Dieters gain more weight when pregnant

Women are getting this message – "oh, now you're pregnant, you're free to eat whatever you want," says Dr. Anna Maria Siega-Riz, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But the Institute of Medicine now says women don't need to boost their calorie intake during the first trimester of pregnancy. They only need 340 more calories daily during their second trimester and 450 extra calories in the third.

More and more women are gaining more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy, Siega-Riz and her team note in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (October 2008). There's evidence that women who restrain their eating and those who diet frequently may actually gain more weight, they add.

To further investigate how a woman's pre-pregnancy eating habits influence pregnancy weight gain, Siega-Riz and her colleagues followed 1 223 pregnant women participating in a study of preterm birth and foetal growth. All reported their weight before pregnancy, and also completed questionnaires evaluating restrained eating behavior, weight cycling, and concern with dieting.

The researchers found that on average, the women gained 52% more weight than they needed to.
63% of study participants overall gained too much weight.

Of the underweight women, 32% gained too much weight, while 63% of normal weight women did. 
85% of overweight women put on too many kilos, and 74% of obese women gained excessive amounts of weight.

Women who were considered "cyclers," meaning that before pregnancy they had gained and lost 2.3kg or more during the course of a week at least once, gained 2 kilograms more than non-cyclers. Among every weight status group except for underweight women, those with a high degree of eating restraint gained more weight than those who were less restrained eaters. The same pattern was seen for women who were habitual dieters.

It's possible that women who habitually restrain their eating are physiologically more vulnerable to gaining weight during pregnancy, Siega-Riz noted, but it's more likely that they see pregnancy as an opportunity to let go of these restraints.

The message from health care providers, she said, "should not be that it's okay to eat for two."

Did you "eat for two" during your pregnancy. Were you happy with your weight gain? Have you managed to shed the extra kilos?

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