Help! Pregnant and can’t Stop Eating Junk Food

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Midnight Ice-cream and chocolate, anyone? Pregnancy craving is hard to not give in, but they are not good for the baby. Here is what you can do, if you are pregnant and can’t stop eating junk food.

From fries to ice-cream to pizza to burgers, the majority of pregnant women have pretty crazy cravings. Like most changes – morning sickness, stretch marks, body aches and pain, that occur during pregnancy, hormonal changes are obvious possible culprit for developing food cravings as well. Due to fluctuating hormones, most pregnant women notice a change in their taste and smell senses causing food aversion during pregnancy.

Help! Pregnant and can't Stop Eating Junk Food- burger, fries, onion ring on the table
Image by RitaE from Pixabay

You might have all the good reasons to give in your carvings, but how safe it is to eat junk food during pregnancy? While it may be okay to give in occasional junk food cravings, eating it every day may not be good for the health and wellbeing of future you and your child.

So, if you are pregnant and can’t stop eating junk food, keep reading.

Disclosure:This post may contains affiliate links. As an affiliate and amazon associate, I earn commission on qualified purchase at no extra cost to you.

What is Junk Food?

Junk foods are usually ready to eat convenience fried and/or processed foods containing high levels of saturated fats, salt, and/or sugar, and have no nutritional value. They are usually very delicious because of their higher carbohydrate, fat contents, and artificial flavors.

The higher salt content in junk food like chips and the processed cheese, may not be good to consume during pregnancy as it may lead to water retention in the body resulting in swelling in feet and hands. Besides, it can also lead to hypertension during pregnancy.

Higher sugar (refined or unrefined) and fat contents in pizza, burgers, donuts are a classic example of junk food that should be avoided during pregnancy. In addition to genetic factors, higher sugar in the diet may lead to gestational diabetes during pregnancy and may affect the healthy development of the baby.       

Reason Behind Craving Junk food during Pregnancy

Most pregnant women experience cravings at some point during pregnancy. Usually, food cravings occur by the end of the first trimester for most women. One research study (1) found that up to 75% of women in the U.S. started to crave food by the 13th week of pregnancy. In fact, cravings peak at the max during the second trimester and then slowly taper off as you get closer to and after your delivery.

Here are several reasons why you might crave those sweet and salty junk foods during pregnancy.

Hormonal changes cause Cravings

The surge in hormones during pregnancy are responsible for changing pregnant women’s sensory perception, causing food cravings.

In one research study, 26% of pregnant women reported changes in their taste, while 56% reported changes in smell. This means that fluctuating hormones during pregnancy alter the smell and taste sense of women and that could be the cause of the increased junk food cravings(2-3).

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Cravings in response to Not eating Nutrient-dense Food

For healthy fetus development during pregnancy, it is important to consume the daily recommended dose of specific nutrients in form of food and prenatal vitamins.

If you are not eating a balanced diet during pregnancy, it may increase your craving for junk food. When you don’t eat food rich in protein, you get hungry more often and when you are hungry, you snack on something that is ready-to-eat but not necessarily healthy.

Reasons Why you Should Avoid eating Junk Food During Pregnancy

Junk foods are delicious but there are reasons why you should go for a healthy alternative during pregnancy. The most obvious reason for not eating junk food is its poor nutritional contents, not supporting the healthy growth of your baby. Remember, your baby gets what you eat!

In addition to lacking essential nutrients for the optimal growth of your baby, it can also have a long-term effect on the future health of your baby and his eating habits. According to several research studies (although done on rats), a mother who eats an unhealthy diet during pregnancy may be putting their child to long term health issues.  

Let’s look at reasons why you should avoid eating junk food during pregnancy.

1.  Higher Birth weight Possibilities           

Do you want to make your labor and delivery difficult? Because pushing that 9-pound baby is a possibility when you are pregnant and can’t stop eating junk food.

A research study published in 2013 (4), evaluated the effect of a mother’s ‘Junk food’ diet on a baby’s birth weight. This community-based study was conducted on 368 first-time mothers and their newborns. Information about mother’s ‘junk food’ diet was collected by interview with mothers between 24-34 weeks of pregnancy.

The study concluded that 11% of newborns, -born to mothers who ate ‘junk food’, weighed more than 4.0 kg. Mothers who had not consumed a ‘junk food’ diet, were significantly less likely to have a newborn weighing more than 4.0 kg.

If you think 11% is too small to convince you to give up eating junk food, keep reading.

 2. An offspring with the preference of High-fat Diet

Your baby gets what you eat and if you keep on eating that palatable food during pregnancy, chances are your offspring will also have a preference for palatable food even in adulthood.

