Dealing with gestational diabetes

I had a wonderfully uncomplicated first & second trimesters of pregnancy, so I feel a little bit like I’m “paying” for it with this lovely third trimester!

I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, much to my surprise, right around the start of the third trimester, after failing two glucose tolerance tests. I was absolutely not expecting this! I went into the first test feeling like it was a totally unnecessary test {just about every pregnant lady has to take it, depending on your doctor} because why on earth would I have diabetes? I definitely had a preconceived notion that gestational diabetes only happened to people who didn’t take care of their bodies, who didn’t know how to eat right, or that you at least had to have history of it in your family. Yeah, I was a little overweight before getting pregnant, but I wasn’t eating ice cream every night or anything! Oh, how wrong I was – and how damaging those notions can be.

I’m pretty sure almost every mama diagnosed with gestational diabetes {GD for short} goes through a bit of a mourning period, if it’s not an expected diagnosis. WHAT did I do wrong? Is it just because I’m fat and don’t eat enough vegetables? So much self-blame and bad feelings raced around my head. Totally normal feelings,  but totally misplaced and ultimately hurtful to myself. If you’re recently diagnosed, tell those thoughts to SHUT IT. They’re wrong and dumb and you’re fine.

Well, what is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes occurs when hormones from the placenta block the proper action of the naturally occurring insulin in the mother’s body. Insulin helps the body use the sugar in our blood for energy – but when it can’t do its job, we’re left with high blood sugar levels, which then crosses the placenta, so the baby is subjected to high blood sugar levels. If the mother’s GD isn’t controlled well with diet or medication, this can lead to the baby storing too much fat, growing “too big”, and can cause the baby’s blood sugar levels to drop dangerously once its born. We don’t want any of that!

The other super fun thing about GD is that no one reeeeeally knows what “causes” it. There are a few things that can lead to women being at higher risk for it, but it’s generally not something that occurs because of something the mother did. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. It’s the dang pregnancy hormones!

What now?

So I’m one of those people who needs to do ALL the research on ALL the things {I have way too many pregnancy books} and this diagnosis just kicked that researching part of me into SUPER high gear. The doctor set me up with an appointment with a diabetes specialist in the Maternal-Fetal Medicine part of the hospital {where they deal with high risk mamas} but I knew I wanted to learn as much as I could on my own before that appointment, which was a few weeks away.

To the Internet I went! Definitely not always the best place to start, especially with pregnancy things, because half of the time they scare the heck out of you with the worst case scenarios. I found this happened a lot with information about GD – the complications, increased rates of c-section, required induction, etc. – most of those often only apply when it’s not well controlled by diet or medication. Luckily, most women can keep their blood sugar levels under control with a few {ok, a lot} of changes to their diet.

Side note, though: if you have to go on insulin or medication, especially to help with your fasting numbers, you didn’t “fail” to control your GD. Again, blame it on those out of control pregnancy hormones. It’s completely out of your hands! 

Gestational diabetes can feel SO daunting at the beginning. I couldn’t imagine having to prick my finger to test my blood sugar levels four times a day, to carefully keep track of what I eat, to make sure to avoid most carbs and read labels and measure out portions. Especially as someone with a history of eating disorders, it was frankly scary at the beginning. But now that I’m about a month and a half into living with GD, it feels a whole lot more manageable. A lot of that is thanks to these books, support groups, and other sites.

Resources I found helpful

GIANT disclaimer here: I am NOT your doctor, and things I might suggest, or that other Internet people suggest, cannot replace the advice and guidance of your medical professionals.

Real Food For Gestational Diabetes

The number one thing that helped me was the book Real Food for Gestational Diabetes. I got the Kindle version and read it in one day! The author, Lily Nichols, has a lot of other online resources and free videos. She’s a registered dietician/nutritionist who specializes in helping women with gestational diabetes. The book is packed full of clear, thorough information about GD that I found SO helpful. It also includes a suggested meal plan, that you can tailor based on how many carbs you want to have in a day, and includes a bunch of super tasty recipes that emphasize a whole foods diet as well. It was absolutely worth the $10.

Not pretty, but this was a delicious meal from the book – spaghetti squash with beef & mushroom meatballs and a creamy tomato sauce.

When I finally met with my diabetic counselor, she was kind of blown away with how much I already knew, & how well these recipes had kept my numbers under control in the one week that I had been testing. I’m so glad I started off reading this book, because I feel like it set a really solid foundation for me in terms of understanding how to “set up” my day of eating.

Facebook support group

Next, I found it really helpful to join this Facebook group, the Gestational Diabetes Support Network. While there are a WHOLE lot of varied opinions in the group about certain things, it’s pretty important to be able to chat with other people who are going through similar experiences. Sometimes you just need to vent about how ALL YOU WANT TO EAT IS PIZZA RIGHT NOW, or to get new recipes to try for dinner.

