When looking online for a meal planner for pregnancy, I found a lot of information about what to eat, but not much to suggest how a normal person might get all of the required nutrients in a day. The diet plans I did find (like the one in Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven) were very, very specific, naming the brand of bread that you should eat with the brand of peanut butter you should spread on it, or whatever. I wanted to create something that was flexible, and would allow me to make sure I was meeting my nutritional requirements while eating seasonally.

So I made a chart with the following in the top row:

Whole Grains and Legumes (6 servings)Calcium (1000 mg)Yellow, Green, and Leafy Veggies and Fruits (3-4 servings)Vitamin C (85 mg)Protein (70 g)Iron (27 mg)Other veggies and fruits (1-2 servings)Fats (~4 servings)

Then the planning begins!

For me, there were a few things that I would get without even thinking about it: the fats and the whole grains/legumes. All of the other categories required some forethought. 

During the summer, my plan would look something like this:
Whole Grains and Legumes (6 servings)Calcium (1000 mg)Yellow, Green, and Leafy Veggies and Fruits (3-4 servings)Vitamin C (85 mg)Protein (70 g)Iron (27 mg)Other veggies and fruits (1-2 servings)Fats (~4 servings)
1 cup almond milk 450 mg 184 mg   1
Calcium supplement 600 mg      
Bagel2   11 g3.6 mg  
Smoothie: mango, tahini 60 g1602.6 g1.3m g 1
Yellow Fruit  1     
Grain-based snack (e.g. pb&j)       1
Quinoa black bean salad with a veggie1   66 g9.7 mg11
Yellow fruit  1     
Non-yellow fruit      1 
Supplement     18 mg  

By dinner, all I needed were some more carbs, my favorite thing! 

As the weather got colder, I started to have breakfast quinoa cooked in a cup of almond milk, with a serving of black bean soup for lunch. Instead of eating yellow fruits, I've been having more leafy veggies, which are in season now (like kale and brussels sprouts.) 

What I found is that the hardest things to get in a plant-based/vegan diet are calcium, protein, and iron. However, with a cup of almond milk, a cup of quinoa, and a cup of beans every day, those needs will be mostly met, and the supplement will take care of loose ends. If I'm careful about planning my meals and snacks for breakfast and lunch, by dinner I can eat pretty much whatever I want without having to worry about mixing in high-calcium veggies or any other specifics. 

If you want to be completely reliant on food for all nutrients, I think it's do-able, it would just require a lot of almond milk smoothies, and maybe a cup of edamame and lentils.  I don't mind trusting the prenatal vitamin as a dietary supplement, but some women feel very strongly that all nutrition should come from whole foods. I admire anyone who can do it, I already feel pretty fatigued with the amount of cooking that I've done during pregnancy, so I'm happy to take some help where I can. 

One thing to keep in mind, of course, is that women have been having babies for thousands of years, and the vast majority of them didn't count up how many green and leafy veggies they were consuming, yet humankind has managed to survive and evolve. I know that counting up exactly how many milligrams of iron are in each food item is *probably* overkill, but it was kind of fun, it felt like an early act of love for the baby, and for what it's worth, I've had a very happy and healthy pregnancy. And a note to the veggie doubters: my doctor said that my iron levels are through the roof and my blood-work in general is excellent, so yes, you can be safe and healthy during pregnancy without eating meat and dairy!

Growing the baby with delicious food!

As I came out of my first trimester of pregnancy, I started to regain my normal tastes. Vegetables were no longer enemy number one, and I wanted to eat accordingly.

The second and third trimester are when your baby needs nutrients to grow and develop her body and neurological system. Everything that your body needs can be found in plants. Some skeptics argue that meat-free diets will lead to anemia, but my iron levels were at the top of the charts! Of course, both vegans and meat-eaters alike can suffer from pregnancy-related anemia or gestational diabetes, and I don't mean to suggest that these problems can be prevented or fixed with a plant-based diet. However, your baby can be just as healthy, if not more so, without meat and dairy in the mother's diet.

I was kind of surprised that no one had posted a chart online about how exactly to eat properly for pregnancy with a plant-based diet, so I made one!

The following is an amended version of the Checklist for Daily Nutrition from The Bump. Basically, I swapped out the meat, dairy, and eggs for plant-based options, and added some information about how many milligrams of each nutrient is in a "serving."

  • Prenatal vitamin: I like the myKind Organics prenatal vitamin, or at least, I like it as much as it's possible to like a prenatal vitamin. Gets the job done!