A study published in 2017 (5), looked at the relationship between a mother’s diet and baby’s weight. In this study, rats were fed a high-fat diet during pregnancy. The researchers evaluated the relationship of food and brain circuit into pups until adulthood. They observed that pups were heavier at birth and preferred a high-fat diet after weaning. Although cravings for a high-fat diet were lowered in childhood with a balanced diet, pups’ brain circuits for eating behavior were altered into adulthood (preference for a high-fat diet in adulthood).

3. A risk of type-2 diabetes and Heart disease

Pre-pregnancy obesity can also impact the health of your offspring. In a research study published in 2016 (6), pre-pregnancy obese female mice were fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet, and outcomes were studied for three generations of offspring. The study showed that pups born to obese mothers had impaired peripheral insulin signaling, increasing their risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

4. Possibility of Obese offspring

A rat study suggests that mothers who eat junk food during pregnancy and while breastfeeding has a possibility of an obese child.

In this study, rats were fed a high-fat/high-sugar diet during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. The researcher showed that offspring of a junk-food-fed mother preferred junk foods after weaning and their obesity-linked genes were more active. What does it mean? An increased risk of obesity and diabetes (7).

In another similar study from the same group observed that even when the pups -born to junk-food-fed mothers, never fed junk food themselves, they grew up fatter than the normal rats. Biologically, their fat cells were larger, which might make them more prone to obesity and might make it harder for them to lose weight (8).

5. An Increased Risk for Developing Allergies

Too much sugar during pregnancy is also no no!!. It not only affects you but also your baby in long term.

A research study published in a European Respiratory Journal (9), found that women who ate high sugar diet observed a 38% increase in their child’s allergy risk between the age of 7 and 9 and a 101% increase in the risk of allergic asthma in their children.

6. It May Alter Brain Chemistry

Eating junk food during pregnancy may alter your offspring’s brain chemistry and channel them to be addicted to unhealthy food.

A research study (10) showed that the offspring of rats, who were on a junk food diet during pregnancy, were addicted to high-fat/high-sugar diet after weaning. The reason being, exposure to junk food in utero, altered their brain chemistry. The pups no longer experienced ‘the-feel-good’ hormone through eating a healthy diet and that could have affected their health.

Eating junk food during pregnancy could also impact your own health during pregnancy. It could cause bloating, indigestion, and constipation as junk food doesn’t have fiber content. Also, give into those midnight cravings for ice-cream and chocolate might intensify your blood pressure and even induce gestational diabetes.

Are Cravings for Junk food Bad for Pregnancy?

Cravings are not bad in itself but how often you give in to your cravings, makes it a little complicated during pregnancy. Given the fact that eating junk food during pregnancy is linked to excess gestational weight gain and presents a health risk to you and your baby.

Having said that, ignoring your cravings won’t make them go away.  But there are ways you can still enjoy your cravings still not give in.

How to handle Junk Food Cravings during Pregnancy?

It is possible to eat junk food and still provide all the nutrients your baby needs to grow. It all about how much and how often you are giving in your food cravings.

You may need to ask yourself – Whether your cravings taking over your balanced meals and are you eating junk food too often?

If your answer to these questions is yes, then you should consider making changes as suggested below.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet rich in protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, and legumes. If you are eating a well-balanced diet every day, then a small portion of not-to-nutritious junk food won’t affect your baby’s nutritional needs.
  • Always have a healthy snack with you all the time when you are out. This way when you are hungry you can snack on something that you have rather than rushing to get a doughnut or milkshake.
  • If you are craving chocolate, eat a fun-size pack rather than a king-size pack of the chocolate.
  • If you are craving potato chips or nachos, eat kale chips or beet chips.
  • If you are craving for ice-cream, go for fruit yogurt.
  • Distract yourself from cravings by going for a walk given that you have had a healthy meal or snack in the last two hours.
  • Eat small meals spread throughout the day. This will eliminate hunger, regulate blood sugar and reduce cravings.

Pregnancy and Can’t Stop Eating Junk Food? Here is What you need to do, Seriously!

Pregnancy is a good time for pregnant women to adopt healthy food habits. If you think your junk food craving is taking over your rest of the food habits during pregnancy, consider taking this amazing online The Perfect Pregnancy Nutrition and Fitness bundle course designed by Allie Edwards (Certified Coach in Nutrition and Lifestyle during Pregnancy and Prenatal/Postnatal Fitness Trainer).

Prenatal Nutrition and Fitness Program

The course covers everything you need to know about nutrients, micronutrients that your baby needs and how it influences your baby’s genetics while in utero by your own diet and exercise.

