Pregnancy can be an extremely triggering time for a person in recovery from an eating disorder. The combination of a changing and growing body, uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms, and the emotional hurdles that come with a huge life change (not to mention crazy hormone levels) is often a perfect storm. Here are five ways to help you weather that storm.
1. Eat what you want
As a registered dietitian, I value good nutrition and the significant impact it has on pregnancy and the baby. However, as a pregnant woman, I can get pretty irritated when a “Bump” article advises us to increase our zinc or Vitamin D intakes when I’m over here struggling to find something that I can keep down (…or when I’m craving a giant bowl of ice cream). When it comes to nutrition, think in terms of priorities. The #1 priority is eating ENOUGH for the energy needs of you and your baby. So if you’re feeling ill or bloated, eating something at your next meal is better than eating nothing. Be on high alert to make sure your eating disorder doesn’t take advantage of those low appetite days in the first trimester, which can be extra-triggering no matter how far along in recovery you may be. On the flip side, don’t be afraid when your hunger levels skyrocket later on in pregnancy. Listen to your cues, as unexpected as they may be at times!
2. Listen to your gut
We want to do what’s best as mothers, but oftentimes it can be unclear as to what that looks like. Unsolicited advice and conflicting recommendations run rampant during the pregnancy and post-partum stages. This can be especially difficult for people-pleaser personalities out there, which tends to be a characteristic in those who’ve had an eating disorder. Instead of heading to Facebook to crowdsource your answers amongst the confusion, take a minute to ask yourself what makes the most sense and what feels right to YOU.
3. Foster acceptance
Accept that you’re exhausted instead of fighting it off, and give yourself permission to do the bare minimum today. Accept that your body has changed and sometimes that can be uncomfortable. It is what it is right now. Accept that your baby is crying and, as irritating as that can be, she/he will stop crying eventually. No amount of denial, effort, or wishing things would be different can change some of these challenging situations. Acknowledging the difficulties and your related emotions and reminding yourself that “this too shall pass” can make things more bearable.
4. Assert yourself and validate that this is all a big deal!
Don’t minimize what you’re going through. Growing, birthing, and caring for a baby is tough work on many levels. Also, hormones and sleep deprivation are very, very powerful! Let your needs be known so that people around can support you. Assert yourself at your doctor’s office if you have special requests related to your eating disorder, like asking to get blind weights at every visit. Tell your partner that you need help if things feel out of control after the baby’s born. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need and want.
5. Focus on what doesn’t change
It can be so uncomfortable for your body to change outside of your control. After all, many people who’ve had an eating disorder will say it has to do with control, right? While body changes are happening during pregnancy and the year following birth, consider focusing on who you are aside from your body. What about you doesn’t change? Your personality characteristics, your relationships to others, and/or your identity in God can all be reassuring reminders of stability. For other tips on body image during pregnancy, check out our other articles.