  • Calcium: 4 servings/1000 mg needed daily
    • 1 cup of calcium-fortified orange juice: 300 mg
    • 1 cup of almond milk: 300 mg
    • 1 cup of edamame: 98 mg
    • 1/2 cup of tofu: 434 mg
    • 1 T tahini: 64 mg
  • Yellow, Green, and Leafy Veggies and Fruits: 3-4 servings
    • 1 cup kale
    • 1 cup mango
    • 1/4 cup carrot
    • Many more options here
  • Vitamin C: 3 servings/85 mg 
    • 1 cup orange juice: 24 mg
    • 1 cup mango: 60 mg
    • 1 peach: 10 mg
    • 1 grapefruit: 38.4 mg
  • Protein: 3 servings/70 g
    • 2 T peanut butter: 7 g
    • 1 cup edamame: 17 g
    • 1 cup tofu: 20 g
    • 1 cup quinoa: 24 g
    • 1 cup lentils: 18 g
    • 1 cup black beans: 42 g
    • 1 cup pinto beans: 41 g
    • 1 cup chickpeas: 39 g
    • Luna bars (Chocolate Coconut, Lemon Zest): 9 g
    • Luna bar (Chocolate Peppermint): 8 g
  • Iron: 3 servings/27 mg
    • 1 cup black beans: 9.7 mg
    • 1 cup chickpeas: 12.5 mg
    • Luna bar: 5.4 mg
    • myKind Organics Prenatal vitamin: 18 mg
  • Other Veggies and Fruits: 1-2 servings
  • Fats: ~4 servings
    • Peanut butter
    • Avocado 
    • Olives
    • Olive oil
    • Nuts
  • Fluids: 8 servings of 8 oz 
    • Water
    • Tea 
    • Etc...
Note: DHA wasn't included on this list, but it's recommended that the pregnant woman consume 12-16 oz of fish per week. As an alternative, pregnant vegans can take one DHA supplement daily. Confession: I couldn't keep the DHA supplement down, and I was concerned about how effective of a substitute it really is for eating whole fish, so I ate wild Alaskan salmon throughout my pregnancy. But hat's off to those who can tolerate the fish algae! 

Finally over morning sickness and feeling great!

Second trimester, here we go!

In the next post I'll go into more detail about how you can create a diet plan for a healthy, plant-based pregnancy! 

On a Thursday morning, I found out I was pregnant, but Amir had asked me not to tell him the results of the test until after he came home from work because he had a big presentation that afternoon. So I was literally the only person in the world who knew I was pregnant, and I was also very low on prenatal vitamins. And I was craving a vegan baked good. I went to the Happiest Place on Earth, Whole Foods!

First of all, I have been buying prenatal vitamins since August, and no one has ever said anything to me about it. Ever. The first time I went to the check-out counter with them I was so nervous that I'd have to tell the whole story about how you're supposed to start taking them 3 months prior to pregnancy, but it turns out that cashiers aren't that interested/nosy.

But this time I went to check out with the prenatals, vegan donuts, a juice, and some pre-made Thai food. Because it was a celebration! The check-out guy was in his late twenties or early thirties, and our conversation follows:

Check-Out Guy (COG): (eying prenatal vitamins) Whoa...are these for you?
Me: Yeah...
COG: So, you're pregnant?
Me: Well, I just found out this morning, so you're the first person I'm telling, but yes! I haven't even told my husband yet.
COG: Oh. Were you guys trying?
Me: Yeah, we have been.
COG: So he's not going to be mad.
Me: No, I'm sure he'll be happy.
COG: Not like that State Farm commercial?
Me: Uhh, no. No, I'm sure he won't be like that.
COG: That's good. You know, he's like, 'no kids,' and then she's pregnant.
Me: Yeah, no, I know which one you're talking about.
COG: Cool. Well, congratulations. Would you like a bag?
Me: No, it's okay. I'll just carry it out. I can kind of stack everything.
COG: Are you sure?
Me: Yeah, eco-friendly option, haha!
COG: Okay.
Me: *drops items on floor*
COG: It's because you're pregnant! Here's a bag.
Me: I guess I'm not, umm, okay, thank you.

So that went really well!

State Farm commercial, if you haven't seen it:

Tips regarding etiquette:

*"Were you trying?" is a really inappropriate question to ask a pregnant stranger. For so many reasons.

*If a woman just found out she's pregnant, she likely has a lot of questions and anxieties on her mind, and she doesn't need anyone to suggest additional reasons to worry.

*If a woman is already worried that their partner is going to be upset about a pregnancy, the person that they want to confide in is probably not a cashier at Whole Foods.