Although everyone in the group shares the experience of having GD, it affects women totally differently. There will be people like me in the group, who haven’t had much trouble controlling their numbers with diet, and people who absolutely need the help of insulin. There are people who are set on a natural birth despite the GD, and there are people who choose to have c-sections instead. There are people who have no problem drinking diet sodas and eating things with artificial sweeteners and ingredients, and there are people who carefully avoid those things.

Basically, take it all with a grain of salt, but know that there’s probably someone going through the same thing you are in the group. For me, it’s also been nice to be able to search the group to see positive natural birth stories with GD, which I love reading when I’m feeling slightly anxious about it all.

Ok, time to talk about FOOD

Aside from the guide in the Real Food for Gestational Diabetes book, I found this blogger’s post helpful when trying to think about how to plan out my meals. Her post is really encouraging, and gave me even more ideas for my go-to meals.

Most mornings, I like to have Greek yogurt with nut granola & berries. The berries don’t spike my numbers luckily, and this is a really satisfying start to the day. I am obsessed with this nut granola recipe, and even my husband  has enjoyed taking some of it to work as a mid-day snack. {Important recipe note: I only use 1/4c coconut oil, instead of the 1c it calls for, and it’s SO much better that way. I also like to add almond extract and pumpkin seeds. YUM.}

I have to wait 2 hours after eating each meal to take my blood sugar before I can eat again, so it’s important that my meals are pretty filling. It can seem like a lot of calories/fat to take in, but since you’re cutting carbs so drastically, you’ve gotta have healthy fats and protein to fill the gap! Don’t be afraid to eat enough calories.

Also, I am v lucky that coffee with agave and whole milk doesn’t mess with my numbers. I can sip on that big mug of coffee from breakfast until I take my numbers, and I still have good results.

It’s recommended to have a snack after taking your blood sugar levels, so you can keep your numbers steady enough so that you’re not spiking and dropping constantly. If you’ve ever dropped down to the 60s mid-day, you know how crappy that can feel!

Snack-wise, I have a few things that I reach for:

  • cheese sticks with turkey pepperoni, and like 5 crackers if I’m feeling wild
  • Oatmega bars {seriously, such good macros for these, and they’re super filling and taste like a TREAT! The mint and coconut ones are my faves.}
  • Trader Joe’s trail mix packs – the ones I found have a lil bit of chocolate and a few dried cranberries, along with lots of protein filled nuts, which makes for a good balance
  • sliced veggies with hummus or ranch – carrots, cucumber, and peppers are what I tend to reach for
  • nut butter packets – Justin’s makes good ones, but my ALL TIME FAVORITES are these new ones by Rx Bar. The vanilla almond butter one tastes like sugar cookies!!!
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • yogurt with berries and nut granola, if I had eggs/sausage/etc. for breakfast

For lunch and dinner, I am personally okay with a big salad that includes some solid protein, a sandwich or wrap, or something like baked chicken with roasted vegetables. Some people are used to having a nice hot meal all the time, so I would recommend searching Pinterest for that if you need it. There are SO many good recipes out there. If you need a place to start, you can also look up Paleo or Keto recipes and in cookbooks – those generally have low carb counts with a good ratio of protein. But I’d shy away from really intense Keto recipes that suggest you have almost no carbs at all – as long as you’re eating satisfying whole grains and complex carbohydrates, there’s no reason to avoid carbs completely.

Exercise

Also, don’t forget to move your body. No, it’s not that fun when you’re feeling huge, but even a 10 minute walk around the block can help with your blood sugar numbers. Plus it’s just good for you in general!

I did barre 1-2x a week until about 34 weeks. It helped with my numbers!

it’s not the end of the world.

Yes, it takes time to get used to eating in a way that keeps your blood sugar numbers under control, and there will be days where you feel like you did everything perfectly but you’ll still get a random spike in there.

Patience is so important.

Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to adjust to this change! I started out tracking everything I ate in an app called Carb Manager, just so I could get an idea of carb counts of my meals and snacks, and now I’m able to just keep track of it in a little notebook along with my numbers. I’ve traveled and eaten out at restaurants and did just fine!

It will take time and testing and maybe tears, but remind yourself that this is temporary, and SO WORTH IT for a healthy baby.

And, chances are, you’ll feel better yourself. Before the diagnosis, I had gained weight pretty quickly, felt HUGE and bloated, and it showed in my face. After a few weeks of eating for GD, people started to comment that I had that “pregnancy glow” and I have to admit, I feel pretty good. My back pain went away and my energy levels have been alright. My face looks less bloated and I feel like I’m “all belly” instead of feeling puffy all over.

So yes, I still really freaking want a donut right now, but life with gestational diabetes isn’t all that bad.


If you’re dealing with this and have any questions, feel free to comment below or message me on Instagram {@whollymargaret} – I’d love to connect with you.

 

thoughts?