the decrease in fitness, especially running. Every walk/jog/run (because that is what it is now) gets a little more challenging and my pace gets slower. I’m so grateful to be pregnant and excited for what is to come, though it is hard to vision getting back into shape. On the contrast, like you mentioned, pregnancy has helped me get back to a place of being better about listening to my body and being okay with relaxing and taking it easy – which was not in my vocabulary previously. Thanks again for sharing.

  4. 5

    I can totally relate to this post. I’m about 5 weeks behind you in my first pregnancy as well, and like you, am (was) an avid runner. While I can still run at this point, my times are waaaaaaay slower. And it discouraged me! The fact that I get out of breath just trying to struggle myself out of bed sometimes tends to get me down (although I’m sure it’s somewhat comical to watch!). Thanks for your honesty and encouragement. It truly is a little miracle growing inside of us and every time I feel that precious baby move, I realize it is worth every slow mile and every bout of nausea. I hope the rest of your pregnancy goes well!

  5. 6

    Thank you so much for sharing! I was actually wishing this article was even longer because it’s such an important topic. I think women benefit from talking about this out loud, instead of ruminating on it internally. I love the idea of just noticing thoughts as they come up without judgment. That’s definitely something I need to do more of. I hope that if I am ever pregnant, I can also focus on the amazing thing of actually creating a human! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • 7

      Thank you Erika! The approach of noticing thoughts as they come up without judgment definitely applies beyond pregnancy, too – it’s so hard to not judge our own thoughts but it makes a big difference when we are allowed to feel/notice things and then move on from them, rather than beat ourselves up about them.

  6. 8

    Such an important topic to cover…before you’ve been there, it’s so easy to tell a friend that’s pregnant “but you’re having a baby!” when she vents about her larger, more awkward frame. I know it totally surprised me to be so self-conscious about my growing, changing body and what it could and couldn’t do, especially in the early days!

  7. 9

    Great post! :)

  8. 10

    Thanks for posting! I was literally just beating myself up over how big I look, despite how grateful I am to still be pregnant. My biggest challenge has been a major decrease in fitness after the loss of our first baby at 21 weeks, the recovery from that, and now being pregnant again for nearly 6 months with strict “no exercise allowed.” When you’re basically pregnant for over a year, can’t follow your normal routine, and lose your outlet (running in my case), it’s easy to get down on your body image, and feel less like yourself. Glad you reminded me to use my science brain and embrace what’s physically happening in there—definitely a great way to for me to shut down those negative thoughts and tap into positive ones. <3

    • 11

      It’s completely okay to not always love every moment of being pregnant even when you are very grateful to be pregnant! You’ve had a long journey of not feeling like yourself, and I know how hard it is to lose running as an outlet. Put that brilliant science brain to good use! xo

  9. 12

    This is such a timely post for me! :) I’m just about 17 weeks pregnant with my first, and this morning I barely recognized my body in the mirror, LOL. My bump isn’t huge yet, but it’s bigger than ever and it’s WEIRD! Of course, it’s a good thing, because that means my baby is growing, but it’s very strange to see. The other thing is that I have actually lost weight and am just starting to put it back on, so my regular clothes are still fitting me for now…but I have been choosing mostly looser tops and dresses because I don’t really feel comfortable displaying the bump yet. Everyone knows I’m pregnant now, and I’m feeling healthy and good – so why do I still feel uncomfortable displaying the bump? It’s so strange, hahaha. Anyway, this post really resonated with me, so thank you! I’ve been loving following your pregnancy journey – it’s helped me a lot as I get through my own :)

  10. 13

    I love this post so much (also the impostor syndrome one, which I didn’t comment but was totally here for). It’s amazing what external things we tie our self worth to, and often don’t even realize it until that thing changes for us. Sharing the experience is more helpful than advice. I really think women just need to hear each other’s stories and that is more helpful than anything. Some things just aren’t intellectual and need to be felt and understood on another level. <3

    • 14

      Agreed! Thank you Jennifer! I kept putting this post off because I felt like it had to be some huge, brilliant, well researched and long winded thing… and that stopped me from writing it. So I finally just decided to share about my experience in a way that felt comfortable to me, without necessarily offering a ton of advice but rather more sharing my story, and just hope that it resonated with/helped others. :)

      • 15

        I think one of your strong suits is actually just sharing your experience. Your advice is great (I’ve learned tons from you!), but I think the place you come from (honesty, seeking connection/community, acknowledging “negative” emotions/experiences aren’t “bad” and even the struggle with accepting that) really comes through when you just share what’s going on in whatever way it comes out. I don’t mean the general “you”, I actually mean YOU. It’s why I’ve read your blog for so many years! Anyway, I just wanted to say that because I love the direction you’ve been going lately, and I hope you keep it going. :)

  11. 17

    Thank you for this! It isn’t something I ever really thought about when I thought about being pregnant. But as I am in my 27th week I have felt all of these things. It is such a strange and different time and as I slow down and my eating habits shift I have to constantly remind myself to listen to my body. The only thing that matters right now is a healthy baby and a healthy momma, which ultimately means listening to my body.