My first clue that I was pregnant was when I was eating a fish dinner with some relatives. I was really enjoying the meal, and then suddenly, it was repulsive. I almost made a complaint to the owners because I was sick all night with what I was sure was some kind of food poisoning. In hindsight, I know that I was four weeks pregnant!

At five weeks, I was at a USY Convention and things were getting worse. It wasn't just fish that looked bad; my favorite vegetables were also suspect. The only things that I really enjoyed eating that weekend were chocolate cake and plain rice. A few days later, I confirmed my suspicions of pregnancy and everything made sense. But the question was: what to eat?

I had previously been on a vegan-except-for-eco-sustainable-fish diet, and I had already read on a lot of vegan mom blogs and message boards about the benefits of veganism as a tool to combat morning sickness. The claim is that women actually get worse morning sickness from meat, dairy, and sugar. With a vegan diet and moderate exercise, they say, your symptoms will be practically reduced to nothing. Just eat your fruits and veggies, you'll be fine!

So I woke up every day for a run, drank a kale smoothie, threw up, and clutched my stomach while lying in the fetal position (ha) in bed for an hour or so. Every morning. Then I would sip ginger tea and have a cup of lentil soup, with similar results. I'm embarrassed to admit how long this lasted before I realized it just wasn't working out.

My first foray back into the land of regular vegetarianism was some organic cheese with crackers. It wasn't as amazing as it would have been if I were fully functioning health-wise, but I kept it down, which was a big deal. I decided to stop listening to other women and to start listening to what my own body wanted, which was a lot of dairy products.

For breakfast, I had a bagel with egg and cheese. For lunch, I had pizza. For dinner, I had mac and cheese with spinach, or saag paneer. It wasn't what I would have chosen for myself in a perfect world, but I was functioning again! I don't know why, but something about dairy allowed my stomach to digest the foods I was eating.

At first, I felt guilty about not meeting all of the nutritional requirements of pregnancy, but when I learned more about it, I found that these don't kick in until the second and third trimesters. That makes sense, because most babies whose mothers have morning sickness have slightly better expected health outcomes, and those moms are pretty limited in their food choices.

I found a lot of other women who have gone through similar experiences after googling something like "pregnant used to be vegan." Prior to actually getting pregnant, I thought I had planned everything out, so the experience of failing at my diet/exercise pregnancy regimen was very humbling. I can definitely say I gained a new perspective on food aversions/picky eaters; it never seemed like a serious thing until I got it!

Anyway, my advice to anyone with morning sickness in the first trimester is to eat what you can, and don't feel bad about what you can't. There's no need to stress or feel guilty, and I know that anyone with morning sickness is already miserable enough! Your baby will be fine if you are on an exclusive junk food diet, and you'll likely be back to normal and able to eat healthily again by the time it matters for fetal development.

Weirdest (and most inconvenient) aversion: water! I had to buy sparkling only for a few weeks when I was at my worst. 

Thank you, Trader Joes! My only source of protein for a while was peanut butter pretzels. 

So after the whole cancer thing (ugh), Amir and I realized that we need to have babies before it comes back. Like, now. You might be surprised what goes into this! I certainly was.

Obviously, you have to time the conception based on the woman's cycles. That's the thing that comes up in all of the comedies and dramedies. Everyone knows that. And everyone knows you have to cut back on caffeine and give up your antidepressants and sleeping pills. Even melatonin isn't allowed. Oh, I miss my melatonin!

It can take up to NINE MONTHS for birth control to leave some women's systems (source: Emily Oster). Others might get pregnant after missing three pills in a row. But there's no way to know which category you'll be in until you spend up to nine months trying to conceive, and if it doesn't work for the following few months, then you know it wasn't the birth control built up in your body's reserves.

Did you know that to find your ovulation time, you need to take your temperature every day with a special thermometer? And you have to do it before you even sit up in bed, because that would mess up the results? If you don't, you have to watch out for other physiological changes, like dull cramping on one side only. I didn't buy the special thermometer, so I was just looking out for the cramping all of the time. It got pretty confusing, though, because I do a lot of ab workouts, so I have a lot of cramping in that area on and off throughout the month. So that's a mess.

And then there are the pills. You need to start taking prenatal vitamins THREE MONTHS before you intend to get pregnant. They taste like chalk, they're huge, and they're expensive. I just bought 218 prenatals on sale for about $60.

Calcium supplements are a must for me being semi-vegan, and those are no big deal. But I can't take them with the prenatals because there is some kind of interaction between the ingredients in the prenatals and the calcium which can block the latter's absorption into the bloodstream. So one pill in the morning and one pill at night, every day, for the entire time you're trying to conceive. My doctor said that for healthy couples under 35, this can be as long as seven months, which is almost the amount of time it takes to carry a baby to term. It's really frustrating to keep taking the pills and to know that any pill you took more than 3 months prior to conception was a waste of time and money.

