It was about this time of year last year, just before the start of the great food triangle of Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s, when I was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes.
With my first son, I passed the glucose test no problem. So, when I just barely failed the 1 hour test with my 2nd baby, I was sure I'd pass the 3-hour test. But, to my surprise, despite having absolutely no risk factors for diabetes, I just barely failed that one, and was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes (GD). I guess they really mean it when they say that every pregnancy is different! (Side note: For you moms who think you can "cram" for your test by cutting out sugar for days before...don't bother. Your body processes sugars however it processes sugars, and you can't alter your results. Plus, why would you even want to do that? For your baby's health's sake you need an accurate test result!!!)
From there I was sent into a room where a nurse came in and said, "so you have gestational diabetes...any questions?" Uh, yeah...I pretty much had so many questions that I didn't even know what questions to ask!
After attending a class on GD with several other pregnant women at a clinic, I was sent home with a lot of information to "digest." While I was certain I could do it, it was all a bit overwhelming at first. How would I possibly be able to follow such a strict diet while having pregnancy cravings? How am I supposed to know how many carbs are in the recipes I make? How can I possibly test my blood 2-4 times a day when the thought of needles made me queasy? And why did I have to get this diagnosis during the hardest possible time to diet of the year...from just before Thanksgiving until just after Christmas?!
Well, if you're a mom, chances are you will do literally anything for your children, including counting carbs and pricking your finger, and that's just what I did. It's amazing how your little one can motivate you to do whatever it takes to keep him or her healthy! It was a tough transition at first, but I found a few things that helped me to get through my last 10 weeks of pregnancy.
There were a couple things that I found really interesting or surprising that I learned from my GD class:
1) The amount of carbs shown on the nutrition label is the total amount of all types of sugars in that food item. I didn't realize this was really a sugar count...maybe if you've done the Atkins diet you'd already know this, but it was a new one for me, and I was glad that I could so easily look up how much sugar I was having by looking at the label and serving size.
2) You still NEED sugar! I already guessed that having too much sugar would send too much to baby, making baby gain weight. What I didn't realize was that having too FEW carbs would also send "ketones" to the baby, also making baby gain weight.
I was not supposed to cut out ALL sugar. Actually, I was SUPPOSED to have sugar...I just had to have a specific amount of grams at specific times of the day. This is why you have to make sure to have snacks every 2-3 hours throughout the day between meals...to prevent your body from sending ketones to baby.
Ketones are things that your body releases when you haven't eaten in a while...when your food's all digested and your body starts to break down your fat stores. For the first few weeks, I was given Ketostix test strips to pee on each morning, which tested my ketone levels. This was to make sure I was not releasing too many overnight, since that's the longest you go without eating. Having some protein at night in your bedtime snack helps your body last longer through the night. I rarely had a high or low ketone reading so I didn't have to test the entire 10 weeks. But, one time when I got deathly sick and spent Christmas eve and Christmas day throwing up everything I put in for 2 days, my ketones tested off the chart. So, being forced not to eat for 2 days assured me that yes, your ketones do in fact go up if you aren't eating enough!
3) Fattening stuff didn't matter. Well, of course, if you only eat fattening foods, it's not good for you or baby. But as far as my GD was concerned, since I only had to count sugars, and was not overweight anyway, I didn't even have to count things like fat or calories in my diet tracking, just carbs. At the same time, I had to watch out for foods that I normally thought were good for me to eat tons of, like peas, milk, and fruit. It seems really backwards, doesn't it?! Yet I actually LOST several pounds in the first week or two, even while my baby was growing, and leveled off for the rest of my pregnancy.
Here are a few things that helped me get through my 10 weeks of a GD diet...
• Remind yourself that it's only 10 weeks. Yes, it can seem like an eternity when you're just ready for baby to come, but just knowing that there's an end in sight was a great help to me. Knowing that I could go back to "normal" once baby arrived gave me a little extra strength to get through it (that and knowing I had my own stash of Christmas cookies and other treats in the freezer, waiting until baby arrives!)
• Get a watch with a timer – It makes it easier to remind yourself an hour after eating that it’s time to check your glucose, especially when on the go. At home I used my microwave’s timer, but then a microwave is not so travel-sized. ;-)
• Get a mini pen and paper pad – I found some great little, tiny notebooks in the dollar bins at Michael’s and used a mini pen that all fit inside my testing kit. While I only was required to keep a food journal for a couple weeks to show a nurse, I kept it up the entire 10 weeks. I wrote down every meal and snack, along with my test results and times they were taken. It came in handy just to remember what I had last and when I had to eat again, as it can be harder to keep track of these things while also chasing a toddler around!