  12. 18

    It is totally freaky to watch your body change in pregnancy no matter how prepared you think you might be. I am on my second pregnancy now, but I remember around 20 weeks the first time having a real breakdown about how weirded out I felt that my body was changing so much outside of my control. Now this second pregnancy, I am feeling a LOT bigger than I was the first time and I keep telling myself this is exactly what my body should be doing and it’s a beautiful thing, etc. Hard to believe sometimes, but I gotta try!

  13. 19

    Hi Anne! I am a fellow RD and have loved following your blog and pregnancy and love this post! I actually wrote a similar blog on this same topic when I was 15 weeks pregnant. I think the beginning of pregnancy was the hardest for me in terms of body image because my body was changing and I was in that awkward phase for a while where I just looked like I was gaining weight, but not necessarily pregnant. It’s hard not to be self conscious when your working with people trying to lose weight. Once I started to show more and could tell people I actually felt the most body confident I have ever felt! I loved embracing the miracle of pregnancy.

  14. 20

    I found my first pregnancy to be a very triggering experience, food-wise. I had been morbidly obese for most of my life and had been very successful on weight watchers (finally) for almost a year before I got pregnant. I was working full time and in law school at night and took pregnancy as license to go completely crazy with food. A milkshake every day on my way to class? Don’t mind if I do! After giving birth I was only a few pounds lighter than my highest weight ever and felt terrible about myself despite having grown a little human. I lost the pregnancy weight and more and got down to a healthy weight just before my second pregnancy. That time I stayed active (good for nausea) and kept my eating under control, and I did the same for my 3rd and 4th pregnancies. So, I think it’s fine to listen to your body, but if your body says that daily milkshakes are necessary, you should ask again!

    • 21

      There’s definitely a fine line between going with cravings/eating things that don’t make you want to throw up, and doing a lot of mindless/not intuitive indulging. I’m glad you found the balance that worked for you! <3

  15. 22

    This was such an interesting read and something that really stuck out to me was your point about caring if other people think you look slower/less fit. I’m not pregnant, but I recently was on vacation in Italy for 2 weeks then fainted from dehydration on the plane ride home and ended up with a concussion which kept me away from the gym for another few weeks… so besides walking a ton in Italy, I hadn’t done any workouts or strength training in over a month until last week. I also consider myself to be a physically fit person and almost felt embarrassed to be back in the gym with the usual 6 am crowd and found myself wondering if they were looking at me, wondering where I had been and why I seemed out of shape. I even felt myself wondering if my trainer (who I have trained with for over a year) was judging me, despite knowing where I had been and why I was moving a bit slower! It hit me earlier this week that she’s there to help with my progress and isn’t judging me. I still found myself caring a bit too much about other gym-goers, so reading this today made me realize it shouldn’t matter and made me feel so much better that I’m not alone in having those weird thoughts sometimes!

    • 23

      I’m glad this resonated with you! The key is really just to allow yourself to have those thoughts, notice them, and then neutrally ask yourself why they might be there. Is anything else feeling uncomfortable/out of control in your life that may be playing itself out in body image concerns? Or is there another reason behind the thoughts? Just something to consider! It’s good to do a little detective work with our own thoughts every now and again. :)

  16. 24

    I really enjoyed this post. It’s just what I needed today, even though I’m not pregnant:) Thanks, Anne!

  17. 25

    Thanks for speaking about a topic very real with me too right now at 39 weeks pregnant! I can totally relate to needing to explain and justify to people why you are running slower, and I also felt like my running is very much tied to my identity and hard to let go of. I feel like the best way to go about it is just to trust our bodies which are amazingly programmed to change and create babies! I just keep telling myself that this trust needs to apply to recovery after baby too and I’m trusting my body will get me back to the healthy place I need to be!

  18. 27

    It’s amazing to me to see how much pregnancy can change the woman’s perception of her body; I’ve never been pregnant, but I really look forward to someday having a baby if the Lord wills; I’ve learned so much from those who have!