But the calcium and the prenatals are NOTHING compared to DHA. DHA is critical for neural development. And it tastes like sea algae. Because...it's sea algae. It literally makes me gag every time I take it. Even if I can clear my tongue, the taste buds in my epiglottis still get it. I've been taking it every morning for five months, just in case. You never know which month you're going to conceive, so you have to be ready all the time. It's expensive, about $0.50 a pill. I found an alternative liquid form that only makes me choke a little bit, but that one is $1 a day.

Okay, the pills are annoying. But the real issue is working out.

I like to have a routine at the gym, it looked like this: Monday is spin, Tuesday is bootcamp, Wednesday is hot yoga, Thursday is U-Jam, Friday is weights. Rest on the weekend and repeat. However, exercise that elevates your core temperature isn't allowed when you're pregnant. You also can't work out so hard that you couldn't have a conversation. So that rules out Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday's plan. Being outside of boot camp, taking it easy on the treadmill while my classmates and teacher walked by, was one of the most awkward things ever. I wanted to yell at everyone "two week wait!" but I couldn't. Because that would be insane. Instead, I consigned myself to looking lazy during every real and imagined two-week wait (which is the time between ovulation and a positive pregnancy test, or the alternative).

Oh, and of course there's no alcohol during the two-week wait. That leads to everyone asking "are you...expecting?" and me having to awkwardly demur. So many drinking opportunities were missed during times that I wasn't even really pregnant.

But you know what? The expense and the self-denial were all worth it. I'm so excited to be pregnant! Also, I'm lucky it only took us five months. Some couples try for years, and I can't imagine going through this for so long. There were plenty of disappointments, and plenty of false alarms. In fact, every time I type in a physiological symptom to google, it adds "early pregnancy sign" automatically because it knows me. It turns out everything from chapped lips to aching feet can be an early pregnancy sign, which made me kind of crazy.

Anyway, my advice to women thinking about doing this is to know that TTC (trying to conceive) can be painful, frustrating, and expensive. But once you have that PPT (positive pregnancy test), the rest is easily forgotten. They say that childbirth floods a woman with so many feel-good hormones that she will want to do it again despite the pain, and that's how I feel about TTC. It was ridiculous, but it was worth it.

Me and Amir in early pregnancy.

Mugatu from Zoolander

White Walkers

Pointy hair

Mugatu: Invented piano key necktie

White Walkers: Invented piano key neckbib

In last Sunday's episode of Game of Thrones, "The Gift," things got pretty intense at the wall. It all started when two guys started to sexually harass Gilly, probably with the intention of assaulting her. Luckily, Sam stepped in and fought them. It wasn't much of a fight until the wolf-dog-thing Ghost showed up and saved the day. He took a LOT of blows to the head. Gilly was mostly unscathed.

Sam was in bed, Gilly was tending to his wounds, and then she leaned down and kissed him. On the mouth. Whoa! That was kind of cute. Then about 10 seconds later she straddles him, and, yeah. Sam's not a virgin anymore.

OK, first of all, I'm so tired of movies/shows where a woman is saved from sexual assault by a man, and then has sex with that man on the same night. Women who go through attempted rape in real life are shaken up. It's scary. Biologically speaking, their 'flight or fight' mechanisms are activated, which is the opposite of a romantic feeling. It takes at least a few days to get over that completely. Sure, Gilly's tough, but let's be realistic. It's such a common trope that it's become almost an unspoken rule of fiction that sex is a reward for saving a woman from unwanted sex.

But putting that grudge aside, let's say Gilly was in the mood for whatever reason. And here is a guy in front of her, who has suffered multiple head injuries (and possibly traumatic brain damage) that were obtained just a few hours ago. This guy has promised to abstain from sex, and while he obviously likes her, he's never made a move. Maybe out of respect for her, but probably also out of respect to his oath, that he intends to keep. Actually, he's a virgin, so sex would be a really big deal. And he literally CAN'T MOVE FROM HIS BED. And Gilly's his only caregiver at that moment.

Let's reverse the genders. If it was a girl in this situation, would it be okay if a guy did this to her? That's rape, right? Yeah, Sam said it didn't hurt, and it feels good. Does that make it okay?

In the Game of Thrones world, this doesn't even register as a lousy thing to do to a person. But by 2015 standards, I'm going to say that what Gilly did was not okay. Watchers on the Wall called it "charmingly awkward sex." Beg to differ, gentlemen.