• The Calorie King – Spend less than $10 for this great little pocket sized book. It gives you the carbs (and other nutritional info) for foods, including menu items in all kinds of chain restaurants. This makes it easy to figure out what you can order on your way to the restaurant, rather than having to ask for nutritional info everywhere you go. I also liked being able to look up what menu items I could order in the car on the way, sparing me from asking for nutritional info and taking forever to order once we got there. This gets easier over time, I promise. If you have restaurants you visit regularly, it’ll only take one or two trips and you’ll already know what is safe to order.
• Modify your Current Snacks – Look up your already favorite cravings and figure out how to still have them. One of my favorite bedtime snacks is a graham cracker with peanut butter spread on it, and topped with chocolate chips. It sounds weird, but is actually really good, and is a great way to satisfy my chocolate-peanut-butter cravings. So, I figured out how many carbs were in a cracker, switched to natural peanut butter (without all the sugar...but now that's all I eat because I like it better!), and how many tablespoons of chocolate chips I could put on top. I found a glass that held exactly as much milk as I needed to fill in my remaining carbs needed so I wouldn’t have to always use a measuring cup. What I thought I originally had to cut out altogether, turned out to be just the perfect snack for me at bedtime...just the right amount of sugar, and some protein to get me through the night without dropping my ketones. It only took one time to figure this out, and then I could just make my snack at night, already knowing it was just the right amount of carbs without measuring everything every time, and feel more “normal.”
• Still hungry? Be sure to keep some "free" foods on hand in the event that you've had all the carbs you're allowed, but still feel hungry. Free foods are those containing no carbs, or so little that it doesn't count. I enjoyed celery with natural peanut butter, string cheese, hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese and pickles.
• Crystal Light - (or any store brand sugar free drink mix) Great treat when I was just craving something sweet, or wanted a sweet beverage other than water, and didn't want to waste my precious carbs on a drink. Since I also avoided caffeinated pop while pregnant, my only other choice really was caffiene free diet stuff.
• Develop a list of pre-counted food assortments so you don't have to count every meal. I found out a few items that fit within my allotment of carbs for snacks and lunch time, and made sure I always had them around. My goal in doing so was to be able to go to the frig and grab something, feeling more like a "normal" lunch time, without having to constantly look at labels every time I ate something. For instance, I found that a container of Yoplait yogurt had just the right amount of carbs for a snack (and in many flavors, including chocolate...great for my pregnant chocolate cravings!). For when I couldn't be home to make something or eat something refrigerated, I stocked up on pre-packaged snacks like peanut butter cracker sandwiches, mini muffins, etc. I found many great canned soups that had enough carbs for a meal, with a little room to spare to add crackers. I found some great whole wheat “sandwich rounds” that are thinner than regular bread, so I could have two pieces of bread (although thinner) to make a whole sandwich and have room for other carbs with it. For breakfast, I switched from cold cereal to a mini bagel and cream cheese. It was just the right amount of carbs, with a glass of milk.
• Diabetic cook books – I remember one day standing in the kitchen bawling, as my husband walked in the door, because I had no idea what to make or how many carbs were in my recipes. I tried some websites that let you enter your recipes and then calculate the carbs for you, but found that it took SO long to enter everything, I didn’t even get one recipe entered. So, I headed to the book store. You can spend a fortune on these books, and don’t need to re-do your entire recipe box. But, I did get one book I really liked. Go to your local book store and browse…you’ll find tons of books with great recipes that tell you how many carbs are in them.
• Get to know what you can handle – I only went over in my blood sugar level once during my 10 weeks, and it as maybe by 2 points. I found that my body was able to process sugars better than many others who have GD, so I was able to add a few more treats around the holidays than my diet dictated. Do a little experimenting. If your levels are regularly well within range, treat yourself to an extra cookie. Your next blood sugar test will let you know if you should do it again. This is another reason it’s a good idea to keep tracking your diet and see how it affects you!
• Remember you’re doing it all for baby! I never thought I could make myself stick so strictly to any diet, but I did to a tee, because I knew that everything I ate was affecting my baby’s health. No matter how much harder my second pregnancy was, I knew that the ONLY thing that mattered was baby's health, and he was healthy. Well, okay, not wanting to give birth to a giant baby was a great motivator as well! But, in the end, just remember…you’re doing it for your baby, and it’ll all be worth it in the end!! (and yes, there WILL be an end!!) Now if I could just channel that motivation NOW to lose a few extra pounds...