  19. 28

    I have really been enjoying your pregnancy posts as I am expecting in early March. The body image stuff is tough. I mean you know that your body is going to change in ways you can’t control, and it’s for a good and exciting reason, but as someone who is a bit of a control freak, it’s been tough to not have control over what is going on with my body. I am about 18 weeks along so right now I don’t exactly look ‘pregnant’ – I just have a rounding belly that could be from eating too much. I know that many people know I am pregnant so aren’t judging my body but I think too much about what people are thinking if they see me and don’t know I am pregnant. Which is stupid because I shouldn’t care or worry about what complete strangers are thinking!

    The body image stuff has been extra tough for me because I haven’t been able to work out like I did pre-pregnancy. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and it has been terrible during my pregnancies. I’ve been getting flares about every 1-2 weeks since late August and every time I get a flare, I have pain and extra exhaustion so working out on top of that seems futile. So all I am doing for exercise is walking which just feels weird compared to what I used to do. But I keep reminding myself that my body is doing something else right now.

    I have been fascinated by the science behind pregnancy and all the changes that my body goes through each week and the development milestones our baby is achieving. Have you seen this slide show from a museum in Chicago? It’s show what happens to our bodies, week by week. It’s pretty amazing to watch!

    • 29

      I haven’t seen that slide show – I will check it out now, thank you! Very cool. I’m so sorry to hear of your arthritis – that sounds really painful. Hang in there and keep practicing compassion and kindness towards your body! <3

    • 30

      Okay just have to say that slideshow was REALLY cool! Thank you for sharing – I think I’m going to include it in my next pregnancy update so others can check it out too :)

  20. 31
    Roadrunner says

    Wonderful, open, and forthright reflections, Anne, thanks for sharing them.

  21. 33

    This is a great post! For more year that I can count I let my body image issues dictate and decide whether or not I even wanted to have children. There are other reasons, of course, change in lifestyle, responsibilities, etc. But when I was honest with myself, at the root of it all was the fact that I didn’t know if/how I could be okay with my body changing during and after pregnancy. Since working through a lot of these issues, I feel more comfortable than ever of the possibility. Posts like this really help so many, those who are pregnant, those who have already had babies and those who are weighing the possibility. Thank you!

    • 34

      I’m proud of you for working to develop a positive relationship with your body – it can be hard work! Glad you enjoyed the post :)

  22. 35

    Big thumbs up for the attitude! Hang on to that identity. Who cares if right now you’re slow. You’re still an active person and seeing yourself like that will just make it that much easier to get faster again after the baby comes, I promise.

  23. 37

    i have zero plans to have children, and even still, this post resonated SO MUCH with me! what an excellent post, Anne. To all you mommies and pregnant ladies out there: you are outstanding no matter what you look like! its incredible what you do every day :)
    will be revisiting this one when i feel crappy about my body, my fitness level ups/downs, weight ups/downs, etc.

  24. 39

    Thank you for this post, Anne! I am 9 weeks and am struggling a bit with body image/food. Everything I’ve read says first time pregnancies won’t show until 12 weeks or so… I feel like I am showing already! Maybe not to others, but definitely to myself and my husband (and especially at the end of the day). I am a short 5’3″, so maybe that’s why it’s more noticeable? Either way, it’s definitely making me a little self-conscious. I recall you mentioning something about showing a little earlier in your first trimester post. Is there any advice/input you have on this? Thanks again!

    • 40

      I was definitely showing early, too – most of my clothes were really uncomfortable by about 10 weeks. It mostly just looked like I had eaten a MASSIVE meal. Just try to focus on the science of what’s happening in your body – and really allowing yourself to have those thoughts without adding judgement (like “I shouldn’t feel like xx”) on top of it. Congratulations and hang in there! <3

  25. 41

    Thank you so much for writing this post. I’m obviously not even close to being ready for pregnancy, but it was so interesting to read about how you’re handling these changes in your body. I think the only thing we really can do is look at all the uncomfortable parts as lessons, the universe gently showing you what areas you maybe need to work on. I think your fear about people judging you on the track is so natural, but I think without this experience, you wouldn’t have had that moment of pause when you realize that at the end of the day, you’re running for you, not anyone else.

    • 42

      I totally agree about those uncomfortable moments being useful as lessons – so true! And so true about running for me, not anyone else. :)

  26. 43

    Love this post! With both my pregnancy I had a hard time with my body image and ego when working out. I was alway worried people would thinking I’m slacking during my workout, but it really doesn’t matter what people think! I’m glad I’m not the only one.

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