Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Eating disorders: pregnancy and beyond, tell your story!

August 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Mindfulness, Pregnancy

This article by Heidi_Psy.D brought back memories for me, a former eating disordered person (now healthy mom of two age 8 and 10!).


You’re thinking about having your first baby, and are focusing not of your bundle of joy but how you will get back into those pre-pregnancy jeans. Unusual? It’s not.

mv: I was very nervous about how my body would change during pregnancy. I wasn’t necessarily worried about relapsing into eating disordered behaviors since I was recovered for about 3 years when I was pregnant for the first time. I remember standing backwards on the scale at the doctors office and telling the nurse not to tell me the number –consider this, it helped me a great deal!

Although women have different experiences of body image and body satisfaction prior to and after delivery, many have trouble adjusting to pregnancy, especially those who have had a history of an eating disorder. For others it is not the post-baby body but the body during pregnancy that is the issue.

Abby has struggled with long-term issues with food and weight issues. “I was so delighted to get pregnant and I actually felt motivated to eat well,” she says, “Then I started to see the changes in my body, and wham, the obsessions were back worse than ever.”

Abby’s experiences are not unique. Eating disorders tend to peak during child-bearing years because they are biological illnesses (when hormones surge, so do eating disorders!).  In addition, pregnancy is a time when body image concerns are more prevalent. For those already struggling with an eating disorder, the nine months of pregnancy can cause these disorders to worsen. And this can have serious consequences for mother and baby.

Restricting food intake, overeating, or engaging in binge/purge behaviors can result in complications including preterm labor, delayed fetal growth and gestational diabetes. Use of laxatives, diuretics and diet pills are of particular concern because they deplete nutrients and fluids before they are able to feed and nourish the baby. They may lead to fetal abnormalities, particularly if used on a regular basis.

mv: I think I am on record as thee most paranoid pregnant woman of all time (being an unmedicated anxiety freak will do that to ya). Engaging in any behavior that could potentially hurt the baby was out of the question, which in my case was a good thing I guess, though it didn’t ease body image woes.

Prior to becoming pregnant, it is important to consider the emotional and physical health of the mom-to-be. Try to visualize the changes that your body will go through and decide whether you are emotionally ready to handle these differences. There is no “magic bullet” that makes eating disorder symptoms go away while pregnant, so having symptoms under control prior to becoming pregnant is key, as is knowing your triggers and recognizing that pregnancy and the realities of a new baby can present challenges. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight will create a positive environment for the developing baby. Schedule a prenatal visit, and let your doctor know that you have been struggling with an eating disorder.

mv: This is very important, start out on the right foot, be honest with your doctor, and find one that will help you stay on track.

During pregnancy, it is important to strive for healthy weight gain, about 25-35 pounds over the 9-month period. This translates into about 300 extra calories per day. Meals should be balanced and contain appropriate nutrients. Avoid purging, laxative and diuretic use. It is also helpful to enlist the support of a therapist who specializes in working with eating disorders in order to address underlying concerns and help you adjust to your pregnant body.

mv: I gained 30 pounds when I was pregnant (both times) and I ate very healthy. One issue was vegetables smelled like gasoline to me so I couldn’t eat them for a time period (so I substituted them for chips and salsa for a few weeks). Seriously though, I think the key when pregnant or not is balance- just balance, which is particularly hard to achieve for those with EDs.

It is also important to recognize that the changes and associated weight gain of pregnancy develop over a period of nine months, It does not make sense to think that your body will immediately return to its pre-pregnancy weight. Buy clothing that you feel good in and honor the gift that your body has just provided – your baby.

mv: In case no one has broken the news to you, it takes about a year for your figure to settle and your body changes shape. The good news, and this is in all honesty, I like my body BETTER post pregnancy. I think it is because I feel more “womanly,” with larger boobs (I was an A, now a B, still mini to some).





2 Responses to “Eating disorders: pregnancy and beyond, tell your story!”
  1. Lissa says:

    Great post, Heather! I’m being interviewed as we speak for a grad student’s thesis on pregnancy and recovery.

    Like MamaV I was in good place before becoming pregnant and I think it’s been an amazing journey so far. Even the weight gain, the bloating, the constantly having to pee, the need to cut back on workouts … it’s all been worth it when I feel a nudge or see my tummy twitch; knowing that’s our DAUGHTER in there!

    I’ve been chronicling my pregnancy on my blog from a recovery standpoint, so if anyone’s interested, I’m laying it all out there: the good, the bad and the ugly.

    I’m 23 1/2 weeks now, almost through the second trimester, and I’ve felt great–I think much of that has to do with eating well and exercising and getting enough rest, but I also know each pregnancy is different so who knows how things will continue but for now I like to think I’m living proof that we can put aside our own insecurities and embrace our pregnant bodies.

    I always had a flat tummy – even when heavy — so to look down and see this baby bump is surreal. And you know what? I’ve never felt more womanly!

  2. CandiceBP says:

    It was a really interesting journey for me – and actually still is. My son is now 15 weeks old and I’m still thinking about my relationship to food and body image every day.

    During my pregnancy, I felt really happy (which I think was the hormones a good amount of the time) and, as a consequence, the stress/emotional eating I always indulged in pretty much stopped completely. This, then, made me feel better about myself, so I felt even happier. I wondered if it would continue post-pregnancy.

    It didn’t for a while. Those first few weeks are really stressful (especially since he’s my first child, so it’s all new) and your sleep is erratic, you’re not at work, you can’t easily get up and run an errand. Your whole lifestyle and focus changes. It took me a few months (and some digestion issues) to even think, “Oh yeah, I need to take care of myself, too.” So that’s where I’m at now – reminding myself how good it felt to eat well during pregnancy and be happy with my choices (which included allowing treats when I wanted them, within reason).

    I feared gaining weight during pregnancy but committed to eating what I needed to and my body balanced itself out. I only gained 10 lbs but my pregnancy was perfect – it was all my body needed. And now, post-pregnancy, that weight plus more has come off without any true effort on my part, for which I feel lucky and also thankful. But it’s given me the motivation to now go forward and lose more of the weight I had gained over the previous few years and get to a place where I’m happy with myself.

    It was always a journey and will always be. For me, pregnancy was like a detour on the journey – like stopping at a roadside attraction, almost, lol. Well, a roadside attraction that gives you the most adorable souvenir possible. 🙂

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