New US research cautions against indulging too much in pregnancy food cravings after finding that the frequency of cravings is a strong predictor of excess pregnancy weight gain.
Recent studies have shown that more than half of women gain more than the recommended amount for pregnancy weight gain set by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), with the lead author of the new study, Julia Hormes commenting that, “Our research is motivated by the fact that excess weight gain in pregnancy has rapidly become a major public health concern. It has significant implications for the health of mothers and their children, including increased risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, a range of complications in delivery, difficulties initiating breastfeeding, increased postpartum weight retention in the mothers, and overweight offspring.”
To carry out her research, Hormes and the team looked at two groups of pregnant women, one a group of 40 women recruited from a local hospital and the other a group of 43 women recruited via Facebook.
Both groups were asked to complete online surveys on their eating behavior, including questions such as how often the women craved food from different categories (sweets, carbohydrates and starches, fast food and high-fat food), as well as how often they gave into those cravings.
The weight of the women before pregnancy as well as their current weight, and the stage of their pregnancy were also recorded.
The team found that an increased frequency in food cravings was linked to a significant proportion of the variances in excess weight gain for both groups of women — 25 percent in the Facebook group and 32 percent in the hospital group.
The women also reported experiencing and giving in to at least one craving, with the most commonly craved foods reported being chocolate, pizza, cookies, and ice cream.
The team believes that the findings suggest that both the frequency of cravings as well as the consumption of craved foods may increase the risk of excess weight, and providing support for women experiencing these cravings is needed to help modify food intake.
The results also led Hormes to advise women to try to reduce their food cravings and implement healthy eating habits, both before and during pregnancy, commenting, “Women should avoid buying into those prevalent myths around eating habits during pregnancy. Cravings are very fleeting experiences that come and go relatively quickly. It’s important to work on being able to sit through a craving without either trying to push the thoughts aside or act on them.”
It is estimated that between 50 to 90 percent of expectant mothers will experience food cravings during their pregnancy, especially during the first semester, with IOM recommending that pregnant women consult their care providers about diet and physical activity before, during, and after pregnancy in order to maintain a healthy weight.
Their guidelines on how much weight women should be gaining can be found online.
The results were published online in the journal Appetite.