Frequently Asked Questions Friday
This week’s question is:
How do I maintain recovery from my eating disorder during pregnancy?
So this is an interesting question, because I think that the answer very much depends on the individual. I have had friends in recovery who have said that being pregnant saved them, that those nine months were the most carefree nine months ever, because the pressure to maintain an idealized body was gone. Others that I have worked with have told me that pregnancy was the time that their eating disorder was the loudest. Others still have confided that pregnancy sparked a relapse.
What is important to note is, if you have a history of an eating disorder, it’s likely tricky to predict how you will react to all of the physical, psychological, and emotional changes that pregnancy brings. This is why I think this question is good for EVERYONE to consider-not just for those who are currently in recovery and pregnant, but for anyone who ever might become pregnant one day.
Because pregnancy is so personal and individualized, I felt that this question deserved a more well-rounded answer than my sole clinical opinion-so I called in the troops! Two brave, smart, warriors who have experienced pregnancy during recovery agreed to share their feelings, tips, and tricks about this very topic with you all!
Veronica: When we found out we were having a baby we were so excited, but in the back of my mind I was afraid of how I would do with gaining all of the weight that comes along with the blessing. I was afraid that it would trigger old habits and behaviors with the new changes that were about to begin. Throughout the 9 months as my belly grew, I just kept reminding myself of the little miracle that was growing inside of me and how he was depending on me to take care of myself in order to thrive. I was actually a little surprised with how much I loved being pregnant. I loved that I was eating not only for me, but for my baby. For once in my life I didn’t worry about the weight I was gaining, but instead embraced it. Embraced the life that my body was able to nourish. How amazing is that…my body was able to nourish and grow another human being! So wonderful!
I think the hardest part for me was after my son Lane was born. My body had changed, but now I had a tiny human to take care of other than myself. I was nursing so I was starving all the time (even in the middle of the night). So although my body had changed, and I weighed more than I did pre-pregnancy, I knew I needed to eat in order to produce enough milk to feed him. Things were different. It was far more important for me to eat to fuel my body and his than for me to fit back in my clothes. I also knew that once he was older he was going to watch me. I knew that from this day forward I was not just taking care of me; I was taking care of him and setting a good example. That meant having a good relationship with food and exercise.
I am now 24 weeks pregnant with our second son (!) I continue to remind myself not to worry about the changes in my body. It continues to be a daily challenge, but I am using the same coping tools and support systems as I did during my first pregnancy to work through it. I went to the doctor today for my standard check-up and was dreading getting on the scale. I wasn’t going to look-but then I reminded myself that I am more than a number. My weight and body shape does not make or break the woman I have become. Our bodies are amazing, God designed them to grow another human being, and that is a true gift.
Jen: It was surprising to me how quickly my eating disorder voice came back as soon as I found out I was pregnant; I had been in recovery for a solid eight years by the time we got the news. Some of the voice’s content was the same, especially surrounding numbers and perfection. I was quickly obsessed with being a “perfect pregnant woman.” I wanted to gain the perfect amount of weight, no more no less. I wanted to eat only the most “perfect” foods. I was gripped by the thoughts of being a perfect mother and took on so much of the responsibility. Often my thoughts went something like this, “If I do X, then Y would happen to my baby, and I am a terrible mother.”
My first piece of advice and truly the most important is to rally your troops. Tell your support system about the thoughts you are having or that you are concerned you will start having the thoughts. Make a plan before you are “in it.” Second, become informed and educated about your pregnancy. Doctors are good sources, google is not. It is easy to get swept up into new mother forums because it can give us instant gratification (instant gratification is totally not something people with eating disorders like or anything…sigh), but it can almost always give us something else to worry about. Lastly, actively practice awareness, mindfulness, and gratitude. My favorite moments in pregnancy took place in my bathtub. I would be fully immersed in my connection with my daughter. I would be gratefully thinking about the incredible things my body was doing in its efforts to grow a baby. I would accept my anxious thoughts if that came to me but kindly bring my mind back to my baby. Towards the end, this would usually result in sweet reminder from my girl giving me a kick or a roll, as if to say, “I love you.” I was unbelievably grateful that I could be so terrible to my body for so much of my life and it was still willing to give me my most precious gift. You are a goddess, Mama, let your body do what it was made to do.
As you can see, Jen and Veronica struggled and triumphed in unique and separate ways with their recovery journeys during pregnancy. Veronica talked about the body negativity that plagued her throughout both of her pregnancies- specifically when it came to gaining the necessary weight. This aspect of pregnancy can actually be upsetting to both recovered and non-eating disordered individuals alike; especially if low body image and self-esteem were a struggle prior to pregnancy (which research tells us is the case for the majority of women).
As Veronica mentioned, it is important to use continuous self-talk when these thoughts pop up. Remind yourself of the miracle that your body is making (despite, as Jen stated, how much you may have put your body through in the past!) Remind yourself of how much this miracle needs the energy from the food that you are providing him/her. Perhaps you may even take on a mantra at this time-something simple like, “Nourish to (help my baby) flourish!”
And of course, if weight gain feels overwhelming to you during your pregnancy, ensure that you have professional support, as well as moral support systems in place to lean into and discuss these concerns.
Contrastingly, Jen struggled with the idea of being the “perfect mom,” and having the “perfect pregnancy.” She referenced how this was most definitely her ED voice, albeit cleverly disguised as thoughts of wanting to be the best for her child. That is the thing about eating disorders. They are wily. And they might not present themselves in a completely overt manner. This is why it is so important, specifically during pregnancy, but also during every other phase of life, to be very mindful and aware of how ED speaks to you. When do these thoughts get loud? How have they tricked you in the past? The more aware you are, the more pitfalls you can pinpoint and avoid-like a true warrior. For example, if you, like Jen, are drawn to instant gratification, but also suffer from anxiety, be sure to avoid things like the mom forums that she mentioned. If you tend to be a perfectionist, and you know that this has triggered your ED in the past, identify one or two point people that you can talk to about this during your pregnancy. People that know this tendency in you, and that you can trust to be honest and empathic. (“Listen I’m feeling a lot of pressure to use only cloth diapers and make all my food for my baby by hand when she is born…Is that doable or is my perfectionism getting on top of me again?”).
Summarily- I don’t know that I can put it better than Jen- “Rally your troops.” Make sure you have a solid professional and personal support system in place for this journey. And, as Veronica mentioned, use your coping tools! Whether that means mantras, daily reminders, journaling, self-talk, mindfulness, gratitude-doesn’t matter which one it is, as long as it clicks in and works for YOU. Because along the way during those nine months, there are a plethora of other triggering situations not addressed here that can arise-feeling sick, feeling very full, comments from others- “You have GOT to be having twins!” “You are getting so big!”-But as long as your have your professional support systems, personal support systems, and coping toolbox, you will likely be able to handle these as they come. Sure, they may not be the most enjoyable situations to endure (seriously, why do we feel it is our right to tell pregnant women how big we perceive their bellies to be-or TOUCH them at that?!) but with the awareness and tools, you will be able to b r e a t h e and utilize healthy coping mechanisms instead of resorting to eating disordered behaviors during these times. Shine on recovery mamas.
Jen Misunas Buckwash is a happy, healthy new mom to a 5 and a half month super girl. She is a practicing professional counselor in PA and will complete her doctoral degree in Psychology in May. She has been in recovery since 2008.
Veronica Carr Yerger is stay at home Mom and online fitness entrepreneur from Dillsburg, Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband Mark, little boy Lane and another boy on the way in March 2017. She shares her 20+ years of experience in coaching, mentoring, and fitness with her clients on a daily basis emphasizing a strong balance of positive body image, family, life, and faith. firstname.lastname@example.org, FB@verionicahealth, IG @veronicahealth
Colleen Reichmann is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in the treatment of individuals with eating disorders, body image issues, self-esteem issues, and women’s issues. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband, goldendoodle and (brand new!) sheepadoodle.
Email questions to: email@example.com
Facebook Page: Dr. Colleen Reichmann
*The views expressed in this posting are based on this writer’s professional knowledge, training, and experience in accord with current and relevant psychological literature and practice. These views do not indicate that a professional relationship has been established with any recipients. Readers should consult with their primary medical professionals for specific feedback about any and all questions.