This is hard to write about, as ED always is, but there’s a dearth of resources on this, and I hope to add my voice in a way that could be helpful. What follows here is personal experience and personal advice, and not medical advice in any way. At the end of this post, you will find links to resources that I have found supportive and helpful.
I have struggled with body dysmorphia and disordered eating for most of my post-pubescent life, with a particular crescendo in my late teens and early 20’s. What was unusual about my experience and what made it easy to experience in a vacuum was that I was always pretty “overweight” growing up, so efforts to “control” my weight were celebrated and my methods largely unquestioned. My particular pattern of issues was mostly restriction down to 500 or so calories a day with occasional episodes of binging.
During graduate school, an emotionally abusive relationship drove me into a particular spiral–weighing 260 pounds but restricting to 500 calories a day. My doctor lauded the weight loss that followed–I remember one appointment wherein she literally said to me, “Whatever you’re doing, keep it up!” After graduate school, when my relationship really bottomed out and I could feel a blackhole coming that I might not be able to climb out of, I sought help in the form of outpatient therapy and the use of a holistic nutritionist.
After a long struggle, I’ve been able to mostly manage my darkness with the tools given to me through those services. Bouts pop up, but these are mostly episodes of extreme self-criticism and dysmorphia that don’t usually lead to harsh restricting any more. The truly untenable part is that along the road, my body did come down to a “normal” weight, where it has stayed throughout the subsequent years. I still get comments asking “Wow, what did you do!” to which my honest response is a can of worms few people truly want to open.
My Pregnancy and ED:
When I first found out I was pregnant, my complete joy had a shadow–the shadow that we all get (“How will I pull this off?” “My cervix is going to be how big?”)–but on top of that, the shadow of extreme anxiety about my changing body. At my first appointment, upon hearing my weight gain plan, I repeated that number over and over again in my head like an image I couldn’t wash out.
Advice I sought initially was really ambiguous–the NEDA hotline told me that you never know how you will respond until it’s actually happening, which I found to be true but also how do you act on that? All I could do was wait and see, and be ready to try to manage whatever reactions I might have.
First trimester was physically horrible–all day nausea, exhaustion, and food aversions. Meanwhile, my body wasn’t gaining weight at that point. In fact, I lost some and was prescribed Diclegis to manage the sickness. But I was so happy for myself because I was thinking, “Wow, I’m not at all freaking out about my body right now!” It took me weeks to connect that I wasn’t freaking out about it because not being able to eat was a lot like my old and horrible friend–restriction.
Second trimester has been a totally different thing. My hunger came back with a vengeance, with cravings for things that ranged from Quarter Pounders w/ cheese and dozens of apples. And with that hunger, as well as a rapidly growing baby, weight has come on. Moments of intensive highs at my adorable bump and feeling the movements of this loved little creature have been paired with lows that bring on old habits, like obsessively taking my measurements and checking the circumference of my wrists and fingers. These activities are especially triggered by comments from others or around the time of OB appointments.
But, I’ve managed. I’m still here, and my habits have stayed positive. These tips and ideas have really helped me do that.
Tips that have been helpful for me:
- Be upfront with your OB about your history or anxieties if they don’t know. During my first appointment, I told the OB that I have a history with ED. She still gave me my weight recommendation, but I have yet to have an appointment since then wherein my weight has been brought up at all. You also do not have to look when they weigh you.
- Be upfront with your partner. I have not always personally been super transparent about this with my husband, but pregnancy has created real necessity around it. I am so glad that it has because that honesty has saved me from myself on about a zillion occasions.
- Stand up for yourself if people make comments. I’m a teacher, and kids can be unintentionally horrible. I’ve heard, “Wow Miss, you’re getting big!” and “Why are you always eating?” and the only course of action, truly, is to set them straight on things its okay to say and things it isn’t. If you struggle with that, a simple, “That isn’t really your business,” will get your point across.
- Try to trust your body and your baby. It knows better than our disorders and our anxieties do about how to make a baby. This is so hard, but it’s really worth the effort. Know that what you crave is your body letting you know what you need. Try to really, really know that. Repeat it and own it.
- Focus on that awesome baby. Think about that baby–not just in regards to keeping them healthy, but also the warm fuzzy stuff–how loved they are, how much they love/will love you. Your baby will love you despite your demons. Relish the movements, and invite your partner to do the same.
- Do not track food intake. I wanted to do this to keep myself “on target,” but it’s a trigger wormhole for me. Just don’t.
- Get maternity clothes as soon as you need them. I’m a broke teacher, so I thrifted a bunch as soon as I could notice a difference in my body. Not only will this keep you comfortable as hell, but it will also save you from the stress of dealing with your pre-preggo wardrobe.
- Surround yourself with positive media. As soon as I could feel myself spiraling, I started adding very pregnant-body-positive accounts to my Instagram feed. Users like @birthwithoutfear and @takebackpostpartum, especially the latter, have been everything for me in showing how beautiful and diverse our pregnant bodies are.
Other Helpful Things: