The Doctor Wanted to Tell Me Something
In my fifth year of low-carb dieting, I discovered an online forum for people who were following a Zero-Carb diet and after reading their inspirational journals, I decided to switch from low-carb to NO carb. I eliminated all sweeteners (including all sugar and all artificial sweeteners) from my diet. I began eating a high-fat, no carb, all animal-based diet and immediately felt amazing!
The persistent sweet-tooth and constant carb cravings that had tortured me since childhood were now gone. I had far more energy, and I even felt sharper, mentally. Also, I was able to keep off the 120 pounds that I had lost on a low-carb diet without having to exercise or starve myself. I knew that I would NEVER go back to eating carbs again.
Then, I found out I was pregnant.
My husband and I had been trying and praying for a baby for a couple of years, but my low-fat, calorie-restricted diet had left me without a menstrual cycle. After wondering if I would ever be able to have children, I was completely thrilled to finally be pregnant.
But this did bring up a very interesting and scary question…
Is it safe to eat a Zero-Carb diet while pregnant?
Most popular literature (including America’s go-to preggo book, What To Expect While Expecting) strongly suggests that pregnant women eat a high-fiber diet while avoiding large amounts of fat. Fiber and lowered fat intake are supposed to help women avoid common pregnancy plagues, such as heart burn, morning sickness, constipation, excessive weight-gain, and hemorrhoids.
Ah, the many joys of motherhood!
My OB/GYN already knew that I didn’t eat carbs, and even though she was supportive of my decision, I was still nervous to go so blatantly against standard recommendations. For the last several years, I had been confident in my own dietary choices, but I suddenly felt differently when my foods also affected another human being. And not just any other human being. My baby.
So, of course, like all modern mothers-to-be, I started Googling. At the time, there wasn’t much information or research out there about the dangers (or benefits) of eating a zero-carb diet while pregnant. I wanted to do everything that I could for my little one, and I certainly didn’t want to put my own dietary and weight goals ahead of a healthy baby. I found myself having doubts about my diet for the first time in a long time.
Like many pregnant women, I wound up with some pretty strange food aversions, though, which made zero-carb eating more difficult. I came to a point where I couldn’t stand the thought of eating a plain hamburger patty, and I’d nearly gag at the sight of some of my favorite foods, including STEAK! A carnivore that didn’t want a big, juicy steak??? What was happening to my brain?
Despite the bizarre turn-offs, I ate quite well while pregnant: lots of bacon, eggs, cheese, chicken wings, and most any other meat that sounded good at the time. I didn’t eat vegetables, fruits, or grain.
Well, that’s not true. I did eat one vegetable.
I desperately craved pickles. Yes, I know it’s stereotypical, and I hated myself for being the pregnant lady who couldn’t resist a stupid pickle, but they were my one kryptonite. I allowed myself that one and only exception from the animal kingdom, though there is very little (any?) nutritional benefit to eating them. They were just GOOD.
Thankfully, I avoided all other carby pregnancy cravings. No hankerings for pancakes, ice cream, or doughnuts. My body seemed to support my decision to avoid carbs, which made my confidence grow. And the kicking, turning, growing baby girl in my uterus was also a pretty good indicator that things were going well.
Other signs that my body was okay with my diet: I had ZERO morning sickness, ZERO indigestion, ZERO problems with hemorrhoids (*gag*), and ZERO problems in the bathroom. (What fiber?) My weight-gain was pretty average, according to my doctor, and the baby seemed to be growing at a very normal rate. All was well.
And then…when I was 33 weeks pregnant, my water broke.
From Zero to Sixty
I want to be honest: I initially hesitated to write about my premature delivery, because I didn’t want people jumping to the conclusion that it happened because I was hog-deep in bacon.
But after talking with my doctors (I had a few in the course of this), not one of them seemed to think there was any correlation at all between my diet and our daughter’s early arrival. As it turns out, there are an estimated 15 million babies born prematurely every year.
And of all the millions of mothers who are ordered to follow diabetic diets, statistics show that they are no more likely to deliver early than mothers eating a high-carb diet. Regardless, I never met a physician who told me that eating Pop-Tarts would have helped me achieve a full-term delivery.
This next part is kind of amazing to me. Even though Julia was born at 33 weeks gestation, she was completely healthy and able to breathe and eat on her own. She needed no oxygen, feeding tubes, or medication (other than treatment for jaundice). She was fully developed and healthy. We had a happy, healthy baby girl, and I spent the next year enjoying motherhood and nursing my baby as I continued eating a zero-carb diet.
(Side note–it’s James here. You can read Julia’s birth story over on my blog. It’s kinda cool. In fact, I’ll throw in a bunch of links to videos of our kiddos. I’m kind of that Dad.)
And Just When We Got Used to Having One Kid…
When Julia turned one, I found out I was pregnant with our son. Once again, I continued eating a zero carb diet. (No pickles this time around, though!) I gained roughly 25 pounds with my second pregnancy. I didn’t suffer morning sickness, heartburn, post-partum depression, high blood sugar, blood pressure problems, or other pregnancy-induced issues.
Given that my first delivery came via an emergency C-section, my doctor ruled out natural labor for me in the future. So, my doctor performed a scheduled C-section for our son at 37 weeks, and we welcomed our son, Thomas, at the end of 2012.
I want to be really clear about something: I am not a doctor. And I am not here to tell anyone (pregnant or not) how they should eat.
My goal here is to speak to anyone out there who wonders if a zero-carb diet is safe for their unborn baby. I want to speak of my own experiences without trying to persuade others to follow.
I was able to have children while on a zero-carb diet when I wasn’t able to have them while eating a low-fat, carb-laden diet. I was able to do so while avoiding many typical pregnancy problems, giving birth to healthy, beautiful babies without eating bread, pasta, cereal, sweets, vegetables, or fruit.
And since I know that many of you have been reading this journal with an interest in weight-loss, I will add that I was able to have my sweet babies without regaining the 120 pounds that I had lost. In fact, I now weigh exactly the same that I did before having children. I was back to my pre-Thomas weight within two weeks of his birth. Again, no starving. No workouts. And NO CARBS.
I will close this post by admitting that I was rather naïve. I actually thought that following a zero-carb diet while pregnant was going to be the hardest part. Little did I know that my greatest zero-carb challenge was just around the corner….