The Nutrition course covers a step-by-step guide to get you started on eating in a way that positively affects your baby’s genetic makeup and the amazing part about this course is it contains over 80 delicious recipes!!

The fitness course covers over 20 specially crafted workouts designed for mom-to-be. This fitness plan is designed to teach you physical therapy workouts to perform from the first trimester to strengthen your pelvic floor and core muscle, your shoulder and back muscle before they are strained during pregnancy to minimize diastasis recti and get you prepared for various labor positions.  

This very affordable course bundle is no brainer if you want a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Pregnancy is a time to adapt to healthy eating habits, but it can get overwhelming for some pregnant women. So, take the guesswork out of your pregnancy and adapt to a healthy lifestyle with this online The Perfect Pregnancy Nutrition and Fitness Plan.

What are your cravings during pregnancy? What has help you stay away from junk food. Leave your comment below.

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References 

  1. Orloff NC, Hormes JM. Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for future research. Front Psychol. 2014 Sep 23;5:1076. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01076. PMID: 25295023; PMCID: PMC4172095.
  2. Nordin S, Broman DA, Olofsson JK, Wulff M. (2004.) A longitudinal descriptive study of self-reported abnormal smell and taste perception in pregnant women. Chem Senses. Jun; 29(5):391-402.
  3. Cantoni P., Hudson R., Distel H., Laska M. (1999). Changes in olfactory perception and dietary habits in the course of pregnancy: a questionnaire study. Chem. Senses 24 58 [Google Scholar]
  4. Wen LM, Simpson JM, Rissel C, Baur LA. Maternal “junk food” diet during pregnancy as a predictor of high birthweight: findings from the healthy beginnings trial. Birth. 2013 Mar;40(1):46-51. doi: 10.1111/birt.12028. PMID: 24635424.
  5. Paradis J, Boureau P, Moyon T, Nicklaus S, Parnet P, Paillé V. Perinatal Western Diet Consumption Leads to Profound Plasticity and GABAergic Phenotype Changes within Hypothalamus and Reward Pathway from Birth to Sexual Maturity in Rat. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2017 Aug 29;8:216. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2017.00216. PMID: 28900415; PMCID: PMC5581815.
  6. Saben JL, Boudoures AL, Asghar Z, Thompson A, Drury A, Zhang W, Chi M, Cusumano A, Scheaffer S, Moley KH. Maternal Metabolic Syndrome Programs Mitochondrial Dysfunction via Germline Changes across Three Generations. Cell Rep. 2016 Jun 28;16(1):1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2016.05.065.  Epub 2016 Jun 16. PMID: 27320925; PMCID: PMC4957639.
  7. Bayol SA, Simbi BH, Stickland NC. A maternal cafeteria diet during gestation and lactation promotes adiposity and impairs skeletal muscle development and metabolism in rat offspring at weaning. J Physiol. 2005 Sep 15;567(Pt 3):951-61. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2005.088989. Epub 2005 Jul 14. PMID: 16020464; PMCID: PMC1474235.
  8. Bayol SA, Simbi BH, Bertrand JA, Stickland NC. Offspring from mothers fed a ‘junk food’ diet in pregnancy and lactation exhibit exacerbated adiposity that is more pronounced in females. J Physiol. 2008 Jul 1;586(13):3219-30. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2008.153817. Epub 2008 May 8. PMID: 18467362; PMCID: PMC2538787.
  9. Bédard A, Northstone K, Henderson AJ, Shaheen SO. Maternal intake of sugar during pregnancy and childhood respiratory and atopic outcomes. Eur Respir J. 2017 Jul 5;50(1):1700073. doi: 10.1183/13993003.00073-2017. PMID: 28679610; PMCID: PMC5540678.
  10. Gugusheff JR, Ong ZY, Muhlhausler BS. A maternal “junk-food” diet reduces sensitivity to the opioid antagonist naloxone in offspring postweaning. FASEB J. 2013 Mar;27(3):1275-84. doi: 10.1096/fj.12-217653. Epub 2012 Dec 11. PMID: 23233534.

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2 thoughts on “Help! Pregnant and can’t Stop Eating Junk Food”

  1. So much information to assimilate, Pranali.

    To top it all off, I’m impressed with the plethora of references you have included. I understand the cravings Mom has because she is now eating for two, and sometimes more. You offer many substitutes, and this is great. I find that my food cravings center around sugars, fats, and salts.

    Carrying a child is such a huge responsibility that we are blessed to have these informative posts to guide us.

    Thanks, Paul.

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