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How I Beat Gestational Diabetes

Photograph by Twenty20

Being pregnant is hard enough on a body. All the aches and pains and sleepless nights take a mean toll on us women. And the cravings! Oh, the cravings. For me, being able to rationalize daily doses of ice cream as an absolute necessity was one of the greatest joys of pregnancy. Until I got the news that I had failed my glucose tolerance test. Yup, I had the dreaded gestational diabetes, aka "fetus 'beetus." Noooooo!

First things first: let me settle a nasty rumor that pollutes the pregnancy world and riddles those of us who suffer from gestational diabetes with heaps of unnecessary guilt. Having GD is not your fault. It's not some horrible punishment from the pregnancy gods, being levied upon you for having eaten "poorly" before or during pregnancy. Vegan marathon runners get GD just as frequently as Cheetos and chocolate addicted women who have a couch permanently attached to their ass.

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It is simply the result of your placenta releasing hormones that block your body from producing enough insulin to regulate your blood sugar. Blame the placenta, not yourself! So, if you (or someone you know) is unfortunate enough to have gestational diabetes, kindly show your judgment to the door. There is nothing you (or anyone) could have done to prevent it.

Now that we have that bit of business out of the way, I'm here to share the top four lessons I learned for managing GD through diet and exercise.

1. Stay calm.

If you're like me, and consult Dr. Google about every medical issue, you'll find loads of hysteria-inducing "possible outcomes" associated with having GD. Yes, it is a fairly serious condition, but only if it's not diagnosed or treated properly, so chances are better than not that you and your baby will be fine. I made the mistake of over-Googling once I was diagnosed, and feared the worst. To be blunt, I lost my shit, which just made things even worse for me, because stress can make GD even harder to control. The uncertainty was such a bitter pill to swallow, and having to limit my diet so drastically when food was one of my only comforts, was deeply depressing.

But once I started to emerge from the rabbit hole of "what ifs," and my pity party started to peter out, I learned that control is only an illusion in the world of pregnancy and childbirth—all we can do is take the best care of ourselves possible, and handle any hurdles as they arise. In my darkest moments, I comforted myself with knowing that as soon as that placenta was delivered, I could have all the ice cream I want. And the sacrifices I was making today would help my baby to be healthier. "It's only temporary. It's only temporary. It's only temporary" was my mantra.

But in general, the more you exercise, the better your odds are of getting good results, especially after meals that may trigger you.

2. View meals as "trial and error" rather than "success or failure."

There are tons of gestational diabetes menus on the Internet, but the truth is that every body is different, each with different food triggers that cause our blood sugar to spike. For me, these menus were a huge source of ire, because it seemed that the majority of foods they listed as "safe" somehow weren't safe for me. Every time I ate quickly became a dangerous game of Russian Roulette, and every high number on my glucose monitor made me feel like I was hurting my baby. It was exhausting and demoralizing. I systematically tested myself against foods that are typically low on the glycemic index scale, and prayed to the pregnancy gods that my blood test would go well.

Once I got a handful of foolproof meals sorted out, I kind of stuck to the ones I knew worked. It wasn't much in the way of variety, but I had peace of mind in knowing they were healthy for my baby. I made the best of a diet consisting of steel cut oatmeal, chicken salad and tortilla chips, cheeseburgers on corn tortillas, taco nights, and strawberries with mascarpone cream. I also relied heavily on The Good Earth's Sweet & Spicy Tea, (mysteriously and naturally sweet without sugar or artificial sweeteners) which I drank iced, and that helped satisfy my sweet drink cravings without incident.

3. Become a night walker.

Managing my meals was one thing, but controlling my "fasting number" (the blood sugar reading taken first thing in the morning) was maddeningly difficult. In online forums, I found a million and one suggestions for how to game the system for lower fasting results, which include, (and I kid you not) eating full fat ice cream before bed, (oh my god, people, you're DIABETIC for Pete's sake! Step away from the ice cream!), and waking up in the middle of the night to snack (which I did, and is a lot less fun than it sounds, trust me). And for some people, these tactics work. But the one that worked best for me, and many women I know, was taking a nice long walk after dinner every night. It was a great way to unwind with my hubby and our pooch, and it was the only thing that worked like a charm to help my numbers stay low.

It got progressively more challenging to take nightly walks toward the very end of my pregnancy, carrying all that extra weight around. But once I hit 34 weeks, the clouds parted, and my GD got a lot easier to manage. The load on my placenta lightened, and I was able to start winding down the evening walks, and had a little more leeway in my meal choices. It. Was. Awesome.

But in general, the more you exercise, the better your odds are of getting good results, especially after meals that may trigger you. So, get your sweat on, sister!

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4. Plan ahead.

If you intend on having a baby shower or are planning on a romantic babymoon with your partner before your new arrival hits the scene, I highly recommend planning these events for before your glucose tolerance test (which usually happens around 28 weeks.) You don't want to be the party pooper at your own shower who can't enjoy sweets, or have to abstain from virgin daquiris a'plenty on the beach, my friends. You just don't. So get those activities out of the way before your test, and you'll be able to have your cake, and eat it too!

I hope these lessons help spare you some of the struggles I faced during my bout with gestational diabetes. And remember, as soon as baby comes, you may then return to your previously scheduled dietary programming. So, plan your celebratory meals well. Ice cream and champagne, anyone?

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